Looking through paradoxes, opposites and reversals


    “He taught me an exorcise which was supposed to bring about what he called “To cause an opposite of space”. You have to seat very quietly, when your attention is focused in the center of your chest, and slowly to surrender and to see that instead of looking you are being looked at; instead of listening you are being listened to, instead of touching you are being touched; instead of tasting you are food for God and you are being tasted”. 

 Reshad Feild: “The Last Barrier: A Journey into the Essence of Sufi Teachings”


„The opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth.“

„How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.“

„No, no, you’re not thinking; you’re just being logical.“

 Niels Boher.

Part 1: on paradoxes and contradictions.                                                                      
There are many questions concerning looking and reality; do we see what exists, all which exists, part of what exists, what is in us about what exists and more. 

Do we see what is there or what is in our brain about what we see?

There is more unknown in what we see and perceive – then what is known and is tangible.

Here it will written about a particular way of widening our perception about what escapes our limited and sleepy attention; and it is about examining: lack of harmony, contradictions and paradoxes; the paradox not as ‘stop sign’ but as a door to a hidden reality.

In everything we see there is a hidden reality, and in order to reach it we need to align our self with what is ‘not perfect’. 

The passage through what is unknown or hidden reality, into the being of what is there (Martin heiddger wrote about being in his book: “being and time”) is a rare process which is a kind of a Quantum leap. Precisely at the points of lack of perfection – there are entry points into the Meta level. All that we see, be it the look of an office, a dress of a person, the inside of his car, his facial expression, his ‘hello’ –all seem to be what there is, but it might bloke the way to the inner depth.                                             



The possibility which is there (when we look at a certain reality or a person), to overcome the limitation of the ordinary vague seeing – is possible exactly in the passage through lack of perfection of what is there, (and not in turning the lack of perfection into perfection), because perfection at a certain level, is a barrier of the current level, whereas usage of the lack of perfection (at the current level)  – could be a passage way or a spring board to the next, or hidden, level. Lack of perfection could be a secret code, with it is possible to reach this hidden or Meta level, to the inner underground dynamic.

The limitation could be the spring board to the next level. 

In other words, in any observation of something, be it a table cloth in a coffee shop or a person – there is an inner dimension, in which what we saw becomes, from a one dimensional object or a person, into a many dimensional reality. For example: body language – when we look at a gesture or a facial expression and it is in  accord and harmony with the words – there is no hidden meaning, but if there is something which is not at harmony with what is being said then through it we might get at the hidden meaning. For example:  the gesture is not complimentary with what is being said. or in conversation, when a sudden facial expression is contradictory to what is being said, it should raise in us the wish to find out what is not being said, what is concealed, But we, in our on goings, tend to dismiss body language for it does not fit and go together with the shining image our words try to portray. 

A rich field for the dissonances and paradoxes in the body language itself (between a prat of the body compared with another part) – we can find in observing photographs in which there are people; for example a person smiling and his fists are clenched, a woman licking here lips and is looking at the photographer from the side (erotic message) but her pelvis is loose, a boy that his posture is erect and his stare is lively and direct but his clothes are wrinkled and sloppy. In all of those contradictions there is a saying; again, it is the contradiction that shows more of what is inside then what is apparent on the outside. Another paradox is the relation that one has with the people with whom he is photographed; he can have his hand near the person on his side but he distances another part of his body, another paradox could be connected to objects – he can be dressed in an evening dress but in his hand he holds a plastic bag. A person in the middle of the photograph (a central figure) his face is sad but the people in the sides are smiling.  

In order to get to the hidden reality – we need to search for what doesn’t belong, what does not fit, what creates a dissonance, but Normally we like to look at harmony; a lovely garden, a beautiful dress, a good looking man or woman and so on (it is a kind of therapy to what is not at harmony within us). 

The great art works were born out of a friction of the artist with his impossibility to bring what is alive in him to (a fit and full expression) in a normal conversation or communication. The great dramatic plays, contain within them a friction between the
Characters, tragedies which happen to them, the absurd life which they live, which are full with lack of perfection – but at the same time they bring about a catharsis for the person seating in the theater.
The petit bourgeois look, the perfect look of the ‘little boxes’ of our life – makes for a pleasant look on the outside when on the inside there could be something else (less pleasant) which only be gotten to be looking at what does not fit at what does not belong to the appearance of the external surface.
Therefore the art of observation – when it comes to be – is a happening, it is a bit like a flash of intuition or inspiration – it happens not because of, but despite. 

