Shunryu Suzuki

Balancing on the Paradox Rope

"If it's not paradoxical, it's not true." Shunryu Suzuki

Life is a balancing act. When we walk across a narrow piece of wood or concrete,  we naturally extend our arms in opposite directions and find balance in the middle.

As we walk through life, we experience equilibrium when we simultaneously hold all of our conflicting ideas, habits, desires, emotions and thoughts. When we deny or obsess on some part of our human experience experience, we fall out of balance.  Focusing on certain aspects as "good" and repressing others as "bad" eventually leads to a fall. When we, however, welcome our paradoxes, those experiences and parts of ourselves that are true yet nonetheless contradictory...when we hold them all with compassion, we are walking that thin line of balance, truth and wholeness.

Here are a few paradoxes I've been playing with lately:

  • Selfless service to others requires I practice selfish self-care. Otherwise I fall into resentment and burnout.
  • Thinking repeatedly about my problems almost never yields new, helpful thoughts.
  • A bird in hand is worth two in the bush. Do I really want the bird that wasn't smart enough to stay in the bushes?
  • Accepting things as they are is the first step toward making effective change in the real world. Making effective change requires a refusal to accept things as they are.
  • We rarely find answers to life's biggest questions through isolated navel-gazing. We are, after all, social creatures. Yet, the answers we seek are only found within.
  • The Pearl of Great Price, however you define that in your life, is worth your every waking moment's attention. Yet, even when that Pearl is in plain sight, it is usually tossed aside without looking inside the ordinary shell where it lives.
And a few more that go a bit deeper:
  • When I start giving to myself what I yearn for others to give and do for me, I find that the essence of what I've been seeking is already within me. Ironically, when I tend to my needs, I notice a blessed bonus: others start freely giving me what I used to try to get through manipulation.
  • The more I resist those parts of myself that I don't like or that make me feel uncomfortable, the more those parts tend to dominate my thinking, my feeling, and my doing. The more I have compassion on those same parts that seem so dark and wrong, the more they ease up and actually find a constructive purpose.
  • When I let go of my attachment to this limited human experience, I fall into the purity of limitless Spirit. Spirit only tastes the pure essence of being alive through me living my limited, imperfect human experience.
  • A dog is man's best friend. A cat is its own best friend. A true friend is both.

What paradox have you noticed? How does holding that tension create balance?