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Finding the Gray

Updated: May 1, 2020

This photograph speaks so much to me. I took it on the Southern shore of Lake Manapouri in New Zealand's magical Fiordlands during sunset. It holds so many extremes: light and dark, rain and sunshine, solid land and textured water. The viewer wouldn't even realize it's a color photo except for the subtle blue in the background.

I've been trying to live in that blue, or if it were indeed black and white, live in the gray. We humans seem to gravitate toward extremes, holding onto the edges as though we needed something to grab; to confirm that yes, this is indeed what is happening. It leaves us chasing the most epic, the most humbling, the superlative of whatever we're looking for. Nothing is enough unless it's at the edge of its potential.

How do we know when we've reached the edge? Sometimes it's obvious and that's why we look for it. We chase the extreme because we can't be sure we're there unless it's slapping us in the face. So we run from black to white and back to black before we can even see the blue; the gray.

What if we didn't spend our time chasing the edges and instead, learned to rest in the gray?

In my work I would try to help people let go of the extremes. People were either eating all day or never, all the things or none of the things, 100% or 0%. It was as though the middle was too hard to keep track of so they ran to the edges because those were undeniable. It was harder to talk themselves out of the extremes. Harder to trust themselves to stay grounded in the middle without a firm rule to keep them there. This was especially apparent with regard to hunger and fullness cues. People in general have a hard time identifying these cues unless they're painfully hungry or full.

The key to feeling the subtleties of hunger and fullness is to slow down and check-in. We don't do that during meals or any time really. How many of us have a predetermined schedule that we have to complete in effort to pay the rent or stay accountable to our obligations? How many of us take the time to stop and ask, really ask, "How am I? How do I feel about this schedule or how is this scheduling leaving me feeling at the end of the day?"

This genuine check-in can be scary. Sometimes when I ask myself how I am, I'm in a state that I don't know how to fix. Or even worse, it's hard to name how I feel which makes naming my need even harder. In those moments, I have no clear sense of where I am in myself or the world. That kind of groundlessness is very uncomfortable and almost worth doing anything to bring myself to any extreme in the name of avoiding that discomfort.

Pema Chodron often talks about "positive groundlessness" and the things we do to avoid that state. Is being in the gray like that? That positive groundlessness? It makes me think about when I try to do a handstand and I'm actually nailing it. Except nailing a handstand is never a static state. When I'm in a handstand, I'm constantly adjusting for very subtle shifts in my weight distribution and it's scary to feel like at any point, I could fall over.

I think of being in the gray as having no clear right or wrong option and having to rely on myself to guide me. I think of being in the gray as being present and not distracting myself from the mundane moments in life with flashy phones or headlines. I think of being in the gray as pausing to breathe and staying in the space between breaths for a moment; to appreciate the infinite possibility within those two actions. I think of being in the gray as having permission to stop or go when my energy calls for it. I think of being in the gray as staying open to the subtle messages from my body and my intuition.

It's easy to find the extremes but, at least for me, it's harder to be authentically present unless I'm living in the gray.

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