And why it is like that? Why is, mainly, the paradox, which is the door and the entry point to the inner dimension, or the next level? Well, relating to the paradox in what we meet and see –increases the consciousness to the complexities which are hidden   behind a figure or scenery – in which we look. It could also be said that the more something will be full of paradoxes –the more it will be rich with meaning.  

The brain has got the tendency to create a world which is complete and harmonious. We disregard details which we do not allow us to receive a harmonious picture of reality. Harmony fixes the person in the present level of things, disharmony leads to the level which got buried under the present one. 

It is very difficult to accept that we will always be at a state of lack of harmony, simply because this is the basic situation of being human beings: being not perfect and to never be, but accepting our incompleteness – is the relative way to be free. Unless will be at peace with this fact of our permanent lack of perfection – we will always be covered with illusions.  

Harmony can be misleading and fixing, whereas disharmony could be a push and a drive to hidden truth and to relative freedom.

Often the outer polished surface can be the guise under which lays an unpleasant truth, as it is written in the following quotation by Arthur Conan Doyle, in a dialog between Sherlock Holmes and Watson:    

     “Good heavens!” I cried. “Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads?”
     “They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”
     “You horrify me!”
     “But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbors, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.”
     The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
     Sherlock Holmes in “The Copper Beeches” (Doubleday p. 323).3

We want a good and happy reality and what does not fit to the picture of the world we want to create – we suppress, deny, ignore.

For example a couple in a social gathering – most likely they display harmony and intimacy, and if we want to find out something about their real relationship at present – we might notice that he looks at her and exactly at the same time she turns away her eyes, (and it may have happened 7 time during 2 hours…), or when she talked to him and bends he head down. This is known in psychology by the name: Reaction formation.  

A couple may live apparently in a certain harmony, but often there is in their life a delicate balance that hides with much effort, conflicts and disharmony. “A delicate balance” is also the name of a play by Edward Albee in which a middle age couple is visited by their close friends, but they bring with them the fear from the horror of their situation, this is too much for the couple and the delicate balance of their marriage breaks down and all hell gushes out. Edward Albee

There is an affinity between contradictions and depth; and there also an affinity between superficiality and completeness. The outer image is usually polished whereas the authentic self is less attractive and has got more flaws. And so is truth, which is often hidden and lacking the attractiveness that is being pretended externally. The truth of a person is usually less harmonious then his outward portrayal.  

There is an old saying: “if you want to know a person (for real) – scratch his surface (outer image) and his true nature will come bursting out” 

Part 2: On Zen & literature.

We hardly like paradoxes, and the easy way is to bypass it and find a way which is without it. The movement from one level to the one above is by making friends with contradiction which exists between the two contrasting poles (one positive, the other negative).

The word paradox is made out of two words in ancient Greek; the word para means a passage, and doxa that means opinion, that means that the paradox wideness the borders of logic beyond the accepted opinion. Paradoxes help us to get reed from old Prejudices and thinking stereotypes.

It is like Zen kaon that sharpens the absurd, the paradox and the contradiction, and the less it is possible to solve the paradox the more it might bring about a state which is called: Satori, an enlightenment.

“… In Zen you see what exists through the void, through what does not exist and no doubt this is the highest degree to see things. ‘Our body gets life from within the nothingness. The existence in the place where the void exists is the embodiment of the sentence: form is nothingness. The meaning of that sentence is that all things exists by the void. Void is form, a man should not think that those are two different things”.

From: Hagakure: the book of the samurai

 There is a rational solution to the paradox, but that fixes the person further in the existing level. And if for the rational solution one needs to make a brain effort – for the second solution (the creative one) one needs to surrender, to give up. This way of giving up is described in the book: Zen in the Art of Archery by: Professor Eugen Herrigel, he was learning the Zen art of archery, and he is being told by the Zen master to let the arrow fly out of the bow without an effort, and there is a contradiction between pulling the string (which demands an effort) and the demand from the master to loosen his grip. And only if he finds the way to loosen his grip and pull the string – both at the very same time – a miracle happens and the arrow flies as from itself.  

