Why opposites hold the key to mental freedom

A conditioned perception

We are conditioned to split the world in two, perceiving everything as separate rather than unified. Rarely do we realize that is actually a frame—a conditioned perception—and not objective reality.

The tendency to falsely dichotomize the world can interfere with our ability to navigate effectively because we are using “either or” thinking to explore a “both and” world.

In other words, our internal maps are not matched to the territory of reality. Therefore, we become lost.

Most of us are taught to see life in terms of opposites such as mind and heart, surrender and agency, grief and joy. But what we conceptualize as opposites are inevitably inseparable parts of the same whole.

Splitting the world this way has damaging consequences to our psyches and mental health.


Perceiving the world in these binary terms causes us to pit various elements of our experience against one another, creating a warlike relationship between things that are meant to coexist rather than be at odds.

But, what if we didn’t?

Imagine a shift where mind and heart, surrender and agency, grief and joy were all welcome aspects of our experience rather than enemies at war.

This way of being opens up a connection to the rich and beautiful complexity of life. It allows us to learn to dance with life rather than engaging with it solely from the superficial level of mind.

If we want to embody the human experience to our fullest capacities, we cannot split anything from its other.

Ken Wilber says it best in his book, No Boundary:

“The simple fact is that we live in a world of conflict and opposites because we live in a world of constructed boundaries. Since every boundary line is also a battle line, here is the human predicament: the firmer one’s boundary lines, the more entrenched are one’s battles. The more I hold onto pleasure, the more I necessarily fear pain. The more I seek success, the more I must dread failure. The more I value anything, the more obsessed I become with its loss. Most of our problems, in other words, are problems of constructed boundaries and the opposites they create.”

Effective therapy can change your life.

At My LA Therapy, our mission is to help you become more empowered, awake, and alive.

What's the cure?

The antidote to this way of being is to learn to hold the paradoxes and contradictions of life at once, like notes in a chord, learning from the many traditions that embrace opposites as counterparts and thus do not suffer this unnecessary internal warfare.

We can also learn to be in conversation with our seeming opposites and integrate them, rather than falling prey to the mental gymnastics that result from these psychological splits.

Being in deep study of opposites is one way we can increase our sense of vitality, peace, and wholeness. This wholeness is inherently healing and returns us to a sense of home within ourselves.

As we embrace opposites, we learn discernment: when to let go and when to hold on, when to surrender and when to exercise agency—and when to sit at the crossroads and hold the tension between them until the point when the path makes itself clear.

As we refine this dance and welcome home the split off parts of ourselves, we can step into greater acceptance, awareness, and aliveness. This is an essential part of recovering our wholeness.

That is why I’ve been inspired to curate a once-in-a-lifetime experience centered around reconnecting with the rich and beautiful complexity of life.

Research-based, personalized therapy.

At My LA Therapy, our warm and experienced therapists specialize in anxiety, depression, trauma, & relationships.

Not your average therapists.

At My LA Therapy, our highly-vetted therapists are selected not only for their clinical acumen but for who they are.

Read More from Brooke Sprowl

Research-based, personalized therapy.

At My LA Therapy, our warm and experienced therapists specialize in anxiety, depression, trauma, & relationships.

On this week’s episode of Waking Up with Brooke Sprowl, Nicole Buzzelli and I dive into the exploration of opposites: grief and joy, emotion and reason, and the process of discernment.

Listen by clicking the link below:

Listen to this podcast on:

