As usual, my children and my clients are my greatest teachers. As I was flitting around one morning multitasking as usual, my daughter stopped me to read me a poem. It made me stop and ask myself: What do you think you are?
This was the poem:
“Zebra Question” by Shel Silverstein
I asked the zebra,
Are you black with white stripes?
Or white with black stripes?
And the zebra asked me,
Are you good with bad habits?
Or are you bad with good habits?
Are you noisy with quiet times?
Or are you quiet with noisy times?
Are you happy with some sad days?
Or are you sad with some happy days?
Are you neat with some sloppy ways?
Or are you sloppy with some neat ways?
And on and on and on and on
And on and on he went.
I’ll never ask a zebra
Stunned by the complexities in this verse, I stopped and had her read it again.
I thought, This couldn’t be just a child’s poem.
Given the cleverness of Silverstein, I figured it is a commentary on dualistic thinking by pointing out that we are never one or the other of anything. We are multi-storied as we can be both or more and it is always changing. This had me thinking…. the narrator who asks the question to the zebra is like us when we are not willing to see the bigger picture. When we hold on to duality, judgments, and win-lose mentality. When we show preference for one of our stories over all the others. Then, we define ourselves by that story.
I find myself often asking myself: Am I this? Or, am I that? How limiting this is. Besides we are constantly changing.
The narrator thinks the zebra doesn’t get it, while obvious to us, it is the narrator who doesn’t. The questions are ridiculous when pointed out this way, yet they are not dissimilar to questions that have us judging every part of our self through the day: “Am I worthy? Or am I not?”
What do you think you are?
Someone said to me once, “You are either right or you are happy.” The “right” this refers to is getting the judgments right. Who is to blame for what? Figuring out how and why a certain thing happened, and validating this with evidence. Getting the fear justified and the guilt assigned.
While judgments and fear hold a truth status, we feel misery in our very souls. While we believe the judgments and fear are “right” this is no movement or happiness for us. Worse, sometimes we stay in this unhappiness, just to be validated in our rightness.
When all the evidence says you are failing at life, “I am right, I am a loser”; you can feel validated in this and construct all kinds of stories about how right you are……
Or you can be happy.
I have personally been “right” so many times. And often it takes a slap in the face to realize how off track I am, how I was standing in guilt and fear and how I held tightly to the truth of being right. I was in misery with a capital M! I created the story of being a loser, by gathering evidence why it was so: failing my high expectations.
Conversely, when I have compassion for myself and the situation, I would have nothing to judge, nothing to fear, (from me or anyone else). It is in this state that I can feel happy. In this place, I find peace.
We don’t have to chose black or white, or sloppy or neat, or happy or sad, or noisy or quiet. We just have to be us, ever changing, growing, exploring, solving, dissolving, loving, connecting, and, then, enjoying.
What do you think you are?
Please share! Thank you!