Alchemy of Opposites

I thought when I headed off to southern Africa in early November, I would have a spacious time for reflection, learning, and writing here.  That wasn’t the case.  I was engaged in pretty much non-stop work in various systems.  AND, because I went with the intention of reflecting and learning, I carried that spirit into my work.  I hope this will be the first of a number of posts here.

I started experimenting with a new Mac software — View Your Mind — and it was really help in chasing some ideas down.  What I want to write a bit about today is holding the tension of an alchemy of opposites.

I think that many of us are being called to find our balance in this ecosystem of forces which are seemingly in opposition to each other, but which are each needed to find right direction and right action in these times. We must learn to be equally skillful in the role of midwife and warrior. We must be clear about our intentions and also able to surrender them. We must step into our own power from a place of love. It’s critical that we learn to listen more deeply than ever before, and to speak out without blame or judgment. We need to rigorously apply everything that we’ve been learning and do so from a place of spaciousness. We need to learn to travel the spiral of work that is both planned and emergent.

Calling this tricky is, of course,  a huge understatement. It’s so easy to become trapped in either the upper or lower section of this ecosystem. None of us can let that happen any longer. I’m curious about where you find your self standing and working in this alchemy of opposites and look forward to some holiday discussion here.

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  1. Steve Woodall says:

    hmmm. Fear–Confidence; Exhaustion–renewal; Resignation–Hope; I look for resolution then realize there is none. Sitting with the tension…observing…. No?
    Steve

  2. Ah, the Zen of ethical engagement–brings back memories of another career lifetime, in which Bonhoeffer’s Ethics provided the context for free responsibility, living in the impossible tension between freedom and obedience, where everything is possible, but not everything is helpful.

    Because there is yet one more level to your schematic, a metatension, between desiring to make a difference, but not always (ever?) knowing what that ultimate difference is in a world in which right strives with right and wrong with wrong.

    That’s been some of the emerging-although-not-always-acknowledged wisdom from the recent applications of complexity theory. You weigh up all the relevant factors within the time/resources you have (sometimes only an instant when an emergency arises), determine your direction, and act–and then let go of the action–at whatever point of the specific tension you have chosen–and allow yourself to see anew how the situation has evolved.

    So thanks for the reminder–life in the tension is life in its wholeness. At any given moment–in every given moment–we have a new decision, a fresh possibility for action, an instant of creativity that comes once and never again; we are not trapped save that we trap ourselves by seeking to collapse the tensions.

  3. Thanks Steve and Ken.

    So Steve, it is sitting with the tension AND being ready to act in an instant when you see a way forward.

    I’m reminded of from David Whyte by what you wrote, Ken. The first is of David Whyte’s new book “The Three Marriages” — with a partner, with work and with self. David talks about when any one of those marriages comes to an end, what dies with it is the envisioned future created within that marriage. Hold the tensions in the relationship and the future continues to be possible? Not sure. I just know that when I heard David speak of this death of a possible future, it sent goosebumps across my back.

    Steve, you helped me recall a lovely translation of the Tao Te Ching 15th verse by Stephen Mitchell (2006 version):

    The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.
    Their wisdom was unfathomable.
    There is no way to describe it;
    all we can describe is their appearance.

    They were careful
    as someone crossing an iced-over stream.
    Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.
    Courteous as a guest.
    Fluid as melting ice.
    Shapable as a block of wood.
    Receptive as a valley.
    Clear as a glass of water.

    Do you have the patience to wait
    till your mud settles and the water is clear?
    Can you remain unmoving
    till the right action arises by itself?

    The Master doesn’t seek fufillment.
    Not seeking, not expecting,
    she is present, and can welcome all things

    “patience to wait until the mud settles and your water is clear”

    May it be so for each of us in the coming year, and life!

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  1. [...] But we have to move.  Part of this is, I am sure, learning how to be comfortable working with the Alchemy of Opposites.  All of it, I know is done collectively in community, not individually in [...]

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