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Paradox and the Nature of Mind

Mar 2, 2008
In looking at schools of spiritual thought, have you ever noticed that the description of the ultimate nature of reality almost always falls into one of two categories? Either the ultimate truth is that reality is everything (we are all connected, and it is all one thing), or reality is nothing (everything we see is an illusion and none of it really exists). What I have realized from my own search is that both are equally true: life is everything and nothing.

The universe has no problem with this paradox, but our mind (intellect, internal dialogue, linear thought, language, personality) cannot understand it. Our mind's gift is to discern one thing from another, to separate this from that. The mind's faculties are built on rational thought; thus it lacks the capacity to understand how one thing can be both itself and not itself at the same time. Holding paradox is beyond the purview of our mind.

At first glance this assertion seems ridiculous. You may think you can hold paradox in your mind. You can line up all the arguments for reality being everything, and all the arguments for it being nothing, and hold them all in your mind. However, those arguments only describe the concept; they are not the paradox itself.

Here's an example: imagine a white chess piece, a castle. Now imagine the same piece being black. See the white piece next to the black one. Now see the same piece as a mottled combination of black and white. Now see it as gray. Now see the black one overlaid against a white one. These scenes are all simple to visualize. Now see the chess piece simultaneously as both black and white. See not two pieces, but one that is completely black and completely white at the same time. Can you do it?

Most of us cannot see both possibilities without separating the image into two different chess pieces.

If you were able to accomplish the task above, what did you notice about your mind? I suggest it was silent; there was no mind. In that silence nothing is noticing anything, but there can be pure awareness of the chess piece as simultaneously white and black.

This example is like a Zen koan. Koans quiet the mind because they play the mind against its own inability to hold paradox. The closer you get to actually holding it, the less the mind is actually functioning. When you reach out and hold the paradox, the mind ceases to function at all.

If you are seeking the true nature of reality, this example presents a way to use the mind to help instead of hinder you. Instead of accumulating knowledge, take action to grasp each concept. Then find the paradox between that concept and another equally valid one and try to understand how they could both be true. Again, grasp each concept individually; then try to hold them simultaneously. The moment you succeed, the mind is no longer in the way, and the true nature of things is revealed.
About the Author
Raven Smith is dedicated to sharing powerful shamanic tools to help you live your purpose. He is a mentor in the Eagle Knight lineage of don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements. Raven co-authored Spiritual Integrity and runs Spiritual Integrity Coaching with his wife, Heather Ash Amara. He also wrote The Recapitulation Workbook. Read more about metaphysics from Raven.
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