I first became aware of my black or white thinking in college. I was a sophomore and suffering my first real bout of insomnia. All my peers were picking majors and the mere thought of deciding what I wanted to do for the rest of my life squeezed the very breath out of me. I was fine being busy throughout the day, but the second my sweet, young head hit the pillow, ¡pow! the adrenaline kicked in at full force. What if I picked the wrong degree?! Attempting to let my roommate sleep, I’d pace the dorm hallways until I ended up in the computer lab where I’d often e-mail my dad at the wee hours of the morning, the reason for which he sent me my first self-help book. I don’t remember the name or the title of the yellow paperback, but I do remember being intrigued by the author’s ability to describe so well the inner workings of my mind. This = good. That = bad. Don’t mess it up or shit will go bad.
I didn’t have the skills, focus or capacity for self-love at nineteen to really dive into breaking these patterns, nor did I think such effort was worth the time. I was forever racing the clock, trying to squeeze as much juice from each minute as I could. As I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up (in two years) I believed I needed to keep my options open for admittance to medical school or grad school or for finding an ideal job. For me this meant keeping a nearly 4.0 GPA and a résumé filled with activities. It also meant keeping busy enough that I didn’t really have to feel my anxiety.
I wish I could say that was then, but now I’ve got it all figured out. I wish I could say that now I don’t fall into that stifling way of thinking nor fill my days with some pretty meaningless shit shuffling. I wish I could say that I don’t cling to a job out of fear of how dark it could go should I dare to let it go. I wish I could say that I don’t feel a need to over-analyze and control my kids’ schedules, bedrooms, social lives and academic careers. I wish I could say that I never let my mind spiral into fear and panic, thinking I may be making the “wrong” decision. I wish I could say I had a magic formula for staying in the present moment, trusting the process and cultivating self-love.
I don’t know that formula, but I do now see the value in putting in the time to practice developing these skills and I do, much more often than before, also see gray.
Today for example:
I was a gray partner. I didn’t connect with TJ via deep belly laughter nor romantic fireworks, but I felt compassion for his back pain, and I felt appreciated for the mediocre but nutritious dinner I made.
I was a gray teacher. I gave a kick-ass lecture about Spanish past participles, but my handout contained a mistake that kept the most observant students on their toes. I also presented a lesson to a group of 5th graders on Mindfulness, after which I mindlessly left the mallet to my singing bowl.
I was a gray mom. I participated in both a cozy snuggle session and an intense battle of the wills. (It was a tie). I also tucked in 2 out of 3.
Tonight I will go to sleep content with my gray day.