HOLDING THE PARADOX: the one great key to magical experience

    This week as the Spring Equinox ripens, balancing night and day, sun and snow, I’m thinking about the wonder of paradox.

    A paradox, of course, is a set of two notions that simultaneously appear to be true; and that also appear to contradict each other.

    The word “appear” is key here because the answer to every paradox is that there’s another level of perception at which the truths don’t contradict each other at all.

    The art of magic is the loving & willful pursuit of the level of perception at which all paradoxes meet and resolve, where all seeming contradictions are rectified…

    …so magic is the work of uncovering “the philosophical gold” (i.e., the indestructible essence of experience) and becoming intimate with reality.

    What does holding paradox have to do with magic?

    Well, when you can hold the awareness of everything you don’t want simultaneously with everything you do want, seeing no contradiction at all – that’s when fulfillment shows up.  Magically.

    So for example: if you can compassionately hold the tension of Wow, I completely hate myself and Wow, I completely love myself  – as both being simultaneously true and valid…

    … you arrive at an illumined condition of perception where no amount of hating can disturb or weaken you, since you’ve entered the mysterious, simultaneous identity of total hate and total love.

    You’ve rectified the contraries with the heat of your attention, and now no amount of contrariness (contrariness tends to be experienced as hatred, rejection, resentment by self or others) can phase you and diminish your perception of joyful love.

    This is the work of integrating the unconscious (the shadow, the Self).  The unconscious is always “the unknown,” the underworld, the undulating mystery into which we die and are reborn, the weird nonlinear simultaneity of everything.

    The mystery and all its disturbing permutations can never be erased but it can be entered into.  

    This relates to Einstein’s famous saying that “No problem can be solved from the level of consciousness that created it.”

    According to magic and to Einstein’s maxim, the solution is perceptible on another level of consciousness, where “the problem” is revealed to be no problem at all, but simply an unfolding event that coheres beautifully with a deeper truth.

    In his Philosophical Fragments, and throughout his body of work, the mystic Soren Kierkegaard wrote urgently about the importance of not being offended by paradoxes:

    “… one must not think ill of the paradox, for the paradox is the passion of thought, and the thinker without the paradox is like the lover without passion: a mediocre fellow.

    To be offended by a paradox is to avoid its poetic tension – it means to take one side of the paradox as being “the true side” and the other as being a hurtful falsehood or heresy, as something that “shouldn’t be so.”

    “I shouldn’t completely hate myself, it’s not nice, it’ll lead to me be a loser, only losers hate themselves.” – Riiiiiiiight.

    And who has ever succeeded in not hating themselves by thinking that they shouldn’t? Because it’s wrong to hate yourself? That realization of wrongness is only one more reason to hate yourself!

    Everyone who hates themselves, every depressed or anxious person in the world, knows that they shouldn’t, that it’s bad news bears to hate yourself.

    The shouldn’t is tricky dodge here, it’s a judgment that constitutes a side-step away into fantasy, a moral argument with reality…

    … and one that misses reality’s poignant poetic, aesthetic beauty.

    If you experienced the tension of your self-hatred (what you don’t want) simultaneously and equally as self-love (what you do want), with no should or shouldn’t to distract you, you’d be paradoxically loving yourself completely, even the parts of yourself and of your experience that are hateful.

    Weird, huh?

    In other words, you’d have reached fulfillment – the philosophical gold, the presence of everything that you do want, unable to be interrupted by that which you do not want – since you’ve remembered that you are that which wants everything, the whole hot tamale of samsara.

    The interesting thing about the tension of the paradoxes that we constantly confront – is that the tension is full of energy, of life – and of death.

    The tension in ever-present paradox is creative, erotic, tickling, comical and sometimes sexual. It’s also destructive, painful, scary, violent, tragic.

    Entering into it asks us to be born, to be in the throws of a perpetual ecstatic orgasm, to be dreaming, to be tripping, and to be dying a humiliating, awful death all at once.

    If you doubt what I’m saying, spread out your favorite Tarot deck on the floor and take a long look at it, considering the mystery expressed in each card to be equally true, beautiful, and valid as all the others.

    See what I mean now?

    The tension we feel in paradox is both delightful and horrible, simultaneously and sometimes offensively both – it all depends on how we relate to the tension.

    To “hold a paradox” is to joyfully embrace the tension of the seeming contradiction, to live within it, and through unwavering presence with the painful tension (compassion, feeling-with) to arrive at a fresh level of consciousness where the seeming problem is recognized to be no problem at all.

    So here’s a question today: where have you been taking offense in the paradoxes of your life, declaring limits on the truth of your being by saying “this thing about me is true and good but this other thing about me is bad and wrong”?

    And what if, rather than dividing any part of you and your experience into true / false, good / bad – you simply stayed compassionately alive to the mystery of the tension, what if you simply held the paradox of yourself and your life without rejecting any side?

    love and wickedness,
    Carolyn Elliott

    editor of WITCH
    teacher of INFLUENCE: the life-altering course on mastering practical magic, which will open for registration again in May.

    image: Louise Zhang, The Paradoxical Grotesque

    NOTE: If this essay resonates with you, please be sure to join our email list using the form in the sidebar or below, so we can stay in touch.


    • Dr. Carolyn Elliott is the founder of WITCH magazine & is known for her uncanny and uncomfortable ability to trick really smart, high-achieving magical people into doing the things that they actually want to do. She’s the teacher of life-altering online courses, including INFLUENCE, FORCE OF NATURE, MONEY, and EARTH. Carolyn is the author of the cult-favorite creativity book, Awaken Your GeniusAwaken Your Genius: A Seven-Step Guide to Uncovering Your Creativity and Manifesting Your Dreams... ... and the upcoming Existential Kink: A handbook of life-altering magic. She runs a multi-6-figure online business specializing in helping people achieve dramatic positive change in their lives through shadow integration practices and applied occult philosophy.


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