I have a llama. Her name is Pancake (Don’t ask me how she got that name; she came with the property.) A few weeks ago, we opened the field gate, so Pancake could once again enjoy our yard’s omnivorous buffet of green grass and spent flowers (During the summer, she’s quarantined to the back field so my dahlias won’t become her dessert.) One of Pancake’s favorite fall snacks is our apple tree. She loves to nip the leaves off low-hanging branches. One such fall evening, Pancake stood underneath the apple tree, just fifteen feet away. I relaxed on our back porch. The sky had come back down to earth, and I cuddled in the cool air, warming my hands underneath a patchwork blanket. I watched our llama stretch her long neck into the branches, her nose tickling the leaves. With repeated up-jerks of her lower jaw, she snipped and snacked. Each bite shook the neighboring branches, and some apples dropped with a thud. Going along like this, Pancake gave pre-mature birth to the weaker apples. They’re pithy, not the best for eating, so I don’t mind the loss. Besides, it will be a good four weeks before frosty temps trap the sun and turn summer into sweet, tangy fruit. Until then, I pick up two or three of the fallen every night. I roll their hard roundness in my palm, scanning for defects. I wonder how much of the inside has given way to pests, replaced by worm poop. Later, when I slice the apples into sections, I cull the bad bits from the good. I’m surprised at how little is ruined. Most of the “bad apples” are filled with “good apple” on the inside.
I’ve often view parts of me like I see these apples; both “good” and “bad.” Although, I tend to spot the defects first. If something “good” arises inside, I’m surprised. When I take a wider view, though, the good outweighs the bad, in me and most everyone else. It’s worth taking the time to sift through. I remember this as I scoop up the redeemed fruit and toss clean, crisp bits into a glass jar. I add sugar and currents and set it aside to become a refreshing elixir called Kvass. The wormy leftovers will feed our compost pile. Nothing is wasted.
What if I could have the same attitude about me and my life? Nothing is wasted. By now, at age 40, I know this idea requires unconditional acceptance. Still, acceptance hasn’t quite sunk in, not in a way that affects how I eat, move, and manage my weight. Sure, I know I should see myself as perfect, just the way I am. In fact, I like to view everyone else as perfect, just the way they are, too. What I know, and what I do, however, can be two different things. Hence, my surprise.
Most of my life, I’ve wanted to be better than a bad apple. But, I assumed the less-energized, more hungry me was my default nature, like — if I could get away with it — I’d laze around and overeat all the time. When I did rally for exercise and a post-workout salad, I’d wish it could always be like this. I’d have thoughts like, OK, every Monday I’m going to do this. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could keep this up? Let’s see…twelve months times four weeks times two pounds per week…Just when I’d already lost 100 pounds in my mind, my head would slump and shoulders sink at the craggy scrape of another thought, You are not an active person, remember? You are the slow one, the stodgy one. No matter how hard I tried, doubt would yank back that chain of lethargy it had curled around my life.
The obvious antidote for my melancholy is acceptance. Curious, though, how most advice on acceptance leans toward identifying with the “perfect” me, “The Higher Self,” “Being Saved,” or “Becoming Enlightened.” You don’t hear people say, “I’m a pain in the ass who slugs around in the muck of my dismal failings, and I love myself.” Is there a more balanced version of acceptance? I want to love myself, but most nights — as I flop into bed — I count myself lucky to tally more good days than bad. Why can’t acceptance take that into account?
There once was a guy who did just that. He allowed both good and bad to inhabit the same space and, in fact, saw it everywhere and viewed it as beautiful. His name was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (pronounced “Gerta”), a German philosopher. He framed the concepts of good and bad in terms of literal light and dark, seeing them as two entities which play off one another as polar opposites. That interplay — in his theory — is what created the rainbow of colors all around us. For example, sunsets occur at the intersection of light and dark, along the horizon, where brilliant colors display the tussle between day and night. Today’s scientists see light and dark differently, but I’m inspired by Goethe’s thinking. In his world, light and dark exist side-by-side. Indeed, when they collide, beauty happens.
Wouldn’t it bring relief if I could see beauty in my good and bad? Even better, if I could allow my personal polar opposites to crash, combine, and swirl together, would I enjoy more color in my life? This changes everything. It steers the question away from, Who is the real me, good or bad, fat or skinny? to something more mysterious, more magical. Can I accept both identities in me at the same time? This is an uncomfortable paradox because it asks me to stop judging and just be. On energized days, I would simply enjoy the energy I have. On slower days, I would allow my body to rest and ramp down into a more contemplative state. Could I get that real with myself?
I want to honor the whole me, including the paradox of opposites playing teeter-totter in my soul. I want to see color in my conflicts. I want a deeper acceptance that doesn’t need labels. I am not the fat one. I am not the skinny one. I am me.
How to Make Kvass (a Russian fermented drink)
- Fill a large glass jar ¼ of the way full with desired fruit (darker fruits work best, citrus fruits taste funky in the end)
- For each quart, add ¼ cup sugar (Normally, I’d suggestion honey. But, in this case, the anti-bacterial properties of honey will prevent the Kvass from doing its thing. So sugar it is.)
- Seal and place a towel over the jar to keep out the light (fermentation likes darkness)
- Shake the jar every morning and evening, for 4-5 days, to facilitate fermentation
- When its fizzy enough to you liking, transfer liquid to capped, glass jars
- Chill in fridge, then enjoy
I want to honor the whole me, including the paradox of opposites playing teeter-totter in my soul.