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How to Trust the Paradoxes of Life

This blog post is inspired by my IG post on Mother’s Day 2019.

Both/And” Sort of Days⠀

Celebrations like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day and any other family-centric, culturally-constructed, or role-specific holiday can bring up lots of big feelings about roles and relationships. These days can be a really difficult day for folks who are grieving, confused, or hurt. Folks might face a great deal of pain and loss on these “holidays.” (All of this is valid.)

And, these days may be filled with gratitude, happiness and connection. People will celebrate and spend the day in joyous ways. (All of this, too, is valid.)⠀

Consider one of these holidays or another one that comes to mind. Then, reread the last two paragraphs. I invite you to Stop. Breathe. Feel. What do you notice?

Perhaps you found yourself resonating with sensations and words from both paragraphs. It’s likely that you can name or access some form of loss and grief; likewise, it is likely that a piece of joy and love is present too. Of course, you might describe your experience in an entirely different way than I have here. (Yes, all of this is valid, too.)⠀

Naming the Paradoxes

When we look at the “both/and” of a situation, we allow ourselves to know that life is full of paradoxes. A paradox is a statement or situation that appears to contradict itself. Furthermore, when we hold the paradoxes and see them as valid, we offer ourselves a breadth of possibilities.

Instead of being just either sad or grateful about an experience, we can be both sad and grateful. Truly, we are complex beings who experience a wide range of thoughts and feelings, and as we honor this beautiful complexity we live beyond the limits of “either/or thinking.”

Additionally, when we name the paradoxes, we empower ourselves to question or challenge the messages that media/culture/consumerist society sell us. Each time we put words to what we are ACTUALLY thinking, feeling, experiencing, and believing, we take ownership of our life in a more truthful way. The holidays I mentioned (and more) are loaded up messages that come from the external and often tell us who and how to be. The paradoxes, though, help us take up space exactly as we are.

this is a white rose in front of a shadowy background.

Here’s how the “both/and” showed up for me on Mother’s Day 2019: “I am grateful for the support and love so many mothers have shown me in my lifetime– my mom, my grandmothers, my mother in law. I’m also in awe of my friends who are parents and of my sis who is already a beautiful momma to her babe on the way. ⠀

And I sometimes wish things were different in my relationships, including the one with my own mom. It’s challenging to be an adult child who is working on repairing childhood harm, still working to love and accept and respond to my inner child. It’s complicated considering who and how I want to be as a caregiver in the world. Oh, and do I want to be a mother myself?!

I feel conflicted about the gendered nature of this day, and yet, I love and cherish the spaces that I share with women. Mothers are powerful! And there are so many who play a mothering role and are referred to by other names. It’s also worth naming that I’m sharing a photo from a sweet moment. Not all moments are like this. And yet, there is space for all of the paradoxes.”

How to Trust the Paradoxes

On days that feel particularly complex and full of paradoxes, I invite you to explore the following practices:

  1. Slow down. Culture and society ask us to move very quickly and to do all the things. I invite you to slow down, as you have while reading, and simply notice what you are experiencing.
  2. Engage in mindfulness practices. This work supports you in developing emotional awareness. Furthermore, the greater your awareness, the more intentional you can be with your energy.
  3. Feel your feelings. Allow yourself to feel whatever comes up. It can be helpful to find spaces in which this feels most safe, and this will be different for each person. For me writing, therapy, and calling my sister feel very safe.
  4. Name the paradox(es). When you put words to the conflicting and confusing human condition, you may experience a sense of freedom. More specifically, your experiences may feel more real and valid when you name them.
  5. Recite affirmations that confirm the validity of your experience. Remind yourself of the truth! Some examples include: “My feelings and experiences are valid,” or “This too is part of the human experience,” or “I don’t have to act or feel a certain way today.”
  6. Take care of yourself in ways that are loving, comforting, and supportive. Listen to yourself and make choices that honor your needs. Don’t go to the BBQ if you don’t feel up for it. Instead, stay home and take the bath you are craving.
  7. Remind yourself that you have done hard things before. Tap into your resilience to experience the complexities of life by recalling challenges you have faced before. You may enjoy journaling or drawing about your process through a particular challenge.
  8. Focus on self-compassion. As you develop a sense of compassion and kindness towards yourself, you will face both comfortable and uncomfortable sensations with greater trust.
  9. Share space with folks who you can relate to. Whether you find community or support online or in-person, it can help to remember that you are not alone in your experiences.
  10. Offer yourself forgiveness AND gratitude. Parts of yourself may need forgiveness and acceptance. Likewise, other parts may need appreciation. This is an invitation to offer yourself whatever you need.

I encourage you to stay patient as you name and process the paradoxes that arise. This is also an opportunity to share these tools and the idea of paradoxes with your teenagers. Being a teenager is all about the paradoxes. Finally, as you and your family explore the complexities of this beautiful human experience, you may enjoy documenting your go-to supports using this support system map. Happy trusting!

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