If You Want To Go East, Don't Go West

Wisdom often seems simplistic. The initial response to a truly profound statement may be "I knew that already.” One example is “this moment is all you have”, a statement that is simple to acknowledge but not easy to remember since we constantly swing back and forth between the memories of the past and hopes and fears for the future.

One source of wisdom is paradox, a combination of truths that seem to contradict each other. The physicist Neils Bohr wrote that “the opposite of a correct statement is a false statement, but the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth."  Alcoholics Anonymous is awash in paradox, such as the concepts that “you have to give it away to keep it” and “admitting you lack power is the gateway to real power”.

The Bible is filled with paradox, such as “when I am weak I am strong" (2 Cor 12:10). Similarly, the concept that “the way up is down” is a phrase that means, at least to me, that humility is the pathway to emotional and spiritual growth.

But if paradox is like a pair of scissors that uses two sharp edges to cut a new line, a singularly profound statement can be like a blow from a hammer: one hit is enough to command attention. Again, Alcoholics Anonymous has a number of what are sometimes called “simple rules for complicated people”. One of them is a saying that is both humorous and serious, which is that “if you want to get sober you have to stop drinking” (I also really like “if you want self-esteem, do esteemable things.”

All this came to mind when I read that the 19th century Indian mystic Ramakrishna wrote “if you want to go east don’t go west.”  All too often we engage in behaviors that are not consistent with our goals, and then wonder why we never reach our destination.

But you know that already, right?


Bill Herring LCSW, CSAT is an Atlanta counselor and psychotherapist who helps people deal with the negative effects of excessive or deceptive sexual behavior.

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