by Shahad Alzaidan
I recently had a conversation with a woman who confidently spoke about how neon colors were not meant to be worn by women in their 30s and beyond. Although she did not know that I, a woman in my 30s, routinely dressed in bright colored clothing (from head to toe no less), the fact that she placed such an arbitrary limitation with something as unassuming as her wardrobe sparked my curiosity. If we place conditions on something as seemingly innocuous as the color of our clothing, where else does this conditional living manifest itself? Surprisingly, the answer to that question is everywhere! By exploring the conditions we create for ourselves, as well as the reasoning behind them, we can mindfully navigate the choices we make, ultimately leading to a much more intentional and fulfilling life.
Once I brought awareness to this phenomenon, I began recognizing it at alarming rates, both in myself and in others. I caught myself saying I can’t do certain things as a reflex. I recognized conditional statements from others like, “Oh, I can’t wear shorts even though I love them,” implying that their legs must look a certain way first. “I can have a piece of birthday cake only if I run 3 miles,” indicating we must earn indulgences. Have you noticed yourself, or other people, proclaiming these types of conditions? Examples of this fake conditioning can be found in the smallest of things (i.e., the color of our clothing), to missing out on significant life experiences (i.e., not going on a family beach trip until we look a certain way that we deem beach-worthy).
These conditions are “fake” because if you pause to think about it, they aren’t really rooted in anything concrete or meaningful. They are arbitrary conditions, often developed from deeply rooted negative mindsets. The roots take hold from societal expectations, shame-ridden insecurities, and residual unresolved trauma. They stem from a place of pain, rather than a place of love. They rob us of living life fully. These conditional beliefs can have a substantial impact on our emotional state and wellbeing. If we hold on to the belief that a life experience will only be great if we fulfill an external condition first, then we run the risk of never being satisfied with where we currently are. What happens if we never reach the ideal weight, partnership, career, etc.? Therein lies the danger of living life conditionally. We end up shorting ourselves from life experiences because we’re so focused on what we deem to be missing from this preconceived image of perfection we’ve curated in our minds.
Not all conditions are equal — good conditions can involve healthy boundaries and holding ourselves, as well as other people, accountable. These types of conditions serve our greater wellbeing. However, when we start to place conditions in places that they don’t belong, we cause more harm and unnecessary suffering. It is in recognition of the intentionality behind the conditions we are placing on ourselves that we find ourselves in a position to make a choice. In that pause, we can determine — is this condition serving me? Is it stemming from a place of love and compassion? Or is it stemming from preconceived notions of how I think things should be? Rather than waiting for some external validation to deem ourselves worthy of pursuing a particular desire, we can pause and question those conditions so that we are able to choose the opportunities that serve us best intentionally.
Living Life Unconditionally
In the U.S., the average life expectancy of females is approximately 78 years old. This means that if you are lucky, supremely lucky, you will live 78 summers on this planet. That’s it. 78 summers. When my younger sister unexpectedly passed away, I found myself contemplating all the times I let fake conditions stop me from pursuing things that, if I were radically honest with myself, I desired. Perhaps you too can recognize where you’ve allowed this fake conditioning to stop you from pursuing something you desired.
Living life unconditionally means committing to a life in which we are seen and accepted, wholly as we are in the present moment. This means saying no when no serves us, not out of fear or insecurity. This also means saying yes when it serves us, not out of guilt or societal pressure. Like most things, this unraveling of common behavior is a continual process of learning and unlearning. The revered poet Mary Oliver asked us, as she idly strolled through the fields in The Summer Day, what is it that we plan to do with our one wild and precious life. Let us not waste another precious moment to fake conditions, and make a choice to live life unconditionally.