Holding the Tension of the Opposites

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Unknown-1You know when you know you just KNOW something? And it doesn’t matter what other people’s opinions are. In fact, further discussion just feels like a spinning of the wheels. Have you ever looked back and wondered about this?

Sometimes you can angst over something for a very long while….waffling back and forth, weighing pros and cons ad nauseum, until you feel heartily sick of thinking about it….but it just keeps creeping back in. Like a stray cat that won’t go away. The tension of feeling undecided and ambivalent – for no good, rational reason – is crazy-making, and it just eats away at the core of you. Your mind becomes even more argumentative, and it could be that you are no longer a pleasant person to be around.

If you look back, and reflect on those times in our lives when you have done this, you realize that one day, for no apparent reason, the clouds just cleared, and you knew what we had to do. What happened? I think it is very valuable to understand that this is a common process in decision-making. Jung talked about holding the tension of the opposites – when the choices feel diametrically opposed to one another in some way. At that point we are caught in the dualistic thinking of either/or, and neither one feels quite right. Feeling pressured by others to make a choice is a suffering. We might also realize that our indecision is affecting others who are also suffering. Some want you to go one way, others think you should do something else. Who should you please?

We all must struggle over the moral and ethical issues, and the feelings of those we care about, but in the final analysis, we only have this life to live (in this body and this personality). Many people have a tendency to shove this struggle underground and deny its existence. This only causes further suffering. Rather, we need to embrace the opposites and hold the tension until our way becomes clear. Don’t move away from it, move towards it.

I sometimes joke that it might be easier if “They” all wanted the same thing of you, but of course they don’t. My old friend Alexander Blair-Ewart used to say, “A third of the people are going to love you no matter what. A third of the people are going to hate you no matter what. And the other third simply don’t care. So you might as well just be yourself.” We always used to laugh about this – it is actually very freeing to think in this way. So, if we are not to base our decision making on what others want of us, then we have to find the felt-sense of ‘rightness’ within.

This process of struggle does deepen you. Kahlil Gibran writes beautifully about this:

The Prophet

And a woman spoke, saying Tell us of Pain.
And he said:
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over the fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

Much of your pain is self-chosen,
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseeen’
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.

By becoming more conscious of the fact that you are in the middle of a very natural life process that requires time and profound patience, perhaps you can learn to become more patient with yourself – knowing that one day you will just KNOW, and the struggle will be over. Jung refers to this arrival as the transcendent third. It is not the either/or of the original dilemma. A third perspective or understanding has come in.

We all come into this life with particular soul-work to do, and our life circumstances provide us with those opportunities, if we take them. In the final analysis, the soul work you have to do is right in front of you, and it is the only work in this life that really matters. When you die, you will know if you have met that challenge or not.

All of your life should be in preparation for that – what else are you going to do with your life? Should you live pretending that you will not have to ultimately deal with this question? I believe that when we cease struggling over an issue, and just relax into our own knowing, we are on the right path, doing the soul work we need to do. But there won’t be a heavy feeling of “should” around it – it will just feel right.

Here is another beautiful poem on knowing; The Journey, by one of my favourite poets, Mary Oliver:

By |2017-01-17T13:51:32+00:00November 30th, 2013|Carl Jung, Self Awareness|6 Comments

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