January: Starting the Year with a Paradox (a mini-practice)


The start of the year is a time that many of us come back to our writing and other projects with fresh hope and energy.

A new beginning brings a sense of optimism about what we can create, finish and achieve in the new year.

And… it’s very well possible that, before long, a note of dissonance sneaks in. An energy-sapping counter-pull that makes the freshness of a new beginning hard to hold onto. An inner voice that says “you didn’t do it last year, what makes you think you can do it this year?”

Swinging between the hope for success and the fear of failure is stressful and takes a lot of energy. It puts the nervous system on alert and makes us suspicious of our own intentions, desires and abilities.

Navigating hope and fear with a paradox

Such suspicions don’t respond well to reasoned argument or negotiation.

But several years ago, during my coach training, I came across a paradox that has something to offer in moments like these.

It comes as a pointer to connect with an inner wisdom beyond words, in two parts:

knowing that your life is as it should be in this moment

while at the same time holding the paradox of wanting more for yourself.

A paradox like this eludes the thinking mind’s propensity to segment, to order, and to (re)solve.

But we can sit with it, tune into it.

“In the belly of a paradox”

When I sit with this paradox, I find that I can breathe a little more easily. Together, its contradictory parts send a friendly message to my nervous system.

Knowing that my life is as it should be in this moment — I’m not wrong for being where I am. It is okay to be ‘here’. I only need to operate at the scale of the present, going about my writing, my projects, my work, in real time. There’s no need to get ahead of myself.

Wanting more for myself — I’m not wrong for having ambition. My longing to create more, complete more – to be less inhibited by fear so I can give as good as I’ve got… it’s allowed. This longing is a vital, creative force.

The Trappist monk Thomas Merton once spoke of “travelling towards my destiny in the belly of a paradox.”

I like the idea of being carried by this paradox, of travelling in its belly, which I imagine as a space whose walls are lined by, on one side, “knowing that my life is at it should be” and, on the other, “wanting more”.

Touching this side, then that side, reassures me. Both sides of the paradox help restore me to myself.

A mini-practice

Here are some suggested steps if you want to use the paradox to calm fears of failure, while keeping alive your desire for success and progress in the year ahead.

This mini-practice is short – it might only take seconds – but it’s still a practice because you’re creating a moment to connect with both the words and your body.

1. Here’s the phrase once more:

knowing that your life is as it should be in this moment

while at the same time holding the paradox of wanting more for yourself.

2. As you read the words, register the response from your body.

Does it feel as though the phrase can be received, does it ‘land’? If it feels grating, sometimes changing a word or two can make the difference. (For example, you might try changing ‘life’ to ‘writing’ or to ‘progress’ in the first part. Or deleting ‘for yourself’ from the second part.) Our nervous systems can be picky, so try tinkering until you feel that the words can be welcomed.

3. Imagine that both the “knowing that your life is as it should be in this moment” and the “wanting more” exist somewhere in your body. Can you locate where each of them might be?

4. And now, can you sense them simultaneously?

5. What is it like to do that? What do you notice?

I hope this has something to offer you as you accompany yourself into the year. You’re not wrong for being where you are. You’re not wrong for wanting more. As the new year continues to unfold, may the belly of this paradox carry you far!

with love,


Sources: the paradox comes from my training in Co-Active Coaching, an approach that greatly values paradoxes. So does the writer, teacher and activist Parker J. Palmer, from whose first book, The Promise of Paradox: A celebration of contradictions in the Christian life (1980) I got the Thomas Merton quote about travelling in the belly of a paradox.

Image credit: S. Migaj at Unsplash.

Catelijne Coopmans

Catelijne Coopmans

Life coach, interdisciplinary scholar, advocate for inspired paths in and beyond academia.

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