If a man says he is lying, is he telling the truth? ~ Epimenodes
I still remember the first time I ever heard a paradox: I was 14 years old, reading a book, and came across Socrates famous quote; “I know that I know nothing”.
In that moment something “clicked” in my brain. Up until that point I had held all thoughts as absolute. I was convinced that once you believed in something, its opposite would be automatically discarded. But after reading these 6 famous words of Socrates I suddenly realized something important: two seemingly contradicting statements can be equally correct.
How bizarre, and what an odd faux pas of logic! The paradox both felt like a glitch, a logical slip-up, but deep down beyond the veneer of rationale it felt right. It felt undeniably, irrevocably true. I was fascinated.
The wisdom of paradoxes is that they transcend out thought system, they are in tune not just with logical intelligence, but with existential wisdom that is at the roots of every deep and meaningful personal discovery.
Up until this day, the deeper I’ve ventured into the inner exploration of myself, the practice of inner work, the more wisdom I found in paradoxes. In this article, I will explore some of the most essential paradoxes that have revolutionized my life and the way I see things.
1. The Pursuit of Happiness Makes You Unhappy
America’s Declaration of Independence declares that it is in every man’s birthright to seek for: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.
One important thing I have learned on my journey of inner-exploration is that happiness can never be pursued. The more you chase it, the more it runs away. Pursuing happiness makes you anxious and frustrated. In fact, happiness only comes when you’re relaxed, when you’re not pursuing it, and it’s always the by-product of another activity – usually something that brings meaning or joy to our lives.
2. Freedom Can Be Enslaving
In the words of Russian poet Aleksey Khomyakov:
Modern Society in its decay releases every individual to the freedom of his own impotence.
Freedom is often a burden for people. Why? It’s because freedom provides just as much frustration as it alleviates. When you are entirely responsible for your actions, it places the whole blame of your decisions on your own individual shoulders.
In the Western world we all have endless freedom and opportunities, and the pressure to make the most of all the thousands of possibilities open to us can be quite intimidating and imprisoning.
3. Words Are Spoken By The Listener
All too often we get upset because other people break our trust or misunderstand us. But the problem we have is that we tend to assume that whatever we say is perfectly understood and perfectly projected, reflecting our thoughts and feelings in fine precision.
The truth is that words are the most complex, arbitrary, relative and symbolic forms of communication. Furthermore, each of us have different definitions based upon our own unique experiences and associations with each word we come across. So in essence … you may provide the words, but the listener always provides the definitions.
4. Solitude Makes You More Companionable
I often find that many people become very surprised by how quickly and comfortably they open up to me about personal matters in our first encounter. Why? The secret lies in how comfortable you are in your own aloneness.
People who can’t be ‘alone’, feel ‘lonely‘ and use each other to fill their inner voids. People who aren’t comfortable with inner Solitude impatiently wait for their turn to speak in conversations, or are anxious and nervous when there are prolonged periods of silence. Being comfortable in Solitude centers you, and people can sense this in your presence, in essence making you more companionable.
5. Social Media Disconnects Us
This is the paradox of our 21st century culture: more and more people complain about feelings of loneliness. Sure, technology has made it easier to connect with thousands of people, but this is at the cost of sacrificing a quality of connection with those around us. Essentially: we know more about our friends by spending less time with them.
More importantly, this constant bombardment of stimulation is disconnecting us from ourselves by causing us to always focus externally, rather than encouraging us to explore within.
6. Wanting To Be Normal Is Abnormal
Your normal job is a draining 50 years of work unrelated to your true passions. Normal health and eating habits are pretty bad as well, while financially the normal debt you have in your bank account will force you to continue your dispassionate, normal job.
Normal marriages are statistically bound for failure, while your normal lack of self-exploration leads to a personally unfulfilled and emotionally-reactive life. Normal ideologies will maintain the financial inequality and fanatical dogmatic wars and horrors in the world. All of this really makes you wonder … what’s so great about being normal?
7. The Larger The Collective, The Smaller The Individual
Collective groups do not exist. Groups are symbolic words for a gathering of individuals. Too often we’ve been taught that individuals are part of collectives.
Throughout history the individual’s freedom or life has been sacrificed in the name of group ideologies; mainly those of nations, social statuses and religions. Real individuals should not be sacrificed for unreal ideologies.
8. The Only Certainty Is Uncertainty
Life is a constant of change; in essence it’s always fluctuating. We perceive life to be static energy, but at a quantum level the movements of life are unpredictable. Life is constantly renewing itself; not even for a single moment is it ever the same.
The beauty of realizing that life is uncertain and unpredictable is that we can overcome our misguided attempts to predict and control our lives and the lives of others. The only certainty in life is uncertainty, and the more we fight and resist this truth, the more anxiety and pain we create for ourselves.
Did this article stimulate any interesting thoughts within you? Do you have any experiences or insights of your own to share? I look forward to reading some of the paradoxes you have discovered in your own life below!