Thoughts on dilemma and self transformation in life

In life there are many situations and conflicts that seem to have no solution.  We may try and try but no solution is in sight.  In reality, these seem quite common.  I call the situation where there is conflict that has no solution a ‘dilemma’.   This conflict usually creates tension which often creates pain and despair.

Understanding, and appreciating, dilemma is an important thing to do, I think.  Even from my own experience I can describe how many hours and thought has gone into trying to find a ‘solution’ to various conflicts.   What I learned is that many conflicts in life have no solution.  They just are . . . that’s it. 

I’ve often thought that one of the origins of dilemma is the conflict created by thought.  Human beings are creatures of thought.  We are made up of thoughts.  Our view of the world is nothing but thoughts.  But thought, by its nature, is restrictive.  It limits our minds to a ‘concept’.  But a lot of things in life cannot be limited to a ‘concept’.  Our minds are trying to scale everything down to a ‘concept’ but life cannot be scaled down.  This causes tension within us.  In some respects, this is the dilemma. 

In addition, thought does not contain the passion of life.  It can describe the passion of life, but it’s not the passion.  As such, thought actually alienates us from the passion of life which, in turn, creates dilemma.  Thought robs us of the experience.

I found that many conflicts that I thought were a psychological problem or a situational problem really weren’t.  They just seemed that way.  I also thought that way because, being brought up in the western intellectual tradition, I sought for the ‘thing’ that caused it, the ‘answer’.  But there was none.  Getting upset with someone, for example, seems like they were the cause.  But were they?  Many times it is not them but the dilemma within me.  A lot of the dilemma within us comes out in little situations in life.  In these situations it often seems like something else caused it other than us.  Very often something or someone else is the obvious and logical blame.  But blame is not the point at issue here.  It’s our reaction.  Our dilemma within makes us react in a way that reveals the conflict.  If you watch you can often see that our reaction is the problem, not the situation or the blame.

Life, overall, is really a dilemma.  When we are born we are born into a world where there are no real total solutions.  In some respects, there is no answer to life.  We may think there is but there isn’t.  Always, there is that ‘something’ that we can’t put our finger on, or that pain we can’t locate.  It’s always there.  There’s no escaping it.

For many of us, the fact of dilemma can cause great pain and strife for us.  Some people don’t seem to be bothered by it as much.  This shows, of course, that there are great differences in reaction to this situation. 

I often feel that it’s good to develop an attitude of accepting dilemma in life.  Be aware that it exists and accept it.  This is not an easy attitude to develop though.  You could say it takes a lifetime.  Accepting dilemma and getting used to its presence in life is a really good trait to develop.  As I said above, there’s really no use in analyzing and looking for solutions . . . you’re not going to find any. 

It’s not uncommon for some dilemmas to require a long process of ‘coming to terms’.  This process usually comes in stages, such as awareness, anger, depression, resignation, and acceptance.  It can take years to go through the process.  It can also be a painful process. 

I’ve also found that it’s good to reflect on dilemma but not with the intention of finding a solution.  In fact, it seems very beneficial to reflect on the ‘fact’ of the dilemma.  It’s true that dilemmas are often dilemmas because they hit to the core of our being.  That’s why it can be so beneficial.  Oftentimes, though, reflecting on a dilemma can feel like holding a hot ember in your hand, so painful can it be. 

Perhaps that is a good analogy of dilemma – a fire.  Dilemma is a fire within us, ever burning.  When a fire burns it just ‘is’.  There’s no reason or solution or answer for its existence.  And dilemma is like fire in that it just ‘is’.  It’s also like fire in that it destroys in order to exist.  By this I mean that it causes pain and despair.  But remember that, in destroying, the fire is sustained and puts out light and heat.  This is the great power of fire.  And, though it may not seem like it, dilemma is actually like that, a fire.  For, in many ways, the ‘fact’ of dilemma is the ‘fire of living’, a result of having to live and be someone.  As a fire slowly eats through the wood rendering it to ashes, so does dilemma do the same to us.  But it does not do it all in vain.  The fire of dilemma is, after all, the fire of life.  How many times have I heard it described that to truly live is to be like a fire or a flame?  How many times have I even said that? 

