One of my favorite Whitman quotes from Song of Myself goes like this:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes)
When I first read this in high-school, I remember feeling a little flutter in my chest as if my heart was bouncing up and down and singing “Yes, yes yes!” You know that feeling when the sunrise hits the dew on the grass just the right way and what was once another lifeless lawn in a row of suburban monotony becomes a forest of sparkles? Or when the sky turns that creamsicle orange at sunset? That’s the feeling I had reading this poem. I couldn’t name it– and that made it all the more special. All I knew was I felt everything; I could feel my whole soul in between those parentheses.
Whitman’s bold declaration of contradicting himself is something few of us have the courage to do. Most of us hate being wrong; we hate having our inconsistencies pointed out; we hate contradictions because we hate opposition. Opposition is viewed as inherently “bad.” In order for something to be “good,” we think it should be consistent. It should be logical, linear, and coherent. Even though we live in this winding multiverse of space and time, our brains are so hardwired to think chronologically that we can’t fathom any disruption to this false sense of symmetry we’ve confined the universe to.
If we acknowledge that the world around us is multidimensional then, we, as the inhabitants of this cosmic playground, are also multidimensional–so why try to contain ourselves to one way of being throughout our existence? If we contain multitudes, as Whitman says, then shouldn’t it make sense that our very being is filled with what we perceive as contradictions? We don’t question why winter turns to spring or why the moon wanes and waxes. We know there’s a reason for these transformations and that life as we know it wouldn’t exist without such. We also know that there is plenty we don’t know–why is the expansion of the universe accelerating? And why does it exist in the first place? Each new discovery leads us down an infinite rabbit hole of questions and each question forces us to reevaluate our previous answer. For us humans, life is nothing but a series of paradoxes and contradictions. The minute we think we have it figured out, we’re thrown a curveball; and since we’ve been programmed for linearity, we call it foul-play. We think we’ve struck out.
What I love most about Whitman here is his acute self-realization. To study one’s self is daunting, precisely because it leads to these so-called contradictions. But getting caught in these mysterious webs of identity and existence can actually be freeing. To swing from rope to rope is much easier (and enjoyable) than walking across the tightrope: we tip-toe anxiously from point A to point B struggling to maintain balance. Baby step after baby step, we stare down at our feet, scared to look up; we think falling is fatal because we don’t know what lies beneath us– and there’s nothing we resist more than the unknown. So while our eyes are focused on what’s below, trying to make our movements precise and almost robotic, we miss the outstretched hand in front of us. We miss the comforting beauty that envelopes us like a warm embrace. We spend our whole lives scared to fall, scared to change, and never realize that there’s a net at the bottom waiting to catch us when we fall.
We’re allowed to be contradictions. We’re allowed to change like the leaves and tide. Every moment in time is different and our failure to recognize this leaves us feeling stuck on that tightrope. If we are truly present, we can embrace that uniqueness of each moment, meaning we can exist as we should according to the here and now. If others don’t understand, simply say, “I contain multitudes.”