Peace With Paradox

Wild huckleberries, a favorite image and taste of summer.

I am creating a low-budget retreat for myself in August during a high anxiety time for me. A pause from endless sedentary work, from endless yard maintenance, from endless junk my mind throws at me.

I will walk among the blackberries which will be fully ripe by then, among the cedars and ferns, hike for four days, watch sunsets, returning home at night. A blackberry apple cobbler might be made. No promises to self with an order of events, just flow. The theme of my retreat is “Making Peace with Paradox.”

“Courage is the same thing as desperation.”

~ A wise young man

When I was 17 in my freshman year of college, I met an extremely unusual person. He was unique among my peers with music scholarships at a small liberal arts college in many ways. He was years older than the rest of us (someone mid 20s was old). Unlike the rest of us, he had capital L Life experience.

In addition, he couldn’t read a note of music on the page and had never had a piano lesson. He had hitchhiked across America, slept in tents, lived in a few communal living situations along the coast. The reason he was in the same place I was, plopped in the middle of small town American Midwest, was because in addition to composing his own tunes, he could hear an entire piece of complex classical music once and play it back beautifully by ear.

I have no idea what happened to him since that single year we attended the same school (I left).  But now that I am taking Pema Chodron’s course on the topic of courage, the words he spoke to me echo over and over in my mind.

When someone does something to create a life they want to live against all odds, or leave a comfort zone for the unknown, we tend to praise that person as having courage. But is leaving what we know also an act of desperation?

I believe so. We can feel desperate to leave our comfort zones, regardless of whether they involve abuse, neglect and poverty or privilege, “security”, and material abundance. 

So many life lessons are paradoxes that I think it’s safe to say all of life is paradox. Being able to allow and accept that is the tough thing. Being certain only one half of the paradox is true (monodox?) is where pain lies. Kind of like when half the people in a country vote for something the other half detests but both halves are required to live within the outcome. If only I could think of current examples in the Western world. [crickets]. It can feel like we are splitting apart. On a cellular level, it’s mitosis.

I have found that making peace with paradox is the most difficult but only way I can truly embrace the life I’m in.


Which is real? Light or shadow?

Some paradoxical considerations:

Are all relationships cages? I worked with this one for a few years and finally accepted they are both cage and freedom,whether we are born into them or seek them.

Is seeking happiness important? Is creating happiness possible for self and others? Is joy or suffering predominant in humanity?

Can a person behave with both kindness and meanness?

Can an economy or anything man-made experience continual growth, when nothing in Nature does?

Am I a part of Nature or is Nature me?

Can people who meditate in caves or isolation for lengthy time offer a path forward for how best to interact with others? (All prominent spiritual guides through history have done some version of this and I am currently working with teachings of one who lived in a cave for 20 years and had no living relatives).

Can doing what needs to be done ever lead to doing what wants to be done?

Can politics be separate from corruption?

Can we learn more from silence than words?

Personal paradoxes:

I highly prize direct experience with the natural world, yet spend 99% of my waking hours in front of a computer screen.

My present life in some ways is similar to existing in a cave. A nice one without stalagmites or stalactites. I rarely leave it, except through my ears. They absorb life stories from all over the world, expanding my existence far beyond where my physical being can travel.

I have completed athletic feats, yet I’m the last person to be picked out of a lineup as an athlete.

I don’t know if I can love another person in close relationship and am content to live the remainder of my life alone, yet I hold deep love in my heart for humanity and cry often when I witness acts of kindness and suffering. I experience loneliness 12 days per year. No more, no less. If emotions are any barometer of success, my math goes something like this:  Close adult relationship = greater moments of sadness, loneliness, alienation + fewer spontaneous moments of happiness than when alone. If math doesn’t lie, then I may not have participated in a healthy relationship and/or I am truly my own best soulmate, despite the mega-billion-dollar industry of relationship coaches and authors telling me otherwise. When asked to provide relationship advice for my cousin’s upcoming wedding: “Go for a walk” was all that came to me. Essentially my go-to life advice that fits most occasions.

I’ve lived 15+ years paycheck to paycheck, yet no matter how much I worry or don’t worry, every need has been met.

I grew up among and value racial/cultural diversity, yet live in a mostly homogeneous community. I attended a private, predominantly white liberal arts college, yet wrote my thesis on African American writing.

I’ve been both giver and receiver of social safety nets and giving feels by far the best.

I can be friendly yet friendless. I can be uninhibited and pathologically honest in writing, yet reticent in person. I can also not stop talking to anyone who shows an interest.

I yearn for peace in the world, yet I became involved with someone in the military.

I have over 5 years of higher education and took 25 years to pay loans, yet my most satisfying jobs have been delivering mail and volunteering, both of which do not require much formal education. Education sure leaves a person with a lot of questions. You too can reach midlife with a propensity to make peace with paradox while wandering the woods.

A visitor


About Erin W

A sensitive plant, bamboo strong.
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