“The deepest secret is that life is not a process of discovery, but a process of creation.”
—Neale Donald Walsch
I live most of my life in the grey area. Not in the Fifty Shades of Grey area kind of way (you pervert!). I’m talking about that area between the black and white answers—the space that isn’t clearly one thing or the other but is open to interpretation. That’s where I live: in that space that isn’t clearly defined. The way I see the world, situations, ideas, and events are up for interpretation and analysis. Nothing has a clear answer.
People find it scary to live in the grey. Some even find it offensive, because they believe they must have all the correct responses to the world’s toughest situations. In the grey area there are no universal laws dictating wrong or right. There are no best answers or perfect choices. The only thing that’s certain is that there’s no right path, no absolute Truth. Living with this idea is strange. It means constantly inhabiting the unknown. However, it can be extremely freeing to let go of believing that you have to have all the answers all the time.
Being Your Authentic Self in the Grey
“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”
When you live authentically, you get to decide who you are and create who you want to be. It’s up to you to choose how you want to view or respond to a situation, regardless of the rules dictating what you’re supposed to think, want, or do. Living in the grey means recognizing that you make the ultimate decision about what type of person you want to be. If there’s a black and white script dictating your life, or a specific map that you’re supposed to follow, it’s hard to truly experience life the way you want to. For me, living in the grey has meant deciding what I value, appreciate, and think. Ultimately, it’s given me the confidence to be who I want to be, regardless of others’ opinions or judgments. Rather than being told and taught the way to be, I can interpret situations for myself. In this sense, I’m no longer burdened by should statements; commanding phrases like ought, must, or have to no longer lurk in the shadows, bullying me into doing things I’m not comfortable with.
Dr. Albert Ellis, founder of Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy, used some interesting wordplay to describe black-and-white living. He assigned the clever terms should-ing and must-urbating, to the damaging act of making impossible demands on oneself. According to Ellis, when you constantly have should statements in your vocabulary, you block your ability to see and materialize your desires and wishes. Instead, you live according to inaccurate expectations. Living by rigid, black and white rules dictating how you, others, the world, and life need to be can make you more confused, upset, discouraged, and angry.
Learning to Live in Grey Areas
“Grey is the color of intellect, knowledge and wisdom. It is perceived as classic, refined, dignified, and conservative. Grey is a perfect neutral that lives between the extremes of black and white.”
There was a time in my life when I liked to know everything. I needed to have all the answers, and I always had a plan. Over time, I came to realize that at some point, most answers and plans have to change or be altered in some way. Having a sense of certainty comforted me, reduced my anxiety, and allowed me to pack my life into a neat little package. But whenever I faced uncertainty, I became completely overwhelmed. I felt compelled to create a plan that would make things familiar again. But let’s face it: Whether we like it or not, we live in the unknown. We create answers to feel secure and try to understand the world we live in, but it doesn’t put us any more in control.
Human are curious creatures; we need concrete answers. We’ll make a theory fit a situation—even if it has a bunch of holes—just so we can say we have an answer. I completely understand that way of thinking; it’s how I used to think for most of my life. I double majored in college—in philosophy and psychology—just so I could get all the answers. But Albert Einstein said it best: “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” We try to place people and situation in tidy boxes; but no matter how much we try to categorize human behavior, it still isn’t very predictable. One of my psychology professors used the example of pushing a chair to describe this concept. When you push a chair, you can reasonably predict where it’s going to go. Since it’s inanimate, it doesn’t change its response to you based on the kind of day it’s having. However, when you push a person, there’s no way to predict what will happen. Every person will react differently. Maybe you can reflect on the person’s past behaviors and make an educated guess, but depending on the person’s mindset, mood, and temperament on that particular day, he/she may respond differently than you might have expected.
We twist our brains into crazy knots trying to figure out why things happen or why people do what they do. But why is a nearly impossible question to answer. I, for one, don’t think I’ve ever found a clear, black and white answer to it. We ask, “Why did he do that?” or “Why did this happen?” or “Why am I suffering?” We think, “I should know why so I can fix it.” I don’t think we’re meant to really figure anything out, especially not the answers to our questions about why. I think, instead, we need to concentrate on what we want, and take action on it without judgment. We really don’t know why things happen, and we really don’t need to.
If you’re not totally comfortable with not knowing everything, think about how boring life would be if right now you knew everything you need to know. Then think about how impossible knowing everything really is. You’ll never know how people will always respond to you, or who’s going to win the basketball game, or how the stock market will do this year, and there’s something exciting about that.
Getting comfortable in the grey area takes a certain combination of preparing the best you can and then letting go and allowing life to do what it does. Work on finding contentment in the grey areas of your life, knowing that whether or not you have all the answers, you can still live fully within your own truth. When you formulate definitive answers you deny who you are and block your ability to authentically experience life. Write your own rules; create your own narrative; set your own guidelines. Live the version of life reflected in the words of Neale Donald Walsch: “The whole point of the process was for you to discover yourself, create your Self, as you truly are—and as you truly wish to be.”
Article edited by Dr. Denise Fournier