A few years ago I worked with a woman who had been suddenly and brutally abandoned as a young girl by her father, who left her family for another in another country. As you might imagine, as a grown woman, trusting men in intimacy was extremely difficult. Every perceived threat of abandonment by an intimate — like a late returned phone call or decision to go somewhere without her — would set off a chain of reactions that felt real and justified, and her full expression of them to the suitor seemed to perpetuate the very abandonment she was trying to avoid. Therefore, in order to create the lasting relationship she desired, there were three major things she had to learn: that her hurt was understandable and may always be there; that current situations would trigger those painful events from the past but they were not the past, and how to move forward holding two realities at once — the one from long ago, and the present one. She had to learn to trust her instincts about people, and also give them the benefit of the doubt that they were not her father from long ago.
Recently, I was listening to a wise African American woman sharing that in any given moment, she lives in three worlds: the one in which she will always be a minority, the one in which she is, in particular, a black female, and the one in which she is connected to all people by virtue of her humanity.
I will never forget the scene in the John Nash biopic, A Beautiful Mind, in which Russel Crowe as Nash wills himself to identify and ignore the paranoid voices in his head, knowing they are not “real” and that listening to them would only lead him to destruction. Without medication, by sheer force of will, he learned to straddle the world of his insanity and the present world before him.
These are examples of how people train themselves to live in more than one reality at the same time, and I have written about one of my own personal trials here
. Contrary to some opinions about splitting one’s attention, this multi-reality existence is actually a movement towards integrity. It is a learned and valuable leadership skill that can help you steer your life in the direction that you want it to go.
It’s what happens when you turn off the news in horror, and find yourself bemused by your gleefully approaching puppy. It’s what happens when you give an emotional response time to play itself out on the inside before you send it hurling out at the ones that stand before you. It’s what happens when you witness current atrocities and injustices and agents of destruction parading before your eyes, and you choose to stay connected to hope even as your heart breaks into pieces.
This holiday season, give yourself the gifts of learning how to walk in two or more worlds at one time. Your home may glisten with light and warmth, as another’s is destroyed. Your family may be divided — by politics, divorce, location — while the same blood still courses through your veins. The very ground you walk on may be shaking, but deep within, there is an unshakable awareness that has been with you since your first breath. Hold both realities and move forward. And watch the worlds you walk in expand before your eyes.
You can be that big.