When I was younger, I would often ping-pong between trying to be spiritual and giving in to my more irreverent tendencies.
I would sometimes stay away from my friends who went out to parties, abstain from drinking alcohol, and only spend time with one friend who felt like-minded.
I denied the part of me that craved things I didn’t think were so pious, which would inevitably lead to the other extremes—going out with friends, drinking, shopping, and leaving my spiritual life behind.
This back and forth caused a lot of confusion. I thought I needed to decide which one I was.
I still sometimes feel this way today. Just this week, while driving my shiny red Vespa through Ubud—the spiritual center of Bali and a major spiritual capital of the world—I began to ask myself, “Do I belong here? “Am I really ‘spiritual’?”
I tried to take a good, hard look at myself. “Do I just need to come to terms with my true nature: the fact that I am materialistic and belong somewhere else that is less devotional and more ‘fun’?” “Am I in denial about who I really am?” “Am I living in Ubud to satisfy a need to feel like I am pursuing something deeper when, in fact, I am really just superficial?”
This got me thinking about the Dialectical Behavior Therapy concept of dialectical thinking, and how two seemingly opposing things can both be true at the same time.
When we think we have to choose only one part of ourselves, we often ricochet between extremes, instead of realizing that we can accept and love both sides of ourselves. We don’t have to choose. Once we are able to get to know and love every part of ourselves, they become less polarized; the parts stop fighting against one another, and we are free to enjoy all aspects of the complex, one-of-a-kind humans that we are.
Embracing dialectical thinking means walking the middle path and learning how to live in the gray. This helps us love the beautifully complex creatures that we are. The middle path asks us, “What do you need to open up to in your life?” “What are the aspects of you that seem to contradict?”
Below are some examples of common dialectical concepts that we often explore and discuss in dialectical behavior therapy:
>> You are tough and you are gentle.
>> You can be independent and still need help. You can allow somebody else to be there for you.
>> You are independent and can give people help.
>> You can have the desire to change, be doing the best you can, and still need to do better, try harder, and be more motivated to change.
>> You can be with others and still be lonely.
>> You can accept yourself the way you are and still want to change. You can accept others as they are and still want them to change too.
Finding the unique balance that is true and authentic to you takes courage. For me, as I thought about my life in Bali, I realized that both the spiritual and the material parts of me are true. And neither part is good or bad.
By radically accepting all the different shades of who we are, we begin to fall in love with our own humanness and that of others.
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