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Living in the In-Between

by Mark Walstrom

In our current mode of living, reality consists of the thoughts, beliefs, and mental constructs that come from our minds. All of us have been influenced to believe something. We’ve stored these beliefs in our mental warehouse and retrieve them moment by moment, projecting them on to the experiences of our life.

Take a few minutes right now and inventory some of your beliefs regarding money, religion, politics, parenting, world affairs, technology, and sexuality, just to start. The list could go on endlessly because our beliefs are endless. Some of our beliefs have been locked in our minds since early childhood while other beliefs have been established more recently. Regardless of where or when our beliefs took shape they create a finite reality.

At the very least beliefs and mental constructs limit us and can never be authenticated. At the worst beliefs can be harmful and even lethal as evidenced by racism and terrorism. We see life through the narrow and filtered lens of our beliefs. With beliefs come judgments toward others who do not share the same belief. Beliefs are defended and debated. We believe our beliefs and become smug by thinking our beliefs are truth.

Trapped in our thoughts, beliefs, and mental constructs we all suffer from a case of mistaken identity and a limited worldview. Our behaviors mirror our beliefs. Much of our frustration and emotional distress occurs when the reality of life refutes our deeply held beliefs, “Now what do I do?”, “Now who am I?”

To free us from the constructs of our minds we engage in a variety of behaviors such as excessive alcohol consumption, drug use, overeating, overworking, endless hours of TV and computer games, just to name a few. Our current mode of living often involves seeking relief and cures, looking for somebody to rescue us, or clever escapes. We attempt to make our conflicts go away, only to discover further conflict is created when we try to make a resolution occur that does not happen.

Every belief we cling to divides us. We do not live lives of originality and discovery. Our expression of life is incomplete. Our way of living is remote. Life becomes predictable, compressed, and small. We go to great lengths constructing elaborate schemes, plans, and strategies based on our beliefs.

On the other hand, if we’re not living in the constant chatter of our minds then where or what would we be living in? Put very simply, we would be living in the space in-between the thoughts, beliefs, and mental constructs. This is where words fail us and we are left with nothing but ourselves and silence.

Words are deficient to really grasp the in-between. Some of the words being used to describe the in-between are silence, void, and emptiness. Some of the qualities that are said to come from the in-between are clarity, peace, love, creativity, and wisdom. To try to describe the in-between, however, is to contain it. Even my attempts to convey the idea of the in-between are frustrating and seem ridiculously limiting.

There are no words to adequately describe the in-between because it is unknown. The experiences we have in the in-between are continually unfolding. Rather than trying to conceptualize the in-between we simply need to experience it, moment by moment. Thinking of the in-between is not the same as living in the in-between.

You’ve probably already experienced some moments, perhaps briefly, of living in the in-between; an epiphany arises, a flash of insight, a solution to a long-standing problem that seems to “come from nowhere.” Athletes describe the in-between as being in the “zone.” Many artists say they gain access to their creativity in the in-between. Even scientists know that great discoveries come from that place “beyond mind.”

How, then, do we escape the entrapment of the mind and all of its confining thoughts, beliefs, and constructs and live in the in-between?

The temptation at this point is to offer you answers, advice, and guidance: “If you want to learn to live in the in-between then you need to . . . .” We don’t need any more instructions on how to live. In between all of the busy chatter in my mind is a vast experience of life beyond words and I don’t have to do anything to “get there.” What we are left with is a renewed awe for the power of silence, that luminous gap between words, thoughts, beliefs, and concepts. If we simply stay quiet long enough and pay attention to what is occurring within us and outside of us, we can live more often in the in-between. This is true freedom.

I’m reminded of a scene in the movie Waking Life which seems to exquisitely sum up the power of living in the in-between. Two characters were engaged in a deeply philosophical conversation at a café. At one point one of the characters says to the other, “Let’s just be quiet and not talk for awhile.” After a few moments of silence the second character responded, “Now that was a holy moment.”




Mark Walstrom is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He can be contacted at (616) 222-9857.