We live in a world of contradictions, of opposites. This idea has been haunting me over the last month. More strongly now, as I consider life in the face of a week of death: first a dear friend, then another dear friend’s mother, another friend loses her grandmother. A very hard week, indeed. And I find myself constantly whining “when will it all be fine?”, “when will everything just be smooth and easy?” Annoying, right?
It’s always amazing to me how if I listen and pay attention in my life there is often a theme for struggles or issues du jour. Over the last few months I have been learning how much of my life has been framed in opposites and extremes. Even as I type this I am astonished at the opposite landscape and space that surrounds me – just a few months ago I was near the ocean and constantly looking over my shoulder, always cautious of my safety, when I would go for a run or walk alone. Today I live in the shadow of the flat irons in Boulder, beautiful rock formations, looking ahead at the path for rattle snakes or bears when I go for a run or walk alone. It’s different here in Boulder… very different than Durban, but I wouldn’t say it’s better. It’s different, and certainly opposite.
I can see other opposites in my life right now as I battle between the self I want to be – calm, cool and collected – and the one that rears her ugly head in the face of stress and exhaustion. Some could call her my shadow self – I may call her inner bitch – the crazy that threw a ridiculous fit the other night and even managed to throw her lip gloss at her husband. Not my shining moment – but one that made me realize who I have the power to be, but certainly don’t want to be!
The last few months have made me realize how opposite I am from my family. I want to be close to them, but their differences push me away… and yet I need to overcome that difference. Love accepts difference – but wow, why is it family can be so hard to love? (It’s much easier to love strangers, isn’t it?)
Then there is the conscious decision we made to move to Boulder “to live”, and yet I can waste a whole day contemplating my “to-do list”, instead of living it. And now in the presence of so much death, I am confronted with life – it must be lived, hourly, daily, not on a piece of paper. It’s in the little ways I live my life – like wanting to enjoy the pleasure of being fit and healthy but needing to make a choice to push through the effort, especially if it is painful and doesn’t happen instantaneously. The bigger contradictions of knowing the hardship of a painful marriage, knowing what it takes to put in the effort to find peace and love… but not listening to myself and instead making lazy, selfish choices (like throwing my lip gloss at my husband). I want to express myself through writing and photography, and my notebook remains closed, my camera gathering dust. It takes effort, even bravery to put myself out there and try, but not trying is also a choice.
And then there are the big realities of living at the intersect between choice and opposites. As a woman I am truly beginning to understand my freedom in this life – and the choice I must make to be an equal after being indoctrinated into thinking I am/was a lesser being to man. I understand the choice a lot of women make to not want to change the status quo – it’s hard. It’s often hard to be accepted and heard as an equal in a very male dominated world – it’s exhausting to have to constantly fight to be heard. Mary Daly talks about how we spend so much time focused on the internal work of releasing the chains of patriarchy that we often do not have the energy to continue vocally speaking out publicly for what is right. I get that.
I am beginning to grasp why Jesus said “the rain falls on the just and the unjust”. I love this, because why would we want to serve a God that controls us and life like puppets – what’s the mystery in that? It’s so opposite of what Christian religion teaches. And just when I start to think I “get” how the Divine works in this life, that whole theory is turned upside down. I think we really “get” God – when we stop trying to “get” God. A choice to stop white knuckling what we believe life should be… and yet we still need to be present, we still need to pursue what we are passionate about, and follow through with that plan – letting go and control at the same time.
Our life is about choices – the choices we make. “The kingdom of God is within you” – we create our own kingdoms and how we choose to live within that kingdom affects much more than our own self. My life affects yours, my choices have a ripple effect. My faith is beginning to embrace opposites – because I think that is the world we are supposed to find peace in. This is the world we are to try and make heaven on earth – not looking for a heaven that comes after death, but a balanced harmony filled life now that brings life and freedom not only to ourselves, but to others around us. Without the (sometimes perceived negative) opposite I would never fully experience the growth of my true self, life, pleasure, freedom, strength and joy. I am beginning to understand that the opposite is not bad – it is there to help me understand, to truly appreciate, and to learn.
For so long I have struggled against these opposites, they were bad, wrong, evil, unwanted. I prayed against them and to a God that I thought could take them all away. What I am struggling and in awe of lately is that I think that this very realization is the point of this life that I embody on earth. This life, this earth is a place of choice in the face of opposites. There are flowers that cannot grow in South Africa (fynbos) until a fire has spread over the land, burning and scorching the ground, and only then is it ripe for those beautiful flowers to take root! And without the trials I went through in my marriage I wouldn’t really know true joy in relationship. But my relationship, my learning curve is not the same for everyone, and not every flower must have burnt soil before it grows. This week, as I reflect on the lives of my dear friend and her death, I am reminded of the life that I want to be living. I must choose to live in the paradox of the opposites – they won’t go away.
In a yoga workshop I attended last Saturday our teacher pointed out that yoga asanas are not about just giving a good stretch to one limb – it’s about opposites. We have to plant firmly one part of our body in order to properly move another part. If we are putting up a tent we can’t just pull the tent apart it must have two different ends staked into the ground. It requires a pull in opposite directions to stand strongly. Life is about “both/and”, not one or the other – it requires that we are pulled in both directions. I suppose when we come to embrace both extremes we can live more freely, more upright. So instead of resenting these opposites, or praying them away, or controlling them, I will try to see them as gifts in this world, gifts that reveal the beauty of struggle and life. For without struggle we would never know true life.