“Paradox” comes from two Greek words: para + doksos, meaning beyond the teaching or beyond the opinion. A paradox emerges when you’ve started to reconcile seeming contradictions, consciously or unconsciously. Paradox is the ability to live with contradictions without making them mutually exclusive, realizing they can often be both/and instead of either/or. G. K. Chesterton said that “a paradox is often a truth standing on its head to get our attention”!
“Dialectic” is the process of overcoming seeming opposites by uncovering a reconciling third. The third way is not simply a third opinion. It’s a third space, a holding tank, where you hold the truth in both positions without dismissing either one of them. It often becomes the “house that wisdom builds” (Proverbs 9:1-6). It’s really the fruit of a contemplative mind.
Contemplation gives us an inner capacity to live with paradoxes and contradictions. It is a quantum leap in our tolerance for ambiguity and mystery. More than anything else, this new way of processing the moment is what moves us from mere intelligence, or correct information, to what we normally mean by wisdom or non-dual thinking. The contemporary mind has almost no training in dialectical thought processes or how to think paradoxically. In fact, what it often means to be “smart” is the ability to make more and more clever distinctions! And we never experience things in their wholeness, thus the angry politics and the angry religion that is overwhelming so many of us today.
Adapted from Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, p. 53;
Holding the Tension: The Power of Paradox,
discs 1 and 3 (CD, MP3 download);
and Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, pp. 71-72