Category Archives: paradox

Paradox Parade

Making peace with that which seems to be contrary

“When I am in tatters and about to cave, in elementary matters: be the particle and the wave.”- The Levins 

This weekend, my wife Julia and I gathered within a wonderful community to see Joe Crookston, a master musician, songwriter and beloved cheerleader of humanity. Before the concert, I had a conversation with a friend who has a different political point of view. We agreed on many points but in the end, there was no swaying her from her stance. I had to say that I was grateful that we were willing to converse at all. Our beliefs can become a citadel from which we are unwilling to emerge. Recognizing that I care for someone who does not see or feel as I do, awakens the love from which all things become whole.

Of course, there is a process that takes place before love comes into the picture. There is a gambit of emotions that come into play that must be honored before I can authentically facilitate a greater understanding. Sometimes, however, I can find myself going down the rabbit hole with bad feelings and I have to remind myself that love is an option. That way I can manually shift gears.

We are the awareness that animates everything and yet we seem to be in a separate form from everything around us. What can bring us peace is quietly observing the drama of life as it unfolds without needing to over-identify with it.  Swirling around duality, our consciousness can silently become unified.

For a long time, there was a scientific argument about what light consisted of. There were proponents of the Particle theory who said that light was made of particles. There were proponents of the Wave theory who said light was made of waves. They were like two political parties attacking one another. Each side said they were right and that the other was wrong. Now we know that light is both a particle and a wave. It has both properties and depending on how you look at it, it may change from a particle to a wave. It may do the opposite.  All that time arguing may have been wasted, or it may have provided the breakthrough in understanding. It is a paradox.

Paradox comes from the Greek words para and dokein which mean “to seem contrary.”

We live in a world where there seems to be endless conflict without the hope of us reconciling our differences. Perhaps, if we can use the idea of the particle and the wave, we can learn to embrace the paradox and find a way to live in peace.

Here are some examples of paradox found throughout the world’s wisdom traditions:

In Judaism, a cherished practice started by Rabbi Bunim of P’shiskha, urged people to put these two statements in their front pockets. One on the left and one on the right:

“The world was created for me.” ( from the Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 37B) and

“I am but dust and ashes.” ( from Genesis 18:27)

Saul, a man who killed Christians then became Paul, Christianity’s chief proponent. He said:

“For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”- Romans 11:32

A mystic Sufi was executed for proclaiming, “I am the Truth.”  Paradoxically, some saw this as a man claiming divinity, while others saw it as a humble denial of the ego which allowed divinity to shine through him.

The Taoist Lao Tzu said: “Heaven and Earth are long-lasting. The reason why Heaven and Earth can last long is that they live not for themselves, and thus they are able to endure.”

The psychologist Carl Jung had this to say: “The paradox… reflects a higher level of intellect and, by not forcibly representing the unknowable as known, gives a more faithful picture of the real state of affairs.”

The poet, TS Elliot said: “Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

Mooji, a teacher of the Hindu Advaita Vedanta (which means “not-two”) says: “Paradoxically, the most powerful force in the universe is doing nothing at all.” And “Without the physical, the spiritual cannot be known or experienced. Go deep. Find and Be the Real!”

As a fitting last float in this Paradox Parade, here are the lyrics to one of Joe Crookston’s songs, which both did and did not revive the Buddhist poet and leader, Thich Nhat Hahn from a coma:

Fall down as Rain

When my life is over

And I have gone away

I’m gonna leave this big ole’ world

And the trouble and the pain

And if I get to heaven

I will not stay

I’ll turn myself around again

And fall down as the rain

Fall Down as the rain

Fall Down as the rain

And when I finally reach the ground

I’ll soak into the sod

I’ll turn myself around again

Come up as goldenrod

Come up as goldenrod

Come up as goldenrod

And then when I turn dry and brown

I’ll lay me down to rest

I’ll turn myself around again

As part of an eagles nest

Part of an eagles nest

Part of an eagles nest

And when that eagle learns to fly

I’ll flutter from that tree

I’ll turn myself around again

As part of the mystery

Part of the mystery

– Joe Crookston

We may never understand one another or ourselves and that in itself is a reason for rejoicing.

 

A tale of two clown schools

Transformation is something that occurs within the space between recognizing we are not alone and that external blame is an illusion.
Relying on the past while guarding against projections of fear keeps us rooted in our smallest understanding.  We rise out of the ashes of our own misery and are capable of being clear and kind, which in itself is larger than life.
 
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Last weekend, Julia and I collaborated with Sweet Can Productions to put on a circus show using the music of The Levins called Barely Contained.  It was well received and we felt very fortunate to be allowed to be a part of something that was so funny, beautiful and well, sweet. 
Our friends Jamie and Natasha have an incredible clown act called Coventry & Kaluza.  They are a part of Sweet Can Productions and coordinated this show.
Coventry and Kaluza
During the run, Jaime and Natasha went to see a show being put on by the students of a local clowning school. Jamie told us that there had been a rivalry between this school and the school where they had trained.  Their school put a strong emphasis on coming up with story lines and practicing the beats within that story to convey it clearly and simply to the audience. This other school taught its clowns to work on their individual characters, to discover idiosyncrasies to present to the audience. 
Jamie and Natasha’s teacher had criticized the teacher of this other school and the method he was teaching his students. This had started the controversy and subsequent rivalry.  Fortunately, their instructor finally went to see the other school to see for himself.  After that, he was able to tell his students that they were doing good work in the other school.  He could see the merit in the other method.
I just finished reading a wonderful book by Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman called The Dude and the Zen Master, which is a conversation between the two authors using Jeff Bridges’ character the Dude from the movie, The Big Lebowski as a jumping off point.
At one point in the book Bernie says he was taught that if something is not a paradox, it isn’t fully true.  There isn’t just one way of doing things correctly.
the dude and the zen master
Bernie: “…You’re helping people see that there is no one truth, that everything they believe or that others believe is just an opinion…We choose what we choose and then people have their opinions about it. Society may say, “you’re screwing yourself up…. Everybody has opinions… if I can really just be in touch with myself, I’m going to wind up doing things that are good for me and cause me the least pain.
Jeff: There are a number of spiritual traditions that say that you should treat the other person as God, or divine.  Turning that around, you should treat yourself the same way, and with compassion.
Bernie: That’s my opinion too. Just don’t wallow in self- pity.
Jeff: Sometimes I can give myself shit no matter which way I go.
Bernie: So the practice of befriending the self is a good one for you.”
 
