Complementary states: we aren’t made for one thing.

We are of nature; therefore, we’re bound by nature. We cannot escape the rules. This means we can’t be only one thing – few things in life are singular in their characteristics. Except for maybe bacteria. They probably don’t suffer from complicated thoughts, mood swings, and competing desires. I’m not sure about viruses. Those little suckers seem angry. Definite mood disorder potential.

 I’ve spent most of my life trying to get to one state. All I wanted to be was content. It seemed like kind of a holy grail, albeit a lukewarm one. If I was content, I wouldn’t have the emotional struggles that challenged me. I was willing to say goodbye to potential highs if it meant I could stave off the lows. I’ve come to realize it was wishful thinking. I’ve been content from time to time but I was unable to maintain it. I used to think it was a “me” thing, a personal failing, but I’m starting to think it’s the nature of the beast.

We’re creatures of contrast. We need a varied life. We seem hardwired to want it even when the change rings in ugliness. When we have light, we crave dark. Too much sun, we crave rain. Too much quiet, and we blast the tunes from our speakers.

Life is about multiplicities. It’s masculine-feminine, dark-light, negative-positive, birth-death, and a host of other compliments. To seek to exclude one part of any equation is to seek a life of imbalance.

It’s also more than binary. There’s day and night, but also dusk and dawn. There are snowy days and foggy days in addition to the sun and rain. There’s happy and sad, ecstatic and a little bit off. There’s even neutrality. What there isn’t is singularity.

Too much of any one thing is problematic. Even when we think it’s what we want, we find excess is really to our taste. Even when it’s the benign excess of too much contentment. We are not hardwired for the status quo. We’re not programmed to travel in a straight line.

Variety is the spice of life * and all that.

Change is only problematic if you tell yourself it is, or if the change is severe and prolonged. We want the ups and downs to be somewhat manageable; rolling hills rather than steep rises and deep troughs. Bouncing between the peaks and the valley floor is exhausting and hard on the system.

Perhaps that’s why a surfeit of extreme shifts encourages ideas of seeking out a steady-state. A flat sea is pretty appealing after a hurricane. But as time passes, you realize that perpetual calm lacks any forward motion. The sails flop about, unused.

I tell myself I wouldn’t miss despair, and I think I probably wouldn’t. Yesterday was a hard day that started with two hours of crying before progressing to a day on the couch, surfing the channels because my concentration was nil. I did make myself attend our family game night. It didn’t suck despite my inner voice’s assertion.

I wouldn’t miss days like those. Days like those are why contentment seems so sweet.

I might, however, miss dancing around like a maniac when the new book I ordered gets delivered to the door two days early. I might miss laughing at this or that funny thing. I might miss the soft heart that comes from observing babies, regardless of the species (though I hold baby ducks with special affection). I’d probably even miss grief, for although it’s hard, much good can come from the journey through it.

We’re of nature. We cannot be what we’re not. There’s no sweet without the bitter. And who doesn’t like the sweet?

*William Cowper.


I’m fond of wooden spoons.

7 thoughts on “Complementary states: we aren’t made for one thing.

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  1. I agree. I hate the lows, but I thoroughly enjoy the highs. Right now, as I’m experiencing it all, I would not trade it for just an eternity of flatness. However, I know from experience that a flat line is something I can get used to. At first, you miss the good, but with time, you begin to forget how the hills look like. You stop craving it. You’re just coasting, content that there are no hurricanes. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I am able to get used to a flat sea and I don’t always crave the mountain tops. However, once there, I never want to go back.

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  2. Yes its easy to say accept the bad with the good but we really don’t have much of a choice do we? I think the state of complete acceptance is called Equanimity, experienced by enlightened masters and the continually stoned. 😮

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    1. We do have a bit of a choice though. I often have made the choice to reject the good if it means I can avoid the bad, by allowing myself to become completely numb to it all. I used to think that was what I wanted but I was wrong. Equanimity though and enlightenment, that would be all right.

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