Living in the Gray Areas
Lately I’ve been pondering life’s contradictions, and how we have to squeeze out a life that reflects our values in between them. The real substantial, relatable, change-making actions of our lives are usually somewhere in the gray area, the in between. Black and white, all or nothing thinking, divides us from each other and then constricts us into boxes.
For example, social media. I think we all know that in a broad sense, it’s not good for our mental health. Yet sometimes it does help facilitate valuable, authentic connections. And as an entrepreneur, I have to be on it in order for anyone to know what I am offering to the world. So I try to limit my time on social media, show up authentically, and take breaks. I can’t quit and I can’t let myself become obsessed. Sometimes I swing in between wanting to quit to being obsessed, and then back. I operate, sometimes sloppily, in between.
Then there’s yoga. The heart of yoga has nothing to do with fancy gymnastics poses, yet fancy gymnastics poses are fun to do, and look great on social media. So I choose to live in the gray area, sometimes sharing photos of handstands, and sometimes sharing rants about how social media has corrupted people’s perceptions of yoga. Because authentically, I enjoy handstands, and I also enjoy deconstructing the BS of the yoga industry. Sometimes handstands can be inspirational. But if that’s the only picture of yoga you’re presenting to your followers, that’s dangerous.
Love and boundaries. How do you continue to love someone who is toxic for you? There’s no black and white answer. I struggle. I take breaks from people when certain relationships are damaging my mental health. I work on myself and then sometimes go back to these people and try to be more selfless. Sometimes the pattern repeats. I grew up being taught that love was martyrdom, sacrificing yourself for the needs of others. Now I’ve realized I can’t show up for the people I am here to serve in the world if I am drowning in a swamp of toxic relationships.
Economy. I don’t believe that capitalism is the way forward to a better world, but I don’t see a way to drop out. Wise spending on sustainable things, generosity, and keeping up the faith that I am always provided for are my ways of living within this contradiction.
The spiritual path. You can renounce, drop out, join a monastery or an ashram, and focus 100% on spirituality. Or you can be an atheist. But what if you’re a spiritual person who doesn’t feel a call to give up everything? Spirituality can still be found in the simple devotion of day to day life. It’s in the simple “chop wood, carry water” tasks if we choose to find it there. It’s in the mundane, sometimes felt more strongly there than on the mountaintops. Learn to be a spiritual human. Don’t give up your humanness before it’s meant to expire.
The mind. I find myself constantly planning the future, designing my dreams, but also anticipating how “life will be so good once _______ happens.” I know planning is sometimes necessary but I don’t want to miss every present moment because I’m future tripping. So I struggle. I pull myself back to the present when I notice I’m drifting. Again and again and again. I try to meditate more, and keep planning what I need to.
Recovery isn’t black or white either. I don’t buy into “sober from everything” as the only way to be sober. There’s plant medicine, there’s medication-assisted detox, there’s modern mental health. What is your intention in taking something in to your body? For healing or escape? For numbness or growth? Let intention be your compass and challenge yourself to live wisely in the gray area.
This is life, right? The struggle to find balance in between, the compromise that lets you keep your values yet stay relevant. Figuring what shade of gray is right for you. The space inside the contradiction, the mystery.
“The answer is never the answer. What’s really interesting is the mystery. If you seek the mystery instead of the answer, you’ll always be seeking. I’ve never seen anybody really find the answer. They think they have, so they stop thinking. But the job is to seek mystery, evoke mystery, plant a garden in which strange plants grow and mysteries bloom. The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer.”
― Ken Kesey