top of page

The Both And

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

Recently in Art Words and Yoga we talked about the paradox, or the Both And, of balancing poses—how you can appear to hold still from the outside but inside your body, your muscles are making nearly continuous adjustments.

When standing in tree pose or eagle pose, for example, the sole of your weight-bearing foot has some 29 muscles that make constant adjustments to hold you in balance.

So you are both holding still and moving at the very same time.

I haven't yet seen this Both And concept named in a yoga text or in my yoga training but I have noticed it mentioned in wisdom traditions. I've also noticed it more and more as something that shows up in my life, this idea that in order to make peace with the world as it is—to accept the sometimes unacceptable losses and the strange beauty of humans who often behave irrationally (including me), I need to wrap my head around two ideas that feel like they can't both be true.

But they are.

It's true that my loved ones who have died are still with me in a very real sense. They live in my memories and I carry them with me every day.

And they are also gone. I cannot drive down the hill and see my mom right now. I cannot ask my sister what Dad used to call that place at the end of the lake. I can no longer hear Dad playing the practice organ while he waited for us to get ready except in my memory.

Four boys on makeshift rafts with sticks for paddles
Dad (front right) on a raft with friends while skipping school

Both. And.

It's true that I am absolutely good enough just the way I am. I'm saved, I'm enlightened, and I don't need to do anything to earn any of that. It's a priceless gift.

And it's a good idea to keep practicing. To build and nurture my relationships, to work toward writing better, to create art, to practice yoga, to learn more about my place in the world. It's important that I live fully into the life I have and reaching for excellence is a part of how I want to live my life.

Both. And.

I suppose I first started thinking about this idea long ago when I would study the Bible. I always rather liked the Methodist classes I went to as a child and then as a young adult. Mostly filled with grown ups, the older adults would listen to what I had to say and, if they were humoring me, I never knew it. We read books like Ecclesiastes, which is chock full of the Both And. I couldn't really accept that there was a time for living and a time for dying, for example, without making peace with the concept of a paradox.

I discovered another example of the Both And when I returned to playing my clarinet over a decade after I had finished playing in college. Again, this happened at the church I attended. Several musicians gathered to play recorders for a Christmas concert and they invited others to join. I met with the group and this led the music director to discover that I had once played the clarinet.

All of this evolved into my playing again on a regular basis.

I had tried for many years to play just for myself. I'd experimented with klezmer music and practiced sporadically in my home but I never found real joy out of that practice until I joined other musicians and then people turned out to listen to me.

At the same time, I've noticed that it's very important to play for the real joy that it brings me rather than hoping to please others with the sounds that I create with my instrument. Each time Suna the music director asks me if I'll play, I feel a thrill of excitement. It motivates me to practice and gives me the discipline I need to work out the notes on my own. I only vaguely remember how scary it is to stand with the choir up in front of a congregation until the day of the service where I'm scheduled to play. Right about then my mind and body remind me of how scary it is—how much potential there is for failure or rejection. After I play, there is usually some sense of the mistakes I've made but this quickly fades as the relief of having done what I wanted to do sets in and the joy of getting to play takes over.

It's true that I need a group of other musicians and an audience in order to make music. Often after I've played at church, people will come up to me right away and for days afterwards, telling me how much they appreciated the way I played. I always struggle with how to express my own appreciation for the gift they give me by listening.

And I do best when I don't worry on the audience's reactions—their praise or their quiet dislike of my instrument. The music I make works for some and not for others. That will always be true. (My sister was never a fan of the clarinet. She wasn't even that quiet about it when we were young!) If I worry too much about how my work is going to be received, I'll never play another note. In that sense, the music is still just between the Divine and me. I need others and it's just for me alone.

Both. And.

If you want to hear me play, you can click on this photo of nervous me with Suna and her phenomenal piano skills. I cued the video to start with my music at around 48:00 minutes into the service. I had plenty of time to sweat before it was my turn! If you don't think I sound nervous, then that will be another example of the Both And. I was shaking inside and my clarinet sang like I wasn't most of the time.

woman standing and playing a clarinet with another woman playing the piano

I could go on for a very long time about the Both And. Sometimes I get tired of trying to come to terms with the many forms it takes, of working to accept that opposite things can both be true at the very same time.

The effort to hold that concept in my heart and mind has, however, been very rewarding. It allows me to grieve for my loved ones and hold them close while loving those around me now. It allows me to care for my body, mind, and spirit, knowing that this is just a practice and that I'm also okay just as I am. It allows me to read ancient texts that contradict themselves and still find wisdom that works for me today.

And, high on my list of Both And benefits, holding opposites together allows me to create all sorts of things—music, yoga sequences, artwork, and blog posts—and then to brave the vulnerability it takes to share those things with others. To stand in front of an audience or to click "Publish" on this post.

I hope you find your own Both Ands and that the effort also brings you joy in your life.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page