I’m a champion at all-or-nothing thinking. I always see my inner and outer circumstances as being all-good or all-bad. (Did you notice that I just said “always”? It’s hard to drop the habit even when I’m talking about it!). When I’ve experienced a loving connection with a close friend, or the thrill of feeling valued after an accomplishment, I tend to believe that the warm glow of feeling like I’m “enough” will stick around. I assume it will fill my cup for days or weeks at least… so the unavoidable descent to self-loathing catches me by surprise, and is all the more brutal. And the equally unavoidable rise to lightness, humor and appreciation catches me by surprise, in turn, over and over.
Because of this tendency, one aspect of Purejoy that has struck me the most is its support of balance, or neutrality, in a radical way which genuinely welcomes every side. Many times, in a coach training call or coaching session, I brought up a point of view that seemed pessimistic, skeptical or even hostile, and expected to be received with defensiveness or disapproval. And I was instead welcomed and thanked for “bringing the other side.” It was truly shocking!
It turns out that, gradually, I’ve started to trust that this “other side” is not something I need to fear and push down, shamefully “fixing” it and hiding it from others while wondering what’s wrong with me. Here’s how I found out: a few weeks ago, I overheard two moms talking, and when one asked the other what’s been going on, she answered, “oh, I’m just chilling.”
This reply astonished me – just chilling? Is that…an option? I’m not currently employed, and one of my two kids is in school full-time, which is similar to the circumstances of the chilling mom – but I am so far from chilling! I am constantly looking for a new way to express and fulfill my ideas and desires, including through stand-up, improv comedy, puppet plays for local schools, practice coaching and thinking about how to find more practice clients, collaborating on a podcast, shadowing a birthday clown, and more.
Even more than those activities, however, I would say that the reason I’m not chilling is because of the voice in my head that keeps saying, “OK, so what’s next? What do I cook next? What do I clean next? Do I call that friend? Do I sign up for that parenting conference? Do I take my kid for a walk? What’s the right next thing to do??” I mused about the contrast between me and this other mom while chopping vegetables for a soup that I had decided, with difficulty, was the right thing to cook that evening. Wouldn’t it be better and healthier for my kids if I could just chill, wouldn’t they grow up with less stress and less hamster wheel go-go-go mentality?
Suddenly, I heard another voice say: “maybe…and that’s not who you are.” In that moment I saw that there is a part of me that doesn’t chill, and this part is mine to keep forever. It’s not going anywhere, and it will continue to ask me to make plans, make decisions, weigh options, try something, decide against it, on and on. It will never be content or relaxed. Usually I bemoan qualities like this that I notice in myself, and this time, I didn’t feel any regret or hostility towards it. I was acknowledging something of mine without judgment, and it felt honest and had a note of kindness to it, though I was not trying to be kind to myself. It felt like I was recognizing a pet that had lived with me for a long time.
I’m not sure where the pet metaphor came from, because I’ve never had a dog or cat – I have only ever had a pet parakeet, and we didn’t have an inspiring pet-owner relationship. But it felt like the right way to capture that this side of me has its own personality, needs and desires, and that it’s living in my home and is not about to go anywhere. I viscerally felt that this pet, which I might call my Restless-Search-For-Fulfillment pet, is mine for as long as I live, whether I want it or not, so I might as well get to know it better, and learn how to get along with it with some kindness and humor.
The second such moment came yesterday, while I was in a bleak mood of loss of hope and meaning following a few triggers over the past few days. I was feeling quite dark, and eventually decided to play some piano so that I could feel my feelings. After flipping through my sheet music, I settled on the Funeral March by Chopin. I love this piece, and have found that it fits those states of mind when I’m feeling ready to either give up on myself or to experience some kind of transformative awareness. Some of my family don’t like when I play this piece for superstitious reasons, and it definitely carries an intensely sombre tone. As I played, I started to see that, just like the melody of this piece is something that I have with me to keep forever, this sombre mood is also mine to keep. I will, from time to time, from now until the Funeral March is played for me, feel the weight of this part of me which doesn’t believe in anything and doesn’t hope for anything.
Whether I developed this individually or absorbed it culturally, it is now a full-fledged part of me, and, as earlier, this realization came with some kindness and gentleness towards that part. I saw that I don’t need to do anything about it. And, in contrast to my all-or-nothing mindset, I saw that while this part is always inside, it is not always going to be the part whose voice I hear in my ears. Sometimes, as just the week before at an event with friends I had not seen for years, I will be most aware of my sociable, extroverted, excited part, the part that wants to make people laugh or let them know they’re loved and valued. Or the playful part that purely wants to have fun.
There is an ease and release that came with this realization, which felt sudden but has been years in the making. It feels as if I have started to welcome the ebb and flow of all the contrasting and, I can now see, not necessarily conflicting sides of me. I am so grateful to Purejoy for supporting me to see that no one is one-sided, as much as I’ve fantasized about living out of only my sweet, playful, generous parts. And for supporting me to feel a glimmer of appreciation for how all of these challenging sides enrich my life. They allow me to relate to others, including my own children, more deeply and authentically, because I have all the same sides in me, too. I wonder which side I will start to acknowledge next.
Masha is a Purejoy graduate from the class of 2021. She has mostly moved on from Guess Who to cushion fights with her son and setting up all the dinosaurs in a row along the piano keys with her daughter. She is now slightly favoring improv comedy classes over stand up open mics as a participant, though it’s still a toss up for which is more fun to watch.