[Music] hello this is on living with Brooke
Sproul I’m Brooke Sproul and this is my lovely friend and collaborator Nicole bicelli she is a poet author and energy
healer a very powerful woman with a long history in the educational system doing
some very cool work and Nicole and I have really incredible conversations so
we decided to just get online and see what emerges in the spirit of emergence
Theory so what have you been pondering lately Nicole I feel like I’m in a fall
of sorts I know we’re kind of going into fall um yeah I feel like I’m in a season of like
I’ve got a lot of leaves that are coming off hmm yeah I got lots of things coming
off studying things is super uncomfortable it’s interesting this morning I was I’m doing I’m finishing my certification and
Peak Performance and flow Neuroscience training and they were talking today about
um you know authentic growth being not so much adding anything but actually
removing um what’s untrue what’s what’s in the
way and that really squares with you yeah as a therapist because so much of my training is in unconscious uh defense
mechanism recognition and compassionate defense Interruption and kind of Excavating the authentic soul of the
person because for me personally I would show up in the world and you know before
I had done substantial personal work and of course we all still do and I still do show up in this way at times
um and sure and probably in all the time in ways that I’m not still aware of but to a greater extent and more often I
would show up in the world in ways in which um I was using defense mechanisms and
relationships and yeah I feel like then you get negative feedback from others
and you internalize that as something is wrong with me and it’s like no actually it’s not you that is wrong or that’s
getting this negative feedback it’s your defenses but you come away with the message that it’s you and then you end
up doubling down and creating more defense mechanisms yeah because it
promotes a sense of insecurity and self-distrust and so part of the trick
is recognizing no it’s not me that’s being rejected hurt you know Etc it’s
it’s these things that are in the way of me showing the real me yeah and yeah I know that’s exactly what
it is I feel like it’s a that’s exactly what it is it’s getting enough distance from something to see it
as something that’s actually separate from you um
you know I’ve all you know for me it’s like my emotional landscape like I’ll get in
these emotions insecurity Etc fill in the blank right all these things and I’ll be unconsciously inside
of it so I’m like becoming that thing right and so then the trick
the past couple weeks it’s like I keep catching myself I’m like oh shoot I’m in it I’m like in the thing I’m becoming
the thing and the trick then is to like find some sort of neutrality enough not
even like a full like I don’t even need to be fully neutral I just need to be neutral enough to get like enough
distance from it to like see it as something that’s separate from me right like the moment that I feel like it’s
something I can look at I can observe it is when I stop identify I stop being it
right I stop becoming it it’s like that distance and there’s so many different ways to frame that experience like in
cognitive science or Neuroscience we might talk about it as metacognition in like Psychotherapy we talk about it as
the observing ego um as you know in meditation traditions we talk about it as maybe the higher
self or you know there’s all these different ways of framing this experience that you’re having of
stepping outside of yourself being able to disidentify I guess that would be more of the framing yeah
is you know um not identifying with thought or not identifying with the self is probably a
more accurate way of um affirming that but yeah it’s so interesting how so many different
Traditions kind of are pointing to the same things which is different language and yeah um it’s so it’s so important to
you know and this is actually kind of the latest iteration of emergence theory is
um you know one of the dialectics that I’m exploring is between metacognition and intuition so it’s like the ability
to step outside of ourselves and reflect on our behaviors and kind of you know
harness our cognitive and intellectual capacity to understand ourselves but then not without ignoring not not by
ignoring the body you know not by ignoring our Sensations like kind of what is the optimal balance between this
men met a cognitive skill and this bodily kind of awareness
sensation wisdom and talents that we have and yeah I notice that people tend
to kind of Veer towards like they have to choose one yeah and like like this
one’s better this one’s wrapping this one’s better this one’s more spiritual and more grounded and more present it’s like no there’s actually a dynamic
tension between the two and they’re incomplete without one another they’re counterparts
yeah no exactly I find it also kind of feeds the other because
I mean I’ll even kind I’ll put it in this term you know so I’ve been doing
lots of meditation I’ll catch myself I’ll catch myself in a feeling
um and then I’ll sit and I’ll meditate with it try to get that distance get that separation
and lately I’ve been noticing there’s a limit with that I need the body so yesterday I went to
the beach did some stuff there kind of bounced around today I went on a hike
I actually feel like I can’t do one fully without integrating the other one
I can’t just sit in meditation and see something from an awareness I have to
catch myself being the feeling in the body in the moment I am I have to be able to recognize when I’m in something
