Not long ago I bought a book of Zen koans. It was an impulse purchase, and I snatched it up without thinking much about it. It seemed like the perfect resource guide for these ambiguous, ambivalent times we’re living in. I’ve read that koans are helpful for understanding the paradoxical aspects of reality. And even though I’m a koan novice, I think they’ll fit in nicely with my fascination for life paradoxes.
So let’s talk about paradoxes today, shall we?
You may have noticed I have great respect for life paradoxes. They often lead the way to unexpected wisdom and depths of feeling. And as strange as this may sound, they can help us get clear about what matters most to us.
In some ways, they actually teach us how to live a meaningful life, in good times and difficult times. And everything in between.
Life is a preparation for the future; and the best preparation for the future is to live as if there were none. —
Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of them though.
It can be a bit daunting to wrap your brain around the dictionary definition:
paradox…a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.
While the dictionary definition doesn’t say this, I also believe that life’s paradoxes are related to life’s synchronicities. At first glance this may not make sense but consider this: how often do the contradictions of life lead to the coincidences of life?
I certainly have a hunch there’s a relationship there. But I’ll get back to you on that in another post.
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. –Rita Mae Brown
One thing I know for sure: life paradoxes are frequent topics in my therapy and coaching work.
Of course, how could they not be? Life paradoxes are often what bring people into therapy and coaching. And while I love them and recognize their implicit wisdom, I also know they can create immense challenges for human beings.
Just consider the biggest existential paradox we encounter: the contradiction of living a full and meaningful life when each day brings you closer to death.
Or the way that loss and pain often bring us to the deepest love possible.
I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love. –Mother Teresa
However, not all life paradoxes are so big and unwieldy.
In fact, some are quite practical and useful. If you’re on a quest to improve your mental health they can actually be allies.
And when you start experimenting and putting them into action, you might even discover they can work pretty quickly.
So here you go: 7 Life Paradoxes to Help You Feel Better
(1) When you feel stressed and overwhelmed by a lack of time, give more of your time to activities and people you care deeply about. This can actually create a sense of more time in your life. In fact, studies show that giving time in this way actually brings on feelings of “time affluence.”
(2) Similarly, when you feel overloaded by all the things on your list, often the best thing to do is to stop, step back, and simply simply pay attention to your breathing for about 5 minutes. Based on your needs in the moment, you can improvise this or formalize it with the STOP Technique:
- Stop what you’re doing.
- Take some breaths in any way that feels good to you (deep breathing not required).
- Observe and notice where you are: in your body and in whatever space you’re in. Notice who and what is around you.
- Proceed when you feel ready, either returning to your list or moving towards something else that’s more important. Let your intuition be your guide.
(3) When you need a mood booster, you will probably feel happier almost immediately by thinking about future pleasurable activities and events that you’ve planned for. Anticipatory joy is a real thing, and in fact, the anticipation might even bring more joy than the actual event.
(4) When you need to make an important decision, often the best thing you can do is to stop trying to make the decision and let the answer reveal itself to you. Decision making can be exhausting. So when you give up some control and consider that the decision may be capable of making up its own mind without much help from your cognitive reasoning, the result is often a feeling of great relief.
(5) When you feel sad or low, listen to sad music, read a sad book or watch a sad movie. This can help you feel better, perhaps because the experience brings you back to an appreciation of your own life.
(6) When you’re juggling multiple life challenges or goals, consider the age old paradox that less is more. You may discover that when you do less, it actually results in more. As in: more satisfaction, focus, self-love, and self-acceptance, especially over the long haul.
(7) Which brings us to the final paradox which is all about self-acceptance. Because without self-acceptance, how will we ever be able to ride the paradoxes of life? So I’m handing it over to Carl Rogers for the last word on life paradoxes. His wisdom and kindness have long led the way for many people.
The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change. –Carl Rogers
Want support with self-acceptance and embracing your inherent self-worth?
If you’d like help knowing yourself better and feeling freer to be who you truly are, my free course — Finding Yourself Again — is a good place to start.
My course can help you gain insight on the critical voices and beliefs within you and begin to transform them with creative and imaginative approaches. It’s based on the same practices that have helped my clients reclaim what’s missing and move toward what matters.