Editorial

Celebrating Paradox

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes.) Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself” There’s no denying it; I am a living contradiction.

  • PublishedJuly 31, 2012

Do I contradict myself?

Very well, then, I contradict myself.

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

There’s no denying it; I am a living contradiction. Let me rephrase that; I am a glaring, explicit, insanely hypocritical, yet shamefully unapologetic, walking, talking and living contradiction. Or maybe the word I should be using is paradox. Mere semantics, perhaps, but slightly more accurate.

Either way, I am a master of organized chaos. Scheduled spontaneity. Faking it with sincerity. My voice can swing from a piercing shriek to a barely audible whisper in seconds. I value perfection and unpredictable mayhem in equal measures. I can switch from inspired ambition to hopeless despair at the mere sound of a negative word or the perception of injustice. I perceive injustice a lot. But I fundamentally believe in integrity and our capability of achieving it. I can feel the emotional pain of strangers yet can find myself emitting blank stares to my dearest loved ones. I can laugh and cry and pray and curse, all while eating homemade cupcakes. In my bathtub. Wearing my Sunday best, of course.

Am I crazy? I think that goes without saying. Am I proud of these characteristics? I am neither proud nor ashamed. Does this awareness of my shifting emotional state give me the liberty to just act with reckless abandon? No. And yes. But, mostly no.

Sometimes I am truly surprised at my capability to swing from one state of being to another. From an ambitious New Yorker, to a homesick Kenyan daughter, to a spirited rabble-rouser, to an introverted faith seeker. Am I waking up today as an artist, a project manager, a communicator, a leader, a servant, a student, a humble being or a relentless lioness? Who knows?

And seriously, who cares when I can be one and all simultaneously? Effortlessly. Authentically.

Blaise Pascal, a 16th century French mathematician said it best: “What a chimera, then, is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe!”

My, how disturbing. Yet liberating, no?

How many times have you been shocked at the atrocities your fellow humankind are capable of committing, at times almost gleefully? Only to turn around and see the caring, unassuming actions of a child helping an old man walk across the street. How often do you feel ashamed at the animosity, resentment stirring up inside you, which is then instantly washed away with uncontrollable waves of gratitude and love? How often have you found yourself hating the one you love most? In aching pain during moments of joy? Meaning one thing, saying something else, and then doing something completely different from what you said or intended to do? Do you ever feel a chasm within yourself, a push and pull that constantly occurs between your mind, body, heart and soul?

If you do, welcome to the humanity club! If you are indeed human (and I accept that some reading this might not qualify) then you are blessed with flaws, imperfections, defects and quite likely a pretty murky dark side. If you are human you are blessed with more beauty, talent, wondrous innocence, joy and love than the world is able to fully comprehend. If you are human, you are likely to battle with opposing wants and needs in your everyday life; the desire to be independent, but the need to be protected; valuing self-respect and dignity, yet constantly seeking affirmation from others; astounding resilience and unavoidable vulnerability; heroic strength and sudden weakness; intentions of altruism and inexplicable actions of selfishness. How is it that you are meant to feel? What is right and what is wrong? What is the proper way to live and act within these opposing desires and emotions?

Amongst the multitude of stuff that I have learnt, some of which you’ve been so kind as to allow me to share with you over the past year, one thing that keeps surprising me everyday is how invigorating, how necessary, how pretty darn exciting it can be to give myself permission to just be. No ‘ifs’, no ‘buts’, no ‘musts’ and absolutely no ‘shoulds’ (a word I quite thoroughly despise). Once in a while, during moments of relaxation or perhaps during moments of extreme stress, I allow myself to quiet the incessant chatterbox mind screaming shoulds, dos and don’ts, and tap into the possibly distressed, likely anxious, maybe peaceful heart that simply just wants to be.

The fact is that I’m slowly learning to accept, in fact embrace, this free flowing, roller coaster pendulum that is me, if only part of me. It took me a very long time to realize that rather than fight all these terrifying shifts of emotion and being (‘Oh no! I’m angry right now! Must change gears to happiness!’), life can be so much easier if I gave myself permission to just be. To just feel. If I allowed whatever it is that goes on internally to come and go as it pleases. To recognize it, accept it, validate it, appreciate it and then, just let it go (when it comes to emotions they usually aren’t capable of staying long anyway).

The best part is that I’m starting to find that the more I let go of control, the more control I actually gain. Crazy, huh? When I’m not busy fighting myself, when I just allow ‘lil miss cranky to be as she pleases when she shows up (she’s a terrible one I tell you, avoid her if you can), I find that the cranky one may not be cranky, but tired. May not be angry, but scared. Validating these not so nice emotions almost always eases the negative energy. And before you know it, ‘lil miss cranky is gone! Or at least resting peacefully for now.

But, and this is a pretty big but, there is a difference between letting ‘lil miss cranky be and allowing ‘lil miss cranky to act upon her crankiness. Worlds of difference. When I allow her to just sit there she can scream and yell and argue with me all day long if she likes. But if I allow her to go outside and yell at other people, well that’s a different ball game. Being can, in many occasions, quite simply be enough. Acting is often, though not always, necessary. It may be hard to distinguish how to give yourself permission to be and feel verses allowing yourself to take action, but it is entirely possible.

For example, it’s perfectly natural to feel angry at someone or something. Go ahead and feel that burning frustration, let it course it’s way through your veins, allow the energy to dissipate through your body. But if you can, or you can at least try, allow it to just sit there. Study it. What does it feel like? Painful? Scary? Talk to him or her. Yes, I am advocating you sit there and talk to your angry self. What does he or she want? Attention? Love? Justice? Security? Ok then, that’s totally fine. Try to accept that, without judgment. When you validate your angry self’s need for attention or love, your angry self is instantly soothed like a newborn baby longing for his mother’s protection. It’s not easy and it is counter intuitive, but with practice, it works.

It’s like raising a child, the more you loosen the reigns to allow him or her to be, the more they are likely to learn how to be themselves. Just as they are. What more could you ask for? As a parent you’re there to guide their actions in order to allow them to be the best possible version of themselves.

Please don’t misunderstand; control is necessary, decorum is respectful, rules are often there for a very good reason and above all, your actions do have consequences. But that’s not to say that a lack of control leads to chaos. Maybe, on occasion, decorum can be thrown out of the window, and as for rules, well you can always make new ones, can’t you?

I often think of it like a humongous dance floor, with the universe as the master deejay. One minute you’re shaking it down to some ‘hound dog’, the next you are throwing out your moonwalk with the best of them. You might find yourself alone while some Marvin Gaye plays, or be utterly confused on how to move your body to salsa. You may feel the joy of teaching a little girl how to do the ‘Macarena’, or be humbled by a young man’s break dancing skills. An old tune may bring up tragic memories, while the newest top 40 hit may surprise you with its charm.

Through it all you just keep on dancing, whether out of sync with the rhythm, dragging your feet at a snails pace, or even if lying down on the dance floor and just feeling the music (believe me, there is no shame in dancing in your mind).

As long as you do your very best to just keep on dancing. It is the universe’s dance floor after all.

njeri@parents.co.ke

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