March 30, 2017
Law Eight: We Need the Extremes
Light needs darkness to shine in. Without it, it would just be light shining into more light, which is just light indistinguishable from itself. Right?
Opposites define each other. Like it or not, if we want to experience warmth, we need to have something cold to compare it to. Or, if we would like to know silence, we also need to know loud. This does not mean that we need to jump in a cold lake or clash a cymbal every time we want to experience warmth or silence; instead, it means that we need to be, at least, aware of opposites in order to authentically experience the spectrum contained between them.
Take happiness, for example. The fullness and intensity of our joy in any given moment is felt in direct relation to all of our past experiences with joy and non-joy. In general, we know exactly how happy we are based upon our memories of happiness and unhappiness. We know that we are precisely this happy because we know what it is like to not be this happy—maybe more, maybe less. It’s like a dance where opposites are defining each other, and where when one gets more extreme, so too does the other.
Or, in the words of Alan Watts, “We cannot be more sensitive to pleasure without being more sensitive to pain.”
An awareness of extremes gives us definite points of comparison, things we can point to and say, “Ah, I am definitely experiencing Y because I am aware of XY and Z…and this is not X or Z, it’s definitely Y.” Without two extremes, there can be no mid-point. So, in this way, the extremes co-create everything that is between them.
That is, we cannot have a middle without at least two ends. Right? So, in order to know where the center is, we must first know where the two poles live. (Or, if we are dealing with something more complex, something better suited to a matrix, we need to know the shape of the grid and where its boundaries are.) Either way, we must know what is outer-most in order to locate what is inner-most.
So, outside and inside are two parts of a single whole. We cannot have one without the other. They are absolutely inextricable. Some would even say that outside and inside are the same thing.
In all cases, without acknowledging the full range of our experience, we cannot participate in the fullness of what life may be offering us. If we say, for example, “There are only positive thoughts in my head”, we are denying the other half of that equation—the contrast points, the “non-positive” points of comparison that give us our definition of what is “positive”. That type of denial is dangerous. Not only does it exclude very real parts of ourselves, but it also eliminates our chance to achieve authentic balance in our lives. This is because there can be no true balance until we know what is at either end.
Imagine, for example, a playground with a teetertotter that has no ends—it’s just a board that extends out in both directions infinitely. Not only would that be really weird, it would also be impossible to determine where the balancing point is. In this way, it is the extremes themselves that create and define the center. We need them.
Importantly, as the extremes change, so too does the center-point. The middle and the ends are in constant working dialogue. Neither are ever fixed.
If nothing more, we are wise to periodically remember this Law of Life, as it can put things into perspective and challenge rigid black and white thinking. This matters because so much of life happens in the grays, in the in-betweens. And, if we spend our time focusing on the extremes, which is easy to do, we miss out on the fact that there is an entire range of experiences that we could be having right here, right now. Acknowledging the extremes helps us acknowledge the spectrum, the mid-points, the center—and when we hold that type of awareness, we are more likely to be and feel present in our lives.
Of course, we will visit the extremes in our lives–emotionally, mentally, spiritually, socially, and physically. But, it would be difficult to exist purely in them. So, we need not try to live there. No way. Instead, if we want more clarity about where exactly we are in our lives, we need, at a minimum, to be aware of the totality of what we are working with.
From there, the question becomes simple: Between what extremes am I living?
Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.
Zach Carlsen is the grateful lead blogger at StrengthsLife.com
His strengths of Ideation, Connectedness, Input, Strategic, and Empathy have taken him all over the world. He is an inventor, athlete, joyous wanderer/wonderer, translator, poet, and Gallup Certified Strengths Coach.