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The Paradox of Opposites

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

                The attainment of that which is good in our lives is elusive to most. Many will mouth platitudes for peace, serenity, good health, and wisdom but are seldom content with the immaterial. Our society simply places too much emphasis on wealth, status, and material success for it to be otherwise. How one achieves material success is described in the plethora of books and manuals that outline the path of the superstar. If Donald Trump can do it, so can you! But whatever the recipe for success, one must start at point “A” and arrive at point “B” through a linear process, a direct geometric progression that requires determination, continuous effort, assertiveness, and sometimes aggression.  The goal is the end result.

For example, if one wants to become a politician, one must attain a proper education, such as a BA or law degree and, in the process, establish friendships and political ties that will form the basis for future support and ascent of the social ladder. One must be able to garner the confidence of like-minded persons and institutions. With a firm plan, skill, and a good degree of luck, such a person will achieve what society today deems success: wealth, popularity, and comfort. Some authors promote a more “new age” approach, advising positive intention. But even in more “lofty” tomes such as “The Secret”, the end result is material wealth. Whatever the philosophy of the business guru, the means is simply the route to the same end: material gain.  How then does one achieve non-material goals such as release from fear, anxiety, pain, or depression? How does one attain inner serenity or promote world peace? The solutions will not be found here, but the paradigm for success in the emotional and spiritual realms must surely be different.

It doesn’t take much to scratch the surface of material success and realize that there is no guarantee for happiness or wisdom. A quick read of the tabloids at any grocery check-out counter will indicate the moral and spiritual depravity of our times and an unfortunate repetition of the decadence of more ancient civilizations. Although counter-intuitive, I think we must radicalize our approach to the non-material and move from a linear model. Let’s take the issue of fear, for example. In the linear paradigm, one attempts to move from a state of high fear to low fear. Someone with a fear of heights would either avoid such places, which only reinforces or represses the fear, or take medications to minimize the resulting bad feelings of anxiety. Either way, the underlying fear is not resolved. There is a different option, the “circular” one, in which the sufferer is encouraged to “turn up the dial” until the polar opposite of fear is achieved. The phobia is faced head-on, so to speak. This approach, part of the newer psychotherapeutic domains of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and mindfulness therapy, challenge the phobic to pump up their fear in order to overcome it. An even newer psychological tool, “EFT” (Emotional Freedom Technique), uses ancient energy techniques to release strong emotions which are felt to be trapped in meridian systems within the body, causing physical or “psychosomatic” symptoms.

The circular paradigm can be applied in a multitude of ways. The notion, made popular in the movie, “The Lion King” is that the “circle of life” is a pre-dominant force that creates and re-creates aspects of life and, of course, life itself. Historically, we see examples of this. Civilizations war against each other with increasing force until one or the other disappears altogether and a new one is born. From the Holocaust, massive numbers of European Jews were killed, yet the birth of a Jewish nation came on the heels of such destruction. As the hands of the clock move around the dial, the intensity increases until, at 12 o’clock, the chimes strike and push through a new era, a new philosophy, a fresh view, a healthier emotion. Akin to the throes of childbirth, it stretches us beyond ordinary means and thrusts us out into a new world. In other words, to attain serenity, we must experience chaos. To feel calm, we must experience fear. To know wisdom, we must search for humility. Before peace, there will be war.

How does this apply to our own lives? Having just returned from a trip to Israel, the land of innumerable extremes and perpetual chiming clocks, I feel inspired to tackle life with exuberance and full intention. On the front page of the National Post this morning are the headlines: “PM stands with Israel” and his quote, “Even now, there are those who would launch another holocaust if left unchecked.” For the Jew, these are challenging times. It is incumbent upon us to push the envelope and to act proactively. To counteract anti-Semitism, we must turn up the dial to expose the roots of this long-standing opposition to the Hebrews and smash through the 12 o’clock barrier to a new era of tolerance and peace. For the non-Jew, it is time to realize that the Jew is just the canary in the coal mine – an indicator that any and all minorities are subject to persecution. Someday soon, Christians may be the new minority. For the benefit of society, we must fight together, defiantly, for the “humane” aspect of humanity. As PM Harper put it, we are “morally obligated to take a stand.” And what does this mean at a more personal level for each of us? It means pushing ourselves beyond comfort to spin ourselves, with momentum, along that circle of life. As the athlete who extends himself to achieve what seems superhuman, we each have our own soul’s mission. Whether it is to overcome fear, anger, pain or a disease-riddled body, each of has our own set of issues and challenges. In a world filled with evil and rage, we must counteract these forces with our own determination for good and compassion, unafraid of personal loss or suffering. At each 12 o’clock chime, we will spiral upward into a higher sphere of fulfillment and awareness, part of the greater, master plan. And in such selflessness, we will find personal and world harmony.