Posts Tagged ‘transcendent function’


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.

Read Full Post »