Embrace the Paradoxes

Aug 11, 2014

I was filled with joy at just being alive and at the same time filled with sorrow because my husband was suffering from a recurrence of cancer –just three months after he had been declared cancer free. What was so astonishingly new to me was that the sorrow I was feeling did not diminish the joy. The reason I was able to enter into these two states of being simultaneously was that I was no longer choosing with my whole being that Hank live as I wanted him to be—healthy—after this whole ordeal was over. I had been given to understand that if I could hold all possible outcomes equally, well then… That was the clear message I received and the minute I could assent to that way of being with his illness, then I was free.

I was no longer clinging to his living and being the way I wanted him to be. Really… in retrospect who was I to choose which would be the best outcome for him and for me? If our lives are in God’s hands, then we need to assent to his will, to go along with whatever happens. In this case that meant seeing what God’s intention for Hank’s life was. What I learned is that there is a way out of these stuck places where I am demanding my way and clinging to it above all other potential outcomes: it is to let go of my will, no longer choosing only the outcome I prefer. And then a new outcome can present itself, a third way evolves naturally out of the two opposing views—his living or his dying.

We Americans are especially good at being dualistic. In any pair of opposites we would easily choose one over the other: Good and Evil, of course Good; Masculine and Feminine, of course Masculine; Hot and Cold, well it depends on the drink and the weather, coffee hot or maybe iced, tea hot or iced; Light and Dark, of course Light. Every day we make these choices almost always preferring one over the other. And we prefer to make the choices rationally, we think, based on the scientific evidence of which is better.

But as we step back from the cultural lines drawn here to a broader vision of the world and of life itself, we find that in creation there are victims and their predators who help keep the “victim” population down; there are pests also created by God—wasps, bees, gnats and the ubiquitous beetle to name a few who have a place in this world; we see that the world contains good and evil, masculine and feminine, light and dark, hot and cold.

What would happen if we embrace both the opposites, in other words, if we took a non-dual[1] approach to what normally look like opposites? We might find that without evil, we couldn’t define good, or without the feminine how would we know what the masculine is. The opposites define each other. We may have a preference for one over the other, like our country clearly prefers the rational over the non-rational and creative(read masculine over feminine), but without one to define and modify the other what would we have—rampant and cold rationality without any emotion or the intuitive to soften its harsh edges on the one hand. Or on the other a world solely feminine in character there might be no rationality at all, intuition, whim, emotion, and connectedness might reign more chaotically. The opposites define and balance each other; both are needed.

I would suggest that a non-dual approach to these opposites must be more like God sees them, so different from our human tendency to choose one over the other. Otherwise our God who is all-powerful would have wiped out the evil in this world long ago in favor of the good. Or he would have chosen the masculine approach over the feminine instead of creating both. He hasn’t destroyed all the predators in this world in favor of their victims, either. Is it because God sees these oppositional forces as essential in some way?

The principle that I would like to address today is this: when we resist something, anything, we give it more power over us. And we are refusing to accept what is. So when we resist the way the world is, when we wish God would just eradicate the evil people so the rest of us could live in peace, when I cling to my own preferences, when we turn away from the suffering in the world hoping it will go away or not affect us, we give evil more power over us. We let our resistance to evil keep us from being at peace or from solving, or helping to eradicate the problem.

Not acknowledging our own struggles with ego-centricity [which when multiplied create evil in my mind] means that we project evil out onto every one who is not like me. Then my own unacknowledged, bad choices need to be hidden behind the mask of a “good person.” So I “forget” about my own flaws, because they are carefully hidden from my view and that of others, I think. Here is the cost of this tendency: I can’t be real, I have to expend a lot of energy to keep my “sins” hidden form my self and others. I am also limiting the access of God’s transforming Spirit to heal me. So I have a limited relationship with myself, others and God.

Do I acknowledge my own evil tendencies or do I resist them? Am I the “good guy” in a white hat as opposed to the “black hat?” What are we to learn from the presence of evil in this world? We didn’t create it. I think that God created the potential for evil in giving us free will to choose God’s ways or not. And certainly evil can consolidate and grow if enough people participate in it. And so can good consolidate and grow if there are enough people choosing good.

When we admit the existence of both good and evil, we acknowledge our own choices and the tension between the two within us. We are not rejecting the needier, more problematic parts of ourselves. We embrace their neediness, but we don’t allow them the actions they would take. And then we choose how we are going to be in this world. Not by denying, but by acknowledging and embracing both, and thereby allowing another way to emerge. The way out lies in not choosing good or evil, or in not having to have something the way we want it, but in allowing both to be part of life here on Earth, we allow a third option to occur. It is in our resistance to one choice or the other that we get stuck.

It is the same with the opposites, masculine and feminine. When we so clearly prefer one over the other, say the rational, when we decide everything on just the facts, we deny a whole side of ourselves that has a different, perhaps more balanced, kind of input. The feminine is more intuitive, more creative, more apt to decide something on the whole truth of the situation, the felt sense of it rather than the rational, just-give- me-the-facts, way of deciding. Combined they are a powerful way to choose, to look at the facts and then to discern, to intuit the truth gives us the clearest and best choice for us. The rational by itself is cold, distancing, not likely to encourage human feelings. The non-rational feminine is the opposite. It’s not interested in the facts only in the impression, the felt sense of truth, but it can be short-sighted by ignoring the facts. It may give way too much weight to the feelings of the people involved. Each way has its limitations, but together they create a new paradigm that is likely to work very effectively. Separately they each are way too limited.

When we choose incorporating both opposites, we’re going to be happier with the results. In my example at the beginning I certainly didn’t want to abandon the joy I was feeling at being alive to just being in grief about my husband’s health. I was pretty amazed that the sadness could co-exist with the joy. Up to that point in my life any grief would have cast a pall on my whole existence, so this was a powerful experience to feel both within me at the same time. I have never—before or since—felt so alive!

Had I clung to my clear preference that he return to a healthy state and live with me into our old age together—he was just shy of 61 at the time—I would have been very unhappy and inconsolable and angry that it wasn’t happening. In the meantime I was given the gift of faith so wide and deep that I felt like I was the house built on rock, that nothing, not even my husband’s death, could throw me off that rock. Again if I had clung to my own preference, I don’t think that would have happened. It was in opening myself up to all the possibilities that the gift could be given.

As I look back on that time 13 years ago, I think that I entertained how God might think about something for the first time in my life. I was invited to step out of my very narrow frame of reference to see from a much broader perspective and to no longer cling to my own way.


Questions to ponder over the week: How different would it be to see my life from God’s perspective? Can I entertain a point of view where everything belongs? Would I be willing to let go of my own preferences and assumptions and expectations to see reality more clearly?




Catch my talks about the spiritual life on YouTube: “Gratitude” and “Be Peace Now” for example www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvRVdcCRdgQ


[1] If you’re interested in reading more about non-dualism read Cynthia Bourgeault’s The Wisdom Jesus or Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now.

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