"The quantum physicists found that, on a deep level, reality has to be understood as inherently paradoxical. This has huge implications. It means we can’t think about the deep mysteries of life using normal logic, because normal logic treats paradox as … well … illogical. We need a way of thinking that can embrace paradox. We need to think paralogically.
Logical thinking says that light is either a wave or particles. It can’t be both. Paralogical thinking says that light can be both a wave and particles, because life is inherently paradoxical. Niels Bohr explains: "There are trivial truths and there are great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true."
This is a wonderful statement of the difference between logical thinking and paralogical thinking. Niels Bohr says that we need to think in different ways, depending on whether we are looking for ‘trivial truths’ or ‘great truths’. If we want to understand the surface of life, logical thinking works perfectly. But to understand the depths of things we need to think paralogically.
Logical thinking is based on the principle that something is either true or it isn’t true, so the opposite of a logical truth is plainly false.
Paralogical thinking is based on the realization that on a deep level life is paradoxical, so the opposite of a paralogical truth is also true.
We reach the conclusion of our logical deliberations when we decide that either this or that is true.
We reach the conclusion of our paralogical deliberations when we grasp the ‘paradoxity’ of the situation, by seeing that opposite perspectives are both true.
Paralogical thinking allows us to embrace paradox. Indeed, rather than try and avoid paradoxes, we seek to understand the paradoxity of whatever we are thinking about. Niels Bohr once said: "How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress."
A Simple Analogy
"I want to suggest a simple analogy to help you understand the value of paralogical thinking. It’s an interesting fact that we look at the world with two eyes, rather than one big eye in the middle of the forehead like a cyclops. The reason for this is that if we had only one eye we’d perceive a flat world. Looking at things with two eyes is what gives us depth perception.
Logical either/or thinking is like looking out of one eye or the other.
Paralogical both/and thinking is like looking out of both eyes.
When we think paralogically we see things from two complementary perspectives at once and this gives depth to our understanding of life.
When we look at the world, what each eye sees is different, but they combine to create a single vision of reality that has depth. In the same way, when we think paralogically we see things in different ways that complement each other to create a single vision of reality that has depth.
When I discuss philosophy with people who adopt an either/or approach to understanding the depths of life, I often find myself in the paradoxical position of agreeing with what they’re saying, but also feeling they’re missing half the truth. So I sometimes quote the cheeky words of the great Niels Bohr who once remarked: No, no, you’re not thinking; you’re just being logical.
Yin and Yang, The Primal Paradox:
"Unity and complementarity constitute reality."
The taijitu is a symbolic representation of the essential paradoxity of reality. It encodes the ancient Taoist understanding that reality is characterized by the primal polarity of yin and yang, represented by black and white tadpoles. Yin and yang are opposites which paradoxically coexist and complement each other. This is why there’s a dot of white in the black tadpole and vice versa. This is an idea that has been important to many of the greatest philosophers, who often referred to it as the coincidentia oppositorum or ‘union of opposites’. The essential idea is that existence is a primal oneness that is arising as complementary opposites.
Pure awareness alone does not raise a child, because the ground of being, in isolation from what's grown from it cannot boil an egg or un-peel a bandaid.
Formless awareness alone could not fluff a pillow, warm the sheets, or tuck anyone into bed, and it certainly can't whisper "goodnight" because it has no voice.
While it may always be, only because Being has become something can it do anything. The whole human it has evolved into is what engages in the world, and it's because Being delights in individual expressions of its potentiality, that the son of a loving father hears how special he is, how he can become anyone and anything he wants to be."
You climbed a ladder to the sky and for a long time, you enjoyed gazing down at the world from so high up. Now that you're ready to come back to the ground, you discover that the ladder beneath you is gone. You're suspended in the air, so you can't even fall. You've been stuck up here, looking down from the great heights that afforded you a view you'd like to take with you but not be limited to.
I reached out to Stephen, a well-known mindfulness and Buddhist informed author and psychotherapist when I was in the throes of a spiritual emergency. I was dis-oriented, disassociated and de-personalized, struggling to shore up a sense of personal agency, embodiment, and most importantly, to get back a sense of solid ground beneath my feet. I was especially terrified by what became a harrowing sense of dis-reality both of my own personal identity and in-solidity of the world, because while I'd experienced depersonalization when I was young, it was just a matter of coming back to the experience of being a real, solid self when the episode passed. Once it passed, and I felt like myself again, I could go on with my day as if it never happened, re-inhabiting a sense of being me. But now, after years of entering deep states of "no self" that were re-enforced by the non-dual philosophies I'd been drawn to that saw personal identity as fictional, an illusion to be seen through, a delusional trance to wake up from, there was no longer a convincingly real sense of self to go back to comfortably being. And so many aspects of the self that I would be going back to no longer felt like me.
I had already committed to moving away from spiritual philosophies based on extreme self-negation, but I truly questioned whether I'd gone past the point of no return. Nothing could take back all of the time I'd spent dissolving myself into no one, and I was truly terrified that I would never be able to fully feel like someone again after so clearly seeing the self as just and illusion, and that I'd be trapped in a no man's land, outside of embodied personhood. I'd read that Stephen worked with a woman who had an uncannily similar history as me. She'd suffered from spontaneous episodes of extreme de-personalization throughout her life, brought on by what she called "head-on collisions" with infinity that caused reality to collapse in on itself, and were truly harrowing. As with me, she experienced a different sort of depersonalization in adulthood that was profoundly enlightening, in which experiencing the world without a self at the center was cathartic and immensely freeing, even entering states some refer to as Samadhi, within which you feel you've transcended physical form, selfhood, all particularity and merged with an infinite void. Just like me, she swung between enlightening depersonalization, and the kind described by some as enlightenment's "evil twin."
So I'd thought that if anyone could help me, it would be him, but I was sorely mistaken. When I explained what I'd been going through, the debilitating groundlessness and desperation to re-materialize solidity, he responded in a frigid condescending tone, "I know this isn't what you want to hear Jessica, but there is no ground." I would expect to hear this from reductionist non-dual "gurus" of past and present, who echoed each other's derealization of solidity. But I was appalled to hear this in my disassociated state from a highly esteemed psychotherapist and leading voice in the Western mindfulness movement. As if his ground denial wasn't disturbing enough, when I expressed my legitimate fear of spiraling into a full-on psychotic breakdown, he replied "Well you won't," in a dismissive tone bearing no trace of reassurance. And that was it. No questions about my mental health history, or things like access to social support, therapy, etc. No resources offered other than a prescription to enjoy things like the simple pleasure of sitting in a chair and looking out the window.
I know that there are far too many others like him who lack an understanding of what spiritual emergency entails and how to identify it, what the risks are (including how precariously it can teeter on the edge of psychosis) and most importantly, how critical grounding is for the experiencer. To think of how many mental health professionals give negligent advice that contradicts what is crucial for someone spinning out in a spiritual emergency is devastating, but inspiring. It inspires me to do what I can to help spread awareness about this dangerous blind spot, to encourage professionals to get the necessary training to support someone who is losing their grip on reality amidst destabilizing shifts in consciousness, and most importantly, to get trained in offering peer support to those going through it, so that less people will have to feel as alone as I did before I discovered spiritual emergency support groups and mental health professionals educated in the territory of spiritual crisis. It's lucky he never followed up with a payment link because I would have been hard pressed to pay for his disservice.