I see things in black and white. Like all of us, I'd love to believe that I see multiple shades of each and all the colors in between, but if I'm honest, I see in absolutes. I've been seeing friendships as healthy or unhealthy, food as nutritious or inedible, work as difficult or a no-brainer, presence as... okay I haven't been present. And why? Because I have been so concerned with categorizing experiences into a treasure bundle or crap bundle. Either way, must be bundled!, says my gray matter. Even my brain knows a shade of gray looks nice on a person. What do we stand to gain by placing things in the correct order and lining them up like fragments of a life instead of letting them all blend together into the bigger picture? For me, I realized it's about a sense of progress. If I know where things stand, then I know where I stand. If I know where I stand then I can judge if I'm moving forward or not. If I know I'm making progress I know I'll be okay.
We delight in categorizing progress. Especially in New York. What are you working on? What do you do? What's up next for you? We constantly check in with each other and ourselves to notice where we are on the treadmill and hope to god we're farther along than last time we checked. But this black and white filter - progression or regression - serves only to eliminate the nuance that satisfies us. As a creature, we crave novelty. We want certainty, but we also want surprise. Color. Vibrance. But instead of allowing ourselves the mystery of not knowing, of not categorizing, of not jumping to conclusions about what's in front of us, we miss everything. And I mean, everything.
Things I've missed out on because of needing a black and white definition of every moment: intimacy, friendship, love, jobs, self-satisfaction, wonder, effortlessness, kindness, compassion, grace. Things I've gained by interpreting the world through two sets of opposing filters: disappointment, boredom, fatigue, anger, the nagging sensation that something's not right.
So many times we look around us completely unsatisfied and desperate to fill in the blanks because we just can't stand the gray. The slimy, sloppy, messy gray that allows us to just sit and breathe instead of tweet. The gray that gets us out into the world for the pure joy of it instead of thinking we're gaining something measurable in our careers or social status by it.
We love the gray, but we don't want the gray. We love the idea of living a fulfilling life, but we don't want the risk of falling short. So we choose to fail. We choose to shut down. We choose to put things in order. Lines and rows and boredom.
Have you ever seen an overgrown garden? Husband and I were walking by a building the other day in Chelsea, and this beautiful garden in front of the ground level apartment was utterly overgrown. It was wistful. The delicate branches of a tree wound around the metal gates and the little green leaves draped themselves against each other. The bushes (or one bush? Who can tell?) were co-habitating and breathing depth into each other. Not one plant looked trapped. Each one soared because nature overgrows. Nature is colorful in its grayness.
It's our nature to be overgrown, too. It's our nature to allow ourselves the effortlessness of exposure and presence. My favorite quote of all time by Walt Whitman goes, "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. (I am large. I contain multitudes.)" If we could allow ourselves to expand and contract in a natural rhythm with a natural joy, we'd progress. We'd move not just forward but inwards and around and through and up and over. Our progression wouldn't be in this silly straight line we think looks nice but actually burdens the crap out of us. Our multitudes could pour out of us and connect us to one another and create brilliant communities founded on easy presence. We'd be out of control and quite safe. We'd wiggle around and end up god knows where, all gray and good.