We are conditioned to split the world into categories, perceiving everything as separate rather than unified. Rarely do we realize that is actually a frame—a conditioned perception—not objective reality.

The tendency to falsely dichotomize the world can interfere with our ability to navigate effectively because we are using “either or” thinking to explore a “both and” world.

Most of us are taught to see in terms of such opposites as mind and heart, surrender and agency, grief and joy. But what we conceptualize as opposites are inevitably inseparable and inextricable parts of the same whole.

It may seem hard to believe, but this way of thinking is a construct and not real or objective. And splitting the world this way has damaging consequences to our psyches and mental health.

Why? 

Believing in false dichotomies causes us to pit various complementary elements of our experience against one another, setting up a warlike interior within ourselves.

But, what if we didn’t?

Imagine a societal mindset shift where mind and heart, surrender and agency, grief and joy were all welcome aspects of our experience. Think about it:

Death supports the regeneration of life by recycling energy. 

The act of surrendering to the unknowability of the universe supports the development of our agency by teaching us to drop our negotiations with control. 

Grief supports the nurturance of gratitude by reminding us of costs. 

If we want to embody the human experience to our fullest capacities, we cannot split anything from its other.

That societal mindset shift starts with each of us. Collective actualization can only begin with the deeply personal.

Ken Wilber says it best in his book, No Boundary: 

“The simple fact is that we live in a world of conflict and opposites because we live in a world of constructed boundaries. Since every boundary line is also a battle line, here is the human predicament: the firmer one’s boundary lines, the more entrenched are one’s battles. The more I hold onto pleasure, the more I necessarily fear pain. The more I seek success, the more I must dread failure. The more I value anything, the more obsessed I become with its loss. Most of our problems, in other words, are problems of constructed boundaries and the opposites they create.”

The antidote to this is to learn to hold the paradoxes and contradictions in life at once, like notes in a chord. We can learn from the many cultures that embrace opposites as counterparts and thus do not suffer this unnecessary internal warfare.

And we can also learn to be in conversation with our seeming opposites and integrate them, rather than falling prey to the mental gymnastics that create these psychological splits. In fact, learning to engage in a conversation with the dynamic tension between opposites offers life its texture and its pulse. 

For example, rather than vilifying our emotions and assuming our logical minds should run the show, we can learn to integrate the wisdom of both, learning when logic is called for and when we should tap into the intuitive wisdom of our bodies. In doing so, we integrate the split off parts of ourselves, allowing each part to serve its rightful and necessary purpose in our lives. 

This process of discernment and integration can reduce depression and anxiety, increase our authenticity, and deepen our interpersonal connections and ability to relate to others in meaningful ways. Not to mention deepening the richness of our connection with ourselves and our relationship with life itself. 

To embody the human experience to our fullest capacities, we cannot split anything from its other. Being in deep study of opposites is one way we can increase our sense of vitality, peace, and wholeness. And wholeness is inherently healing.

As we embrace opposites, we learn the discernment of which wisdom to call upon: when to let go and when to hold on, when to surrender and when to exercise agency—and when to sit at the crossroads and hold the tension between them until the point when the path makes itself clear. 

As we refine this dance and welcome home the split off parts of ourselves, we can step into greater acceptance, awareness, and aliveness. 

On this week’s episode of On Living, Nicole Buzzelli and I dive into the exploration of opposites: grief and joy, emotion and reason, and the process of discernment.

Listen by clicking on the link below:

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Writer Bio

Brooke Sprowl is the Founder of My LA Therapy, a concierge therapy practice, and My Truest North, a cross-disciplinary coaching and consultancy firm specializing in mission-driven entrepreneurs seeking greater integrity, spiritual awakening, and deeper ways to actualizing their higher purpose through collective service. With 15 years of clinical experience as an individual, couples, and family therapist, she is trained in a wide-range of approaches, from evidence-based therapy practices to peak performance and flow neuroscience techniques. Brooke is also the host of the podcast, On Living with Brooke Sprowl. She is passionate about writing, cognitive science, philosophy, integrity, spirituality, effective altruism, personal and collective healing, and curating luxury, transformational retreat experiences for people who are committed to self-discovery and using their unique gifts in service of the world.

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