“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…, “
The above quote from the opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is the great example of a paradoxical phrase. It tells about the time of chaos, conflicts, the time of despair and suffering on the one hand and joy and hope on the other.
I know it isn’t lost on you how much this quote sounds as if it is describing the mental and emotional political climate that is currently vibrating throughout the world.
While this post is more about paradoxes, I confess that the current political climate offers me/us a platform to explore how paradoxes can be a port to a pathway that leads beyond contracted black or white, right or wrong thinking.
Frequently reminding myself of Rumi’s famous statement, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing there is a field, I’ll meet you there” has amplified my intention to move beyond judgemental thinking into deep listening and understanding.
As a result, this post is about how the ability to hold a paradox enables us to move beyond narrow thinking, into a more expansive experience of calm, peace and joy.
Most of you know what a paradox is, but as you know my style is to check the dictionary, and this is the common definition, “a paradox is a figure of speech in which a seemingly self-contradictory statement is nevertheless found–in some sense–to be true.”
Here are some classic examples of paradoxical statements:
Einstein said, “Before God, we are all equally wise and before God, we are all equally foolish.”
Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist anything but temptation.”
The New Testament provides this quote attributed to Jesus, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
As you can see in order to open one’s self to a more expansive understanding, it requires a ‘yes, and…’ rather than a ‘yes, but…’ kind of lens through which you look at life. Let me ask you what are the lens through which you look at life?
Is the quality of your life determined by what happens to you or through the attitude that you bring to life?
Is your response to what happens to you influenced more by outside forces or through the way you look at and process ( a story you create) what happens?
Whether your answers to those questions were ‘ yes, and…’ or ‘yes, but…’ I believe you will appreciate the following exercise on perspectives.
Psychological Perspective Exercise
This famous image is a great exercise that reminds us of different perspectives. When you look at it what do you see? Is it two black faces looking at each other? Or is it a white vase? In order to see one or the other notice how you have to shift your focus. It’s almost impossible to see both at the same time, isn’t it?
But once you discern the faces, you see that both are true at the same time. It’s two black faces, and it’s a white vase. Even when you know this you have to flip your lens of perception back and forth to distinguish them. When you focus on one perspective, it’s hard not to lose the other.
From New Thought/Ancient Wisdom teachings we know the above exercise can be seen, experienced and understood similarly by using the terms personality or the soul perspective.
From the personality perspective of life where life happens to you, you feel powerless and fearful. It becomes easy to see how from this contracted energetic field of fear, the response of judgment, complaining, criticizing, and/or blaming seem to be appropriate.
On the other hand, from the soul perspective of life where life happens through you, you understand that you are the only person you can change. Therefore you to look within with the awareness that when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
The empowering realization is that by prayerfully looking within you give yourself an opportunity to see this situation, circumstance, or challenge differently. Seeing it differently very often requires you to hold the paradox of ‘yes, and….’
Different Perspectives Story
“A father from a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the express purpose of showing him how poor people live. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family. On their return from their trip, the father asked his son, ‘How was the trip?’
‘It was great, Dad.’
‘Did you see how poor people live?’ the father asked.
‘Oh yeah,’ said the son.
‘So, tell me, what did you learn from the trip?’, asked the father
The son answered:
‘I saw that we have one dog and they had four.
We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end.
We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night.
Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon.
We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight.
We have servants who serve us, but they serve others.
We buy our food, but they grow theirs.
We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them. ‘
The boy’s father was speechless.
Then his son added, ‘Thanks Dad for showing me how poor we are.”
In the context of this post on perspective and paradox, this story is a perfect setup to see that the father represents the personality perspective, and the son represents the soul perspective. Yes, I admit it. And yet, let me ask you, after pausing for a moment in order to give yourself an opportunity to see the story from a different perspective, are you able to go beyond right doing or wrongdoing and embrace the paradoxical perspective of yes, and …?
Why Should You Care About Paradox Anyway?
Consider with me perhaps one of the greatest paradoxes that exists in the Universe, our connectedness/oneness with God, with each other and yet our individualization.
What if our ego/personality focuses on how we are different from the rest of the world.
What if our soul lives when we experience how we are the same.
What if any time we separate our self from other people or from situations, we know our personality is in control.
What if at such times, as we shift our perspective to build connection we move into the soul.
What if as our picture of life becomes larger, more things make sense and we have a greater playing field for life to unfold – naturally.
I think it’s safe to say that Jesus lived the ultimate paradox. Whether he gazed at a child on his lap or a leper wanting to be healed; whether he looked at a prostitute or his own mother; whether he witnessed the joy of a wedding feast or the sorrow of loved ones weeping at the burial of a loved one; whether he observed his own disciples or his executioners ……..Jesus only saw God.
What a reminder of how developing our ability to hold the perspective of ‘yes, and…..’ moves us more toward the expansive field connection and of seeing the good in each other. A willingness to surrender the need to be right is key to experiencing more peace and expansion in life.
Example of UBUNTU Perspective
Teacher and author Wayne Dyer encapsulates the idea of holding the paradox of oneness and individualization as he writes, “As a holistic being you shatter the illusion of your separateness and reveal your connection to everything. This empowers you in a way that the ego-driven personality could never contemplate.”
As we know, we are what we think all day long. Let’s align ourselves with the Infinite Source of Life and let Life flow through us as right action and true expression.
As always, on this site, there are, affirmations, and meditations to support you on your journey to self-empowerment.
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