Today was money meeting day. We (my husband Simon and I) regularly hold these pow-wows to “get real” about our finances. This particular meeting resulted in feelings of disappointment & frustration over the fact that our income barely covers our expenses and, as it turns out, lately we’re literally spending more than we make. In spite of hard work and reasonably high earnings, apparently we’re not “getting ahead”, whatever that means.
That’s one perspective. Another, equally valid perspective is that we have a rich life full of incredible flow…. we enjoy substantial income, money to spend on continued learning & growth (our passions) and we have always paid our bills on time. Plus, we are abundant in the realm of non-monetary wealth: community, family and health. It’s a paradox. Both are true. Finances can become too tight for comfort AND we’re doing just fine. We experience a sense scarcity AND we feel fabulously abundant.
I have a love – hate relationship with paradox (get it?). I fully recognize that all great truths are paradoxical.
There are two kinds of truth, small truth and great truth. You can recognize a small truth because its opposite is a falsehood. The opposite of a great truth is another truth.
– Niels Bohr
Some examples of great truths:
- My perception is my reality AND my perception is not reality.
- I am perfect exactly as I am AND I could use some improvement.
- When I accept myself just as I am, only then I can change.
I love the freedom that embracing paradox offers me. When I find myself standing in a strong point of view and then allow that the opposite point of view is ALSO true – nobody gets to be wrong. Now that’s freedom! When I can see an issue as both/and rather than either/or, something comes alive in me. My heart feels more open and I experience a sense of permeability and connection. My whole being softens.
Alas, there is another part of me that disdains paradox. This is the me who squirms when in a “grey area”. This part simply wants to know what’s right and what’s wrong dammit. What’s black and what’s white? If I know the rules, the lines, the parameters well, then I know what to do and what not to do right? So what’s the catch? Well, with the benefit of such clear distinctions my ego now has greater control. When it appears that there is only one right way, it’s like high octane fuel to the ego and it won’t be long before feelings of shame, guilt and inadequacy will rear their ugly heads.
Nowhere does this black and white thinking arise with greater drama than inside of relationship – specifically in relationship upsets. Herein lies a hotbed of blame and suffering. Someone’s gotta be right and someone’s gotta be wrong. Somebody screwed up and let’s just be clear that the somebody was YOU! This version of either/or (either I’m right or you are) leads nowhere except down the well-travelled road of resentment, self-victimization and separation.
Indeed, it is in the territory of relationship that I have come to appreciate paradox the most.
Suzuki-Roshi said, “You are perfect just as you are. And you could use a little improvement.”
This is especially true when we are in a relationship breakdown. Here’s the scenario:
- My partner says or does something that triggers upset in me.
- My energy contracts around feelings of sadness or anger.
- My interactions now include a tight jaw, averted eyes, a tense voice and a closed heart.
- Both of us are miserable.
- Later, as I realize I’ve been in reaction and not communicated my feelings, I begin to feel some healthy remorse.
- I desire to be back in connection.
I am doing the best I can AND I can do better…
This is the paradox I love most. I was doing the best I could in that moment that I got triggered. How do I know? Simple…because that is what happened. Period. If I could have done ANYTHING different or better – I would have done it.
And, I can do better. I can. Sometimes I don’t react or sometimes I am completely transparent with my reactions, effectively eliminating the charge. And I WANT to do better. I don’t want to get lost in contraction and close my heart to my beloved. I want to be human, have my reactions and then let them go. And I want to continue to do my work so that maybe I won’t react in the first place!
Here is the beauty of this paradox: it is completely honoring of both who we are and who we are becoming. It encompasses both concepts: that we are accepting ourselves just as we are and we are improving ourselves as two simultaneous human imperatives. Evolving is simply what we do. Forget the thinking that says I’ve got to improve because there’s something wrong with me. Instead, we can honor who and what and where we are and still fulfill our longing to grow.
I suggest you try it on. Right now. Say the words softly to yourself. I’m doing the best I can AND (pause) I can do better. Listen. Say it again. Let it roll around inside of you and just notice. Maybe you can feel a little softening in your heart. Maybe an uptick in your self-compassion. Say it again. What’s true about this for you?
For me what’s true is that we are doing the best we can with our finances AND we can do better. I look forward to the freedom this will offer us by the time our next money meeting comes around.