Paradoxes are portals to great wisdom.
“If ever you find yourself in the midst of a paradox, you can be sure you stand on the edge of truth.”
― Diana Gabaldon
A paradox is a statement that appears at first to be contradictory, but upon reflection then makes sense. So to a linear mind, roses should not have thorns, ocean water should be fresh and the moon can’t have craters (because it’s so beautiful).
But you are not a linear mind. You have a mind that delights in life’s paradoxes. It can accept duality and enjoy the order in the kaleidoscopic mess. I think paradoxes are not opposites that need to be resolved but coexisting contradictions of reality. They show us that nature has gifted us a polarity so that we may use contradictions to light up our own unique path in this lifetime.
Today I want to celebrate some of my favorite paradoxes and welcome you to find yours and then treasure them. I want you to look out for paradoxes as gifts in nature that carry an added layer of meaning and depth and use them as portals of mental and spiritual growth in your life.
- “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but you must do it.”-` Mahatma’ Gandhi
Here the Mahatma is asking us to accept our mortal insignificance and yet goading us to act despite it. He wants us to choose compassionate action over divine procrastination. He is pushing us to show up and also telling us to be invisible. He is asking us to act with a gentle humility that is as hard as a diamond.
2. Consistency creates Creativity.
Remember the first time you tried anything? How did you fare? And, the second time, then 10th, then 100th, and the 1000th time…consistency creates creativity. Creativity is imagination in disciplined action. Creativity is also paradoxical in its nature. It’s seen when you get lost in your craft. It sees what everyone misses. It makes sense from infinite unrelated connections. It is mysteriously precise. I love this definition of the paradox from Michael Michalko,
“Creativity is paradoxical. To create, a person must have knowledge but forget the knowledge, must-see unexpected connections in things but not have a mental disorder, must work hard but spend time doing nothing as information incubates, must create many ideas yet most of them are useless, must look at the same thing as everyone else, yet see something different, must desire success but embrace failure, must be persistent but not stubborn, and must listen to experts but know how to disregard them.”
[Twelve Things You Were Not Taught in School About Creative Thinking (The Creativity Post, December 6, 2011)]”
― Michael Michalko
3. The mystical is ever-present amidst the mundane.
Can you find the Mystical in the mundane? The mundane is most evident when you are under stress. This is the moment when you feel most in touch with your mundane and egoic scared mind. At this moment you can find the mystical by listening to your breath. That is the sacred sound of life flowing in you that can overpower your scared lower self. This is sage advice that is practiced and recommended by spiritual teachers like the Dalai Lama, Eckhart Tolle, and Sam Harris.
Your breath is like a hair-thin hum of energetic vibration that connects you with the trillions of life forms on this planet. Your breath is the bridge that can take you from the mundane to the mystical reality in you. You can come back to it every time you feel lost in the mundane and rise from it every time you need to act in compassion.
4. The paradox of hedonism: When one pursues happiness itself, one is miserable; but, when one pursues something else, one achieves happiness.
Viktor Frankl famously said in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning- “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”
Every time I have chased Happiness I have found myself miserable in its chase. It always outruns me. But every time I have let go and given in to my muse or my passion, happiness silently comes and sits in my lap. I have found happiness when I have sought it not for myself. When I have tried to make someone else happy, I have felt happy. I have felt happiest when the I is not my ego but the I that is the witness of it.
5. Ironic processing is the psychological process whereby an individual’s deliberate attempts to suppress or avoid certain thoughts (thought suppression) renders those thoughts more persistent.
The sermon, “Don’t think of a pink elephant” makes the mind conjure the poor confused animal.
I have found accepting and surrender the fasted way to find peace or freedom from a pesky habit or thought. I used to get myself into a cold sweat when I worried about my going back to smoking. I used to get myself into a frenzy when I tried to stop my porn habit. I used to have sleepless nights when I used to try and avoid worrying about the health of my mother. Until I surrendered.
Now I accept the thought that floats in my mind and I watch it, as it wreaks havoc for a moment in my body and mind. I accept whatever I am feeling without feeling that I should not feel that. I stop resisting. And somehow the feeling, the thought, the habit has been cured or lessened or not something I fear anymore. The adage- what you resist, persists is another way to label the same paradox. The answer is to let the light of surrender melt it away. Ethen Hawke said it well, “If you can’t shine a light in the dark corners, the demons that live there will never go away.”
James Bond Stockdale (December 23, 1923 — July 5, 2005) was a United States Navy vice admiral and aviator awarded the Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War, during which he was a prisoner of war for over seven years. When asked, regarding his coping strategy and which prisoners didn’t make it out of Vietnam, Stockdale replied:
Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be
7. The truth comes out of silence.
I have found the most profound words that come to me are after a period of complete mental stillness. In the pin-drop silence of my mind, thoughts and words take shape and become concepts and ideas that I can then craft into reality. I also find that some of the deepest self-discoveries in my life have come when I have fallen absolutely silent. I simply wait to let my mind fall silent and then I look for the gems of truth in that darkness.
“At a certain pitch of religious experience, the heart just wants to sing; it breaks into song. Paradoxically, you could say when the silence finds its fullness, it comes to word.”
― David Steindl-Rast, The Music of Silence: Entering the Sacred Space of Monastic Experience
8. The opposite of certainty is openness.
I am a control junkie. I like to get things done and not leave things to chance. But lately, I am finding that being open is far more rewarding and enjoyable than seeking certainty. I am noticing that in my relationships, my career, my choices. All of them are fresher because I am embracing this paradox of `open certainty.’ Now, I have a plan & I am open to the plan not working out. With this bifocal lens, I feel much less stressed, much more generous, and much happier in my daily life. Tony Schwartz sums this up well, “Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity, and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose upsides. The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow.”
9. The only way your parachute will open is if you jump.
Steve Harvey says this best, he tells us that we all have a gift, a natural-born talent, but the only way to realize this gift is to jump. To let go and give in to the uncertainty of the journey but convinced that the chute will open and you will have the gift of the view from high above.
I can’t tell you how many times I have held myself back on taking that risk; making that phone call; walking on that stage; accepting that challenging brief…I regret each one of them in some way or another.
But I don’t regret any of the times when I did jump. I felt that fear, I felt that rush…God knows I was scared. But I still jumped. I jumped into the rush of contradiction and paradoxes and conflicting emotions and uncertain paths. Because deep down somewhere I have a belief that the aegis of providence comes to the aid of the person who sincerely wishes to be more than his current form.
10.You must get lost before you find yourself.
This is my personal favorite.
We live in an age where getting lost is frowned upon. The herd brain shivers at the thought of getting segregated from the group. We cling to compromises while the river of possibilities flows around us. We refuse to let go of the certainty of our comfort zones. Because our brain hates uncertainty. It feels lost and disoriented. But that pain of uncertainty is exactly what reveals the opportunity. Rumi said; You have to break your heart until it opens.
The only way you will find your self is if you lose yourself first. The self you will lose is like the skin that the snake must shed otherwise it will die. The self you must lose is the self that has run its course. The self that you have to lose is the one that got you so far. Now you need to find the Self that lies at the bottom of your contradictions and paradoxes. It is the harmonic whole of all your polarities. The one that is purely and uniquely you. The You that you crave to know.
You might need time to find this self. You might need a lot of time. You might never find it. But if you have the desire to be the highest version of who you are…if you have any desire to find the authentic you…you have to let go of everything you know so far about you. And allow yourself to be found.
Paradoxes teach me to see the duality in life around us and to accept and cherish that in myself. I am good and evil. I am lust and love. I am rage and surrender. I am the whole damn beautiful mess.