Today is May 12 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you reflect upon the paradox of life? Paradox is defined as “a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.” The etymology of the word stems from the Greek para (distinct from) and doxa (opinion) - so its original meaning was a statement contrary to accepted opinion.
Several of the Navigate the Chaos posts focus on thinking. Afterall, thinking is required to translate dreams into reality, achieve goals, and answer life’s questions. But thinking is hard work and a lack thereof is a common among those who fail to navigate the chaos. Throughout the centuries writers and poets have provided us with essays, books, and poems to help readers reflect upon the paradox of life. One such poet was T.S. Eliot.
Poet T.S. Eliot spent a great deal of time reflecting upon the paradox of life and much of his writings focus on it as well. One such poem was “East Coker,” the second one in his Four Quartets. Published in 1940 the title refers to a small community that was directly connected to Eliot's ancestry and was home to a church that would later house his ashes.
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.
In T.S. Eliot Annual No. 1 Shyamal Bagchee writes “The argument is paradoxical though its logic is simple. If you own or where you are is not what you own or where you are, then the only way to obtain true possession and position would be to begin by renouncing the false or limited possession and position you currently maintain. If ‘what is present is at the same time concealment of presence,’ then the only way to achieve true presence would be to deny what is present-at-hand.”
This, then, is life’s paradox: the only way to achieve true presence would be to deny what is present-at-hand. To be who you want to be you must first reject who you are. If you who are is no longer who you wish to be, then you are reflecting upon life’s paradox. This indeed is hard work.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise.
In my end is my beginning.
In yet another one of life’s paradoxes: ‘in my end is my beginning.’ Within every ending lies opportunity. Do you allow yourself to reflect upon such a paradox? Do you permit your mind to wander on the thought ‘I must be still and still moving?’
Earlier in his career, in 1916 Eliot argued “every experience is a paradox in that it means to be absolute, and yet is relative; in that is somehow always goes beyond itself and yet never escapes itself.” How often do you reflect upon your experiences? Do you ever think about how every experience is both absolute and relative; trapped somewhere between going beyond itself and never escaping itself?