Posts Tagged ‘Opposites’

Queensboro Bridge Construction

“[The] symbol of the creative union of opposites … points … forward to a goal not yet reached. … the archetype, because of its power to unite opposites, mediates between the unconscious substratum and the conscious mind. It throws a bridge between present-day consciousness, always in danger of losing its roots, and the natural, unconscious, instinctive wholeness of primeval times.”

C.G. Jung (CW 9i, par. 293)

The union of opposites is a powerful archetype for individuals and the collective. Jung’s words state that the process of bringing opposing forces together lies in the future. Psychologically, the union that stretches out before us is the connection of our conscious directed life with our instinctual self. It is as if we need to be constantly reminded that we are animal that our being-in-the-world is deeply rooted in this earth. With our development into highly technological beings we seem to have lost this connection to our animal nature. Jung’s words also point out that the archetype builds a bridge between our present being and that of ‘primeval times.’ In the process of bringing together the opposites we reconnect to the un-dividedness of our primeval past. We are not talking about our historical past, which was written by us, but a past extending into the evolutionary depths of time.

The result of this reconnection is to find something that was lost within. Jung (CW 9i, par. 285) says that, “… all uniting symbols have a redemptive significance.” What is redeemed in reconnecting to our ‘primeval times?’ I would say a re-membering, a re-collection of our selves into wholeness. Our outer directed search for fulfillment turns inward to redeeming our lost other.

Jung uses the image of a bridge to describe the process of reconnection and redemption. This is an apt image for we speak of bridging differences, or building a bridge across our divides. Interestingly the word metaphor means to build a bridge. Finding metaphoric images in the world  builds bridges within us and in the world at large. These are powerful ideas. If ever we needed to be building bridges it is in today’s world. Everywhere we look we perceive gaps, abysses, canyons calling out for a bridge to mediate between the opposing sides.

When I consider the polarizing political bickering in our nation’s capitol, including division around the issues of national budgets, health care and climate change, I feel despair. Most troubling this week is our apparent inexorable movement towards building the Keystone pipeline, which will result in terrible regional and global destruction. We seem to have lost our ability to throw bridges across our ideological divides in order to avoid destruction. Our inability to build metaphoric bridges across our collective divides illustrates an inability to imagine. For imagination is a bridge building activity and we are sorely lacking in this creative construction process.

It is easy to fall into a sense of despair when so little is happening, so few bridges are being built. Perhaps we can take heart in the fact that this mediating process is essentially archetypal. It is not solely up to us to build these bridges for deep within our primeval unconscious exists the need for bridges to be built. Called or not, bridges will be built. I end with the words of a well-known bridge builder…

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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anima mundi

“Everything requires for its existence its own opposite, or else it fades into nothingness.”

C.G. Jung (CW 11, par. 961)

The theme of opposites runs throughout Jung’s writings from beginning to end. Clearly this concept was extremely important to him, given the pervasive appearance of the opposites in his works. Opposites are archetypal given their universal appearance in so many myths and religions. I believe it is perhaps the central element to his psychology. For it is out of the tension of opposites that the third arises. Here the third is an image, or symbol that holds the solution to the tension of opposites. This transcendent function – for it transcends both the rational and irrational – is an innate process within the psyche.

If ever a concept like the transcendent function was needed, it is in today’s oppositional world. Everywhere we look we see conflict: religious, political, racial and interpersonal. We feel frozen by these various conflicts. How can we ever move on given so much disagreement and strife? How do we come to any resolution in the midst of these wars? Jung points out that the existence of opposites is absolutely natural. We would not know warm without cold, up without down, or in without out. We know what feeling better is because we know what feeling bad is like. So, we must accept that opposites compose the world as we see it. However, Jung also states that beyond this perception of opposites lies the third, the symbol that creatively unites and holds both poles. Often this is the solution that we cannot see with our limited view.

It takes time for the third to appear. We don’t get to choose when the solution presents itself. Our job is to consciously hold the opposing forces within us and let the tension between these conflicting elements cook within us. This is a real challenge. We so much want the conflict to be resolved preferably by us being right or perhaps for the other to just go away. But this rarely happens in life. The conflict sticks around and wears on us. So, what to do? I believe in these difficult times the best we can do is try to view things through the opposing perspectives and wait for the unconscious to aid us. In this world, where the unconscious is so marginalized, it is difficult to accept this position. We want to fix it. We don’t trust the unconscious or are too impatient to wait for a message to percolate up from the tension. Note that we are not passing the buck in just holding and reflecting on the opposites, for this is real work.

I encourage you to reflect on one conflict that you are facing and approach it in terms of holding the opposites. Can you identify the opposing forces and consciously hold them? Perhaps associate an image with each pole and view these images from multiple perspectives and then… wait. Wait patiently to see what happens.

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