“How do I reconcile these conflicting emotions?” I asked Don, my spiritual director.
“You don’t.” He held out both arms, cupping his hands. “Rather, you hold the both/and of them like ying and yang, the sun and the moon, and let them breathe wisdom into your heart.”
I had shared with Don my conflicting emotions of grief and joy because of my dog Riley’s recent death.
On one hand, I hold the grief of losing the physical presence of my best friend and companion, and in the other hand I cup the joy that Riley is in heaven free of pain and playing divine catch with my mom and dad.
In his book, The Promise of Paradox—a Celebration of Contradictions in the Christian Life, Parker Palmer echoes what Don was teaching me. Palmer says we need to name the conflicting emotions in each of our life situations and then hold them without trying to reconcile them or push them away. Eventually, a third force—a deeper wisdom—arises that teaches us the life- lesson we’re invited to embrace.
Much like the sun and the moon, which provide balance between day and night, regulate ocean tides, and create the environment for plant life to emerge, our conflicting emotions provide rich soil to nourish our growth.
When we hold the both/and of life’s holy tensions and bring them to God, we create inner space in our hearts and minds to let in Divine Light. And, mysteriously, if we listen deeply and tend our souls, the wisdom of paradox emerges.
“I refuse to let grief overwhelm me, yet I cannot be a Pollyanna and pretend joy soaks my heart,” I confided in Don.
“What does Riley’s life teach you?” Don asked.
“Unconditional love,” I replied as tears streamed down my cheeks. “Riley taught me—and his Spirit continues to teach me—how to embrace an ever-deepening compassion for myself, others, and all creation like he did. He teaches me how to let go of grudges and forgive, how to see life through the inner lens of my heart, and how to trust God’s in the tough stuff too.”
“That’s it!” Don said. “Can you let Riley and God love you with Divine Compassion? Let their unconditional love soak into your body like spring rain? Allow their love to embrace you, heal you, and transform your pain with the Divine balm that opens your heart to the presence of the inner light that guides from within.”
“Yes.” I placed my hands on my chest near my heart. “I feel the warmth of Riley’s presence. I hear his voice and know he’s here. I’ll let him continue to teach me how to be loved and become love like him.” I paused, took a deep breath, and looked at Don. “But why does love sometimes hurt so deeply?”
“Because it’s real,” he said.
When life gets tough, don’t push emotions away or drown in them. Instead, name the conflicting emotions you’re being invited to hold, some of which might be:
· Clinging and letting go
· Breaking and healing
· Judging and accepting
· Hatred and forgiveness
· Fear and courage
· Mystery and clarity
· Imperfection and perfection
· Darkness and light
· Human and divine
· Grief and joy
· Weakness and resilience
· Loneliness and solitude
· Death and resurrection
· Sadness and unconditional love
As you name the both/and of your emotions, hold them in cupped hands. Then bring them to the God of Light.
Hold the paradox, listen to what emerges. Let the Creator breathe wisdom into your soul.
—brian j plachta