In this human experience, it can be easy to get caught in a world of binary 'truths', a world where two opposing forces or qualities exist with little to no room in between or outside of. We interpret these two sides to be unwavering qualities of opposition on a linear spectrum. With certain limitations in our ability to understand, this way of interpreting the world makes a lot of sense.
We often learn through comparison and holding one thing up to the next to see where it lands. However, we tend to get stuck here and forget that these comparisons aren't absolute truth – they are simply our personal experience, entirely separate from the experience of others and, beyond that, from the world at large.
We receive messaging and examples daily that tell us how we "should" be showing up based on the various intersections of our identities and how we are perceived by the world around us. Not only are we getting stuck here, we are also directed here. These messages are embedded into our lives; we open Instagram on our phones or turn on our TVs and are immediately told what is valuable.
From the most subtle detail of what shoes will add value to our being to a grander scale of belonging. All of us are affected by this, no matter who we are, the harsh binaries and boxes that are reinforced every day keep us stuck in narrow lanes of minimal expression.
When we dare to step outside of these pre-defined lines we are often shamed, ridiculed, and silenced into conformity. We live from a space of fear rather than from a space of expression. In Alok V. Menon’s Beyond the Gender Binary, they say, “Society’s inability to place us in boxes makes them uncomfortable; the unfamiliar becomes a threat and not an opportunity.” What is safe and easy to understand is most often accepted and anything that disrupts the current is forced to hide.
The idea that anything is either one thing or another without room for an in-between or ‘outside of’ erases huge parts of what it means to be human. The truth is, there is a more expansive way of being and thinking, often referred to as "both/and". When we adopt this mindset we make room for a myriad of truths to exist all at once, the possibilities become endless. At the heart of this expansive opportunity is liberation, which is ultimately our goal in any mindfulness practice.
Where Do We Get Stuck?
When we operate from this comparative space we find ourselves thinking in an 'either/or' mindset – one or the other, this or that, never both. Upon further inquiry, we already know this not to be true. We know that we are multifaceted beings containing numerous identities, forms, emotions, and energies. Even still we cling tightly to this mindset, but why? Why do we continue to abide by limiting realities that don't offer us the opportunity to express all that we are? Possibly, because it is safe.
It's easy for the brain to make sense of the world through comparisons and oppositions.
We understand the coldness of winter because we know the warmth of summer.
We can feel the roughness of a calloused hand by knowing the softness of a newborn's palm.
We can appreciate the embrace of a loved one after knowing what it’s like to be in solitude.
In seeking to understand, qualities that we put in opposition tend to be seen as all that exist, that's how these binary systems continue to survive and thrive. Through these comparisons, we have found a way to interpret the world, though this perspective limits the journey of becoming.
One of the most rigid binaries in Western culture is the gender binary. The Western colonized world wants to maintain that only two genders exist: man and woman. The denial of gender diversity is ultimately what continues to uphold the embedded systems of power. Hundreds of cultures around the world operate on multi-gender systems, yet Western culture and society don't embrace the plethora of human experiences out there.
The denial of gender-expansive people in this world creates division but more than that the demonization of gender exploration causes immeasurable harm. Gender is an entire universe and we, as a society, have only been willing to scratch the surface. We usually land on what is most ‘comfortable’ and stay there. This manifests in the physical realm, of course, but these limitations exist far beyond the physical, they pour into the subtle energies as well.
The Union of Energies Within
Energetically speaking, people of all genders, identities, and expressions embody qualities ranging from compassionate, nurturing, and vulnerability, to active, assertive, and decisive. Often when we talk about these various qualities we hear them referenced as "feminine" energy and "masculine" energy.
The lunar, receptive, intuitive, and nurturing qualities are associated with feminine energy.
The solar, active, expressive, and asserting qualities are associated with masculine energy.
When described in this way these terms often get conflated with gender but they run much deeper. These subtle energies inform how we each show up in the world, they are our energetic fingerprint, unique to us.
For a long time, these energies got mixed into another binary, “good” and “bad”, “desirable” and “undesirable.” When we operate with the good/bad mindset we force ourselves to inauthentically express one or multiple qualities and hide others. The qualities of compassion, nurturance, and internal connection have, for a long time, been erased or viewed as less valuable. When we look at societal expectations at large it is apparent:
- It’s taboo to cry in the workplace or to cry at all.
- We mute our compassion for fear that it will be viewed as weakness.
- We don’t want to express vulnerability because there is a chance of rejection.
Shame is used as a tool for keeping the limiting binary systems in place. When we express qualities, usually associated with the lunar, more receptive, and reflective energies, we are deemed less than. So we are forced to show up inauthentically and express an energy that isn’t in alignment with us simply to “fit in” or to protect ourselves from shame. This fear-based living is created out of holding tightly to binary systems.
Though it benefits no one, it is what our society is deeply rooted in. The truth is when we let go of our own limiting beliefs that keep us from living our most expansive life we give everyone around us permission to do the same. Through dissolving these limiting binaries we give ourselves access to all of the energy we encompass.
As things are in our society today there is a clear emphasis on upholding the same systems that cause us harm, the systems that we’ve been taught to adopt into every layer of our being. The key is finding a balance that allows you to connect to and express your truth without limits and without fear. This takes self-inquiry, self-study, and practice. It is a daily checking-in and aligning with what feels good for you each moment of each day.
Finding equanimity within will release us from the binaries that keep us stuck and offer us the liberation we seek.
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