Did you ever receive an unexpected message out of nowhere at just the right time? One that seemed to have been written just for you and that provided precisely what you needed?
The email rocked my world.
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about embracing ambiguity, which is the fact that two seemingly contradictory concepts can exist simultaneously and both be true. With today's frenetic pace, it can be tempting to categorize all sorts of things and concepts into distinct "all-or-nothing" categories. This person is good, but that one is repugnant. This perspective is spot-on, that one without merit. My team is best, that one is a bunch of idiots. Basil is amazing, but cilantro tastes like soap. You get the idea. Challenging times prompt us to create black and white dualities in our minds, as doing so helps us feel at least a modicum of control. But we're often being myopic when we approach the world that way.
Ultimately, we all know that much of life resides in the far-more-nuanced world of grey. For instance, we adore our loved-ones and their behaviors can drive us batty. Both are true. It's simply a fact of being in close relationship.
When I was called out of town recently for a week to help with a family health crisis, I had the opportunity to confront my own tendency to split into either/or thinking, and try instead to embrace the paradox of both/and thinking—with surprising results.
The day I was to travel, I was nervous, as tensions over the family health issue were mounting. All during the previous week, in fact, I had been working on lowering my expectations in an effort to avoid disappointment.
Before leaving for the airport, I checked my email to find an earth-shattering message from an inspirational list-serve called The Universe Talks (TUT). When I opened the site's daily message, I was shocked because it seemed to have been written specifically for me. Here's what it said, in part:
The easiest way to avoid letdowns and disappointments is:
Not lowering your standards. That's quitting.
Not releasing expectations. That's an old wives' tale.….
So go ahead, aim high, expect a miracle, and want it all.
It was as though cymbals went off in my head! Just when I'd convinced myself that I should have no expectations comes a new twist on such thinking. Beyond calling it an old wives' tale, here was "The Universe" encouraging me to expect a miracle.
Expect a miracle when everyone in my family is upset? Wouldn't I be better off keeping a low profile, helping when I can, and then be grateful if any moments of connection come my way?
Once the cymbals quieted down, however, I realized that such either/or thinking could easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If my expectations are too low, I might only see the worst. On the other hand, if I expect miracles everywhere, I'm likely to become disheartened before I even board the plane.
There's a place for both, I concluded. In the end, I kept my expectations in check, given that this was a stressful situation. In addition, I was receptive to the possibility that great things might also arise.
Guess what happened? By holding reasonable expectations and being open to grace, I was delighted to experience heartwarming moments even during a time of great stress. Because those moments of grace arose from a challenging situation, they were even more precious. I think of them as jewels from beyond—just like that email.
TODAY'S CONVERSATION SPARKS
* When are you tempted to view the world in either/or boxes, and how might that thinking limit your experiences?
* How could both lowering expectations and being open to miracles work in your life?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Tom Glaser is the author of Full Heart Living: Conversations with the Happiest People I Know. A psychologist and life coach, he lives in Minneapolis with his family and beloved mini-labradoodle. When he isn't teaching Full Heart Living workshops—which explore how to listen and provide dynamic conversation sparks—you'll find him working on a second book on Trauma and Resilience.