I love this concept that there is more than one way of working through and that we can befriend our self in the process. This is especially important in my partnership with Julia.  We both have different approaches of working together that end up providing the needed balance to what we do. My tendency is to push and to go, go, go. Julia makes sure that we aren’t just spinning our wheels but are making traction with the ground.  She reminds me to take stock in what is going on so we can savor it. She helps me slow down to make sure things are done right.  I am pushing us to succeed, to “make it”.  Julia is striving to make sure that when we arrive, we have something to worthwhile to share.
Bernie: In Zen we say that the other shore is right here under our feet. What we’re looking for- the meaning of life, happiness, peace- is right here. So the question is no longer, how do I get from here to there? The question is: How do I get from here to here?
Jeff: I sense these two impulses. One says, Do, do, do, achieve, achieve, achieve. The other says, Sssssshhh, please relax. Do you want to spend the rest of your life doing some sort of never-ending homework assignment? Sssshhh.
Bernie: I always have this red nose in my pocket, and if it looks like I’m taking things too seriously, or the person I’m talking to is taking them too seriously, I put the nose on.
Jeff: Clownsville, man. Tightness gets in the way of everything, except tightness.
Bernie: Our work may be important, but we don’t take it too seriously.  Otherwise, we get attached to one relatively small thing and ignore the rest of life. *
This concept of opening up beyond tightness, to be able to see the paradox in everything and laugh at it keeps coming up so that I will embrace it.
Here’s to befriending ourselves so we can take stock of the fullness of our current picture and the beauty of everyone in it.
*- The conversation between Bernie and Jeff has been juggled in this article. It appears here slightly out of sequence.

The Binary Code of Belief

Tremendous advancements occur within the space of a thought when we are able to shift our conception of what we believe.  Difference of opinion may infuriate us but it is only because we have forgotten how to occupy more than one space at a time.  Stationary conviction denies the expansion of the dance.
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I have been having a wonderful conversation with my friend Angie Moates about being able to explore the paradox beliefs of theism and nontheism.
Pema Chodron in her book,  When Things Fall Apart says:
“The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God.   It is an issue that applies to everyone, including both Buddhists and non-Buddhists.  Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there’s someone’s hand to hold: if we just do the right things,… someone will take care of us.  It means there’s always a babysitter available when we need one.  We all are inclined to abdicate our responsibilities and delegate our authority to something outside ourselves.  Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves… It is total appreciation of impermanence and change.
In speaking about theism the poet and philosopher Shankara in his book Crest-Jewel of Discrimination, based on the Vedas says: “Brahman- the absolute existence, knowledge and bliss- is real.  The universe is not real.  Brahman and Atman ((hu-)man’s inner Self) are one.”
The central Jewish prayer, the Sh’ma also says that God is one.
One view suggests there is nothing real inside or out (so why get hung up? : ) , another view suggests there is only one real thing inside and out. (so why get hung up? ; ) The first can be represented by a zero (no-thing) (0) and the other by a one (1).  This makes me think of binary code in which programmers use combinations of zero and one to make up a computer ‘reality’.  What if our projected reality, Maya, or the illusion of reality as we know it is a form of this binary code?
In quantum physics, when you break down elementary matter it can be seen as a particle or a wave. Both the particle and the wave represent the same thing. This further represents the paradox of the zero and the one or as Einstein wrote:
It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do“- Albert Einstein
 
Here is what my friend Angie had to say:
“The Buddhist psychology, including the practice of meditation, helped me to reduce my dependence on my spiritual ego. For me, (the spiritual ego) this is the part of me that is always seeking, never finally settled with what is, and full of beliefs and truths that only keep me separated. I realized at one point that this was my addiction. For several years now, I haven’t been comfortable in any church setting.
I still believe in God, but prefer to feel God through nature, music, conversation, animals, etc. Mostly, I have a very personal practice that’s difficult to put into words. Pema taught me not to fear the pain, (our negativity) that comes up but to allow it and accept it. Last year at this time I had a hard time doing that! But I’ve learned that my spiritual ego was keeping me from going deeper with growth. Now, I finally understand what it means to truly love myself at the core. Whatever comes up, I do my best to be kind to myself in all ways, especially thoughts. This became more of a permanent state for me during meditation when I had a vision of myself as a mother, then a father, then finally a small child. It was like all parts of myself came together in a bond. It was pure goodness. And it’s all good, whatever comes up.” – Angie Moates
So here’s to “Loving ourselves at the core”, relieving neurosis so we can direct our hearts towards healing.