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The Power of Paradox

“The world is perfect as it is, including my desire to change it”

Ram Dass

par•a•dox [par-uh-doks] Noun: A statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd, but which in reality expresses a possible truth.

po•lar•i•ty [poh-lar-i-tee] Noun: The state of having two opposite or contradictory tendencies, opinions, or aspects

The universe, and everything in it, is a living, breathing paradox. Paradox is embedded in every moment; each time we say yes to one thing, we are saying no something else. Every step we take towards is also a step away. Every belief we hold, every truth we tell, disputes some other belief or possible truth.

We try to reconcile this dilemma with a balance; between safety and risk, between being and doing, between the “I” and the “we”. Yet despite our best efforts, that “just-right” sweet spot continues to elude, particularly as the world becomes more and more complex.

What if, instead of “either-or,” and “just-right,” we leaned into the “yes-and?”

What if our capacity to fully experience the richness of each moment is a function of our ability to simultaneously hold both sides of a paradox? To see the beauty of a perfect rose, and know that it, like everything else in the physical world (including ourselves), is temporary. What if we saw seeming polarities as the yin and yang required to complete the circle, and the tension between them as a universal creative force?

Hardwired for Fear and Hardwired for Love

You are able to read these words because your ancestors were hardwired for fear; fear of a harsh, unforgiving environment, and fear of other humans whose intentions were not in their best interest. Paradoxically, you are able to read these words because they were also hardwired for love and belonging. Being part of the tribe was critical for survival. To be ostracized was almost certain death. So here we sit today, having inherited this dual nature; rife with hair-trigger fear responses, and a deep craving for love and belonging.

Awareness of this duality is the first step towards embracing it. Understanding that our paradoxical nature stems from thousands of years of evolution allows us to be tender and compassionate with ourselves. It allows us to recognize fear and love as essential (and beautiful) aspects of who we are.

The Brightest Light Casts the Deepest Shadow

If you were to ask your closest friends what they cherish most about you, and then ask what drives them a little crazy, the answer would be two sides of the same coin.

“What do I love most about her? She’s confident, articulate and isn’t afraid to speak her truth. What bugs me? She can come across as a bit arrogant, and she always has to be a part of the conversation.”

“What do I love most him? His kind and gentle nature. What bothers me? He’s a bit of a pushover.”

Masculine and Feminine

Masculine and feminine energies; simultaneously attracting and repelling, are forces that in concert, spark the creation of life itself. Consider that both live within each of us, and imagine the inner resources we might tap if we were to give them free reign to dance their dance.

Tools and Techniques for Embracing Paradox

Paradox is everywhere. We are always dancing with stillness and movement, freedom and responsibility, joy and pain, logic and imagination. There’s no easy formula for increasing our PQ (paradox intelligence quotient). That being said, here are a few ideas:

  • It starts with awareness. Keep a journal. Look for how and where paradox shows up in your life. Consider what might be possible if you held that it’s all true.

  • Create a visual representation (a collage, drawing or painting) that represents a key paradox in your life, and meditate on it regularly.

  • Write a poem about paradox and read it to yourself each morning.

Imagine a World…

Given that we are paradoxical beings living in a paradoxical world, what might be possible if we were to let go of the need to pick a side? How might we view the world and all of the creatures in it, if we were to acknowledge our own brilliance and our fallibility, our ability to be with uncertainty and our need to know, the perfection of the universe and the pain and suffering that exists on our planet today? How might we show up differently if we were to recognize and embrace that it is, in fact, all true?

This doesn’t mean refusing to act. It doesn’t mean standing by aimlessly and without direction. What it means is acting courageously and creating meaning or new direction. It means pushing forward even when there is resistance. Sometimes it even means saying “yes” when the rest of the world says “no.” Tell me, where could the power of paradox take you next?

This article is written by Gina Paigen for the Coaches Training Institute (CTI)

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