Dichotomy and Integration

Visual representation of Hegel's dialectic of Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis

So many things in life feel impossibly true. Or rather, they could be true, if only their opposite didn’t also feel so obviously true. What’s the deal? Are our minds too rigid to understand nuanced things? Is there some deeper universal truth that manifests itself in two apparently incompatible ways? Like wave-particle duality in quantum mechanics? I don’t know at all. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Yesterday I made a list of the apparent polar opposites I’ve been struggling with:

  • Computers vs. Nature
  • Science vs. Mysticism
  • Self Sufficiency vs. Communal Dependency
  • Solitude vs. Interconnectedness
  • Art vs. Art
  • Being Too Much vs. Being Too Little
  • Life and Everything Matters vs. Nothing Matters and We Die
  • Internet vs. No Internet
  • The Mind as a Solution vs. The Mind as the Problem
  • Accepting Life vs. Making Shit Happen

It was an fun day. But some of these things are really challenging to me, particularly when I start to think about deeper purpose in my life. As a practical example, I’ve been thinking about getting a job in tech and machine learning, doing data analysis work similar to the research I did in grad school. This is a major departure from teaching meditation, which I do now (and which I’d continue on the side). I’m excited for the intellectual possibilities, using my brain in an analytical way that I haven’t done in a while. But I’m also hesitant about the idea of being in front of a computer for long hours and at a desk again for the first time in a few years.

Is it possible to integrate these two worlds? Can I live a fluid, flexible, creative life, and also work a full-time, data-focused, tech job? I suspect that this barrier is largely self-imposed, and that maybe you don’t even see these two as being separate. And you are probably right. My specific personal experiences and biases are categorizing these two ideas of how to live, finding all the differences and ignoring the similarities and opportunities.

I have a vague memory of reading or hearing or imagining this idea one time. Maybe it was yoga. “The more it seems like two opposites can’t both be true, the more likely they both are.” Or something. But that’s the gist of it. Some of these things are hard to admit. That people can be racist and loving at the same time. That people who commit heinous crimes deserve our deepest compassion. That the world is terrible and beautiful. That our minds both destroy us and create us.

And in a practical way, that doesn’t really help me answer the question of whether I’ll be happy working at an office again. But it does remind me that there are not only as many ways to live as there are people in the world, but that every person might live a different life every day. And that, chances are, it’s probably a good bet to stay open to the world, to connection, and to new experience, and to treat everyone the best I can along the way.

2 replies
  1. Morgan says:

    I struggle with this. For what it’s worth I think working an office job is a stellar environment in which to practice mindfulness and creativity, and will potentially push the boundaries of your practice further than you could without the limitations that come with a tech job. Plus you’ll meet some potential students 🙂

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