How to embrace both sides of a profound, conflicting wisdom

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By Joe Perez

It is suspicious that so often profound truths can simply be reversed to discover another supposedly profound truth. Proverbs often work well in their opposite.

A little learning is a wonderful thing. A little learning is a dangerous thing.

Absence from those we love is self from self, a deadly banishment. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Or take stillness. Stillness is where we encounter the Divine. Or Stillness is the denial of living. Our responses to this complexity may get stuck in paralysis, confusion, or a refusal of analysis.

But the most profound response may be to embrace paradox enfolded within a model or picture of human nature large enough to handle the complexity. When we are counseled by a proverb to embrace action, we can relate to this injunction as connected to the identification with the principle of Eros or Hetero-philia or self-transcendence in our map of human nature. And when we are told to embrace inaction, we know this is of a piece with Agape or Homo-philia or self-immanence. That which is supposed to be irreducible plurality or complexity is now viewed as merely irreducible pluralilty if seen from a particular perspective, and that perspective is enfolded into an embrace which integrates structures of organization within the chaos.

There is usually a way out of the paradox into clarity if one’s mental worldview is nimble enough. But I do worry when some folks talk about embracing paradox if they really mean to counsel an escape into an anarchic mind. Anarchy is best embraced in moderation.

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