Embracing Life’s Paradoxes
Human life is rich with paradoxes. To try and escape them is to run in circles.
Some are enraged, and others enriched, by their inescapability. But given their presence, the least we can do is to acknowledge them. To go further and accept and embrace them sets us on the path to becoming fully human, fully awake — fully alive. Paradoxes bring us to the edge of common sense — to the place where mystery of life rises up to meet us. The place where magic, truth and beauty begin to blur into one.
Ancient Jewish Kabbalists said that the highest expression of life’s paradoxes is humour; to laugh, in awe and amazement, at the wildness and ineffability of it all.
To live in harmony with the paradoxes of life, then, we are:
To see the unity of all life, a unity that is somehow divided into separate beings. Somehow, we are private worlds of experience that are totally interconnected with, and dependent on, countless other minds.
To craft a life of simplicity in more complex world than ever.
To walk a path of awakening to life in which every step is the goal.
To accept and embrace every aspect of life, and yet not accept the suffering of any conscious being.
To embrace ignorance and doubt as the pinnacle of wisdom — the wisest of the Greeks was he who admitted he knew nothing. We are empowered with the entirety of human knowledge, through modern technology, and yet we do not truly understand the simple glass of water before us, the blue of the sky, the nature of our own minds. To admit we know nothing is to embrace the mystery of existence with a fresh mind, full of awe and clarity.
To relinquish all grasping, searching and seeking — for nothing is to be gained in a continually shifting sea of experience — and yet to strive and take on the quest for an ever more harmonious, just and beautiful world.
To see that the only thing that is constant in life is change.
To find freedom through discipline.
To accept and embrace a meaninglessness cosmos, and yet to see that the meanings we create and discover in life are real and legitimate; in a meaningless world we are empowered to embark on a lifelong process of creating ever deeper and more inspiring meaning.
To desire nothing and yet to desire, passionately, all that our souls call us to.
To favour no beings above others and yet to extend our whole hearts to our dearest and closest.
To see that everything is perfect in a flawed and imperfect world.
To live in the eternal and absolute facts of existence while taking all things as transient and relative: to see the infinite in the finite.
To see that we are all cosmically significant, every moment of our experience being the culmination of an entire universe, and yet utterly insignificant and tiny beings, in light of the vastness of time and space.
To see that while we are in the world — some third-person physical reality — the world is nothing other than our experience of it — the virtual reality model generated by our brains. To see that this model is not accurate or complete, and yet that it is everything: our minds are all we have.
To see that everything we perceive is a reflection of ourselves — every perception derives from our brain’s internal model of the world. We project ourselves onto others and react to them accordingly.
To see that we are both microscopic beings on a drifting piece of dust and colossal, complex organisms, ecosystems home to trillions of organisms.
To overcome the animal behaviours that harm ourselves and others and yet give ourselves fully to our deep, wild, and emotional nature.
To learn that letting go, releasing our grip on life, is what releases our minds from the habits of grasping and clinging that cause all suffering. The only thing we need to do to be happy is to stop trying.
To see that we are self-authoring, autonomous individuals, yet mere parts in vast social, biological and physical networks that determine our every action and behaviour. That is, to see that free will is an illusion, and yet to take full responsibility for all we do.
To recognise our incredible intelligence and potential, and yet to live as humble know-nothings, ignorant and simple as children.
To recognise that a world of increasing digital “connection” is driving us apart.
To observe that the more we have, the less satisfied we are — and so embrace a life in which simplicity brings riches, in which we find abundance within, thus ceasing the search for it outside of ourselves.
To flow through the world and let the world flow through us.
To strive for the fruits of knowledge and certainty in a fundamentally unknowable, unpredictable and uncertain world.
To try and to fail, and to see that every failure is the essence of success.
To be serene and calm in the midst of a roaring, screaming turmoil, to laugh in a world full of misery.
To be sincere, austere and serious and yet playful in all endeavours; to be fully adults and fully children.
To hear the roar of silence.
To reject the seduction of pleasure and yet pursue its highest expressions.
To face life with both seriousness and humour.
To rage against injustice and yet perform every action with a peaceful mind.
To face, accept and embrace our own mortality — to realise that contemplating death is the ultimate doorway to living fully.
To make the greatest of efforts and yet be completely detached from results, grounded in an effortless present.
To be natural, intuitive and spontaneous but also collected, considered and rational.
To see that we are genetically-engineered to be selfish, and yet are capable of developing total selflessness.
To focus on improving ourselves and yet to lose ourselves entirely in the flow of life.
To live and create in a world that is doomed to perish.
To strive for change and yet surrender fully to what is.
To see everywhere pattern and order which is one and the same with chaos. The universe appears to be both deterministic and random.
To enter flow: to do without a doer.
To accept the validity of both reductionism (everything is caused by the action smaller, more fundamental processes, e.g. atoms) and emergentism (where larger systems, e.g. thoughts or societies, cause the movement of the matter at smaller scales).
To pursue and relish the explanations that unravel the world, and yet face up to the complete inexplicable-ness of existence. Why this?
To face this utterly uncanny fact that anything exists at all, and yet that this existence is completely ordinary, pedestrian and normal to us.
To never be satisfied and to use this as fuel, and yet to be totally grateful for and satisfied by any moment of experience.
To see that we are nothing, open empty awareness, and everything: a world unfolding, moment by moment.
To see that self — the personal ego, the “me” — is an illusion (as revealed by observation of our minds and also by modern neuroscience), and yet to navigate the world as responsible, individual people because the modern world requires that of us. In seeing through the self, we are empowered to create, craft and grow our-selves as we please. There are no people, just the ever-flowing contents of consciousness — and yet we must love and help one another.
To see that we must navigate timelines, carrying out plans and activities, and yet are always totally grounded in a timeless present-moment.
To see that we are neither physical or mental, subject or object, dual or non-dual. To go fully beyond the boundaries of reason and logic and know reality directly through experience.
To experience that the “human mind is as much a universe as the universe itself” (John Fowles).
If you have more paradoxes to share, I’d love to hear — leave them in the comments!
This story is published in Noteworthy, where 10,000+ readers come every day to learn about the people & ideas shaping the products we love.
Follow our publication to see more product & design stories featured by the Journal team.