Pairs of Opposites

I hold his essence and amorphous shape,
Till he with Order mingles and combines.
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Conventional P-B thinking regarding pairs of opposites is of only passing interest.  We begin this article by descending into a more profound realm through depth psychology and into the process of awakening itself. Jungian analyst Laurens Van der Post gives us our point of departure. “Although man and woman unite they nevertheless represent irreconcilable opposites which, when activated, degenerate into deadly hostility. This primordial pair of opposites symbolizes every conceivable pair of opposites that may occur: hot and cold, light and dark, north and south, dry and damp, good and bad, conscious and unconscious.”

The following are examples of pairs of opposites that can appear in our dreams, the collective shadow, or that can influence the reactions of our false self. We will learn in this article that like the false self they are illusions and must be transcended.

Health        Disease          Wealth            Poverty
White         Black             Christian         Non Christian
Male           Female          American        Indian or Oriental
Youth          Age                Knowledge     Ignorance
Beauty        Ugliness

Like all the relative “things” in P-B, pairs of opposites exist only in the human imagination and therefore have to be approached mindfully. David Hawkins expresses his insight simply and clearly. “One can really see that even the terms ‘good’ or ‘bad’ refer in their origination to what is really merely human desire. If something is desired, it becomes a ‘good,’ and if undesired, it becomes a ‘bad.’ If human judgmentalism is removed from observation, all that can be seen is that form is in constant evolution as ‘change,’ which is neither intrinsically desirable nor undesirable.”

“While this may seem like the sheerest Pollyanna, nevertheless there is no evil in basic terms. This does not mean that you do not meet with the effects that appear evil, but as you each move individually through the dimensions of your own consciousness, you will understand that all seeming opposites are other faces of the one supreme drive toward creativity.”

Seth has just made the all-important point that it is fundamental to our nature to distinguish between illusion and reality and that will not naturally happen unless we use our free will and choose individuation, Jung’s term for awakening or becoming conscious. “The conscious mind is a maker of distinctions. It brings to the surface of awareness whole gestalts of previously unconscious material, then assembles and organizes it in ever-changing form. Through purposeful focus, a literally infinite amount of such data can be unconsciously sorted; then only the desired elements will emerge.”

An early American proponent of what came to be called “New Thought,” Warren Felt Evans (1817-1889), understood the key role that the mind plays in creating a worldview. “Evans has little to say about evil. He appears to have regarded it as only the negation of good. A clue to his view may be seen in his definition of pain ‘pleasure misunderstood.’ Man, he says falsely views it as an evil, and by thinking so makes it so. ‘But pain is always a good, and all good is in its nature and essence pleasant and delightful. A thing is to us what we think and believe it to be.’ In the same vein he continues, ‘Loss is gain, sorrow is joy and death is life.’ So disease has existence only as a misbelief. From this, it would seem, one might infer that evil is only unrecognized good.”

To give an East/West balance to our insight on the central role played by our identification with our mind (false self) and body in creating our experience, we add this observation by the Buddhist Gunaratana Henepola. “When you bring ‘me’ into the picture, you are identifying with the pain. That simply adds emphasis to it. If you leave ‘I’ out of the operation, pain is not painful.”

Looking more deeply into the whole matter of opposites past all the illusion we find a process that most of us are unaware of. It turns out that the only pair of opposites is consciousness and unconsciousness, True self and false self. Jung confirms this intuitive insight in his conclusion that “the primary pair of opposites: [is] consciousness and unconsciousness.”  We are either awake and living in the present moment or we are not.

At the heart of creating consciousness is the process of transcending the illusion of the pairs of opposites. “Before the soul can be perfected and fully liberated it must have become equipoised in consciousness between all the pairs, being equally indifferent to either of their components.”

