Religion and sex. Discipline and wildness. Security and freedom. There are dichotomies everywhere. It’s nature. Yin and Yang.
However, in the culture a lot of us live in, it is considered hypocritical to stand with one foot in each of these contrasting spaces. We are encouraged – and often forced – to choose one or the other.
How can you be a Buddhist who eats meat? That’s so hypocritical!
How can you be all about freedom, then tell me I have to have more discipline in my life?
How can you claim to prioritize your children’s security, yet want to get a divorce and quit your job?
How can you be Jewish and respect Islam? Crazy!
There isn’t much room for holding opposites or contrasts in the same space – yet this is often where the deep work happens. The stuff that changes us, evolves us, strengthens us.
You may be familiar with this image:
This is the Taoist tai chi, or yin-yang, symbol that reflects a fundamental truth of life – that life is full of polarities. The opposites, at their extremes, evolve into the other. Each has a part of its opposite within itself as well. You can’t have one without the other. They need each other. Like light needs darkness to exist.
When I was in the desert on a wilderness fast, there was a beautiful man in our group who was desperately torn between two very powerful forces in his life: one was of him as an influential and prominent community leader and role model, and the other as a sensual polyamorous lover (note: aspects of this story have been changed to respect privacy). He simply could not see how he could choose between these two very potent parts of his life. He saw them as completely opposite and utterly divergent realities (and perhaps you do as well). His soul was fraught with the thought of having to let one go, yet he felt so hypocritical being both at the same time. His suffering was palpable.
All of us spend more time in a similar space than we may realize. Perhaps you’re like me, leading a primarily healthy life (even coaching others to do so) and then you head into the fast food restaurant, in shame. Or you post on Facebook about all your time in the mountains and doing yoga on standup paddle boards…and then you binge on 8 hours of Netflix the next day, not telling a soul.
Or perhaps you love your family, yet you feel your soul will wither and die if you don’t go back to school or on that month-long retreat or travel the world… which means less time with your family.
Why, Freedom Junkies!? Why do we feel we need to be so…boring?
‘Cuz sister, being so predictable is actually quite boring. And us humans are definitely not boring.
Some people may say the sense of hypocrisy we feel when we hold two opposed beliefs has to do with integrity. I challenge that. Integrity is not about moral perfection. At least not entirely. While one definition is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness,” another is “the state of being whole and undivided.”
It’s the attempts at dividing who we are into pieces and then neglecting them that tear us apart. It’s ignoring our complexity and diversity that truly harms our integrity – our ability to be whole.
I propose we all spend more time in the middle of the mandorla of these complexities. A mandorla is an image that can be used to demonstrate the concept that there is a space of overlap between two seemingly-opposed or contrasting realities (in this example, it’s Heaven and Earth, but you can use any contrasting thoughts/beliefs/constellations of your being). When we can stand in the center, without seeing two seemingly dissonant concepts as mutually exclusive, we can start to be…real. Whole. Authentic. Imperfectly perfect.
The mandorla is where the dance between the contrast occurs.
What seemingly contradictory beliefs, thoughts, or aspects of your being do you have in your life that are difficult to reconcile? Is there anything that you are feeling you have to choose between because it seems so contradictory to be both?
Whenever we see things as “it is EITHER this way OR that way,” there is a closing up of the heart and mind going on. Be open to the idea that we can hold two ideas at once. That we can BE two things at once. I believe it is in this space that the good work is done.
If you have two parts of you that feel at odds, that are tearing you apart, it’s really important that you begin to explore that.
If you have a belief that two things are irreconcilable, I recommend the mandorla as well.
Try this mandorla activity that I learned from one of my mentors, Bill Plotkin:
:: Sit on the floor or in a chair. Mentally place one of these aspects of yourself on your right, and the other on your left.
:: Then, pick one of the sides, walk over into its space, and advocate for it to the other side. Really milk it. Make the most hard-core arguments you can for why that side is “right.” Think of everything you can. All the low-blows. All the things your mother or priest or sister or boss would want you to say (if applicable;).
:: Next, go to the opposite side, and do the same for that opposite aspect of yourself. Full-on, pedal-to-the-metal, no B.S. championing for that side.
:: Then, when you feel complete, sit in the middle, in the mandorla. It will often feel very uncomfortable. If so, do the activity again, arguing again for each side. Then once again, sit in the middle. Keep doing this until you feel all arguments have been made, both sides fully “heard.”
Eventually, in the mandorla, you will likely start to see that things are really not as they seem. They are not as black and white as you thought. They are not as…contradictory. They are actually not so separate.
When you arrive at a place where you can embrace these separate aspects of you, you are not being a hypocrite. A hypocrite is “a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.” When you act in a way that ignores your beliefs or feelings, that is being hypocritical. When you accept yourself entirely, you are not acting hypocritically.
You are…human. Complex. And now, whole. In integrity.