December 11, 2012

Life as Paradox

I look through a magazine on blogging; articles encourage writers to be true to themselves (ignore the expectations of others), yet peppered throughout are tips to attract blog readers. Even my Shambhala Sun--a magazine about Buddhism and meditation--has a section for vendors (buy these prayer beads or this meditation cushion or attend this particular retreat). Such is the way of the world. Paradox is what it means to be human.

At a recent meditation retreat, I heard Cheri Maples thoughtfully discuss a particular paradox: take refuge in yourself while also embracing egolessness. That is, establish yourself as a safe place, yet reduce the volume of the "me" dial on the radio. Safety within yourself is healthful; making yourself a huge player in the story of life is suffering.

Regularly, I experience the paradoxes of life. In the same moment, I can feel both shame and peace; fear and love; grief and hope. I was drawn to Buddhist philosophy because it embraces paradox and encourages the middle path. When I was younger, my thinking was more black and white. There was a rigidity to some of my views. Now my thinking is much more gray. There is always some piece of the story to which I'm not privy; there's much more space around my views. I'm genuinely curious about the paradoxes of life. 

When I'm centered,  I feel relief and equanimity about my mom's transition to a nursing home. And that's precisely when ego steps in and encourages me to feel guilty. Yet when I allow myself to feel grief and sadness about my mom's situation, that's when ego chides me for continuing to feel something I've already worked through in therapy. Ego is wily. Life is interesting. We are all walking paradoxes. In the words of Pema Chodron (Start Where You Are), "None of us is okay and all of us are fine. It's not just one way." Indeed, life is not just one way. It's an ever-changing, paradoxical, difficult, and interesting ride.


  1. I was just reading an e-mail aloud (as I wanted to know of my English was correct) that I sent to Rachel W. Cole and then I read this post which made me smile. Why this smile? Because I do have the strong feeling that you and I are talking about something very similar. I am taking Rachel's Wisdom Notes now and started to wonder about the difference between embracing, accepting and letting go last night. Or are they more alike than they seem to be? As I was explaining to my dearest where I'd apply the one and where the other, it felt even more paradoxical than it already did ... Would love to philosophize about it with you as well, e.g. do you embrace disturbing family patterns or do you let them go, do you accept the fact that your family doesn't support your authentic dreams or do you let go etc. etc. To me, it feels like you accept the situation with your mom when you feel centered and that you realize you aren't able to let go when you do have a darker day and/or allow yourself to really 'feel' ... or do I have it wrong? I am struggling with exactly the same issues when it comes to the second marriage of my mom and the divorce of my parents. Would love to hear your thoughts ...

    1. Cococita: Such deep thoughts and interesting questions. The when-I'm-centered place is where I want to spend more time--those are the seeds I try to sow via meditation, journaling, art. But I also know I won't always be centered, and I want to honor that difficulty and work with it (rather than shove it away). Ultimately, it's been very important for me to realize that I have no control over the actions or thoughts of others. Zero control. I really WANT to have control sometimes, but I don't. So if my mom is in pain, then I can't take that away from her. But I can be kind.

      You mentioned "disturbing family patterns." I remember one of my meditation teachers saying, "The Buddha would have liked boundaries." That is, setting boundaries so you're safe is very important (it's a gift to you and the other party). But it's helpful if we can still keep our hearts open, even if some boundary or healthful choice is made.

      Please email me if you'd like to keep this conversation going. These are things with which I've spend much time thinking and feeling.

      Big hug!

  2. PS: just wanted to let you know that I realize that your mom's situation and my mom's situation are very different and that health related issues can have a deeper impact than anything else, as they affect life in its very basic sense.