by the sensation of it oh now I’m feeling this I know how to discern what that is now and then I can go back and
reinforce things in meditation but then I need to go reforce what I’m doing in meditation with what I’m doing
in the body it ha they have to feed each other it can’t be yeah I’ve been thinking one of the
others a lot because there’s such an emphasis um right now and a trend in mindfulness and I love mindfulness I
love meditation and I I use these practices but I notice sometimes in certain mindfulness Traditions there’s
this like over emphasis on the present almost demonizing any other state and I
think a really robust experience of the present moment requires us to engage
with all our past and future in meaningful ways so like you know I have to be in right relationship with my past
to be able to experience a present moment otherwise I have also cognitive interference and anxiety that’s really
preventing my ability to be fully present similarly you know having access or you know quite often I mean
motivationally our goal states are tied to our well-being in the present moment so knowing where we’re aiming having a
higher purpose you know being aligned with a vision for our lives is a part of an optimal experience of the presence so
I’ve just been realizing um on our trip in Italy David White use the term deracinated present and I
thought that was so like that was exactly the thing that I was trying to kind of work out about what it is that
feels incomplete in some approaches to meditation and I think people would argue that no you’re being present to
all of that but in practice that’s not exactly what it how it seems to play out
it seems like it’s like you know there’s a disowning of past and future yeah in a
way that feels potentially uh compartmentalized or
um yeah like I think there’s a much richer way of accessing the present by synthesizing the past and future and
present rather than by simply kind of setting the other two aside even though there’s maybe a time to practice that as
well but I don’t think it’s like the you know the end-all be-all the way that it’s often taught
yeah and I actually think I just see it as kind of like these
lines that we have and whenever I see lines in anything I always I’m like let’s investigate
why we’re drawing these lines between past present and future
they probably all exist at a Crossroads somewhere and are not separate and even
if we can’t maybe always conceptualize it in my
experience of anything that we’re drawing lines in between is that when you start to investigate it the lines
are quite blurred it’s never quite that nothing is separate right and all of the
lines are just where we draw them and you can you can change where you draw them it’s interesting um have you read
the book no boundaries by Ken Wilbur it’s very much in line with what you’re talking about I wish I had it fresh
enough in my mind to articulate it properly but essentially like there’s all these different ways that we can
draw different Lines within and without and when you really kind of look at it you recognize there are no real no
actual lines um yeah I wish it was fresh enough in my mind to be able to like give specifications get the good thing
yeah I it’s actually been um I haven’t really thought of it this
way but I’ve gotten a healing um on my
relationship with time lately I gotta I got a healing on it once I was able to kind of
take that line out between my present and my future I was one of I had this
tendency to always um have this anxiety around making choices
right and I know that this is not unique to me because I’ve had a lot of conversations with this about people recently but this anxiety around making
the wrong choice making the right choice if I choose this one what if I’m not going in the direction
that I’m supposed to be going in or that my higher self wants me to be what if I
miss the sign what if I go left and my sign is over there in the right you know what if I what if what if
and um I had this have you seen did you watch Harry Potter I am the only person in the
world who has neither read nor seen any of like no interest no interest
yeah I started reading like a little bit of it so I kind of know some things but
Muggles you don’t need to talk about Muggles they strike again you’re not supposed to
say Voldemort or something is that the one I can’t I can’t I also can’t discern the difference between the Lord of The
reigns people that start with a V and the ball it’s like they’re it’s all the same okay they’re all the same people
they’re all the same people well so there’s this scene and I guess it doesn’t really matter but it was
it was kind of what I had in my head and this has been in a couple different movies but there’s the scene where Harry
the main character or the other Brooks out there you have no idea I think I got
that part and this girl is talking about so there’s Harry and he is waiting
he’s waiting for someone to save him from the scenario
that he’s in and you know no spoilers in case Brooke wants to watch it later
um he’s waiting for someone and he finally somebody shows up on the other
side of the lake somebody shows up and does the thing that saves him right and later he goes you know the
future he travels he’s you know time goes on later he gets a Time Turner he goes back
in time to that moment and he’s sitting where the person who he saw from the
other side of the lake came to come save him and he’s waiting for that person to show up and they’re not showing up and
