Replace any “but” statement with “and” and you enter into a conversation of paradoxes.

The paradoxes of life are concepts that I have been learning and examining more and more through my yoga and meditation practice. A paradox, by definition is something that is both true and false at the same time; a person, situation, or thing that combines contradictory features or characteristics; a self-contradictory statement.

For example, life itself is both extremely meaningful, AND completely inherently meaningless. The meaning we derive from anything is a creation of our mind. We can’t know what meaning exists inherently outside of our human experience.

The way I hear people struggle with the paradoxes of life comes up often in the dialogues I have with people in counselling sessions. Paradoxical perspectives are relevant to our healing and important when trying to understand how to overcome any relationship conflicts or mental health issues. Here are some common examples of what I mean by that is this:

– “Everyone is responsible for his or her own emotions, so I can’t take responsibility for how he or she is feeling”. This is true and false. We are responsible for our own emotions AND we are responsible for the impact that our actions have on others. So, we can’t completely avoid responsibility for how someone is feeling if it relates to an interaction we are involved in. By examining the paradox and teasing apart what parts are true and not true and from who’s perspective, it becomes easier to address the problem from a heartfelt place that validates all opposing perspectives simultaneously.

– “My life is meaningless”. True and not true. Inherently, it is. There is no objective meaning attached to the experience of one’s life. This can be depressing for people at times, but when you lift the veil and also include its opposite to say that it also, at the very same time, has a lot of meaning, we enter into a non-dualistic conversation about what the subjective meaning is and what will allow the person to develop the meaning that he or she desires.

– “I am right and he/she is wrong”. Yes, absolutely. AND, no. Righteousness is a source of suffering and when one can both acknowledge his or her own perspective as ell as a completely opposite perspective, resolution begins to take place.

– Non-attachment: when people struggle with standing up for themselves and setting boundaries, the idea of non-attachment is a difficult pursuit. If the problem is that you already let people walk all over you or if your problem is that you do the opposite and don’t let anyone is, the question becomes “when is it appropriate to let go?”. My conclusion again is that it is always a paradoxical approach that will open up the possibilities for helpful action. Let it go, AND address the problem. In other words, let go of the resentment or anger or hurt, AND be assertive, take a stand, or speak up about your boundaries in a clear, non-reactive, and respectful manner.

The examples could go on. Here is how yoga and meditation practices become relevant in the teachings of the paradoxes:

In yoga asana (physical postures), a close examination of the alignment principles of the postures teaches you that in order to create the balance of strength, stability, and flexibility, you are never doing any action without an equal opposite force. The equal and opposite force may not be in the same moment or in the same practice. You may melt into deep passive stretches one day and balance it our with a strong yang practice the next. Sometimes it is with the same practice and within the very same posture: you externally rotate your shoulder while simultaneously stabilizing with a slight internally rotating effort. You elevate the shoulders, AND slightly create a force of depressing them to find a balance. You engage your quadriceps, AND relax them… in the exact same moment.

In meditation, you are focusing the mind, AND softening the effort. Your object of meditation can lead to the insights or understandings of the paradoxes inherent in the very object you are concentrating on. For example, if my object of meditation is my breath, my breath is both a separate function from all other functions in the body AND it is one and the same as all other functions. Sensations in my body are real and have important messages to be paid attention to. At the same time, they are nothing but sensations that are rising and passing.

By observing events, situations, people, or objects through a lens of its paradoxes, we can basically drop away from the suffering that comes from ego-based states of right/wrong, bad/good, etc. Everything is exactly what we perceive AND its opposite quality. Once you validate both perspectives, something shifts with objectivity and clarity and we begin to see things for what they inherently are, noticing that the meaning we attach to it is just that: meaning we have attached to it.

Our yoga and meditation practice can teach us so much and this is just an example of how to use the practice to develop transferable skills that can enhance your life off the mat or meditation cushion.

I thank the teachings of this life that is a paradox 🙂