The strong human drive to be alive and to pursue wisdom is related to two fundamental and inseparable ways: action and ideas; practice and theory; behavior and reflection. We may think about the two as contrary modes, but they converge at the source, and they seek the same end: to celebrate and improve the gift of life. Rather than speaking of theory and practice, as separate ways we can much better start by acknowledging that one cannot exist without the other. When we fail to overcome the fallacy of this apparent paradox, when we quit exploring the creative connection between the two, then both ends fly apart into madness. Practice flies off into frenzy as a frantic and even a violent effort to impose one’s will over the world; and theory flies off into escapism as intent to fly from the world into a realm of false bliss.
Social Sciences research and very distinguished scholars, point to three types of psychologies that describe the movement that some of us make as we work out the relation of these dimensions of our lives. It takes us from separation through alternation and integration. The psychology of separation is the starting point in which we feel forced to make a choice between a reflective and active life. Because the traditional culture tends to value action over reflection, we often begin by choosing a life of activity that can become frantic, that exhausts and fragments our souls. In this case to have stress is to have status! But when stress overcomes us, and we are drained to keep up the pace, we move into the psychology of alternation, which has been called the vacation approach to life. Exhausted by activity, we take a little vacation to refresh ourselves, then jump back into action until we are exhausted again, then we take another vacation until we renew the energy and the cycle goes on.
Alternation is better than separation, but both psychologies show the mistaken notion that reflection and action are mutually exclusive ways of behavior, and entertain a kind of an artificial ethnical dilemma of moving from one position to the other. By moving from separation to alternation we may save ourselves from a terminal collapse, but we don’t explore the relationship of the two poles of the so called paradox, inhibiting the creative possibility of bringing peace, health and wisdom to the two ways of life. Then our active lives become tense and violent, never transformed by reflection and profound thinking; our contemplative lives remain escapist, never transformed by experience and action.
I have to confess that I have lived a long time with the psychology of alternation, but have been able to move slowly to the third psychology of integration. This is a breakthrough into the paradox and we are more likely to live a productive life if we better understand what happens at this point. The real break-through is achieved by people who throw themselves so deeply into action that no vacation can help them. They become profoundly exhausted and they are forced to give up all efforts to manage, direct and guide their lives. Arriving at this point, the only way out is cultivating a more constructive psychology, in the human and institutional sense.
This point to the psychology of integration where we discover that reflection and action are so coupled that features that we associated with one are always found at heart of the other. Action involves expression, experimentation, discovery and reformation of our lives and of our reality. Behavior is any way we can co-create reality with other beings and with the spirit.
To be fully alive is to meditate, to pray and to reflect, and also to show humility. It is to unveil the inadequate fantasies that masquerade reality and reveal reality, in its richness behind the masks.