he’s like no I know that they’re going to show up because I already experienced this this moment and I know someone
shows up but no one shows up and so in the end he goes and he does the thing and he showed
up for himself it was him you know big reveal with him saving himself and two things I think number one one of the
big things that I’ve been shedding one of the big leaves that I’ve been shedding is the same quality that I
have around waiting I’m waiting I’m always waiting for the sign I’m waiting for something to save
me I’m waiting um and I’ve had so many iterations of this in the past but there’s definitely
this quality of um you know when I was a kid I used to like hang out under doorways
because they’re a good vantage point I could like I could see into multiple rooms at
once and so I would sit there like with my back up against the door frame and I would read or write or just sit and I would just be scanning my environment
waiting for something to happen waiting for a PIN to drop waiting for
X Y and Z right and I think there’s a little Nicole there’s
a part of me that’s still waiting in doorways all the time for things to show up
um and so that’s one of the things that I’ve been kind of looking at trying to get separate from
but the other thing was this you know I uh I’m waiting for something to happen
and I keep getting scared if I get up and go into this room what if something happens in that room that I need to be
there for if I get in this room but if something happens in that room that I need to get there for and so I’m living my life sitting underneath a doorway
and I had this thought one day what if I just assume
that this moment has already happened there’s a place in the universe where the future
has already happened and I’ve already taken care of it and I’ve already made the right Perfect Choice
um and then I don’t have to wait for anything to show up because I know whatever it is that I do it’s already
been done if that makes sense whatever choice I choose is already been made and so it’s this weird like I’m almost using
predetermination as a way to Aid My Free Will if that makes sense
as a way to make choices I love this so much because interestingly so you know
obviously I have emergence Theory and someone sent me a video that some physicists are working on by the name of
emergence Theory it’s fascinating I’ll share it with you but it talks about how from a temporal perspective everything
has already happened and that actually there is a way in which we can access and sort of interface with all time
um energetically spiritually or whatever which is interesting because it’s this like actual it’s not like a new age like
oh physics it’s like an actual research Collective a physicists who are
seriously studying these things and um I think that’s fascinating so I’ll have to send that to you please send
that to me I also need to have them as like my next podcast yes I need to like talk to them but the other piece that
was interesting to me is one that I’ve sort of kind of
gradually begun to embody more of an attitude of what you describe which I
would call Faith really because Faith because I’m I’m now old enough as we
were talking about earlier I’m now old enough to where there are enough times in my life where I’m like oh that thing
went so wrong and I’m devastated and then I look back and I see how it was all orchestrated and the more I
Surrender and accept and allow and trust that everything is a part of a bigger
plan the more that in a way I don’t know if it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy
or if I just see it more clearly or I just have access to that State of Consciousness but my sense is that what
you’re talking about is really a version of faith and I think we you know I think
that we can we access faith in the experience of what it’s like to live
life and character and integrity because the only way that you can have in my opinion or at least in my personal
experience I don’t think that you can have faith if your character isn’t refined properly because because you
can’t trust that you are going to make the correct kind of adjustments and
iterations that are going to ultimately Reveal Your higher self and needs so if
you’re going to just bury your head in the sand then you can’t have faith if that’s your character is to run and avoid and look away then there’s no
orchestration you’re not going to see it that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy right you’re the kind of you know recipient of
fate and predetermination in this kind of fatalistic way whereas when we step
into a more open growth mindset you know internal locus of control we begin to
understand how um each part of our Lives is absolutely
in service of our higher selves I went to and our unique Destiny on what the
world is calling forth from us I worked with an energy healer before I met you who like it was a 30 minute reading but
she um she said something like each moment is your teacher and each and life
life is offering the lessons and it’s so true in each moment I feel like
everything we need is right before us but we just have to learn to see it and
like the lesson is just to again remove those layers well that was the thing I was saying I was going to say earlier
that I didn’t finish the thought of uh the the metaphor in the program that I’m I’m doing the Peak Performance and flow
Neuroscience coaching program was the the statue of the David and how the
attitude was not you know you’re they they go how did you do this and it wasn’t you you add clay and you create
this it was actually no it was already in there you just had to remove it did I say that already yeah no but I’ve heard
