Check Your Expiration Dates

My grandmother, God love her, does not throw away food. She was a child during the Depression, survived two World Wars, and raised twelve children on my grandfather's salary (which probably would have been plenty if not for the twelve kids). To her, rationing is an art, stockpiling an exercise in devotion. Expiration dates are just a suggestion. 

She's not a hoarder or anything like that (don't want you getting the wrong impression of sweet G'ma Bea!), it's just that she'll freeze something that should be thrown away, hang onto a condiment that is past its prime, or keep drinking the milk until it fails the sniff test despite what the label may suggest. She's 92 and lives on the edge.

Lately, my mind has been a little too much like my grandmother's refrigerator: some delicious treats up top but some not-so-delicious, old stuff in the door and crammed in the back. These things in the door and in the back, they're familiar. I recognize the packaging, but when I snack on them I start to feel a little queasy misjudging their familiarity. Thoughts about myself, about others, about spirituality, about work, about everything--turns out they're all perishable. 

I think about my grandmother--why does she hang on to things that need to be tossed? Why does she freeze food that's just going to taste terrible once she defrosts it? I can't say for sure because I've never asked her, but my guess is when you grow up thinking there is never going to be enough, that you only have so much, or that you have endless mouths to feed, you learn to hang on to every last drop of everything, good or bad. I think it has to be much the same with our thoughts and our belief systems. 

Things happen, good and bad, and we start to form a narrative around them. We build a storyline to make things make sense. We give things weight. We assign value to experiences. We look for ways to make something good happen again or to make something bad stop forever. This is normal; this is human. But at what point do we begin to sacrifice discovery and joy because we're trying to cram a new experience, feeling, or idea into an outdated storyline so that it "fits"? What do we do when our old ideas don't feel so good anymore? 

I get scared to change an old idea because I think the act of changing from the old idea to the new idea will cause the old idea to more fully take root or transpire. My disbelief, or alteration of the belief, will set in motion the thing I'm not even sure I believe to begin with. For instance, as a child, I was terrified that if I didn't believe in Santa then I wouldn't get presents. There were several years where I was really on the fence about the whole thing. We didn't have a fireplace, the handwriting on the presents looked awfully familiar, the wrapping paper seemed to be borrowed from my mom--it didn't add up. BUT I was so afraid to stop believing because what if I stopped believing and then Santa found out I had forsaken him and he refused to bring me presents?! Most children can't sleep on Christmas Eve out of excitement; I was having a holiday-themed existential crisis. 

All these years later, I can still find myself applying "Santa Logic" to situations in which I am trying to move from an old idea to a new one. It's exhausting. It feels like a tug-of-war inside my head. Unfortunately, I have not yet figured out a more efficient pathway from old idea to new idea that doesn't come fully loaded with a good amount of confusion, doubt, and fear. But my solution thus far, and what I'm trying to do now as I look at some old ideas I'm outgrowing, is to not rush the confusion, doubt, and fear. 

Just like belief systems, emotions have their own expiration dates too. I'm not going to be confused forever. I'm not going to doubt forever. I'm not going to be fearful forever. But when I say to myself, "Move through the doubt faster, Kate! Move through your fear quicker!", then I am making myself wrong for feeling those things and there is nothing wrong with feeling those things. If I can stay open to the discovery of new ideas, while maybe even still holding some space for the old ones, then the transition from old idea to new idea becomes a whole lot less painful. I create a new narrative. I assign new and different context to my beliefs.

A refrigerator is one thing, but the mind is another. Holding on to old, expired, frost-bitten ideas does not serve us, not you the individual or the collective "us." You know that saying that you can't solve a problem with the same mind that created it? It's kind of like that with belief systems--you can't give life to new ideas when you're still believing the old ones.