Receiving the Gift in Contradiction
May 19, 2012
Years ago my dad did the astrological chart for our family. I have a Virgo sun and Scorpio moon… a propensity for service and a down-to-earth constitution on one hand and an appetite for fire, intensity, and the desire to get to what is underneath on the other hand. I contain both a calm quiet gentle introvert and an extrovert who can be boisterous in social settings. I love being with people and at other times I want nothing more than to climb up a tree in the forest where no one in the world can find me. The simplicity of fresh air and open sky has often compelled me to live in the countryside, and I also light up in the creative buzz and color (edginess) of city life.
Throughout my life I have learned to dance between the different poles inside of me, and this has helped me to honor the contradictions in the world at-large. I used to think the contradictions were a problem. My mind would create a standard for the “right way” I should be, the “right way” my life should look, and the “right way” life should happen… always held in contrast to a perceived “wrong way.” I would painfully, clumsily, and with great effort try to meet this standard, pushing the “wrong” parts of me aside in the process, and, as a result it seemed that I would continually fail.
The conditioned mind loves to wrap the vast, diverse, messy wilderness of life into neat and tidy packages with labels and ties, separated into “right” and “wrong.” For a period in my life, I fell for this distortion, until the natural intelligence inside of me could no longer settle for a standard that left parts of me (and parts of life) out. When I began to meditate, it was as if a faint memory of unconditional love began to call out from the ethers so boldly that I finally could no longer pretend it did not exist.
Contradiction continues to be my teacher in unconditional love. While my core practice is sitting meditation, and while I have been a meditator for 20 years, I can no longer count on being able to do my sitting meditation upright, due to the chronic pain of fibromyalgia on days it flares up. I enthusiastically teach organic gardening and permaculture and the joy of working outside with one’s hands… but in digging my own garden I rely on a team of friends and cohorts to help with the hefty work I cannot even pretend to do myself.
Yesterday I relied on a friend to cook for me and wash my dishes, although I have written an entire book on cooking, do-it-yourself, and self-reliance. The gifts of contradiction in my life keep me honest. Unexpected flare-ups of debilitating chronic pain remind me of the degree to which we are not in control… Life is. If we are willing to let go of our standards for how we think life “should be” and relax into observing life “as it is,” we might actually begin to realize the perfection of life as it is. In other words, how we choose to dance with life and its endless contradictions is our only arena of choice.
I remember my first time working on a large-scale organic farm. For years I had held onto the illusion that a local, organic, vegetarian diet was a “100% no impact diet.” But this illusion was shattered one day when I came upon a harmed animal habitat in the field farmed by tractors. Upon investigation, I learned that this was a regular occurrence in farm fields and realized that even organic agriculture has its ramifications on the ecosystem. The pristine (or so I perceived it) fields containing rows of mindfully tended vegetables were now also a field of adversity in my eyes. After wrestling with the options (or perceived lack of)… “A forage-only diet? Long-term fasting? Hydroponics?” I relaxed into the power of acceptance.
Allowing myself to see the big picture in the simple act of feeding ourselves, shadows and all, opened my heart to all of the great contradictions -at a point in history when every move we make has a poignant impact. As I thought more deeply about our efforts to live consciously, my heart softened. I recommitted to saying grace and eating my meals mindfully. I upped my commitment to remember the animals who are impacted, even indirectly, for every product I own. I released my judgments about people who are unaware of their impact on the environment. I stopped preaching about “the right diet” and replaced it by helping people to find their own authentic expression of a “conscious diet.” The only place left to rest, now that my righteous opinions were taken away, was in the vast acceptance and possibility of the open heart.
As both a meditation teacher and a sustainability consultant, the open heart has served me well. We cannot solve the problems of our time with the same mind that created them. In other words, in any situation, if we want to find solutions that work for the whole, that leave no one out, including ourselves, we are required to look beyond our opinions and theories and turn to the open heart. The contradictions inherent in our world can only be understood through compassion. Given that our every thought and action has an impact we may not always be aware of, the heart is the only place I trust from which to make kind choices.
Back to fibromyalgia… For the years that I have had this condition, I always relied on my mindfulness practice to help ease the pain, and to help me accept that which I couldn’t change when a flare-up occurred. But as soon as I felt strong again, I would believe that I had returned to my “better self” because I could do and accomplish much more when strong and able. Over the past year, something else has been revealed to me. The part of me that will not settle for anything less than unconditional love has taught me another lesson I am finally ready for.
Is it really in keeping with my practice to value my “healthy self” over my “aching self?” In all honesty, can I really love one part of me more than another? Who cares (!) about how much I can do or accomplish at different times? Who cares if my blog is posted late or on time? Who cares if I am being my “better healthy stronger self” or if I’m a sore, achy fibromyalgia body that needs to ask for help? If I had children, would I love one child more than the other? When I am clear that the most important thing to me in the entire world is unconditional love, to live with an open heart and to love with compassion, and that to love in this way does not require any conditions whatsoever other than the choice to love, then I have the power to let go and simply relax into the field of unconditional love regardless of circumstance.
The gift of contradiction is that it reminds us again and again that we have the capacity for love that is unconditional, both for ourselves and towards others, and that this type of love is larger and stronger than any of the mind’s judgments, opinions, labels, and comparisons. By practicing awareness, we learn to let go of unnecessary judgment.
As a practitioner, all that matters is that the container or vessel we are molding, shaping, and becoming carries the diversity of life gracefully and kindly. The container we create through mindfulness is one of ever-expanding, non-judgmental acceptance for all that is.