Accepting dilemma, in a way, is like accepting life.  This may sound easy but it’s not easy to accept life. Very few people grow to accept life, in actuality.  Accepting dilemma is like accepting the fire of life and becoming it.  By becoming it we are transformed by it.  We become something else than what we were.  Here, in some respects, is the great mystery in life.  Dilemma, in many ways, is a call for transformation of self.  It is ‘life calling’.  Do you think you can accept this call?  Do you think you can accept transformation?  The pain of dilemma is really nothing but the transformation, the changing that is happening within us.  It’s like life is trying to force us into a new shape.  Sometimes that’s like trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

But this transformation is ongoing.  You don’t honestly think it will just ‘end’ do you?  It goes on and on, endlessly, as long as we live.  Why?  Because life requires us to continually transform.  We are never complete.  We are never in a final form.  This means that dilemma is ever present, ever existing in our lives.  This means there is no ‘solution’.

I should point out that transformation is seldom a profound experience.  There are times when it can be a life changing experience, a ‘great revelation’.  But, most of the time, its hidden behind the normalcy and commonplaceness of life.  It often goes by unnoticed.  Very few of us realize its even happening.  Perhaps that’s a great thing to seek – being aware of our suttle and silent self transformation?  In many ways that’s true.  A lot of philosophy and religion involves this theme – the noticing, acknowledging, and anticipating of self transformation.  It teaches us to ‘watch’ . . . to ever watch ourselves.  They teach us to be aware and to experience.

It is one thing to be aware of dilemma but can you embrace it and immerse yourself in its fact?  Dilemma is a passion, a great energy, a great force that is within us.  Immersing yourself in this passion – the ‘Great Immersion’ – is no easy thing.  A person approaches it like entering a hot bath.  First you put your toe in, then take it out.  You put it in again, then take it out again.  Then you put it in again and slowly put your foot deeper into the water.  Perhaps you may have to take it out again?  But, after repeated tries, you slowly get into the water.  To me, the ‘Great Immersion’ is just like that.  A person must get used to it over a long period of time from repeated efforts.  And make no bones about it – dilemma entails the feeling of a conflict.  Expect it here.  

Immersing yourself in the dilemma, you step out into the unknown.  For in the dilemma are no answers, there are no statements, no philosophies, no dogmas.  Within the dilemma is the unspokenness of life.  Here, life has no words.  Can you live without words?  Can you ‘be’ without words?  It may sound simple but it’s hard.  One way to embrace the dilemma is to go somewhere quiet and sit.  Do not speak.  Do not think.  Do not see images.  Do not feel anything.  Such a simple thing.  Such an easy thing.  But, yet, I might as well try to move the world.  Sitting in such a way takes great energy.  It requires a drumming up of strength within us.  Never has anything entailed so much of my being than this act.  Never has so much of my self been so involved in an act than this.  And, in this silence, death is found.  Death of our old self . . . and what pain that can be.  Do you think you have the strength to kill your self?  Who does?  It takes years . . . it takes years.  And within this silence, this death, a new self is found.  A new awareness is discovered, which is disclosed by this new self.  And, yet, this self must be destroyed again . . . again and again and again.  The endless cycle of life.  And, through all this, you must remember that life just . . . ‘is’.

For, it seems to me, that dilemma requires us to experience life, not to talk about it or reflect on it.  In effect, it is asking us to cease being thinking, feeling creatures but to become experiential creatures.  To be an experiential creature means we live, really, at the moment.  Each moment changes and as each moment changes our self changes.  As such, it requires a continual changing of the self.  This, it seems, is hard on us.  Frankly, it’s too much.  I don’t think anyone can do that indefinitely all day long every day of their life.  No one can live in the ‘now’ and be totally experiential.  We need occasional refuge into our thoughts, our concepts, our beliefs, our notions of things, our perceptions of ourselves, etc.  Like all things, we need a balance.  There is a time to be experiential, there is a time to think, there is a time to feel, and so on.  Taking such in turn seems to give a fullness in life.

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