Paradox and What Matters
Since mid-December it has been a time supported by others’ words. Three weeks ago I was going to write about something other than paradox. The vague thought never settled into a beginning sentence so nothing was written. Days filled with work, friends, and family passed steadily by. Nightly news stories of mayhem around the world, then terror in Paris echoed down the hall as I cooked dinner, the newscaster’s voice calmer as he announced each night’s closing story of hope and inspiration.
The last story never quite dispelled the invasive narrative of fear—I remembered that studies have shown our brains access negative fearful thoughts three times faster than positive ones. A few days later a client shared a quote by Carl Jung: “The spirit of evil is the domination of life by fear.”
The next day was Saturday, January 17th. A heartwarming phone call with a girlfriend started the morning. Though a glorious spring-like day spread out before me, my attention grew more scattered and unsettled. Fear wasn’t dominating my thoughts, though I could feel its shadow. The usually welcome promise of writing time beckoned, yet once sitting at my desk everything seemed irrelevant and the urge to toss out collected books and accumulated notes dampened any inspiration.
Unable to stay in the studio, I wandered outside and cut back the horsetail and papyrus in the bog next to the pond instead. There was a rhythm to the clipping and pulling that was soothing. Back in the house I wandered around doing little nothings. Hours passed. At one point I opened A Year with Rilke, and read: “The tasks that have been entrusted to us are often difficult. Almost everything that matters is difficult, and everything matters.”
Suddenly remembering this blog, I wandered back to my desk and waited for that first sentence. Minutes passed. Golden light streamed in through the window and drew my eye to a note pinned to my wall. On it was scribbled a line from Colum McCann’s novel Transatlantic: “He was aware that the essence of proper intelligence was the embrace of contradiction.”
My wandering, unsettled day full of little nothings had led me to that moment, illuminating McCann’s words and illuminating my awareness. I looked up the word intelligence—it contains the root meanings of “understanding, power of discerning; art, skill, taste, to comprehend.” Another week passed.
All of the wisdom I have come across these last seven weeks has helped me remember something vitally important. Embrace paradox. Embrace the contradictions. Life doesn’t contain just terror, nor is it comprised of only pleasing events and emotions. Within the vast and diverse range of our lives—whoever we are and wherever we live—we will experience our own version of most everything. To not embrace the totality of life is to continually fight and struggle against reality, to exhaust ourselves trying to keep the contradictions separate. In that diminished, blindered state we lose sight of compassion and clarity and what is truly going on.
We humans are more than capable of choosing to walk through our days feeling fear, joy and everything in between. Perhaps the key is to not judge the experience of our days. To consciously embrace each circumstance, each feeling, each encounter. To stay tuned to our hearts and bodies and brain, ask necessary questions, to consider our choices and exercise our intelligence. For it all matters.