I asked a friend how she felt about her recently departed ex.
A confusing set of statements followed: “He hurt me so much. I could never have stayed with him.” Later she said: “I know I’m overreacting. We could have made it work.” At one time in the conversation she said: “I miss him too much to stay angry.” And a moment later she said angrily: “I’m so relieved it’s over.”
Ambivalence and contradictions. So, what is the truth? Love or hate, missing or not missing, forgiving or not? Tick all of the above at any given moment. As Zen monks would gently say after each statement: “And that too …”
We are all similar to this: happy and unhappy; childish and grown-up at the same time. Our thoughts, beliefs and opinions hopelessly collide with each other. We live in memories and future wishes, all in the present moment.
“And that too” belongs to the Eastern philosophy of Advaita: “non-duality”, which is part of the Tantra stream of Buddhist and yogic traditions, professing there is no black or white, right or wrong. That everything is happening at the same time, on two sides of the same coin. Nothing cancels out anything else — opposites can exist simultaneously and usually do, even in our own heads.
Many great religions have been founded on this philosophy: “As above, so below, as within, so without.” The main ideology in this context is that humans are not separate from the divine, or each other.
So the question of “How do you feel about…?” is not simple. Listeners want to hear a black-and-white reply. “I’m glad my relationship with him is over” or “I wish it wasn’t over”; “I love my job” or “I want to be doing something different”. Both are usually true but people get impatient with ambiguity, saying to themselves as much as to others: “You’re confused” or “Make up your mind”. But why? Why does there have to be one answer to anything? And which is the “you” that’s confused? We are all made up of multiple “selves”. The child within and the inner parent feel differently about things.
In the Advaita schools of thought, reality is like a layered cake as opposed to separate cupcakes. In other words, there are invisible layers of thoughts and realities, a mile high, all funnelling into our heads about any issue at the same time.
How can we apply this to improve our daily lives?
The Dalai Lama, recently in Australia, says we can reduce our suffering if we accept that we, situations and things are constantly in flux rather than fixed.
In short, it’s OK to be confused. It’s OK to have multiple, contradictory points of view. And that too.