Inhabiting *Both* Sides of a Paradox

By Mark Nepo

It is no accident that those who survive being broken and who make a home for the terrible knowledge are, in turn, at the threshold of enlightened living. Often, in our one-sided logic, we try to theorize that suffering is a prerequisite to deep living. In truth, inhabiting both sides of any paradox is what engenders deep living. In the case of the paradox of feeling, the pain of breaking and the wonder of compassion are polarities that, once accepted and allowed to mix, yield a sense of Divine Reality in everything we encounter.

If you set out to suffer in order to find wonder, a tact that is inconceivable to anyone who has truly suffered, you will only experience pain. Breaking and wonder are by themselves unavoidable. It’s how we allow for them to reside within us that unlocks the sanctities.

Likewise, if you seek to avoid breaking in the guise of preserving peace, you will never inhabit your feelings and will only sever yourself from any chance of experiencing wholeness or unity. For, as you can’t see without eyes or hear without ears, you can’t be whole without feelings.

There are many who subscribe to an emotional solipsism; believing that if a life breaks in the world and I don’t hear it or see it, then the life and its breaking do not exist. This is simply denial of the grossest sort, no matter how well thought out or articulated. Ultimately, it doesn’t protect the denier; just further isolates that person in a blindness that becomes irreversible the longer one stays there.

Because we live, there’s no escaping breaking. Because we feel, there’s no escaping suffering. Yet if we can endure the pain of breaking, depths we didn’t imagine will be brought to light. If we can outlast the abrasions of eroding, we’ll wear our inner beauties as a skin. If we can persevere through the rip of shedding, we’ll live by new sensitivities. Yes, if we can accept the decomposition of old ways, we’ll be reborn in the same life, unsure of how we got this far.

From the beginning, the key to renewal has been shedding, the casting off of old skin. In essence, shedding symbolizes self-transformation, self-initiated by a covenant to grow. Those who refuse such renewal may yet be forced to undergo transformation anyway as a result of being broken or eroded by the world. Very often, both occur at the same time; that is, we shed from within and are eroded from without. Often, the pain of breaking induces a life to shed its stubbornness.

It’s interesting that the earliest peoples believed in something that we in our hive of manufacturing have forgotten—that immortality is attainable by shedding. The Dusuns of North Borneo have believed for centuries that when God finished creating the world He announced that: “Whoever is able to cast off his skin shall not die.”

But what does this mean? Not that we can live forever, but 
that the way to stay closest to the pulse of life, the way to stay
in the presence of that Divine Reality which informs everything is to be willing to change. Still, change what? To change whatever has ceased to function within us. To shed whatever we’re carrying that’s no longer alive. To cast off our dead skin. Why? Because dead skin can’t feel. Dead eyes can’t see. Dead ears can’t hear. And, as we’ve said, without feeling there’s no chance of wholeness, and wholeness remains our best chance to survive the pain of breaking.

Of course, for human beings, dead skin takes many forms, the most significant of which remain intangible but suffocating, such as a dead way of thinking, a dead way of seeing, a dead way of relating, a dead way of believing, or a dead way of experiencing.

Even so, we must be clear that shedding always has a pain of its own. There is no escaping the underside of feeling. I do not advocate pain, nor do I sacralize suffering. I simply acknowledge the reality of it all. As Buddha says: “All life is sorrowful.” But life is much more as well.

Indeed, all life is sorrowful, if we can’t move our center of living off the pain of that terrible knowledge. For pain and uncertainty alone, as real as they are, are parts of the Whole, and their counterpoints, wonder and peace, are parts as well. Together they move us toward an experience of unity that lubricates the harshness of our pain, while the pain itself can’t help but make the wonder and peace all the more precious. . .

Read the rest of this article in the Winter 2016 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.

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