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Home / Articles / Columnists / Life 101 /  The Paradox of Paradox
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Thursday, February 8,2018

The Paradox of Paradox

By Cary Bayer  

As young class clown and an eventual cosmic comic, I must confess that it’s only fitting that my first exposure to the word paradox came from the brilliant parodist Allan Sherman who sang, “Casey and Kildare… that’s called a pair of docs.”


This column idea came to me in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I was meditating one dawn near the bird’s nest of the Silolona, a 160-foot Indonesian yacht that was cruising the Andaman Sea, off an island off Thailand. Unaware that I was meditating, the Chicagoborn owner and architect of this Indonesian-built boat, said to me, “In the next half hour, the light will be playing beautifully off the starboard side of the ship.” I told her that my eyes would be closed, and therefore wouldn’t see any light outside of me, just inner light, and that’s when it dawned on me that, paradoxically, the act of closing my eyes in this way actually made my ability to perceive the world fresher and brighter.

In corporations, time taken out of the workday to meet and strategize actually winds up creating greater success when such meetings enable good brains to come together and brainstorm new products, and new ways of doing things more efficiently. So by stopping the workflow, the company actually increases it or becomes more profitable.

Travel, Doing & Being

Lao-Tzu almost single-handedly could put travel agents out of business faster than, if would-be vacationers read this passage from his classic Taoist text, the "Tao Te Ching": “The further one travels, the less one knows.” He was referring, of course, to the idea that vacationing, for example, shows you many things in the world that you didn’t know about. You might see art in the Louvre that you never saw before. You might taste food in India that you never did before, or perhaps never even heard about before. So, there’s no question that your senses and your mind are filled with all  kinds of new input. But this is knowledge of the outer world. Lao Tzu, a master of the inner world, was suggesting that outer excursions often distract a person from the inner explorations that techniques like meditation - Tai Chi and Yoga for example can bring about to bring spiritual growth and eventual Enlightenment.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, in my Transcendental Meditation teacher training course, said that the secret of successful action is, “Do less, accomplish more, do least, accomplish most, do nothing, accomplish everything.” He wasn’t referring to laziness or delegating. What he was saying in this apparently paradoxical piece of sage advice is that when you anchor your consciousness to the non-changing, non-moving Transcendent Being, your body still does all kinds of things, but your consciousness is not doing anything at all because it’s in the field beyond activity and, by definition, can’t  do anything. When you’ve come to identity yourself with your inner Being you see that your body does things, your mind thinks thoughts, your emotions feels feelings, but you just are. 

Have you ever noticed that sometimes when you give up the desire for something you actually wind up getting it? That’s quite a paradox. This could be a potential client, it could be a tennis doubles partner, it could also be a potential boyfriend or girlfriend.

Have you also noticed that sometimes when you obsess on something you actually wind up losing it? Obsessing on losing weight through a crash diet or a severe eating program often gives rise to binge eating and the gaining back of even more weight than you might have lost through the diet. It’s part of a pattern known as enantiodromia, a Greek term that comes from the greats second century philosopher Heraclitus who wrote “cold things warm, warm things cool, wet things dry and parched things get wet.” Nearly two millennia later, the great Swiss Depth psychologist Carl Jung talked about  enantiodromia as a process in the psyche in which a thing psychically transforms into its shadow opposite.

So the next time you come across a paradox, remember that it only seems contradictory on the surface. But if you look deeper, to a different level of understanding, you’ll see that there’s a higher truth at play. I’ll let my favorite poet, Walt Whitman, have the last word:

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.”

- Song of Myself, "Leaves of Grass"


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