The Comfort of Paradox

What does noticing a paradox do to you? Life is full of paradox, a potential maze for the mind; the Thinking Environment offers us so much that is paradoxical, it’s something that we can love to encounter and yet feel uncomfortable with, all in the same instant.

What do we mean by paradox?  Currently I’m going with ‘It’s a situation or statement that seems impossible or is difficult to understand because it contains two opposite facts or characteristics.’ Simple, yet profound 🙂

For example, in the context of the Thinking Session ‘as the Thinking Partner you are both essential and irrelevant’; ‘you are so present, you become invisible.’ In Transforming Meetings ‘slowing down speeds things up’; ‘expressing feelings is a rational act’; ‘in a hierarchy people are equals.’  There is so much exquisite paradox in this way of being, there’s even a helpful list of them somewhere, do ask me if you’d like a copy.

Somewhere in our deepest selves I believe we can feel the possible wholeness of these seemingly contradictory statements even as we struggle cognitively to accept and hold these opposing facts at once. Does the mind stall for a second as it notices the dissonance between two seeming-opposites? It feels like that, or a bit like a challenging yoga position, or a mathematical equation – it requires effort and commitment to really get there, and when we do arrive the horizon shifts.

The benefits

Recently I was fascinated to listen to Brene Brown talking to Richard Rohr about this – you’ll find the full conversation here. What really hit home was the implication that becoming more at ease with the implicit challenges of paradox might be a practical way to become more at ease with uncertainty itself.

Which has to be a highly desirable development for the mind. They quoted Carl Jung, who said: ‘Only the paradox comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life.’

What can that mean?!! I’m really engaging with this, as you see, and wondering about how we need to be able to hold uncertainty without being triggered into binary thinking. Or into denial, or anger, or any of the increasingly polarising responses to being made to feel uncertain. ‘The fullness of life’ has to embrace the bad with the good, it forces us to slow down in judgement and to think instead.

It’s as if there’s such a drive for safety and homogeneity in our fast paced judgemental world it is denying the reality that Jung is suggesting, which is (I think!) that paradox somehow contains the fullness of the human condition, allows it space, holds what is true even when what is true is also contradictory.

What I find encouraging about this (and understanding it is very much work in progress) is that noticing and welcoming paradox encourages the mind to hold opposing views and to explore the territory between them with respect and without urgency. Which is why the headline is ‘the Comfort of Paradox’.

What a compelling possibility. Where does it take you in your thinking?

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