Oppositional Grace: If You Want To Grow, Find Your Balance
The art of letting go (of what we thought we knew), and embracing (the unknown ahead and all around).
In my writing on surviving cancer and life beyond it (which I find to be a state of constant existential crisis), I refer often to something I call: The Great Balance. An invisible force that seems to humbly, omnisciently balance out the factors of this thing we call life. Infusing pain with a uniquely essential lesson, or an accomplishment with the gratifying fatigue of having spent every bit of gusto, every drop of ambition into its execution, The Great Balance is what offers the yin to the yang, and in doing so not only balances our experiences but gives them deeper meaning. Sometimes can be seen by simply asking: “what can I learn from this mistake?”, and at others it requires we dig into our experience and find any small reason to be grateful in the face of crippling loss. Identifying the balance present in any circumstance, good or bad, positive or negative, painful or pleasurable, is a sanity-anchoring practice for the ever-changing human experience. It maintains equilibrium. And at times like this, its benefits are all the more obvious, so I’m all the more grateful.
Now. When there are no restaurants to frequent and no cubicles to attend, we are asked to not only see the balance, but become it ourselves. We are forced to release into whatever nothingness resides in our belief system the expectations that used to guide our life: any self certainty derived from meeting our schedules and expected dutifulness, any validation from making other people or company’s aspirations more important than our own. We’ve been forced to completely, even if temporarily, abandon that which we knew as normal life, and the ways we measured ourselves as essential, important, and contributory.
And in it’s interim and it’s stead, we are asked to embrace something new. ‘The New Normal’ they are calling it. What a pleasant surprise, that normal could transform so quickly and radically! That it can be something not born out of habit and repetition, but choice! To embrace this new state is to do much more than change our alarm clocks or even our careers because of society’s limitations. What we are to embrace is bigger than simply a shake to our daily routines. It is to embrace a new way of being entirely: what we believe, how we behave, and in what order we prioritize our selves, our lives, and the people in it. To adjust just as radically the way we approach what matters to us, and how we show it to the world.
But how? The Great Balance presents itself in unexpected moments and places: the way construction sounds can strangely lull us into an afternoon nap. The way morning coffee gone cold can be so satisfying in the late afternoon. The way that our greatest heartbreak, the lover that left us without reason or remorse, can be our greatest liberator. Just as this larger guiding force does, our ability to live in such balance - in a tender and delicate dance between letting go of what we thought we knew so well while embracing the unknown ahead - happens, profoundly, in the smallest of moments and decisions. It is not in moving to a new country or cutting all our hair off (though that might help) that catapults the most satisfying of existential changes. But rather the small, seemingly unimportant yet ultimately fundamental decisions that alter our entire outlook, that are much more imperative to our growth. Just as in the natural world, it is in the subtle nuances that great truth presents itself.
Living the Balance
To grow, we must simultaneously...
Release: the way we thought we contributed to the world.
The ways we approached earning a living, and why to fund our daily lives in the first place. The self assuredness, feelings of being important and worthy because of our professional contributions. To let go of the regimented and specific plans we had for our careers, our projects, our passions and how we had intended to introduce them, and even the impact we had proudly (often ignorantly) predicted for them.
And embrace: our unknowingness.
To take in, with open arms, the ironic knowledge that we don’t know: how things will happen, what will change, what this new world and new normal will ask of us, what it will beckon out of our talents, what efforts it will need of us. To allow, with childlike excitement, space in the unknown, an unforeseeable future for what we’ll do with the rest of our lives.
To release: the pressures we lived under.
The timetables and mile-markers of success that used to rule our decisions. The numbers and metrics that used to plague us: dollar amounts, follower counts, frequency of date nights and social invitations.
And to embrace: our stillness.
The quiet in the house, and who was already here before the door was bolted closed in isolation. The things that go without saying between the people we love most: that we are chosen, wanted, accepted, appreciated, loved by them for simply being rather than acquiring or offering.
To release: Time.
As the construct it used to be: unforgivingly moving forward, demanding and omnipotent. As a race constantly run, as a disciplinarian, as an enemy.
And to embrace: it’s absence.
In the absence of time (and it's need for counting, measuring, and regulating) we find a more loving, joyful companion: this present moment. Unburdened and unbridled we can embrace the place, time, position, this very day as the only place to look intently upon. And in doing so, strengthen our ability to enjoy our lives, the fruits of our labors, learning to use our senses to live within the step we currently take rather than the one we plan for years from now.
To release: our judgments.
Of what is right and fair, good and agreed upon. Of the societal constructs that gave us identity: our politics, our agendas, our spiritual habits and their places upon our calendars. Our views of how it should be, who to look up to, and what to preach.
And to embrace: our limitlessness.
Our ability to find appreciation and wonder in everything and every one, even those we share nothing in common with. Even those who are seemingly against us. Our studiousness as ever-learning, ever-evolving people, as individuals on a continually unfolding path, constantly in evolution thanks to what we can see, discover, realize, and heal. Constantly humbled by the knowledge we can never know anything, or anyone, completely.
To release: the security of that which we thought so certainly we knew.
And to embrace: the wonder and thrill of the fact that we know so very little.
To release: our hyper-individualized existences created by technology.
Our hold on the world as if it is ours to control, ours to manipulate. The industrial-revolution-of-one that we subscribed to as young adults, that has us believing we could alter the world to be our servant. The tools, gadgets and apps that bio-hacked, preplanned, prescribed and presided over and through our every choice.
And to embrace: our rightful place as interworking, valuable and purposeful bolts in the mechanics of a larger entity.
Not as Godlike, decisive authoritarians but as willing, cooperative and grateful pieces of a bigger, incomprehensibly perfect puzzle of the universe. To embrace that our every footstep leaves a mark that mother nature must change her shape for. That our bodies will breathe, digest, break down and repair without the jurisdiction of our apps telling them to do so. That we are, above all else, living beings in a natural world.
To release: our anxious grip.
And to embrace: our faith. That it will all turn out alright.
Because what The Great Balance promises is not that everything will turn out perfectly. Not that things will return to a swimmingly complacent state in which we can distract ourselves from our emotions. Not that we won’t get sick, and certainly not that we won’t die, since death is our only certainty. Instead, The Great Balance promises that though things may not turn out how ideally or how we’d hoped, there will be some divine beauty to see and behold, discovered only because we went through the hardship with faith and diligence, openness and humility. The yin cannot exist without the yang. But in order to access this wisdom and grace, we must become the balance we seek in our every action, our very way of living;
after all, 'to balance' is an act, not an acquisition.