Discover more from The Flow
What is life? (baby don't hurt me)
exploring existential amino acids
“I let go. And I fell. The fate I’ve desperately been avoiding. I felt cold, harsh stinging and clung to a plant on the wall. Then I remembered the words I had whispered to myself, ‘let go.’ So I did. Then I was bathed in warmth, the beautiful amber light of love. And I wanted to stay there forever. But I carried on. Cold, hard, darkness. The space between the warmth and the cold became less - the contrasts became closer together and they became more extreme. I had to shield my eyes from the amber light and shivered at the cold darkness. I kept letting go. Then I saw the light and dark as they were - creation and destruction. They needed each other to be held in balance. Then I was sliding, not falling, through sun dropped tree canopies - existing in the shadow and the light. Temperance.”
Life is inherently generous, we are issued invitations to show up authentically until we’re ready to say “yes” to the life for us. I’ve experienced these invitations through burnout, dissatisfaction, boredom, depression (feeling pressed upon by life itself) - and when I’ve been able to say “yes” to life, it often meant loss. Actually every time, saying “yes” to my own life required me to say “no” to something else.
I said “no” to the restrictive expectations of clinical psychology. I said “no” to the status quo of my marriage, to be chronically misunderstood. I said “no” to friendships that required me to fracture parts of myself. I said “no” to jobs that expected me to empty myself for them, even for a “good cause”.
My “no” created space for my “yes”. Each loss required grief and soon I was up to my ears in my own tears. The grief stopped me. It was hard to say “no” when I was so accustomed to saying “yes” and I didn’t know if there would be anything else out there to say “yes” to. But I trusted in my “no”. I sat in the empty space for what seemed like a lifetime.
And then. A soft, amber light of authenticity began to warm as I trepidatiously stepped into the unknown potential of what could be. And I said “yes” to a workplace that allowed me to by myself. I said “yes” to a relationship that implicitly understood me. I said “yes” to friendships that saw me accurately. Soon the empty space that had echoed around me was filled with talismans of authenticity.
There was so much life on the other side of my “no”. I had been holding so tightly to what I had, terrified of the emptiness of “no” that I had no space to say “yes” to what I actually wanted, what was actually good for me. Not only what was available to me.
I had been bracing for so long against the unknown, I hadn’t considered the unknown could be good. Or that the good times aren’t the only part of life. Life is dynamic and complex and full.
Full spectrum humanity is the heartbreak that comes with love, it is the grief that comes with intimacy, it is the sorrow that comes with hope. Full spectrum humanity is saying “yes” to it all. Not that pain or sorrow *should happen, but that what we classify as “bad” or “hard” emotions actually amplifies the “good”. Without heartbreak, could I truly measure the depths of love? Isn’t grief a marker of what I’ve loved and lost and grief is a talisman to the meaning I’ve created with what I’ve lost?
The paradox of life is that the good times don’t last forever - but neither do the bad. Everything ends. Impermanence is one of the gift-curses of being alive, of being human. If everything lasted forever, if we indeed found the fountain of life and became immortal, the moments we experienced where time stood still wouldn’t be as meaningful because there would be infinite moments. In many ways, the finite experience of life inherently creates meaning because there is a limit to the moments we have.
Relationships, eras, commitments, activities, things, accomplishments, all come to an end. And their ending doesn’t detract from their meaning. In fact, the ending amplifies their meaning.
Friend breakups, for example, are excruciatingly painful because there isn’t a clear social grieving process for the ending of a non-romantic intimacy but there is so much pain in the ending of a friendship. And also, the friendship ending doesn’t mean the intimacy that was shared over time, the good times that were had, the hardships that were worked through, weren’t true. What was shared is real and sacred and also the relationship ended - both things can be true at the same time. They don’t cancel each other out.
Holding the both-and of meaning & endings is what I call living palliatively. I love palliative care because it’s all about comfort and legacy. In many ways, people can do things in palliative care that would be discouraged in other health care settings because there is an end near. The finite experience of time creates permission. Paradoxically, there is often a panic of dying having never really lived. For me, living palliatively is living with the knowing we are dying. So what does it mean to truly live?
To truly live requires what I call the existential amino acids, the building blocks of life. Amino acids are the basic molecular structure of every living thing and holds within it infinite potential. It is in actualizing this potential that life forms.
Our existential amino acids are belonging, purpose and meaning (more on this in a future post) but the very core of these three are self-trust.
Self-trust is not "I must know every possible outcome to prepare for it" - that's hyper vigilance. Self-trust is "no matter what happens, I will be with me and I will stay with myself, I will figure out the best way to respond because I have before and I will again." So self-trust isn't about reacting to the specific details of a scenario but an overall assurance that you can respond to a variety of situations.
I’ve been able to say “no” to coping mechanisms that had expired, relationships that outgrew their purpose, toxic places or places that were draining me. It is the hardest thing for a people-pleaser to say “no” to what isn’t toxic or abusive but simply to what isn’t “good” for me. It would be easier to say “no” if it was worse - but it is an act of self-trust to say “no” to what isn’t good FOR me.
Scrolling TikTok may not be toxic to me but is it good for me? Texting your ex may not be the end of the world, but is it good for you?'
Instead of living to avoid toxicity, perhaps we could turn towards what is good for us. And what is good for you may not be good for me because we are different people. As we should be.
So what it is time you said “no” to? How can you create existential space for your “yes” to life itself?
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