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Life is not binary.

My husband Rich and I are about to lead another couples retreat.  In the months leading up to it, we like to review relationship materials from books we’ve read or classes we’ve taken, updating the materials to pass along new insights and tools to our participants.

I came across some notes I took from a mindfulness podcast that has got me thinking.  I had written down the words:

“Life is not binary.  It is not either/or.  Life is both/and.”

I resonate with this thinking in that I have found that as I slow things down in my life, I can be open to – and witness – both/and happening around me.  This helps me feel “in the flow” of life rather than pushing my way through life.    In addition, adopting this attitude has helped me be open to others’ opinions and not think there is only one way.  As a result, my life feels like it goes more smoothly.

In the challenging times we are living through, with so much division in our world, you could take this attitude out for a spin and see if it helps you. 

I have found that while this takes conscious effort, I am more connected to those around me when I don’t default to black-and-white thinking but rather explore how we all step in and out of opposites.  It takes effort not to default permanently to either one way or the other.  Instead, we must step in and out – flowing with each moment as it arises and falls.

At the risk of making this sound like I’m living like a monk on a mountain, that is far from the truth.

It ain’t easy, my friends.

So many factors come into play in our everyday life full of everyday moments.  While I may think the woman in front of me in the grocery store line is being rude to the cashier, I have no idea what her day/life is like.  If I can step back and be open to and/both perspectives, I can witness her short words or rushed, frazzled energy and not rush to judge it.  Then I can be open to other aspects of the situation I may not see right before me. 

Yes, we have decisions we have to make that may be either/or.  Unfortunately, we face many of those binary decisions every day.  Recent research has stated that the average American is faced with 70 decisions each day – and that doesn’t take into account those we make unconsciously! 

By taking a slower pace to life, I have found that I make better choices – even if they require an either/or.  We all have choices in how we greet life’s moments.  Am I frantically busy or calm and productive?   Am I paying attention to what Rich is saying without strategizing my response, or am I focused on his tone of voice, the cadence of his words, facial expression, and content?   And bonus points if I can do this without judging what he says.  Extra credit if I can later empathize with his point of view, especially if it differs from mine.

It is a gift I give him when I can be with him without making any decisions about the content of the conversation until there may be time to do that. 

This, my friends, is the magic of truly listening with a both/and attitude.   When I choose to do this, Rich feels seen and heard, which is what we all yearn for. 

To be truly seen and heard.  There is magic there. (me!)

This is something we do teach in our couple’s retreat.  It isn’t easy, but such a wonderful gift to give another.  Especially if we have to discuss an issue or challenge we disagree on how to resolve.  This is when being present and actively listening allows us to be in both/and energy.  We are so focused on the moment that we can’t have those inner conversations within our heads – making B&W judgments.  Having a both/and attitude can go a long way in a disagreement.  We are more open to options than we may not have been if we approached it with my way or the highway attitude.

“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” David Augesburger

We can take this into account when being in any relationship –be it with yourself, your life partner, family, friends, co-workers, and even strangers. We can be at ease with the flow of life – allowing for both/and thinking.  When making any decision, there are often more options than we can see in any one moment or situation.  If we pause, we have time to explore various ways to get the outcome we wish for.  Then from that place, we may make a better, wiser choice.  If we are personally in a different place, emotionally or physically, the same decision can be presented, and we can make another choice.  It’s all up to where we are on our life’s journey.

It’s a dance – stepping in and out of what life presents.  For example, life requires us to surf.  We ride the waves, waiting for the right moment to decide when to dive in or fly above.

“Those who flow as life flows know they need no other force.”  Lao Tzu

We all have choices in how we greet every moment – being busy or at rest, unhappy or happy, feeling grateful or unaware, and numb to the grace around us. 

I choose a both/and mindset.  I hope you can too.

Thanks for reading Laurie Riedman More Than Words ! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.

4 thoughts on “Life is not binary.”

  1. I so hear what you are saying, Laurie. When I established the Learning Center at Marist way back when, aside from reading and writing etc., one of the other “skills” was Listening. It’s challenging in many ways because listening is, I think, another form of intimacy.

  2. It got me to thinking about how comfortable or convenient binary decisions can be; yes/no, go/stop, etc. But so uninteresting. Life in between certainties is more fascinating and the nuance is where creativity blooms.

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