On the Polarity of Things

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

In life we too often focus on the foreground, and forget the background. We view things in space to be more real than the space itself. We forget that things can only be things when there is something which is not a thing, the space. Conversely, space can only be space when there is something that is not space, the thing.

I have been going on many bike rides recently and find myself struck by the beauty of these pink, flowering trees. I find their inspiring majesty almost too much to take, and am often forced to look away for a few moments to prepare myself to take in their magnificence.

Everything is a teacher, and these trees are no different. It is these trees, the handful or so that I pass on my ride amidst the thousands of others I pass daily, that have given me all trees. I realized that these trees were only as beautiful as they are, because all trees did not share their qualities. The thousands of green trees I pass are what give me the pink trees! The pink trees are only pink because there exist those trees which are NOT pink.

This polarity is so rudimentary, so unimaginably fundamental, that it often goes unseen. This brings to memory the old parable of fish and water…

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

The most obvious, most absurdly recognizable phenomena in day to day life often become the hardest to remain consciously aware of. The polarity of things is no different.

Good people can only be good if there are those people who are not good, or what we call “bad”. Bad people are only bad because there exists those people who are not bad, or what we call “good.”

Sunny days are only sunny because there exist days that are not. Without rainy days, there would be no sunny days. They would simply be.. days.

This defines that. And that defines this. Opposites define themselves.

Alan Watts broke through the illusion of polarity when he stated:

“Really, the fundamental, ultimate mystery — the only thing you need to know to understand the deepest metaphysical secrets — is this: that for every outside there is an inside and for every inside there is an outside, and although they are different, they go together.”

It is important to realize that we so often define ourselves by what is in opposition to ourselves. If we were all the same, we would have no sense of “I”. It is when we diverge from our fellow man that we begin to derive a sense of identity, and that identity is only made possible because there exists others who do NOT share THAT identity.

I am only “good” because there are those who are “bad”. I am only loving because there are those who hate.

I am considered joyful because there are those who are apathetic. I am someone who works hard because there are others who do not.

I am me because you are you. And you are only you because there are those who are not you, me.

This define that. And that defines this.

Us vs. them is only made possible because for there to be an us, there must lie a group in contradiction to us, or what we call, them.

I rode through an orchard the other day, and saw a sea of trees, each as unique as the next. Some were tall. Some were short. Some thin branches, some thick branches. Some had apples, some had flowers. I did not look at each tree and say, “Well this tree is wrong. This tree only has 8 branches and the one next to it has 9.” Nor did I fault some trees for being smaller or taller than the one next to it. I didn’t think that this tree over here was any less of a tree because some tree over there had more apples. The trees were trees. And that was it.

Now suppose these trees had consciousnesses, and we could hear their thoughts. Were we to hear one tree complaining that it was too short, or that its trunk was too thick, we would find this completely absurd. A tree is a tree. And we only have the illusion that one tree is lacking because we view another tree as being abundant. But this identification can only exist with a second tree, and this is where our illusions begin.

People are no different. Now when I look into a sea of people I view them just as I did the trees. They are just people. None are better or worse than anyone else. They are all just people. And this person can only be “fat” because there exist other people who are “skinny”. And this person is only tall because there exist others who are short.

There are no better or worse people. Just people.

The polarity that exists between all things is so obvious that we forget it exists. But it is polarity which give us unity. We are only different because there exists something of which to be different from. And it is this difference that bonds us.

We are all just trees in the orchard.

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