paradox — living the contradictions

Posted on May 23, 2011


For all of my life, I have been on a quest. A quest of sense-making, untangling the mess, insisting there are answers, and demanding that I know them… and that I know them for sure. I worshiped a god of certainty as a clone of my culture. I knew that I could know and depended on it so much that I could trust that god with my very life. I laid my life in the hands of the god of certainty… knowing… that I would never be let down.

If I worked hard, I would be rewarded as I would ascend the ladder of career success. I knew this.

If I loved greatly, I would be understood as a person that could be trusted forever. I knew this.

If I was the best dad possible, my family would forever be unbroken. I knew this.

If I proved to be the best mate a person could have, I would have a companion for life. I knew this.

This is the American Way. This is the Christian Way.

This is the way of life on earth.

… I knew this … or so I thought.

… until …

the horse I was riding at full tilt fell and crumpled under me

the plane I was flying nose-dived into the earth

the car I was driving hit a cement embankment

the ship sunk

… leaving me broken in the dirt, wondering what happened. Wondering why? why?? why???

What was left to do?

I could remain lifeless in the dirt as life passed me by (which I did for quite a while)

Or I could get up, see if I could take a step or two, and then start walking, not knowing where I was going, not knowing what was left for me, not knowing this world at all. Lost and abandoned by my principles, my values, my self-determined purpose.

… as I walk on.

As I walked on, I could do nothing but ponder. As I walked on, I spent more and more time in silence, reflecting. What were these expectations I had of life? And where are they now? What next? Was there something inherently cracked in those things I depended on and trusted with my very life? Then I began to see that I had hung my hat on that which was temporal. I put all my eggs in a temporary basket, and the basket broke.

Isn’t life all about success? or is it more about failure?

Isn’t life all about love? or is it more about loss and letting go?

Isn’t life all about knowing for sure? or is it more about not knowing?

Isn’t life all about certainty? or is it more about uncertainty?

Isn’t life all about the answers? or is it about living the questions?

I still ask, “What happened?”

My answer is simply silence… as I listen to my inner teacher telling me this:

What happened is irrelevant… compared to what is happening in me now.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

So what now? I’m learning to look at life through a new lens. It is obvious to me now that my assumptions about life did not hold true. So my new assumption is that we assume things about life all the time that don’t hold true, especially when we never examine those assumptions. We are conditioned by our culture, our politics, our religion to see reality in a certain way; through a predefined lens of certainty. But so often we never realize that BECAUSE of the lens we look through, we can’t see reality at all. We see the lens INSTEAD of reality.

So I know that my own thinking is one of my greatest obstacles to understanding truth.

Could it be that life is full of apparent contradictions that I can never reconcile?

Is it possible…

that I am human after all, and can only see through a glass darkly?

that if I know for sure, I will no longer be able to learn?

Is it possible that life is not here to serve me?

‎”Life does not accommodate you, it shatters you. It is meant to, and it couldn’t do it better. Every seed destroys its container or else there would be no fruition.”
(Florida Scott-Maxwell)

If an egg is broken by outside force, life ends. If it is broken by inside force, life begins. Great things always begin from inside. (anonymous facebook post)

Could it be…

that life is more about losing and letting go… than getting and hanging on?

that life is more about giving love… than being loved?

that life is more about what I do with failure… than what I do with success?

that life is more about doubt and how I grow from it… than about faith?

that life is more about the crashes… than the flight?

that life has more contradictions… than agreement?

that life has more questions… than answers???

I have found that the sooner I come to grips with my humanity, my vulnerability, my frailty, and my limitations… the sooner I can get on with it… living the contradictions, loving the questions. Being real… authentic… human.

“Some uncomprehended law holds us at a point of contradiction where we have no choice, where we do not like that which we love, where good and bad are inseparable partners impossible to tell apart, and where we — heart-broken and ecstatic — can only resolve the conflict by blindly taking it into our hearts. This used to be called being in the hands of God. Has anyone any better words to describe it?” (Florida Scott-Maxwell)

Holding the tension of opposites contains a power “that wants to pull my heart open to something larger than myself. The tension always feels difficult, sometimes destructive. But if I can collaborate with the work it is trying to do rather than resist it, the tension will not break my heart — it will make my heart larger.” (Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach)

“The opposite of a true statement is a false statement, but the opposite of a profound truth can be another profound truth.” (Niels Bohr, Nobel Prize winner, physicist)

We know there is right and wrong in life. And there are certain things that we can know and can teach others, like our kids. For example, “Is that hot? Is this dangerous? Is that sharp?” This is where “a true statement” and “a false statement” is critical. In the world of tools and science and math and technology, “either… or thinking” is how we uncover the facts.

Paradox is made of “profound truth”. These are truths that reach to the essence of who we are, why we are here, and what this is all about. Here, “either…or thinking” destroys wholeness and the wonder of life.

Life has led me to this:

Life is full of mystery.

Life is full of contradiction.

Life is full of questions.

Life is full of paradox.

… and that is OK with me!

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

(Leonard Cohen)

See also:

living the questions

the god of certainty