Friday’s Food for Thought: Basements and Ceilings

Highs and lows, ups and downs, peaks and valleys; and what I’m now calling basements and ceilings.  All metaphors for the struggles we incur on this wild ride called life and yet a critical component of finding that elusive thing we call balance.

Our species is born to need.  We require extraneous elements to survive and our bodies are designed to propel us into seeking what we need. This was obviously an evolutionary advantage because if we didn’t have the drive to seek food and water we’d have gone extinct.  Yet this, like many other of our basic synapses, has become both a blessing and curse.  Our biological wiring is essentially the same since the dawn of man, but our environments are now very different.  That basic need to hunt and gather has gone haywire amidst the abundance of stress.  Top that with the ability get our hands on anything we could possibly want to ingest at any given time and it’s not hard to see why so many of struggle to find balance.

Balance is actually very subjective, and what constitutes ‘balance’ for one person might be totally different for someone else.  One of the definitions of balance reads: “Offset or compare the value of (one thing) with another.” That would apply if you know the value of both things, but what about when we don’t? How do I find balance in a realm where I have no margin of comparison? How do I know where the middle is if I haven’t seen the ends?

I realized this past week that we spend the first half of our lives finding our basements and our ceilings.  Through our teens and twenties, discovering just how high you can fly, and how low you can go is actually what shapes our current behaviors.  Sometimes that basement can be dark, scary, and really ugly but with my recent epiphany in tow I propose we gain some perspective and say hey, at least you now know where it is. And that knowledge is actually critical to your survival so good for you.

I’ve cracked my head on the ceiling many times over exercising and injuring myself, or getting too full of myself thinking I’m all that.  I’ve also been in basements that resemble a Tarantino film. But the thing about finding your basement is that there’s only one way to go and that’s up.  You get up, take a good look around and say: “I’m never coming back here.”

We sometimes need to identify those extremes to know where our own middle lies,  where our balance actually is. I often use the pendulum example that we swing too far one way, then just as far in another direction; but the steady, middle swing is where we should aim to be.  We know now what feels great, and what feels awful.  Over time, those extremes lessen which I view (so should you)  as a huge mark of personal progress.

The real problem is that all the shame we create in those moments can keep us up from getting up. Let’s say you’re on a bender, wake up in the morning hating yourself and tearing your psyche to shreds.  Shame enters and orders you a hair of the dog or a pint of Ben and Jerry’s so you can escape from all those gross feelings you just created.   And the cycle continues.

starisAt this age we’ve all had someone close to us struggling or seemingly locked in the basement forever.  Think about the grace and understanding you’ve countlessly bestowed on the people in your life because you knew they were having a hard time.  Why can’t we apply that grace to ourselves so that we can break the cycle? It’s astounding to think about how difficult it is to give ourselves the same grace we give others.

Basements signify a time for change, and if you’re in the basement you now know for sure it ain’t your ceiling.  Instead of beating yourself up, be grateful you’re aware enough to know where you are and that your descent didn’t kill you in the process.  Your soul directed you, however convoluted the route, to a place where you could finally listen and make some changes.  Our stairways are all different, but I think that’s a much better way to look at things no matter what the circumstance.

Is crawling out of the basement easy? No.  Does it blow sometimes? Yes.  Is it worth it? Absolutely. Was it a necessary part of your coming into being? Most likely.  We are humans; fallible and needy.  We may have to hit all proverbial four corners to know where our middle is, and that’s ok.   Let’s make some space for grace, so there’s no more shame in our game. Shame is the bolt on the basement door so let it go.  I’m not going to lie, I’ve been in some totally rad Tarantino basements, but making like Lionel Richie and dancing on the ceiling is where the real party is at.

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