10/08/2013 10:40 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Collapse Your Favorite Duality

How do people get better (existentially healthier)? That is the question that I ask myself a lot. In the course of my clinical work as a psychologist I keep looking for formulas and models and recipes of wellbeing, for ways and pathways and roads to psychological sovereignty. Early in my clinical training I had simplistic notions: "help people change how they think and they will feel better," or "help people express what they feel and they will feel better." Then my ideas got a bit more complicated: metacognitive distancing ("help people learn to step back from their thoughts"), emotional self-regulation ("help people step back from their emotions"). Then my ideas got even more complicated: choice awareness training (I won't bother you with details), duality-based emotional self-regulation (I'll spare you a headache of understanding that), epistemologically-sober reality-testing (don't even ask!). Then my ideas on how to help people feel better started to get Eastern (as I tried to incorporate Buddhist, Vedic, Daoist and Sufi elements into my clinical repertoire). This was both a complication and a simplification at the same time.

As I see it, all this served its purpose. But what about now? What do I understand now about how to help people get better (and more existentially alive)? My current model is as simple and as complicated as it gets: "collapse your favorite duality." Let me give you a taste: Imagine that you and I are standing along a road a mile apart. There is a car traveling from where I stand toward where you stand and right now this car is right in the middle of the distance between us. Question is: Is this car coming or going? For me, it is going (going away from me). For you, it is coming (coming to you). But what about the truth?! What is it really doing? Is it coming or is it going?! That's the question that many (if not most) of us get stuck on: We want to know the truth. I'll tell you the truth (if there is such a thing-less thing): The car is both coming and going.

So, what do we have here? A collapse of duality. Coming and going is the same thing. The car is really neither coming nor going -- it just is, it is just moving past us. The question as to whether it is coming or going is a question that we have created. We have created this dualistic prison cell and locked ourselves in it. A collapse of duality is when you begin to wake up to the specific dualities that you suffer from and begin to consciously let go of them.

For example, many (if not most) fear dying. But living and dying -- just like coming and going -- are just two words for one and the same process. Living is dying and dying is living. It's not just life that begins at birth -- so does death. Is death a re-birth, i.e., a re-death? Yes, no, both, neither, dunno.

See what I am doing here? I am not chasing certainty or clarity or truth. I am discharging a duality. Firing it. Letting it come and then letting it go. What happens next after I do this or you do this? A calmness sets in -- a calm not-knowing.

Same with the artificially dualistic extremes of selfishness and selflessness. The reality is that to help another is to help yourself; compassion is self-care. "Wait a second," you might say: "So, the self-care is compassion?" Yes: When you take care of yourself, we too benefit from your wellbeing. It trickles down, it radiates. "Hmm," you say, still struggling to anchor yourself in some illusory absoluteness. "So, selfishness and selflessness is the same thing, you say?" It is and it isn't. A thing and a non-thing. A thing-less kinda thingy, you know. But yes, selfishness and selflessness -- just like coming and going -- is a matter of perspective. We are all selfish and we are all selfless, and no one is selfish and no one is selfless. Collapse this toxic duality and enjoy the silent sound of one mind no more divided in two.

Same with perfection: We are all perfectly imperfect, doing our moment-to-moment person-specific/moment-specific best that is both good enough and not good enough depending on the mind that subjectively appraises it.

Same with coping: A coping solution is a coping problem. For example, a coping solution (to eat to feel better or to drink to feel better) is a coping problem (you ate too much and now you need to cope with that... by eating; you drank too much and now you need to cope with the consequences of that by drinking more). Yet, as problematic of a solution a particular coping strategy might be it is nevertheless a solution. But still a problem. Or more precisely, both a problem and a solution. And, even more precisely, neither a problem nor a solution -- just what is. And, finally and definitely, up to a point, an unknown as to whether it is more of a problem or a solution.

Find your favorite duality -- the one you suffer from most -- and collapse it. Take the fishing hook of duality out of your own mouth and maybe the liberating Salmon of Doubt (to misappropriate a phrase from Douglas Adams) will leap straight into your frying pan.

Pavel Somov, Ph.D. writes about how to use mindfulness to overcome overeating, perfectionism and self-esteem problems. He is the author of "Eating the Moment: 141 Mindful Practices to Overcome Overeating One Meal at a Time," "Present Perfect: A Mindfulness Approach to Letting Go of Perfectionism and the Need to Control," "Lotus Effect: Shedding Suffering & Rediscovering Your Essential Self." Find out more about Dr. Somov at

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