Paradox has always fascinated me. In this post I apply the natural reactions we have with fun or meaningful paradox to existential paradox. The resulting liberation’s literally mind-blowing!
I’ll use three categories of paradox: fun, meaningful, and existential.
I remember a time in my life when I was totally into paradox. What I mean are paradoxes like this:
- “This statement is false” – which if it’s false, it’s true and vice versa; or
- “Is the word ‘non-self-referential’ self-referential or non-self-referential?” – same idea…
The mind-boggling discomfort with the ensuing chuckle was and still is just pure joy to me. Okay, so maybe you have to be a bit of a nerd to get a chuckle out of these – but let’s face it: if you’re reading this, you kinda are…
Another category of paradoxes I like are those with some latent truth or message in them. For example, these (by two of my favorite people, by the way):
- “It’s weird not to be weird.” – John Lennon; or
- “All generalizations are false, including this one.” – Albert Einstein.
Again, a smile brushes over my face and the message is received with a deep feeling of appreciation.
Which brings us to…
It’s with existential paradox that I struggle at times. In fact, my struggle with existential paradox has been going on for a while. I used to run away from that struggle, but recently it became inescapable if I was serious about that whole personal growth thing…
Here are a couple of examples:
- “I’m significant and insignificant, simultaneously.”
- “The present moment is eternal, yet fleeting.”
For today, I’ll concentrate on the first.
I’m significant and insignificant, simultaneously
The way I arrived at this paradox was through my personal growth journey. I started with the firm belief that “I’m not deserving. I’m not important. And hence, I’m not significant”.
But then I realized that this thought or belief didn’t serve me well on my quest for a fulfilling life… As soon as I released its depressing connotation, I could see all the significance I have in life.
Then came the kicker: stepping into “significance” totally backfired. While my mind (ego) was very pleased to be significant, my heart started to feel the weight of the world on its shoulders – argh, all that responsibility!
At this point, it seems as though we have the choice between feeling depressed due to insignificance or breaking under the weight of responsibility. Not a great set of choices.
My first attempt in resolving this issue was to accept that both are true, “I’m significant” and “I’m insignificant.” That got me a nice consolation prize. For one thing, if I felt bad about one, I always had the other to console me. And so, for a while, I flip-flopped between the two as it suited me. As time went on, this flip-flopping became exhausting… and confusing… until…
One day I asked myself: why not simply embrace (in)significance as a paradox, chuckle and appreciate its latent truth? As I was contemplating the simultaneity of my significance and insignificance, all of a sudden I felt a sense of peace.
Try it out for yourself. Close your eyes and hold both truths in your heart simultaneously for a moment – tuning out your mind’s screams that this makes no effing sense… What does that glimpse at peace feel and look like?
Embrace, Chuckle, Appreciate
We easily embrace and appreciate the chuckle for the fun and meaningful paradoxes; why can’t we apply the same sense of humor to an existential paradox? Because…
Paradox is uncomfortable to the mind, it’s soothing to the heart, and joyful for the soul.
For me, getting out of my mind and embracing significance and insignificance as true simultaneously allowed the lightness of heart to emerge in joy. No more heaviness or depression. Why? Because I applied my sense of humor to this existential question for a change.
We’re all significant in our insignificance
It’s your significance that makes you insignificant because everyone’s significant; and it’s your insignificance that makes you significant – otherwise you’d be significant simply because nobody else is.
What’s wrong with “some are significant while others aren’t, and I belong to the second group?” Then you’re significant in that you make others significant by proclaiming your insignificance (and wallow in depression).
Just choose to be significant, then, already! There’s enough room in our infinite insignificance for everyone to embrace their significance.
Existential Paradox in General
Try to embrace all existential paradox with this mind-blowing sense of humor and appreciation. Einstein’s quote above notwithstanding, what you’ll discover is this:
Everything is BOTH which is the beauty and ugliness of our existence. That’s why we have a mind and a soul – and a heart to embrace and love them simultaneously.