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You know how they say that whatever bugs you in someone else is probably a shadow you haven’t faced in yourself. Yeah, who are THEY anyway and what do THEY know?

My newest found shadow is taunting me: Been here all along and you’re just now noticing me?

This shadow could be called rigidity. I’ve learned that often our greatest strengths can also be our greatest weakness. So, while I don’t want to name it something so derogatory, that’s what it is.

If you know anything about the Myers-Briggs, I am an INTJ. Basically that means: just the facts, ma’am; I want the answer right now; take the shortest route from point A to point B. A bottom-line person. A no-nonsense, one right way to do anything person. And once I’ve made up my mind, please don’t bother me with other possibilities. I have a schedule, a time frame, a deadline. All those things served me well in my career but can play havoc with relationships and with living in a multi-cultural, multi-belief, multi-faceted world.

Strength? Weakness? Depends. I’m good at getting things done. I’m good in emergencies. I can make a decision and act quickly. I saw the strength. I didn’t see the shadow. What about day-to-day living, learning, getting along, even being more creative in my artwork?

It took something unsettling to hold a mirror up and allow me to see this shadow. You know what it says in the mirror: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. This was not easy. I thought I was more flexible. I KNEW I was. I was sure of it. But there it was: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. Translation: You’re not the fairest in the land.

I had to own it. This deep practice of knowing for sure. I had to admit that I can be rigid in my thinking, judgmental about right/wrong, black/white, yes/no. I had to see how this shadow played out over and over in personal relationships and getting along in so many different settings. I had to see how it even put the brakes on learning new ideas, new art techniques, different opinions at book club.

It was a hard thing to own. It hasn’t been an easy week. But we learn through experiences that challenge our thinking.

To truly own a shadow, I have to do a life-review and see how that shadow played out over and over and over. It becomes clearer. Something shifts into place. Then comes the regret, the remorse, the beating-up part. How could you? Why did you? Couldn’t you? Shouldn’t you have? It used to be a black and blue bruising session, but I have learned to be kinder to myself. We cannot know something until we learn it. We can’t learn something until we experience it. Maybe even experience repeated consequences.

I don’t particularly like rigid, inflexible people, so this idea that I might be rigid and inflexible truly upset me. I was one of those people. That was what I saw in the mirror.

I sat in my morning journaling chair thinking about this shadow. I needed help. It came in the form of a book within reach. How to Think Like Leonardo DaVinci by Michael J. Gelb. I had no idea why I reached for this book, but I opened it randomly and began reading a whole chapter on A Willingness to Embrace Ambiguity, Paradox, and Uncertainty.

Are you kidding me? How does that happen?

As you awaken your powers of Curiositᾲ, probe the depths of experience, and sharpen your senses, you come face to face with the unknown. Keeping your mind open in the face of uncertainty is the single most powerful secret of unleashing your creative potential.

The single most powerful secret of unleashing your creative potential: keeping your mind open!
Not a, b, c, or d. Not even all of the above.

Open means open.

I’m looking to Leonardo as my latest mentor.
He never stopped being curious.
He never reached a point of knowing for sure.
He kept questioning.
He kept exploring.
He kept journals and journals of thoughts, explorations, questions, inventions, ideas.

He loved putting opposites together. His search for beauty, for example, led him to study ugliness. His paintings often include peaceful subjects with dark, mysterious backgrounds. Mona Lisa’s smile has been described as a paradox. We don’t know if she’s smiling or hiding some secret or just wondering what’s for dinner.

Leonardo loved puns, jokes, riddles, puzzles, and knots. No black/white, right/wrong, shortest distance between two points. Maybe even a lot of meandering. Yes. A lot of meandering.

Leonardo used blurred outlines and mellowed colors that allowed “one form to merge with another, always leaving something to our imagination…”

Always leaving something to our imagination.

Leave room for not-knowing.
Leave room for uncertainty and ambiguity.
Leave room for imagination and learning.

Cultivate confusion endurance is the name of one of the exercises at the end of the chapter. Confusion is difficult for me. But I wonder if instead of being so sure, or being put off by someone else’s sureness when their sureness doesn’t match MY sureness, could I remain curious? Could I stretch the amount of time I allow ambiguity? Could I play a little with several ideas before settling on one? And by settling, I don’t mean sticking with that idea even when something else points in another direction.

This ambiquity, not-knowing, staying open could radically affect everything. This is not a walk in the park for someone who has always liked crisp, clear edges and predictable patterns. KNOWING. I may have to blur my edges a bit, mellow my opinions, embrace being uncomfortable until it becomes more comfortable. I’m seeing possibilities in so many different areas of my life.

I do love puns, jokes, riddles, puzzles, and knots. The fun is untangling. Could I look at more situations as opportunities to untangle? Not to reach A Conclusion, but to add another piece to the big, gigantic puzzle of my life.

If I could blur my edges, be a little less rigid, maybe I could learn something new!