Holding Paradox

Reading is an important foundation of my life. One book can offer fantastic perspective shifts… one chapter can open an entirely new set of ideas to explore. One paragraph can give voice to a dormant sense that lives in the background of mind, sparking the beginning of a new adventure in consciousness.

Several years ago I read a book about Meister Eckhart, the thirteenth century theologian who, among other daring ideas at the time, talked about the tension between opposites as a way to experience the Great Mystery of existence. You could call this great mystery god, spirit, universe, life force… I prefer the term “great mystery” because I feel it’s less charged with cultural bias and it’s an accurate term. Meister Eckhart expressed that in the tension between opposites there is also a coming together of opposites. It is through holding this paradox of unified opposites that a great treasure is discovered – a “both/and” way of being that embraces duality and non-duality. This is the way of paradox.

Duality essentially says: we are each separate beings having separate experiences in a world where all is separate.” Non-duality says: “we are all one, all unified and connected through the web of life.” Both statements are true. It’s not an either/or situation – it’s a both/and thing. Herein lies the paradox.

Thankfully Meister Eckhart describes a way to hold this paradox. To paraphrase in 21st century language: we must live in the world and tend to our earthly matters while being plunged into the mysteriousness of life and all its unanswered (and unanswerable) aspects. This swinging back-and-forth between opposites – the known and unknown – has a rhythmic effect much like ocean tides, sound waves, and breathing. In-and-out, back-and-forth, up-and-down… round-and-round we go. The natural rhythms of our physical universe are a swinging between opposites. We can observe this in many facets of life: sound and silence, day and night, life and death, here and not here. It stands to reason that in the bigger picture we also experience an oscillation between mundane and mystery. We can hold the paradox of the opposite of “daytime and nighttime” and the unity of a 24 hour day. We can hold the paradox of the opposites of “high tide and low tide” with the unity of the ocean. Can we also hold the paradox of various opposing beliefs and viewpoints and the consciousness that we are one human family – one earth family, even?

I wasn’t kidding when I told you I love nerding out on stuff like this.

I try not to watch the news. Lately I just can’t tell what’s fact and what’s fiction when I look at popular media. Maybe there once was a time when general news media was a trustworthy source, but these days all I observe is a battle of opposites. I can understand the desire to pick sides – choosing to believe one thing or another. What if both viewpoints are true? Conflicting things or opposite ideals seems to indicate that one must be right and the other must be wrong. The need to pick a side is actually unnecessary. Life does not need you to pick sides in an argument because ultimately both sides are true.

I realize that I’m pushing on the edges of my intent to share an “aha” moment that opened my mind to a fuller, more peaceful way of living and that I’m entering into philosophical and moral territory that I wish not to at this time. This post has gone on long enough. The philosophical and moral questions that might have been sparked here are important explorations that might bring up uncomfortable areas of thought. I encourage us all to grapple with those thoughts – test them in the earthly realm with discussion, reading, and observation AND sit with them in the mysterious realm of silence, meditation, and surrender. Practice holding paradox.

It seems that holding paradox is a much needed skill if we’re going to successfully navigate these tense times. With so much polarization and tension between seemingly opposite viewpoints these days, holding paradox as a practice could be the key to peace and more joy in life.

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