Duality occurs when it is perceived that two aspects of something are separate from, and in opposition to, each other. All of our schemas from the moment of birth have developed around the conditioning of this binary state of mutual exclusion. It informs all of our perceptions and belief systems about ourselves and our environment and because these beliefs inform our expectations; our external world and everyone who inhabits it, continues to reflect back to us that we are separate from, and in opposition to, everything that exists outside of us.
Thousands of years ago, earth-centered cultures lived in harmony with the natural world because their inherent cosmologies and subsequent creation stories identified that they were an integral part of their environment; no greater and no less than a rock, a tree, a mountain, a bird, a deer or a spider. Everything they did, including relationships, ceremonies, government and education reflected this central theme. As a result, concepts such as balance, integrity, respect, reverence, and gratitude were easily embodied and as natural as breathing. Inclusion rather than exclusion was a way of being that permeated the individual on a cellular level and informed all behaviors, relationship dynamics and one’s overall quality of life that was always imbued with a sense of purpose and belonging.
Historians and philosophers believe that dualism originated only a few centuries ago through the Cartesian, philosophical and Newtonian, scientific view of the Universe and that prior to the cosmologies that developed from these mechanistic worldviews, we experienced 'thinking' and 'being' as identical. Descartes's famous quote, cogito ergo sum, 'I think therefore I am', identifies the fundamental split between consciousness that thinks and consciousness that exists. Within such a paradigm, we, as a species, have developed the ideology that mind and cognition are self-evident of our superiority to all other life forms on this planet and that those life forms exist solely for the purpose of sustaining us on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level. These mechanistic and dualistic cosmologies have led to the exaltation of the human and our increasing alienation from the natural world which continues to influence our need to have dominion over it by excavating, controlling, manipulating, and exhausting all of our natural resources. What has now become self-evident is that our continued participation in, and conformation to, the Dualistic Paradigm propels us closer towards self-destruction.
Good/Bad, Right/Wrong, Heaven/Hell, Masculine/Feminine, Love/Hate, Pass/Fail, True/False, Black/White, Life/Death, Reward/Punishment, Internal/External, Sane/Insane, Yesterday/Tomorrow, You/Me and Light/Dark are just some of the dualities that reflect our participation in this binary state of mutual exclusion. Competition, dogma, opposition, poverty, exclusion, control, disparity, identity, hierarchy, conflict, manipulation, violence, and excess are all expressions of the Dualistic Paradigm and inform all of the pain, suffering, and separation we perpetuate and experience in ourselves, our loved ones, our communities and our countries.
Separation is the seed of all suffering and sets us up to participate in, and be conditioned by, the Dualistic Paradigm or, as I like to call it, The Control Drama. This existential sense of being separate from everything that we perceive exists outside of us is always being informed by our awareness that our time in this body and on this planet is finite. We are the only organisms that have this awareness and it sets us up to focus primarily on either the past that no longer exists or the future that hasn’t happened yet. Without this awareness there would be no such thing as emotional instability or mental illness because all of the distortions we experience that inform these various expressions, including anxiety and depression, come from our unconscious attempts to mitigate loss by grasping at and holding tightly to whatever and whomever makes us feel safe and secure. All of our wounding and trauma is perpetuated by others as we grow from infancy through vulnerable and critical stages of development in environments that reflect the chronic fear that stems from these survival issues. As a result, our schemas develop around unconscious beliefs that include the need to control or be controlled in order to feel safe and secure.
Throughout history, man-made dogma has been expressed through all organized religions as a means of controlling large populations of people through fear and threats of punishment in the after-life in the event that we are unable to conform to the current model of man-made, moral or ethical codes. Those of us who are compliant are promised unimaginable rewards. Within the Dualistic Paradigm these different outcomes of reward and punishment are usually experienced as love and acceptance or judgment and rejection while embodied, and referred to as some version of heaven and hell in the after-life once we've shed our body. Consequently, conformity would seem to be the key to survival while spontaneity appears to be a dangerous course of action.
