Is vs. Should: The Quantum Paradox

When I outline the keywords describing my vision or worldview at the present time (heading into 2016), I come across a snake in the garden: the question of evil, the inevitability of “death and taxes,” the seeming perpetual conflicts of politics and scourge of war, greed, exploitation and oppression. How to incorporate such realities into a vision that is otherwise pure and complete, a picture of natural grace and balance?

I begin with an overview: Universe, Earth, Humanity. Embodied in this organic totality are love, life, beauty; energy, unity and form. Relationship between all things; the music of harmony and rhythm. snakeYet there is this fly in the ointment, this nagging knowledge that all is not right in Paradise. Is it the fault of a distant God, an errant angel, a tempted woman, a blind man? Is the evil wreaked against humans and nature to be chalked up to human nature? A bug in the genome, an alien hack, the manipulation of the many by the few—who themselves have been programmed, seduced or coerced into the game of limitless wealth and power? I can easily posit a nonviolent revolution, a heart manifesto, a transcendence to inner peace; but more, I see now the path beyond manifesto (beyond what should be, in my not-so-humble opinion), to acceptance (what is, at least in our consensual reality matrix) of all. All, after all, includes what appears as good and evil, within an overarching unity. So we arrive at a quantum paradox.

First, a note about definitions. Consensual understanding aside, what is Nature? Is it all of the above, the fullness of what is? Does Nature include humanity, with our baggage of dirty politics, deadly war, inexplicable evil? In its simplest form, we confine nature to our familiar surrounds—the familiar though ever-dwindling nonhuman realms of Earth.

What about Spirit? Is this another term to comprise all of the above, in more immaterial form? Does Spirit include love, life, beauty, energy, unity… even form, its supposed opposite? Is there such a thing as dead form, distinct from live, organic forms we find as art, as living things? Does Spirit include “evil spirits”?

The exercise in definition repeats the core dilemma: how to resolve the paradox of the undesirable within the container of the reality we are given? How do we accept a reality that compassion deems necessary to act upon, to change?

creationAt the heart of Vedic philosophy, the fundamental paradox arises as Unity and Duality. Is there a Creator and a Creation, and are these distinct, or one and the same? The answer would amuse the quantum scientist, who by now is famous for demonstrating that the world is composed of primary elements that are, at once, particle and wave – depending on our perception or means of measurement. Is the yin-yang symbol one of unity or duality? The answer is both: duality within unity.

dualityWhile with all my heart I desire the world to be entirely good, evil persists. There is both light and darkness, life and death, peace and war, abundance and greed. Still I come to my capacity for acting on desire, for exerting my will, for bringing influence to bear: shining light in the darkness. I maintain this stubborn preference for what should be, in the face of what is. For utopia over dystopia; for imagination over reality; for truth over perception; for silence over imperfect words and arbitrary definitions. Yet, what is persists: dystopian, naggingly real, ever dependent on relative perception; ever reliant on the language I have at hand.

So do I resign my ambition to acceptance? Forego fruitless action for blissful stillness? Be happy as a follower instead of striking boldly forward as a leader?

It’s not that simple; the paradox remains. If I accept the duality of is/should for the sake of the should, then I am forced to include also the is. When the duality cancels itself out in an oscillating blur, grace appears, in the form of awareness that is complete, yet open. This is the state of creation itself; of life, growth, evolution. Creation is complete at every moment; and the next moment always proves that it is unfinished.

While compassionate action is unnecessary, perhaps incrementally effective at best, it is also necessary, a result of that very tension at the heart of duality. Action results from potential energy and present passion: like life itself in the face of disease, injury and death; like writing, in the face of linguistic irrelevancy; like politics, for a just cause without fixation on outcome. The Quakers have a term for it: “speaking truth to power.” Not in order to wield power; not in expectation of a favorable outcome; but out of integrity, an inner compulsion to serve the truth and shine the unquenchable light of justice.

The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins. In order for somebody to win an important, major fight 100 years hence, a lot of other people have got to be willing—for the sheer fun and joy of it—to go right ahead and fight, knowing you’re going to lose. You mustn’t feel like a martyr. You’ve got to enjoy it. (I. F. Stone)

In fact the outcome we know is determined, within the dualistic matrix: death and failure will attend us, regardless of our efforts and intentions and temporary successes. By the same token, however, despite our context of earthly limitation, we do find beauty and love in life while we have it; we can illuminate truth and understanding with the tools of language and art; we can engage in political discourse and action with the sheer impulse of unity with the rest of creation.

Divided, we fall. United, we stand. Thus, we rise and fall, like the sun on its rounds, the tides in their ceaseless motion. The paradox is never quite resolved, except that in our appreciation of it, our universal acceptance, our ongoing participation, it is resolved, just as it is, and should be: one coin, two sides.


“We have met the enemy and he is us.” – Pogo

yin-yangThe interweaving of unity and duality continues in complexity within the dualism. Unity as a container of duality (the yin-yang symbol) is one thing. Look closer and see that there is also a seed of opposites within each side: white within black, black within white.

So on the Is side of the equation, must be accounted the presence of that nagging should. If an all-abiding acceptance of the world is true to its own standard, it will credit also the small voice of protest, of agitation, of advocacy, of righteous anger. The principle is especially true if those feelings are genuine, core, spontaneous, and resonant with supposedly universal values of human and (less commonly recognized) natural rights. But even the caustic cries of the outcasts, the barbarians, pirates, fascists or misguided missionaries have tickets on that Ark named Everything is Already Perfect. In other words, even if everything already is perfect, there is no censoring the eternal critic, rebel, bard or fool who wishes to stir up trouble, if only for the fun of it.

On the Should side of the equation, we might complain that the Is’s already have it, so we should carve out our territory of equal share. Very well… and so admit, too, the pearl of is into the very heart of Should. If our should is good, and the world as it is (documentation proves) evil, we utopians have a problem. As every utopian who’s ever tried it knows from experience. We cannot build a wall high enough to protect our paradise from invasive species; and as we try, the rot creeps from within.

Another, gentler kind of is also infects the walled realm of Should. It’s not just a bad apple, snake or ants, parasite or coiling vine; it’s the grace of surrender. The grace of surrender is so forgiving that it is unconditional. You can cheat by continuing to strive, with efforts to build, renovate, paint—or even tear down—the walls of the Kingdom of Should; and when you rest from your saintly labors, you still can be soothed at the feet of Mother Is (who we might suppose is related to the great Goddess Isis). Being reacquainted with the deep peace and broad acceptance of what is will come in handy, if only for humility’s sake and practical strategy, when the next campaign or manifesto flames to life within the crucible of the all-possible.

cracks in the wall


See also: Revolution Tales (four reviews)

The Politics of Life





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