this before yeah I’ve heard this or thought like you know when you’re when you are when you’re carving anything
right you have to chip away to find I’ve heard other Carvers wood Carvers talk
about that too the shape is already in there it’s my job to find it and to create it and yeah it’s a
instead of chipping away yeah and then back to this point of you know it’s it’s
already there like you’re already there your destiny your calling your unique experience like it’s already yeah it’s
already in there and all you’re doing is just you know in each moment how can I what do I need to just let go of and
surrender and allow for and then and then there’s this this other dialectic that I’ve been exploring you know in
emergence Theory and in my own personal life around a region agency and surrender right it’s like because you
know and it’s the Serenity Prayer you know give me the strength to accept what I cannot change the courage to change what I can and the wisdom to know the
difference and you know that’s so interesting right because so often our I
think Redemption salvation Freedom lies in surrender but not always sometimes we’re really required to you know have
Agency on knowing when is the time to to surrender and when is the time to
um you know bring forth what feels you know necessary for us goes back to that
other dialectic around metacognition and bodily intuition and sensation right I’m
having a moment having a moment it all connects it always all things it does yeah and they all again they serve each
other right having agency serves when it’s time to surrender and
surrendering serves your ability to have agency they’re not separate things they
serve they feed each other and it’s it’s I think what you were saying
about we have to learn how to see it that’s
that’s an easier said than done like that is a that is a constant commitment
right to commit to learning how to see things and to commit to
lifelong craftsmanship of seeing it’s it’s it’s a craft I I think it’s the
craft of character and integrity though because it’s really just the craft of being committed to truth and when you
are when you are living in commitment to truth above all else not outcome not
what I want to happen but really I am simply going to insofar as I can
iteratively you know excavate what is true to me in my lived experience and my
words and how I make choices and my values you know I begin to uncover the
orchestration so I think the Org the perspective and the perception of orchestration the experience of faith
and trust is a natural emergent property of that character and yeah the
commitment to character and integrity yeah I’m finding a lot of
relief it’s a relief it feels like
I get to put effort on the altar I think I think a lot of people I think most
people I know are doing the best they can maybe not all the people I know but I think most of the people I know are
doing the best they can and sometimes faith is feeling like
us I get to surrender that even like they’re they’re like there seems to be a
relief in not having to think so
not having to spend so much energy being able to take my energy out of what’s the
right choice what’s the wrong choice feels like relief it feels like washing
up on the shore like it feels like relief like Faith feels there’s a lot of relief in it yeah I think that’s the
medicine right now for us culturally that you know in our culture there’s such this masculine you know do uh
produce effort willpower agency like all of the value system or a majority of the
value system in our culture is around those things and there isn’t as much balance and wholeness and
um you know emphasis on the faith the surrender the acceptance the allowance yeah and so I think that’s why there’s
so much relief when we engage in that because we’re not accustomed to having
the permission and we finally give ourselves the permission it’s like water yeah it is it’s like water and there’s
I think what you’re saying is there’s this sense of relief and when you discover the other side of things right
so if you have only been experiencing life through agency and you discover surrender there’s like oh God thank God
there’s another side to this thing and right and then the same is true in the other direction and that’s why there’s
always the yin and the young there’s always the dynamic the dynamic tension which is right in between on the line
between and the way these things interlock together and hold hands yeah
yeah and it doesn’t even I’ve been talking a lot about
um I have a friend and we’ve been talking a lot about [Music] um just coping strategies that we use to
navigate our um emotional Landscapes growing up and my strategy was I find Freedom in
emotions I go into the emotion I find all my freedom and play there his strategy is I find Freedom from
emotions right so I find the distance and we both have gotten to a place in
our lives where our single nature of our strategies isn’t working and we need more tools for the tool belt and it’s
there’s a relief I’m like oh thank God I don’t have to always feel things thank God
you know and he’s like thank God I get to feel things right yeah exactly and
this is dialecticism right it’s we’re on one extreme and then we go to another and kind of hyper correct and then we
synthesize the two and then that becomes a new thing and then we go to the in the week yeah that’s the iterative nature of
it and I think you know it reminds me of there’s this uh episode of Radiolab I think it’s called words I think that’s
what it’s called and it’s fascinating because uh this Neuroscience researcher
