Excerpts From the Book

Know Yourself, Forget Yourself

From the Prologue

Over many years, working with my clients and in my own life, I’ve distilled these paradoxes into five core truths. Each represents an important understanding, a vital competency, and a way of living in the world that leads to greater freedom, satisfaction, and effectiveness. They are:

  1. Know yourself, forget yourself
  2. Be confident, question everything
  3. Fight for change, accept what is
  4. Embrace emotion, embody equanimity
  5. Benefit others, benefit yourself

Speaking personally, I’m not happy or satisfied with the idea of paradox. I don’t really want this book to be about paradox; I want this book to be about clarity. Who wants paradoxical relationships, or paradox in business? We all want confidence and assurance. Imagine a stock broker or surgeon or soldier using the word paradox to describe their work. Paradox seems the opposite of clarity, the opposite of action, a nonanswer; for some, a shrug.

In my work life and personal life, I’ve come to realize that embracing what is obvious is not always so easy. Meanwhile, paradox can point to a radical clarity. My hope is that this book will help you see that with paradox comes a kind of clarity that is more accurate, more true, more clear than clear, than what we usually accept at face value. Life and death are a paradox; in our day-to-day lives, we are constantly torn between opposites and dualities, between competing desires and needs. There is no escaping the paradoxical nature of the world. If we accept this, and meet paradox head on, if we work with and penetrate these apparently unsolvable conundrums, the place we reach is insight.

This insight can express itself uniquely in any situation and yet embody universal truths. I have found it useful to distill this work into five core insights. These five insights present themselves as paradoxes, or seemingly conflicting statements, but nevertheless, they hold the keys to right action, effectiveness, and balance.

The five insights we will explore in this book are:

  • The skill, in every moment, to know ourselves fully and forget ourselves entirely.
  • The trust to be confident in the face of doubt and to have the confidence to question everything.
  • The discernment to know when to act to improve our lives and the world and when to accept life as it is, as events present themselves.
  • The openness and capacity to embrace our emotions, our joys and pains, and find calm and composure in the midst of the demands of work and life, in the midst of difficulty and change.
  • The wisdom to turn toward helping others and healing the world, while simultaneously caring for and developing ourselves

These insights are meant to be practiced, not merely understood or studied. Through practice, we can learn to clarify and shift our habits so that we are more successful in our everyday lives. For instance, sometimes the way we protect ourselves brings us unnecessary pain and suffering; we react to our fear and anxiety in ways that cut off or compromise our experience of kindness and compassion. Often, I’ve found, the most effective solutions are counterintuitive: we must allow pain to feel less pain. We must let go of our desire in order to gain what we want. We must heal our spiritual problems to solve our work problems, or our family problems, or vice versa. We must accept that we are all things all at once in the only moment that counts, this one.

More Excerpts

“In my work life and personal life, I’ve come to realize that embracing wha t is obvious is not always so easy. Meanwhile, paradox can point to a radical clarity. My hope is that this book will help you see that with paradox comes a kind of clarity this is more accurate, more true, more clear, than what we usual accept at face value. Life and death are a paradox…”

“Accepting the power of paradox is one of life’s ways of waking us up, shocking us into awareness, so we can find our balance. Again. Waking up can be cultivated, so that it becomes a way of life, so that it becomes our habitual approach to life.”

“I have come to believe that embracing and responding to paradox – turning our assumptions upside down, expecting the unexpected, comfortably holding two opposing viewpoints at the same time, resolving conflicting requirements, and so on – is the key to waking up to ourselves and the present moment and discovering the right thing to do. Paradox is the doorway to insight…”

“Our minds are the most engaged and vibrant when we honor complexity, learn stillness in turmoil, face doubt with confidence, and seek to know ourselves so that we might better serve others.”