We removed the high-sodium foods from my father-in-law’s house last night. After months of begging and pleading, we realized that greater intervention is required. To that end, we replaced his processed foods with healthful, low-sodium, homemade alternatives. He says he wants to feel better, and this action may help remove the fluid that has entered his lungs, making it hard to breathe. We tell him we will help him with whatever is necessary–but he must decide if he’s ready for all or nothing. The halfway decisions–I’ll do this, I won’t do that–no longer work. “All” will bring some relief for the remainder of his days. “Nothing” will bring him to death, something he’s not adverse to at 80 years of age and living without his Beloved. Halfway takes him to death, but with potential for extreme misery and suffering.
All or nothing. We teach our children that with most of life, all or nothing brings a lack of flexibility to life. Find balance, we tell them, between work and play, between caring for others and self, between independence and support. We counsel them to find that Middle Way of equilibrium.
Politically, we make errors in judgment when we think we have to choose between jobs or the environment, for example. We don’t think that perhaps, with some good ol’ ingenuity, have both. We have seen how all or nothing thinking is paralyzing our government as sides polarize ever more deeply. We have forgotten the value of two political parties and of the checks and balances of our system, both of which create needed balance, in favor of partisan bickering and digging up obscure rules to stop the process.
All or nothing. Last night my father-in-law expressed concern that we were not living our own lives in favor of spending the extra time with him that he now requires. Yes, I have those concerns myself. My writing schedule has slid more than I would like, though I manage, like a stealthy lover, to find some time. I haven’t looked much at the garden this week, so I feel disconnected from my plants (something I will remedy today). I haven’t exercised as much as normal, though when I think about it, we’ve managed to throw in some walks, and yesterday I had a refreshing yoga practice. So no, I don’t think we are living all or nothing with our lives. We are finding a balance here and there. We manage.
What I understand, though, is that love must be all. Yesterday I spent the morning cooking…I had raided my father-in-law’s refrigerator to see what junk he was buying, in hopes of recreating what he likes in a form that does no harm. I put on some beautiful music and made the act of cooking a yoga practice. How present can I be? How much love can I stir into the food? How can I savor every moment of the experience, and of the remaining time, quantity unknown, that we have with him?
As I cooked, I found myself recalling knowledge I had somehow forgotten, that with mindfulness we can find a greater level of “all” than we think is possible. All is perhaps not a destination, but a journey we take as we deepen our capacity to love, to give, to live.
I can take this into my writing, too. That doesn’t mean writing all the time at the expense of relationships, but it does mean that when I do my writing practice, I can choose to be in the space of “all.” I can approach my work with greater joy and curiosity, remembering the love of it even in the days when books don’t sell or I become discouraged. Halfway does not work with health, love, or work. It brings us to that slow, painful, miserable death. Today I choose “all.”