This sample chapter includes the introductory Quotes, References for Further Reading, and Questions for Reflection which characterize each essay in BECOMING.  These features are intended to make the material relevant to readers’ lives.  You may also take another ‘look inside’ here.


“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”   Albert Einstein

“Think sideways!”  Edward de Bono


This or That? 

One fine fall afternoon several years ago I was taking a walk in Stanley Park with Oliver Hanson, a self-avowed SNAG (sensitive new age guy) with a warmth and eternal optimism that could leave even the biggest of pessimists feeling light and hopeful.  Either that, or queasy and uncomfortable.  I myself am often in sync with Oliver.  I appreciate his broad smile, his out-of-the-box creativity and his commitment to a more just and healthy planet.  It was Oliver who introduced me to the idea that people or situations are not this or that, but that they are rather this and that.

It was a startling idea from the outset. With the or, I am firmly rooted in the comparison mode.  Either my grandmother was rigid or she was warm.  It calls up judgment.  Which is right, more accurate?  When I make a choice, the feeling of closure is familiar and comfortable.  ‘Right.  Got it.  That’s how she was.  Ah, yes.’  The or closes my curiosity right down.  I am not asked to look at the situation more closely, explore the subtleties, to be open to discrepancies in my points of view.  As French philosopher Simone Weil would have it, we stop looking.  To be fully, deeply alive is to always keep looking, developing and giving attention.  It is tempting, and often easier, to stop, but the consequences are harsh and limiting.

Recognizing that my granny was rigid and warm helps me develop a more complete and differentiated understanding of her life and world.  It dawned on me that my mother, too, was not insecure, mean-spirited or creative and nurturing.  She was all this wrapped up into one:  insecure, creative, mean, and nurturing, by turns.

When I can shift to the mode of this and that, I am more likely to see and appreciate complexities and ambiguities.  When I accept the confusing and paradoxical implications of the and, I can shift from judgment to curiosity.  And curiosity can beget compassion, a softening to others, and myself as well.  The this and that mode invites open-endedness and scatters the autumn leaves, my stories – my fixed perceptions.  Sometimes it even shakes my ways of making sense of things.

In the end, though, my stories are only the result of how I interpret and tell you about my experience of my mom and my granny.  I wonder now about their own, personal experience of their lives.  What were their joys, their trials and tribulations?  What did they fear, what gave them strength?  How did they experience their marriages, what was sex like?  What disappointments and successes did they experience?  What were their hopes and concerns for their children, for the world?

How delicious it would be to be able to sit down with them, savour a cup of hot tea or ice coffee together, to ask them questions, and, finally, to be able to listen with maturity, with curiosity and compassion, openness and acceptance, instead of the defending, comparing, evaluating that I so often brought to relationships.  This won’t happen.  Both my mother and my grandmother have died.  Yet I am the richer, softer and kinder for the curiosity, acceptance and compassion I can now feel for them both, for others and for myself.

Recognizing things are not this or that, and learning to hold the and instead, has helped me deal with many challenging situations and paradoxes with curiosity and acceptance.

One common spiritual image is that of God (or god, goddess, or the mystery, the absolute… there are many terms from which to choose, if you choose), as an ocean and individuals as separate waves.   When I am stuck in the belief of this or that, the sense that I’m a wave differentiates and separates me in some way from the whole ocean.  This distinctness and individuality might have a flavour of pumped-up power to it, but that is a false grandiosity. The single wave is isolated, cold, alone, to crash on a shore and be gone forever.  It’s barren and harsh, disconnected to the ebb and flow of life.

Then I step back and realize that perhaps I am the wave and the ocean, I am both unique, distinct, individual—no other wave is in this place at this time, with these qualities—yet I am also inseparably connected to the ocean.  Some suggest, using a holographic or mystical view, that we actually are the ocean.  Whether I am, or am part of, the ocean, I feel grounded, connected, held – integrally and indivisibly conjoined to something larger than myself.  I am nourished by and included in the beauty of the whole, even as I enjoy my uniqueness and particularity.

Part of what has motivated me to tell my stories has been to reflect on the ors and ands of them, to see the imbedded perspectives and to challenge them.  As I reflected and began to tell my story, another motivation became clear: to invite you to discover and reflect on yours. 


Related reading:

Bolen, Jean (2001).  Goddesses in Older Women:  Archetypes in women over fifty. NY: HarperCollins

Murdock, Maureen (1990). The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s quest for wholeness.  Boston: Shambhala

Weil, Simone (2001). Waiting for God.  NY: HarperCollins

Reflections:   Think of a person in your life whom you have ‘boxed in’ by neglecting to realize they are this and that?  What happens if you change your perception from or to and regarding this person?  Think of a situation where you created an or where an and would have worked as well or better? What would you gain and/or what would you give up if you transformed your perspective?

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