As a child and family therapist, I am always aware of how this deeply internalized paradigm manifests within the systems that have been put in place to address the mental, emotional and physical needs of the individual navigating every stage of development throughout the span of a lifetime. I notice it mostly because they don’t appear to be particularly effective if the individual is not conforming to an increasingly narrow bandwidth of what would meet the current criteria of ‘acceptable’ or ‘normal’. Remember, the Dualistic Paradigm is by its very nature exclusive so if you don’t conform then the reflexive response is a collective projection identifying that you suffer from either immoral, criminal or pathological tendencies. Once that happens there is usually an attempt to restrain the individual either chemically with medication or physically with incarceration. This would explain why 49 million Americans are currently taking psychiatric medication and why the United States now has incarcerated 2.2 million of its citizens; a 500% increase over the past 30 years.
The most obvious example of this conditioning in action can be seen in the experiences of our children from pre-k through high school attempting to navigate the current academic system. What I find most intriguing is that as the child develops, he or she begins to model the existential angst that comes from their inability to conform to the dualistic conditioning inherent in this particular system. It begins with emerging adolescence and the dawn of meta-cognition when the individual begins to experience conformity as an equivalent to death. Without realizing it, they are defending their right to exist beyond the boundaries and confinement of the Dualistic Paradigm that projects onto them that their inability to conform is evidence of some inherent flaw that will limit their ability to be successful in getting their needs met throughout the course of their lifetime.
The reason why I enjoy a great deal of success working with this demographic is because I understand what’s occurring in their environments that is negating them and challenging their ability to be in integrity with themselves in response to the distorted messages and unrealistic expectations being projected onto them daily by administrators, teachers and parents. It’s amazing to experience the deep sighs of relief and increased engagement in response to having reflected back to them that there’s nothing wrong with them, that they’re not freaks, and they just need to learn how to successfully navigate their environments in a way that does not have them feeling diminished or negated. Adolescence trying to function within the Dualistic Paradigm is a perfect storm which is why this developmental stage is primarily defined by drama and crisis. If we, as adults, were able to recognize the degree to which we’ve conformed to our own conditioning we would be much better equipped to parent, teach, and mentor them. Our teenagers are our ‘truth tellers’ and we have much to learn from them if we could only allow ourselves to listen and accept them without feeling the need to defend our position. More on this subject will be explored in the article “Parenting the Adolescent”.
The good news is that it appears as if a much more holistic paradigm of consciousness has begun to emerge and that, once again, the scientific model of the time is reflecting these new beliefs and shifting paradigms. Quantum Physics is beginning to replace the mechanistic view of Newtonian Physics and is teaching us with every new discovery that we are intimately interconnected with our environment and everything that inhabits it which also includes the understanding that we can change what is outside of us by simply changing ourselves. Much of this awareness is an integral part of what has guided my own healing process as well as informed the healing that I am able to facilitate for my clients. In order to be balanced, whole and healthy one must move beyond the conditioning that has taught us that we are separate and apart from anything that we perceive exists outside of us. As long as we are oriented to looking outside of ourselves in order to identify what and who in our environment is causing us pain; we will always be trying to manipulate and control our environment in an attempt to minimize our suffering. In order to move beyond this dualistic orientation that has us stuck in the identity of victimhood, we must be able to embrace inclusion; beginning with ourselves. It is critical that our attention be directed primarily inward towards the self to heal whatever judgements that are being defended that reinforce the internal ‘splits’ and subsequent fear and anxiety that informs all of our personal and professional relationships including our relationship with the self.
If more of us were to engage in a self-exhaustive process of healing the imprinting and subsequent ‘splits’ that we hold deeply at the cellular level and defend daily; then we would be able to move beyond the fear-based expressions of the Dualistic Paradigm. Competition, opposition, exclusion, control, disparity, conflict, manipulation, violence, and excess would then be replaced with cooperation, inclusion, balance, acceptance, integrity, respect, reverence, love and gratitude. If we were able to heal ourselves at the cellular level, our external world would then begin to reflect back to us this internal paradigm shift resulting in all of our perceptions, behaviors, relationship dynamics, and quality of life being imbued with a renewed sense of balance, purpose and belonging.