This understanding is also the basis for the Alexander technic which teaches the right posture; that in order be erect you need to give up your efforts to control your posture. (And then your body will ‘find’ it’s natural way for an erect posture).

In order to reach this hidden level of meaning – the look at paradoxes should not be done in a way full of effort but in an effortless almost casual way; Erich Kästner in the preface to his book: The 35th of May writes of how he ‘catches’ an muse for the book: he makes himself bored or sleepy and then the muse puts her head through the door with caution, and when she saw no response from him she dares more and then more, and then when she is letting go completely of her cautioners he holds her by the nap of the neck, and then he has got the whole structure of the book. 

Above the surface we meet an unsolvable situation, in which two opposites contradict one another but if in us we understand that at a higher level, they complement each other, then we see that the unpenetrated wall of the paradox is hiding within it a hidden gate. You can ‘solve’ the paradox with rationality and then it seems that you break the wall but then you miss the hidden gate…  

Part 3: on breaking and turning things upside down.

There are two actions that every developing process of life needs to do in order to pass from phase to phase, from level to level, one stage to another; one is breaking, the other is employing the opposite or the antithesis to what is there. In fact, there is no process of development, elevation, or vitalization – that doesn’t have to go through one of this junctions. 

Breaking: the original example of breaking is the chick which is locked within the egg and in order for it to get out into the world has to break the shell of the egg.

The same example exists in a nation which is oppressed by an oppressor and in order for it to set itself free – has to break down the oppression wall.

There also the chains and prison walls – of the prisoners.

Or the young artist that breaks the artistic conventions (that have existed up to his generation), and then ‘wins’ freedom or creative space that in it he can pour the new spirit that is burning in him. What was yesterday a new artistic spirit (that had to break the old and frozen artistic dogmas) is now the prison walls for the young artist. 

Another form of doing just that is the breaking of the frozen conventions of the old generation by the rebellion adolescents and the young. It is not so important what to break as long as they break; it could be driving fast, drinking, to come home late, listen to loud rhythmic music, to eat not in order, to live in a messed up room, to do piercing, tattoos – all are ways of breaking.  

And now to reversal (doing the opposite): the embryo is going through a process of reversal, from an ecology of water and confinement – to the air outside which is wide and expansive, from a physical constriction to physical expansion, from darkness to light. So, in order to pass from one reality to a completely a different one – he has to go through a phase or an octave change, a quantic reversal. 

This is relating to a story about King Arthur and his knights of the round table: 

King Arthur asked his knights the following: “Imagen that you are in a large hall, one wall is white the other is black, the white wall symbolizing God, the black symbolizing all which God isn’t, now position yourselves in relation to the two walls. Most of the knights were standing away from the white wall and their face is facing it, which meant that they are far away from God but are on the way to him, no, said the King, and he positioned them close to the white wall and their back is facing it. And he said: “the way you are is very near the white wall but you are facing the opposite direction, all you need to do is turn around…”

This reversal exists also in the Major Arcana of the tarot, one intriguing card is card number 12: The hanged man,  


And firstly few words about the tarot: today it is being used for telling the future (together with astrology, reading in coffee cup, tea leaves, crystal ball and the like). But originally it was a kind of encyclopedia of nonverbal knowledge through the right hemisphere of the brain which uses symbols and pictures to convey sacred knowledge.

Carl Jung brought about the term: the collective subconscious, he claimed that there is a universal language of symbols that our subconscious recognizes, and the Tarot uses this language of symbols and architypes.

Card number 12 is one of the most mysterious cards in the Tarot, it is symbolizes the power of reversal in the life of man and especially of that of the searcher after truth (card number 9).

This card is relating to a state of consciousness of standing against, of rebellion. The figure in the card is in a reversed posture; it is opposite to the normal posture that is of legs on the ground and the head above the body. His ground is going to be the one above. He sees everything upside down, in reverse; good seems to him as bad and bad as good, powerful people look to him as weak and weak people – as strong. And he will come to knows that because he sees reality in reverse – he sees it for what it is. He is in the process of coming to know that the reality of human beings is upside down to what is possible for the human being to be by his hidden potential. So in fact, according to his higher potential – human beings are the ones who are upside down.

