The Law of Paradoxical Unity is a major theme in the popular ancient Chinese text known as the Tao Te Ching. It states that the universe, and life, exist in a constantly fluctuating state of duality. In simpler terms: everything has an opposite, and neither opposite stays dominate forever.
After night, the sun always rises. After winter, summer will certainly come to pass. Where you find darkness, you find a place capable of illumination. And, where you find stress, you find an absence of peace. However, peace is still there somewhere or stress couldn’t exist.
Paradoxical Unity has become a major foundation of my philosophy. The more I study and apply it, the more I realize its profound practical applications.
This post is a brief collection of dualities I’ve noticed in my own daily life. I hope they benefit you and inspire you to look for dualities in your life.
1. You Can Only Go As High As You’ve Been Low
My life has been one of high highs and low lows. I grew up without a father, battled cancer (and beat the bastard), and spent over a decade dealing with mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Beyond all that, and likely due to all that, I’ve had to deal with extremely low energy levels for significant periods of my life.
I’ve been to some seriously dark places—places I didn’t think I’d make it out of. However, in hindsight, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. These issues have carved my path. My issues kept me confined but, the harder I looked, it was as if life wanted me where I was.
Depression and anxiety brought me to spirituality out of desperation. Spirituality then brought me to writing which has turned out to be the love of my life as I get to explore and learn with you.
Beyond that, my low energy afforded me almost no leisure to do anything but read for well over an entire year. During this time, I learned so much about myself and the world that I can write for the rest of my life.
Destiny shows tough love. Temporarily.
Due to my previous lows, I am now capable of experiencing profound joy. I have an unparalleled appreciation for the basics of life which anyone who hasn’t been in similar lows would take for granted. If you are in a rough place in your life, hold on. Know that it gets better. Much better.
The harder life is breaking you down, the higher it will lift you up. Hell and heaven cannot exist without each other—it is the law of paradoxical unity.
Just make sure to constantly look for ways that your problems might be of benefit to you. They might be trying to show you something or steer you in a particular direction—likely the direction of perfection.
2. To Truly Please Yourself, You Must Abstain From Pleasure
Anything external that brings you pleasure will leave pain as it passes. This is one of the fundamental teachings of the Buddha.
Vices like alcohol and fast food will leave carnage in their wake, putting you in a state of lesser health. Coffee will provide you energy and then cause you to crash. Porn will skyrocket your pleasure centers, then leave you feeling weak and shameful.
Whatever the source, you can be sure that if something provides you pleasure without effort, in time, it will cause you harm just as sure.
Always remember this… duality is law.
Ironically, the more you abstain from pleasure and master yourself, the more you will find happiness welling up from within. Self-mastery is the source of true confidence and personal power, both of which give rise to happiness—beyond the painful cycle of duality.
However, not all pleasures cause pain through health effects. If you rely on anything particular for your happiness, its very absence will cause you to suffer.
For example: I love to travel. In fact, I love to travel so much that I used to be depressed any time I wasn’t travelling. Unfortunately, it isn’t realistic to travel for the rest of my life or even 50% of it. Therefore, I was relying on fantasies to bring me happiness. By investing too heavily in what brought me pleasure, its absence brought me pain.
Another common example would be relationships. I don’t think I need to explain the damaging effects caused by being overinvested in a relationship, only to have it fall apart.
Of course, you don’t have to abstain from all pleasure. I still travel when I can. I’m also invested in a relationship. We just can’t expect to find lasting satisfaction from anywhere but within. So make sure you are happy at home. Metaphorically speaking.
3. Life Will Never Be Perfect – Unless It Is Already Perfect
Life is full of problems. One of the keys to happiness is recognizing that you will never be problem free. And then being okay with that.
What you resist will always persist. It is paradoxical unity. Therefore, stop fighting your problems mentally, change what you can, and then accept what you cannot change.
Refuse to believe that anything is important enough in life to ruin your happiness. Additionally, refuse to believe that acquiring anything would make you happier than you are currently.
Those problems you have? I know they are real. You already know I’ve been through my own gauntlet. However, the wise rejoice knowing that their greatest problems act as their greatest opportunities for growth.
If you view every problem as a challenge to remain happy through adversity, in time, you will be emotionally unstoppable. And you have already seen that your lows will return you with highs, so give yourself permission to be happy, right now. Let happiness become your compass and you will soon have lots to be happy about. And if you don’t, you won’t.
“There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way” – Thich Nhat Hanh
As a law of nature, duality exists all around you. If you pay attention, you can begin to view your problems as opportunities, your setbacks as means of growth, and petty pleasures as pitfalls. If you go beyond duality, the whole world belongs to you.