Holding Two Truths by Chris Ash

Christy CroftLast month, I attended a series of workshops on self-care, family dynamics, and recovery from complex trauma. In one session, someone asked the facilitator, a counselor with over 30 years of experience in mental health fields, how to balance faith, confidence, and belief in recovery with the reality that sometimes healing can be a rocky road, with missteps, false starts, and restarts. The counselor noted that one of the key concepts he’s reinforced in working with people on their recoveries is that to keep moving forward – to forgive ourselves when we make mistakes, to not give up on ourselves when old patterns resurface, to sustain the energy needed to continue The Work in the face of obstacles, doubt, and fear – we need to be able to hold two truths at once. We need to expand ourselves such that we can hold two realities – that our hope in ourselves is not misplaced, that we are strong and can overcome adversity, and that we can move through our lives with grace and skill; and also that we may slip up and fall short of our ideals, that we sometimes may feel fragile and overwhelmed, and that recovery (from trauma, grief, substance abuse, or illness) may include steps backward intermixed with the forward movement.

This concept was especially powerful for me. As someone who spent my childhood and young adult years mired in black-or-white thinking, my personal healing and much of my spiritual practice has been built around reconciling seeming opposites, not by blurring difference such that the unlike becomes like, but by digging into the ways in which the tension between opposites is itself fertile soil for the activity of creation and growth, art and brilliance. Since creation is, for me, the sacred in action, and understanding of self in the context of the cosmos is sacred practice, this gives the tension of two truths a spiritual meaning and the fluid give-and-take that holds them in balance a spiritual wisdom.

On a personal level, this may mean that we can be confident in many areas of our lives even as we are timid or anxious in others. It happens when we believe in our ability to heal from trauma, grief, and heartache and are secure in our processes of personal growth and healing even as we know some pains will always be with us, in some way, held in tenderness in our hearts. It’s continuing to engage in devotional practice to the Divine even if we never fully comprehend God’s nature or our purpose.

It’s remembering that the same estranged stepfather whose fists filled your childhood with fear was a good grandpa – most of the time – and letting the bittersweet tears flow freely between those truths.

It means knowing that the same scriptures whose teachings have been used to justify rape, slavery, violence, and oppression have brought peace, stability, compassion, and generosity to other followers, and that the same religion that brought us “conversion therapy” also brought us entire churches full of and working to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ Christians. It’s realizing that plenty of religious people have already been through hell and still find healing in their religions, and that plenty of spiritual people fear self-knowledge, darkness, and pain as much as the next person.

It’s knowing that the same “freedom” our Anglo-American ancestors fought for brought devastation to Natives and terror to enslaved Africans, and that the same free-market capitalist ideals upon which we’ve built the concept of the “American Dream” trap the poor in cycles of poverty, smothering them under the weight of low incomes, healthcare costs, and growing debt.

It is hoping you raise the kind of children who would intervene when teenage girls are targeted for their skin color or religion, even as you know that would be shallow comfort if your own baby’s life was taken for their courage and kindness, in the name of “patriotism.”

It may mean having faith in human goodness even as we witness acts of unspeakable horror, and continuing to care for Earth intentionally in the face of scientific predictions that leave little hope. It’s believing in the loved one in recovery even as you consider how you’d respond if they relapsed again, knowing that your birthmother acted from love even as you nurse the sting of rejection, or giving thanks for a long life well-lived even as you grieve the loss of your grandma.

It’s feeling confident, nourished, and healed by your own spiritual practices, knowing them to be meaningful, even as you acknowledge that others may walk vastly different paths with contentment and connection.

Leaves line the edge where river water meets the landThis tension? It’s one of the fundamental realities of human existence in a complex cosmos, of personal growth in the face of both our successes and our setbacks, and of spiritual development in a pluralist culture or global context. For myself, in making peace with contradiction, holding space for the tension between seemingly conflicting truths, I learn to accept myself, navigate my world, and celebrate my God – who is both Goddess and God, personal and abstract, singular and many and all.

Author: Chris Ash

Chris Ash is a writer, teacher, and leader whose practice is inspired by nature, informed by science, and grounded in compassion. They have facilitated safe and sacred space for over twenty years, as a suicide hotline counselor, doula, rape crisis companion, support group facilitator, minister, mentor, parent, and friend. Their research interests include spirituality, compassion, trauma, gender, sexuality, and intimacy. They live just outside Chapel Hill, North Carolina, surrounded by academics who think they're a hippie and New Agers who think they're a nerd. They remain fully committed to being both.

10 thoughts on “Holding Two Truths by Chris Ash”

    1. Picking up and moving on is certainly key! I think for me it typically feels less like a knife edge and more like this free-flowing dance between poles that are a little farther apart, but there have definitely been times when there was more of a sense of urgency and tight control that makes knife edge feel a more appropriate metaphor. The picking up and moving on? That’s the big thing. It’s so easy otherwise to get bogged down in beating ourselves up or overanalyzing the falling off.


  1. I admire your tenacity in holding some of those tensions in our lives, and thank you for writing about them, many of which were oh so familiar … and leave me currently exhausted. Faith? I’m a little short on faith, too, in humanity-as-a-whole at the moment, and have turned to Earth Goddess as solace.

    It feels daunting that so many people are abstracted from our beloved Earth and Nature, as I sit in the “dominion over” Bible Belt and see this reflected by those currently in power. Eliot Cowan says that: “All things enjoy ecstatic union with nature [whether they realize it or not]. Life without ecstasy is not true life and not worth living. Without ecstasy, the soul becomes shriveled and perverted, the mind becomes corrupt, and the body suffers pain. Ecstatic union with nature is necessary for normal health; it is necessary for survival.” (from “Plant Spirit Medicine”) It is patently clear that many people do not, and maybe never have, enjoyed an ecstatic union with nature. :(

    Nevertheless, I greatly admire you and others who find the fortitude within to continue acting on behalf of those in need.


  2. Love this post! I have just published my first blog post and would love it if some people checked it out! Let me know what you think!


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