For most people the head is above the body, in other words – the brain and the process of thinking is governing. It could be said that it is a kind of result of Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge, therefore (it could be said that) the human being should reconnect back to the tree of life, in other words to be connected to basic eternal truths through his inner voice. Hanging (from the tree) upside down reveres the order of the logic and rationality above the heart – and puts the heart, the soul and the inner being into the right position – above rational thinking.

One of the disciplines of Yoga is standing on the head, instead of the blood steaming to the legs and therefore intensifying to the low and hard reality of the ground – now it is flowing to the head and is intensifying the connection with thinking process and consciousness. 

So the hanged man is in the basic position of the rebel: to be against, in reverse. He understands (or is on the way to understand) that truth is in the opposite vector to how the general mass of the silent majority lives their life; they talk and converse but they do it while at the same time they are making the institution of the conversation empty from content, depth meaning and a real dialog. They are having relationships but instead of the other – they put the ego in the center of the relationship, they work hard but do not know what to do in their free time, they build a family which is the most dear thing in their life, but as it is written in important plays such as: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee. – The family could become the arena for power struggle. They establish democracy that has rivalry between the parties in the guise of ideology. Politics promises change and improvement but is concerned mainly with its own ruler ship.  

The schools apparently educates for having high knowledge where in fact they are conditioning the pupils to fit into a commercial market.

In this relation it is beneficial to read some radical words from an American standup artist by the name: George Carlin, it is called: the paradox of our time.

“The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings, but shorter tempers; wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints; we spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy it less.

We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, but less time; we have more degrees, but less sense; more knowledge, but less judgment; more experts, but more problems; more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get angry too quickly, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too seldom, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life; we’ve added years to life, not life to years.

We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor. We’ve conquered outer space, but not inner space; we’ve done larger things, but not better things.

We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul; we’ve split the atom, but not our prejudice.

We write more, but learn less; we plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait; we have higher incomes, but lower morals; we have more food, but less appeasement; we build more computers to hold more information to produce more copies than ever, but have less communication; we’ve become long on quantity, but short on quality.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion; tall men, and short character; steep profits, and shallow relationships. These are the times of world peace, but domestic warfare; more leisure, but less fun; more kinds of food, but less nutrition.

These are days of two incomes, but more divorce; of fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throw away morality, one-night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer to quiet to kill. 

It is a time when there is much in the show window and nothing in the stockroom; a time when technology has brought this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to make a difference, or to just hit delete…”.

 And as it was written by Carlin – because so many things in our life are upside down to what they could be, there is this need for a reversed point of view in order to bring things as close as possible to their original state.

The reverse here is between: what is real to what is fake, the margins and the middle, between the material and the spiritual, between rebellion and what is conventional.

This extreme ideology could be found in an analogy of a term from aviation called: Vertigo

Vertigo is about a pilot which his airplane is diving to be crushed on earth and he feels that his airplane is ascending, going up, he confuses the above and the below, he is Shure that the above is the bellow and the other way around.  It is known as disturbance in spatial orientation, it is a temporary confusion which stems out of a wrong information which is sent to the brain. Vertigo as an existential state of being – is when a person is losing the judgment about his life; he is blind to his reality and a strong belief in imagined reality. Adopting an imagined reality is found in the writings of the French philosopher:  Jean Baudrillard, he uses the term: simulacrum to describe an imagined reality that takes over the real original reality. (Here the image takes over on the account of the being). 

Humanity is Shure that it is on the road to progress and is at the top of what is possible at this time for the human, where in fact in term of the existential being of things it is close to the bottom. 

 And this brings us back to Vertigo in humanity; Vertigo for humanity of our time – is in trying to get out of the crisis of values, crisis in personal communication, crisis of meaning, crisis of the institution of marriage and more. And in order to get out of those crises the human gets a variety of advices from various places; education experts, applied psychology, positive psychology, religion, movements and new age sects and movements and many more – and what is common to most is the direction of  climbing or flying up, to cling to good feelings instead of bad ones, to God or spirituality instead of living for the moment and the ego, to work on yourself instead of accepting yourself and your destiny, to encourage optimism instead of a grim  and pessimistic view of life. In other words: you feel down? Choose ways and exorcises that will elevate you up and above.  

