Sometimes a particular idea will come at me from all directions. As if it’s supposed to. Even a single word can become a theme for a period of time in my life. Remember, gather, and sit have all been recent centerpieces of my thoughts. But the words for this summer that really hit home were both/and, stuck together just like that. I’ve actually thought about them before – wrote a post by the same title a couple years ago (see here), but this summer it was if every podcast I heard, conversation I had and book I read was related to these words. Surely that’s an exaggeration, but when a thought wants to be considered I think it makes itself known. This summer, both/and came crashing through the ether.
Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about it in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. After a couple hundred pages of explaining why creativity is both innate in us as human beings and essential to living life to the fullest, and also often taken too seriously by the creators themselves, she summarizes the dichotomy on the last page:
“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred.
What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all.
We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits.
We are terrified, and we are brave.
Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege.
Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us.”
It makes no sense and it makes total sense. This is the both/and. Both things are true at the same time. Just as I love my children and they make me crazy. It’s even a scientific principle.
I’ve written about this particular genius before, but he’s worth another whole post. His view of the world is that impactful. I heard the nobel prize-winning physicist and author of the book A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design, Frank Wilczek on the podcast OnBeing speak about both/and from a different vantage point. Using a different name. Complementarity was first coined by the Danish physicist Niels Bohr. It deals with the concept that two contrasted theories may be able to explain a set of phenomena, although each separately only accounts for some aspects. In simpler language: that two things can be possible at once, even if not seen at once, and that a fuller understanding accounts for both. For example, light is both found in wave form and in particle form, and though not observed as both at once, together they present a fuller description than either of the two taken alone.
This can be applied to just about every part of life. Complementarity, both/and are all around us. It’s just another way of taking a new perspective on things, which always, always helps.
Humans are just a collection of particles and light, and they are also thinking, feeling beings.
Parenting depletes all your energy. Parenting fills you with overflowing love.
Faith is about action. Faith is about sitting still.
My husband and I love and support each other. My husband and I are grumpy and selfish.
My grandmother is 90 years old and full of old-age aches and pains. My grandmother is 90 years old and full of stories and giggles.
These are the best of times. These are the worst of times.
Chocolate is bad for you. Chocolate is good for you.
Republicans don’t know everything. Democrats don’t know everything.
Mosquitos spread disease and misery everywhere they go. Mosquitos (supposedly) serve some purpose in the world.
Life is painful. Life is joyful.
Neils Bohr thought physics described humans’ knowledge of the world. Einstein thought physics described God’s.
Yes. And yes.
None of these is mutually exclusive. All of these are true, though usually not at the same time. See? Both/and.
So how will I apply this today? Maybe the lady who is rude in the line at the grocery store is also a loving mother. When I listen to NPR and hear about death and crime and natural disasters, I’ll wait for the next story about a person who helped feed the homeless. When the political circus erupts all around me, I’ll remember that even Trump and Clinton are human beings with beating hearts just like mine. That one’s tougher, but it’s true. It does me good to remember.
Thank goodness for complementarity. For both/and. I’m fine with the dichotomy.
As Frank Wilczek points out, it’s all part of the beauty.