Be Open by Kory DeAngelo
Once you can accept the universe as being something expanding into an infinite nothing which is something, wearing stripes with plaid is easy. – Albert Einstein
I’ve always been curious and love to learn and acquire new knowledge. Early on, I would relish in collecting new information and try to piece it all together into a wonderfully cohesive picture. In my twenties, I thought that the more knowledge I acquired meant that I was on my way to one day “figuring it all out.” I learned that I couldn’t think this way for very long because there are so many contradictions in life. There were always new puzzle pieces that just didn’t fit into the picture I was creating.
In order to roll with life and lessen confusion, I learned expansion, or openness, should be practiced regularly. When I got stuck, I learned that pulling back and looking at the situation from a wider perspective could not only help me solve a problem but also usher in some enlightenment in a new dimension (aka self-growth). In my opinion, being open can help us see experiences through fresh eyes and learn the lessons of our life more readily. Looking at things from a more holistic perspective not only can help us to solve problems, but can also help facilitate more vitality in life.
Of course, there is a place for contracting. Life is full of expanding and contracting. It’s a balance and both are necessary. If we expand too much or are too open for too long, it’s possible we won’t be able to make decisions and our goals or ambitions are delayed. We can get lost and may have too little direction. When we need to figure something out, contracting helps us to contemplate and reduce the problem into smaller parts. This is what can help us achieve our goals more easily or change habits. On the other hand, if we contract too much or for too long, we may be closing our minds and miss out on what our lives could be.
As we get older, I think it’s easier and more natural to be more contractive. We are a nation of being “busy,” and in this state being closed off comes more naturally – we get caught up in the daily grind of our schedules. It seems that contracting becomes our default setting, and so it becomes all the more important to exercise the muscle of being open – to widen our view, listen for the lessons in life that help us along our path, keep us present and help us grow. Like dissecting and reducing things, openness propels us forward in a new way – and we can get un-stuck.
When I first started working in healthcare, I noticed a common thread in healthcare providers: the best clinicians and researchers are naturally practicing openness. They know they don’t know everything. They welcome second (and third) opinions. They want you, the client, to find what’s best for you, and they know it might not include them. And they don’t take this personally — they honor you as an individual person, and understand that trust in your healthcare team is of paramount importance. There’s no judgment. In fact, if a healthcare provider thinks s/he knows everything, it’s probably not the best sign that you’ll get the best care.
For example, let’s take the study of nutrition – my passion and profession. The science of nutrition is still in its infancy, yet many (mostly well-meaning) people are claiming to have discovered the perfect diet, the best weight loss supplements, or superfoods that will usher us to perfect health. This reductionism can lead to unhealthy and extremist behaviors before we have all the necessary information.
In my work, I savor the time I get to read research and learn new information so I can help my clients enhance their health. I pour over the research and get excited when we discover something new. Since there are so many contradictory nutrition studies (many times based on who funded the study), I find that being open helps — knowing that our bodies, our diets, our lives, our thoughts are always on a continuum. There is no end to this process, and everyone is unique in what works for them. Leaving dogma behind is refreshing.
Instead of claiming we have the perfect answer, let’s use this information as just another data point on our continuum of learning the ever-evolving knowledge of nutrition. There is no one-size-fits-all diet. Everyone has a set of needs that is different from their neighbor, family member or best friend. What makes one person feel fantastic may make another person feel neutral and yet another feel sick. If we’re open to this, life opens up and we can relax into ourselves more, listen to our bodies, and find what works best for us.
A common example of reductionism in the nutrition world is the study of antioxidants. We find that populations who eat a lot of antioxidant-rich foods have lower risks of inflammatory conditions (diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, etc). In response to this exciting information, food manufacturers and supplement companies start selling products with mega-doses of added isolated antioxidants. This sounds like a great idea in theory– because antioxidants are healthy– until we learn that isolating and adding these huge doses to food or supplements can actually have a detrimental effect on health.
We paint ourselves into a corner (and perhaps deplete our pocketbooks) when we jump on the “more is better” train. Reductionism is necessary and important to learn more in science and add to the evidence base, but it should be considered a data point, not an end answer. When we pull back and look at the bigger picture, we see that whole foods found in nature have a SYNERGY – and the whole food is much more than a sum of its parts. Not only are there healthy proportions of antioxidants in foods, but other (yet unknown) bioactive compounds that help those antioxidants do their job of enhancing health. Nature knows far more than we will ever know. It’s a beautiful orchestra that we’re still learning about but can’t yet define. Let’s relax and embrace that openness.
Of course, being open doesn’t always come naturally. Over time, I’ve garnered a few practices to help climb out of the rabbit hole, recenter and solve a problem. These are some of the tools that I have found to be most helpful:
- Create space for openness – this usually happens in the “in-between” moments. This might include solitude, talking to someone with a different perspective, taking the afternoon (or an hour) off, turning off the phone or computer, going for a walk in nature, getting fresh air or meditating.
- Look at the situation from a wider lens:
– What are my patterns around this and why?
– What are all the options and possible consequences? (This can take a while to parse out).
– Am I forcing something to happen?
– What could this situation teach me? or How can I learn or grow from this experience?
– How does it impact my life/body/mind?
- Be present with it:
– How do I feel about this and can I sit with this feeling for a moment?
– Am I judging anyone? Am I judging myself?
– What am I learning about myself?
- Do your best – What work needs to be done here, and how can I best do it while maintaining integrity and sanity?
- Let it go – Release attachment to an outcome. Trust.
- No, really – let it go! This can be a tough one, but very liberating.
Being open becomes easier with practice. We learn that the pieces don’t always fit into the picture because…well, there are an infinite number of different pictures we’re dealing with. Practicing openness helps us to explore all the beauty within them without judgment. It seems we may not “figure it all out” one day. And if we did, how uninteresting would that be?
Kory and I discussed what it means to be open, both in your personal and professional life. To hear more, listen on…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kory is a Seattle-based registered dietitian nutritionist who is passionate about whole foods nutrition and mind-body health. At her nutrition practice, Wholeheart Nutrition, her philosophy focuses on using whole foods to help clients make sustainable changes over time while increasing their vitality. In her spare time, Kory enjoys being active in the beautiful Pacific Northwest rain, creating community, reading research, studying mindfulness, and meditating.
Images via Kory DeAngelo and Laura Newman