It is difficult to understand that instead of moving away from the negative (the bottom) aspects in one’s life and getting close to the positive ones (the top) – one should make friends with the ‘enemy’… he should be a friend with: weaknesses, fears, his inhibitions, forbidden desires and with his anxiety – instead of wearing, above and around them, an adult dress and a mask. One does not need to move away from difficulties and weaknesses, he can pass through them, and this will connect him to his real self (for it is surrounded by weaknesses and flaws which are less attractive).  

The way to redemption is through what we do not want to admit in ourselves, our ‘bad’ characteristics. A playwright by the name: Jean Genet, has coined a term which is called: Salvation through the Gutters – he claims that a true salvation, is for real, through the lowest and repressed parts of oneself.

The radical rebel has the ungrateful mission – to show that what is bellow is hidden by what is above; and before one elevates himself to employ control and logic – one has to meet and accept the less attractive self; instead of wishing for it to disappear – to recognize it as a legitimate part of oneself.  People say to themselves and others: I have advanced, I have learned, I am improving and have been improved – why don’t they say: this is the way I am. And this self-acceptance is taking the bottom as a base and from it to elevate. 

But most of us who try to fly (having wonderful or spiritual – life) are in Vertigo; waiting for a way or a knowledge to come and save them, and this is without them accepting their inner shadow. But only by accepting fully the less desired aspects of oneself, can one reach his true sky.

To be a rebel about the current situation of most human beings, is to be cursed, for the more he will try to get them out of the Vertigo – the more he will be perceived as trying to get them into it… 

“In a society of people – truth exists less in things themselves rather than in what things are not. Our social reality is very ugly when seen in the light of the exiled truth, and beauty is no more possible only when it is a lie”.

R.D. Laing.   

  The Politics of Experience, Introduction (1967(

The pilot in a Vertigo is clinging to the airplanes instruments, but they show him the way to the ground and not the way up, in the same way we cling to the technology, which promises us a way to be elevated away from what is wrong, we believe that with more knowledge and instruction – we can get out of the Vertigo of our life, but they will bring us to be crushed on the hard ground. 

Great artists, philosophers, writers and playwrights – saw mostly the upside down reality of their heroes. They come from the antithesis and examine things from an opposite vector. Almost every great thinker developed their impressive penetrating philosophy on an opposing view to what is generally acceptable, this led them into far reaching understandings. Here is some typical quotes from Simone Weil from her book: Gravity and Grace: “why the wish to struggle against Prejudice is a typical sign to that that we are washed by it? For this is stemming out of necessity from obsession “. 

And more examples: “A method for investigation: at the moment that we have some thought, we have to search in what way it’s opposite is the truth”. 

“Evil is the shadow of good, every real good that has density and solidity, casts some evil. Only the mock good does not cast it. Because all good is connected to evil, thus if we long for the good and will not want to spread around us the evil which is connected to it, we will have to –for you cannot escape it – focused it in us in ourselves. So the longing for pure good presupposes an agreement to accept a disaster from the last order. If we long for good only, we will stand against the law that binds the tenable good to the evil as the lighted object to its shadow, and when we stand against the universal law of the world, it is investable that a disaster will not come on us.” 

This are brilliant examples to an argument that turns things upside down.

Of course the greatest thinker that turned conventional way of thinking upside down was Friedrich Nietzsche.

Here are some upside down quotations from him: 

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.

It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

The higher we soar, the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly.

One ought to hold on to one’s heart; for if one lets it go, one soon loses control of the head too.

The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.

The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.

I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.

No one can construct for you the bridge upon which precisely you must cross the stream of life, no one but you yourself alone.

Generally we see what is there through what is there. And there is no passage through the opposite, and if there is no opposite, there is no point of view that really sees things.

Also in Judaism there is study by the tradition of learning through breaking and turning upside down the Talmudic text: not to read it as it is red at first, but to search the inner meaning by turning the text on its head. 

Here are two more Zen sayings: “The important things have to be treated lightly”. 

”Petty things need to treated with seriousness”.

And finely; the art of employing paradoxes and reversals is not popular, but is the vital tool of the true truth seeker. 

And a clarifying comment:

It is not meant here to say that self-improvement efforts and exercises are completely not useful and not needed, what is important to clear is that those exercises and mantras should only be done after full self-acceptance, not before. When it is done in this order they can indeed be a useful tool in self-development and self-work.  


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