it starts with this Neuroscience researcher who’s had a left brain hemisphere stroke and what that means is
that her uh kind of linguistic ability goes away which is where so much of us
live in our culture I think and so uh she she can’t she can’t access words
anymore but she can still like perform her surgeries because that right brain is still intact like she can still kind
of remember things visually but she can’t like she doesn’t know what a kidney is or she doesn’t know what but you know the corpus callosum in the
brain is or whatever um she can imagine things visually but she can yeah the words but she describes
the stroke and the state you know thereafter before she relearned language as so freeing and so yeah and so this
incredible experience and kind of elevates it and then they tell this other story of this person who grew up I
think in South America you know you know many years ago uh before there was and
this person didn’t learn sign language they call him ildefonso I don’t know if that’s that must be a suit on them
um they call him ildefonso and they say he didn’t have uh he he never grew up even with the ability to sign he was
deaf and mute and he didn’t grow up with people to do the sign or speak or anything and uh this this woman is
trying to figure out how to teach him language and she can’t figure out they
show up every day they show up every day they show up every day they show up every day and she can’t figure they and because she’s writing stuff on the board and he can’t understand how it
corresponds and then she has this breakthrough where she decides to act out the role of the teacher and the
student so she goes up and she shows a thing and then she sits down she’s like oh okay and she starts pointing and and
he gets it he like has this moment where he’s like oh there’s a word for the desk like he’s like he’s like
weeping and he later then describes the
experience as like the dark time and he’s like I was so alone I was so
isolated and I remember in at like high school or something this goes back to us being like the elders at like age five
um I wrote something like language is the metaphysical hands through which our cloistered Minds touch fingers or
something like that yeah and it’s just interesting right because both are true
both are true and what I also think about like punditry and like political discourse and like a lot of different
kind of what feel to me like out of Integrity kind of cultural forces right
now it’s that they’re speaking to one part of the truth dialectic they’re
speaking to it without adding the yeah the full the other side it’s not that
what they’re saying is untrue and that’s why it resonates for a lot of people because it’s true but it’s true in a greater context and without that
contract context Things become unbalanced and sick I think what you’re
saying about this um isolated truth or the segmentation of truth right goes
to speak to people becoming the thing which is
rather than being able to separate from it because when you’re able to separate you get the you get the aerial view
right you get the full you get to see the full circle and not when you zoom in
on a circle what you see is a line so it looks like a segment of something when you zoom out you would see oh it’s a
circle and I think the lack of ability to distance from our
feelings um
yeah well the maybe not even just too
distance but to find that optimal balance between connection and distance again because you know the moment that
we we say distance is the answer is like no no like we need that optimal kind of connection distance uh but it’s what the
medicine is right so I recently looked up um the word the etymology of the word medicine and the prefix Med is Latin and
it literally means to take appropriate measure which I think is beautiful because
whatever the specific ailment is you can ask what’s the appropriate measure right
so and that’s going to change the appropriate measure for a heart that is too closed is different than the
appropriate measure for a heart that is too open right so when you’re finding yourself in
too connected and unable the appropriate measure is distance and if you can only
be distant the appropriate measure is connectivity and the wholeness of that
is healing when you’re able to embody the wholeness of it but when you’re stuck when you’re in pain it’s because
you’re stuck somewhere right so find where you’re stuck and then ask what the appropriate measure is to loosen it up
it’s just a constant calibration recalibration conversation I think with
these different um you know aspects of our experience as humans well Nicole thank you so much
okay I’m so so glad we’re able to to connect and really enjoyed our
conversation I hope we can do it again soon yeah see ya

Writer Bio

My LA Therapy - Brooke Sprowl (slider)

Brooke Sprowl is the Founder of My LA Therapy, a concierge therapy practice. With 15 years of clinical experience as an individual, couples, and family therapist, she is trained in a wide-range of approaches, from evidence-based therapy practices to peak performance and flow neuroscience techniques. Brooke is also the host of the podcast, Waking Up with Brooke Sprowl. She is passionate about writing, cognitive science, philosophy, integrity, spirituality, effective altruism, personal and collective healing, and curating luxury, transformational retreat experiences for people who are committed to self-discovery and using their unique gifts in service of the world.

IT Support by SADOSSecure, Fast Hosting for WordPress

Ready to level up your life?