A few weeks ago, I was watching a story on the terrible storms that hit Europe, India and China, causing massive flooding and I couldn’t help but wish that we could balance things out a little better. We’re in a severe drought here in the western United States, with farmers leaving fields fallow because there’s not enough water to keep crops alive. Way too much rain and way too little rain. That led my meandering mind to the correlation between the earth’s extreme’s and how human beings are mirroring what the globe is doing. Or maybe it’s vice versa. But it feels like we’re losing all of the grey and moving to a strictly black or white construct.
Are you too nice or too mean? Too intelligent or too gullible? A liberal or a conservative? Too generous or too tight? A Have or Have Not? There was honestly a time when a spectrum existed in all of these areas and more, including the weather. And most of us landed somewhere around the Goldilocks zone, somewhere in the middle. Now that space seems to be dissolving and you have to choose one extreme or the other to declare your tribe and oppose anyone who doesn’t align with your values.
I’m sure it’s not the first time in history this has happened, nor will it be the last. Life, as well as the earth, runs in cycles and works a lot like a pendulum. We go too far one way and slowly adjust back toward the center. Then we swing the other way before achieving something closer to an equilibrium. Unfortunately, those swings can take hundreds or thousands of years, but sooner or later, we get back to the Goldilocks zone.
Of course, I’m not going to live hundreds or thousands of years to see that happier medium return, so I’m left with some choices to make about who I want to be now and how I can live in a world of extremes. I first have to recognize that extremes of any sort make me uncomfortable. I believe extremes don’t serve us because they never serve the majority of us. I’d like to say all, but there’s always someone that extremes do serve well. But not the majority.
Extremes also skew our perspective of life. Nothing is only good or bad, right or wrong, black or white. It’s full of greys and when we lose sight of that, we’re typically causing harm because we get stuck believing that whichever end of the extreme we’re on, we’re right and those at the other extreme are dead wrong.
We can frequently identify what we want most by identifying what we want least. I definitely do not want conflict, hatred, greed, aggression or suffering, which means I want cooperation, love, generosity, assertiveness and joy. But those are two extreme lists, which isn’t realistic. So the Goldilocks zone might look something like kindness, compassion and empathy. If the majority of us resided in that zone, we could see cooperation increase, along with love and joy. While there’s certainly no utopia on the horizon, just a little less hostility would certainly be a nice change of pace.
I’m speaking at a macro level of course. On a micro-level, I’ve created my own Goldilocks zone. I choose to hang out with people who are kind and compassionate in my personal and professional life. There are a few stinkers in there, of course, but the majority align with my middle-position pendulum. In my tribe, for lack of a better description, we certainly don’t agree on everything, but we’re all at least somewhat open to hearing opposing opinions. We run the gamut from the Haves to the Have Nots, with lots in that middle spot. Most religions and non-religions are included. Multiple ethnicities, generations and lifestyles keep things from getting boring. Our goals and aspirations all widely differ, but there’s no reason to feel threatened by any of it. It’s more of an “each to his own” mentality.
I’m guessing, although it certainly never makes the headlines, that there are millions of Goldilocks zones out there. That the majority of people don’t really desire a black and white life with no grey areas. That there are more compassionate and generous people on the planet than aggressive and selfish. That most people are uncomfortable with extremes. I think all of these Goldilocks zones are probably waiting for the storm to pass, the pendulum to swing or for things to just settle down a bit. That gives me some comfort.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t address the earth’s extremes. I think we might be too late to return to a Goldilocks zone where our planet is concerned, at least in my lifetime, so other than my own behavior, there’s not much I can do to help at this point. What I can do is accept that I’m living in an area that’s only going to get hotter and drier and take steps to adapt to that. I may want to resist that reality, but it looks like that is the reality, so acceptance is a much better approach when it comes to my own well-being.
I’ve even started to recognize some benefits to my current condition. For most of my adult life, I’ve wanted a house on the beach, but couldn’t afford one. Now I’m grateful, with rising tides, tsunamis and hurricanes, that I don’t live near the water. My little inland home is at least safe from that threat. And speaking of little, I’ve yearned for 20 years for a bigger house, but with heating and cooling costs skyrocketing, now it’s just right. And even as hot and dry as it is, I prefer that over freezing temperatures or my home being flooded, so once again, I’m thankful for where I geographically landed. I’m sure there are those who could say the same about their situation. They’d rather live in a hurricane zone than an earthquake zone, for example. It doesn’t really matter what our conditions are, as long as we can find aspects of them that we can be grateful for or reframe into a more positive perspective.
As with all extremes, nothing is just positive or negative. We do our best learning when in negative circumstances or when things go wrong, so even a negative can be more positive. And most of us can observe the world’s extremes from the comfort of our living rooms and send compassion and empathy to anyone suffering, but not feel any direct effects. The key may be in creating our own Goldilocks zones where we feel comfortable and safe, giving us the foundation to be more open or even caring toward the people at the extremes.
They may not be ready yet. They may like life too hot or too cold and that’s their choice. I know I want mine just right and prefer living in the middle with the hope that I can do some good in the world, even if I can’t fix all of its problems.
Mindfulness helps us gain perspective, to see beyond just our own needs, but to also recognize that we have limitations. That’s not a judgment, but simply an acceptance. I can’t fix the climate any more than I can change someone’s mind who is living at an extreme. I can change myself so that I am in alignment with my values and I can model behavior that encourages cooperation and compassion. It’s up to others to decide if that’s something they wish to choose or not. But as long as I have my own Goldilocks zone, full of diversity and inclusiveness, I can recharge and reset as many times as needed in order to get back out there and offer my support.
It’s not easy being human. Most of us struggle and fail on some level daily. But even at the extremes, we get back up and try again. Somewhere deep down inside, I think we all know we have more potential than we’re demonstrating, but as humans, it can take us awhile to figure out how to reach it.
The mindful approach is to accept that each day, we’re doing the best that we can. It may not seem good enough to others, but it’s the best we can do in our circumstances. And we’ve shown over a very long period of time that because of that, we do keep progressing even if it doesn’t always look like it. We’re slow to change, we frequently take one step forward and six back, and we frequently lose touch with our inner guidance system, but we get there, eventually.
And we will again. In the meantime, if you’re living at an extreme, you might consider edging just a teensy bit at a time toward the middle. Even a slight shift could reduce tension and hostilities. You might even find that the porridge is just right once you slide a little closer to the center. If you’re already closer to the center, consider what you could do to make it more welcoming. Perhaps less judgment and more open-mindedness? And maybe if we can move away from the extremes, we could find common ground and begin working on our bigger issues, like the planet, more cooperatively and productively.
Until next time. We can live better lives and create a better world. All it takes to get started is a mindful moment.
Meditation is the most effective technique to strengthen mindfulness. The key to experiencing the full benefits of this practice is to meditate every day, even if you start with just a few minutes and work your way up to 20 to 30 minutes per session over time. Consistency counts and the benefits are cumulative, so be kind to yourself and meditate daily. We have guided meditations to help you get started on our YouTube Channel, Work2Live.