One of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century was the anthropologist Gregory Bateson. His book Towards an Ecology of Mind, really a collection of essays, is perhaps one of the best kept secrets of totally-brilliant-awesome-stuff available on the planet.
This weekend I put the last touches on my new book, Better than Sex. Not being an idle kind of a guy, I’m already getting started on the next book, which is about Spiritual Maturity. I’ll tell you more about that in a few days.
One of the parameters I’ve been working with in defining spiritual maturity is the capacity to embrace paradox. It is an ability that is very difficult for the fundamentalist mind, but a necessary skill for the advanced mystic.
In his book, Bateson describes the process of maturing as passing through dilemmas of irreconcilable “double-binds.” He suggests that we are constantly faced with impossible choices in life. When we collapse under this burden of duality, we develop “schizoid tendencies,” which can, in rare cases, become full blown schizophrenia.
When we learn to embrace paradox, we evolve to a more sophisticated level of integration.
Perhaps the greatest shining example of this is my namesake Arjuna, who 5000 years ago emerged onto the battlefield with Krishna as his charioteer. Arjuna was faced with a massive double bind. As a Kshatriya Warrior, it was his duty to enter into battle and to defend the forces of dharma against adharma (loosely translated as good over evil). The catch was that on the opposing army were many of his relatives, including his esteemed uncle Bhima, who had raised him. What a situation! Either abandon your duty as a warrior, or kill the person you most love in the world. It was this dilemma of double-bind which gave Krishna the opportunity to deliver to Arjuna the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita: which are essentially the teachings of how to transcend duality and live in “spontaneous right action.”
Wind the clock forward approximately 4,500 years and you’ll find a similar double-bind in the story of Hamlet. In the beginning of Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet meets his father’s ghost, who tells Hamlet that he was in fact murdered by his own brother, who then married the Queen.
For most of the play, Hamlet is completely distraught Should he trust this vision, which could just as easily be a hallucination, and avenge his father’s death, or should he “watch his mind” Vipassana style, and do nothing? At the peak of this dualistic frenzy, he utters the words:
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?
In fact Hamlet is sent away in a boat to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. On the way the boat is attacked by pirates, and suddenly Hamlet has cause to take action, instead of sitting around thinking and talking. He kills the pirates and returns to Denmark a different man. He has fully snapped out of the dilemma he was caught in, not by thinking but once again through “spontaneous right action.” He avenges his father’s death. By the end of the play, everybody is dead, but Boy Oh Boy!, you leave the theater with your brain flooded with endorphins.
The resolution of paradoxical dilemma, says Bateson, is what propels us through different stages of evolution. A really effective coaching relationship will help you to face the areas of your life which appear to be stuck in irreconcilable conflict, and to help you to evolve to another dimension of reality that can integrate them.
Now that Gregory Bateson has died, one of the greatest living experts on the reconciliation of paradoxical dilemma is Ragini Elizabeth Michaels, the author of the book “Facticity.” Through decades of study of Ericksonian Hypnosis and Neuro-Linguistic Programming, she has developed a very sophisticated method of resolving paradox and resistance.
I’m going to be in dialogue with Ragini this Thursday August 15th at 6 pm PST. I hope you’ll be able to join me!