Thinking About Paradox

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A quote from the Tao Te Ching hangs in my line of vision as I write this: 

“The universe is sacred.

You cannot improve it.

If you try to change it, you will ruin it.

If you try to hold it, you will lose it.”

Depending on your point of view, this is either philosophical mumbo jumbo, shallowness masked as profundity, or it says something wise and thoughtful about the nature of existence. I happen to think both are true at the same time. On one level to say thing nothing about the universe can be improved seems silly. But on the other hand, it is exactly. So much of truth is ungraspable and can’t really be put into words. The world is a mess and exactly as it should be. The passing of time often feels static but so much change is happening. 

Take the so-called “self-improvement” culture. So much new age, tech spirituality discusses maximining your productivity and spending your time creating habits built for your success. Most of it makes me want to gag. It’s not that there isn’t value in that. Achieving things can be considered one important aspect of life and how else can we get things done, if we aren’t being productive. Books like “Atomic Habits” are wonderful examples of this sort of tech, improvement culture. 

But on another level: fuck self-improvement culture. The idea that we always need to improve because we aren’t good enough as are has done untold harm to people’s self-image. Instagram, as I’ve spoken about previously, is one example of this. Without knowing it, it creates expectations of what one’s life should look like. Suddenly your regular old life isn’t good enough, so you should strive to want more, to be different. That is the opposite of self-acceptance or self-compassion. This culture inherently tells us we aren’t good enough. 

So how do you two seemingly contradictory truths? How does one move forward when anything can be looked at from a number of different ways? I think holding paradox is often the sign of a mature person. Humbleness is needed from this point of view. Holding paradox means acknowledging one’s point of view, but also realizing that other points of view exist, some that might be in direct opposition to your point of view. 

But as I said above, words can often fail us here. I am reminded of a line from Macbeth, “Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Admittedly Macbeth is a particularly bleak and nihilistic Shakespeare play). One can interpret that line in many ways, but I think it works as a critique against bluster and hubris. We are all so full of words we think are important, but in the end, what does it mean? What good are your arguments? The world beyond words is often when I feel my most still and calm. It is when I can shut off the running dialogue of life and be still that I feel my best. And when I am like that, which can be rare, paradoxes make more sense. There is nothing to hold on to, no words or points of view that are right or wrong. There is just the present moment. So breathe. 

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