We will now focus on the relationship between the pairs of opposites and the psychology of creating consciousness from a Jungian perspective. The synthesis of the True self and the false self (ego) is what Edward Edinger describes next. “The union of opposites in the vessel of the ego is the essential feature of the creation of consciousness. Consciousness is the third thing that emerges out of the conflict of two-ness. Out of the ego as subject versus the ego as object; out of the ego as active agent versus the ego as passive victim; out of the ego as praiseworthy and good versus the ego as damnable and bad; out of a conflict of mutually exclusive duties—out of all such paralyzing conflicts can emerge the third, transcendent condition which is a new quantum of consciousness.”

Edinger, a Jungian psychiatrist, interprets individuation in the context of the Christian myth. “This way of putting it reveals the fact that the symbolism of the Trinity refers psychologically to the creation of consciousness. Father and Son, like God and man, are opposites which collide on the cross.”

“The divine opposites that were separated by Christianity into the eternal antagonists, Christ and Satan, are now beginning to be reunited consciously in the vessel of the modern psyche.”

“[The human] vessel leads to the important idea of being a carrier of consciousness, i.e., an incarnation of transpersonal meaning. Two main archetypal figures have represented this idea in world culture, namely Buddha and Christ. We are fortunate to have two such figures. With two comes the possibility of comparison and objectivity. As long as there is but one figure embodying supreme value he can only be worshipped but not understood. With the presence of two we can discover the separate third thing which they both share; understanding and greater consciousness then become possible. What Christ and Buddha have in common is the idea of being a carrier of consciousness. Characteristically, the image emerging in the West represents the standpoint of the ego and that deriving from the East speaks from the standpoint of the Self. Together, they reveal a pair of opposites. The crucified Christ and the meditating Buddha represent consciousness as agony and consciousness as tranquil bliss—total acceptance of the bondage to matter on the one hand and total transcendence of the world on the other. United they picture the two sides of the carrier of consciousness.”

Both Jung and Edinger relied on dreams to provide insights into their analysand’s complexes. The uniting of the pairs of opposites as Edinger found, “is not generally a pleasant process. More often it is felt as a crucifixion.”  The opposites are initially experienced as painful and paralyzing conflicts, but enduring and working on such conflicts promote the creation of consciousness and may lead to a glimpse of the Self as a uniting or a synthesis of the opposites. “As Jung says, ‘all opposites are of God, therefore man must bend to this burden; and in so doing he finds that God in his “oppositeness” has taken possession of him, incarnated himself in him. He becomes a vessel filled with divine conflict.’ This is precisely the “divine service which man can render to God” and which, according to this dream, is what is required for salvation.’”

“The psychological function of knowing or seeing requires first of all that undifferentiated, diffuse experience be split into a subject and an object, the knower and the known. This primordial division of original oneness corresponds to Erich Neumann’s description of the separation of the world parents. The separation of Father Sky from Mother Earth, or light from darkness, is the original cosmogonic* event marking the birth of consciousness as the ability to know. As Neumann says, ‘This act of cognition, of conscious discrimination, sunder the world into opposites.’ The ego separates from the pleroma [the spiritual divine nature or divine plenitude of being; also the condition of fullness or abundance], the subject of knowledge and the act of knowing thus becomes possible.”
(* pertaining to the origin of the cosmos)

“The original cosmogonic process of separating subject from object must be repeated with each new increment of consciousness. Each time the ego falls into an unconscious content it can become conscious of it only by an act of separation that allows the ego to see the emerging psychic content and thus become disidentified from it.”  In the practice of meditation this is called becoming the observer or witness.  It is the observer who often has the insight into Oneness as the authentic narrative. Once that paradigm shift occurs then The Point of Power Practice empowers each of us to disidentify with our unconscious content by choosing not to react to it. At this point of choice, consciousness is created or the opportunity to create consciousness is missed.

Entering the mind of C. G. Jung can be challenging and it is best to remain open-minded and hold his opinions lightly. “It is the view of the Church that human consciousness, represented by the priest and congregation, is confronted in the Mass with an autonomous force that transcends and transforms it.”  Simple Reality holds that an individual must, according to principles of self-reliance, in a context of silence, simplicity and solitude, enter a process of Self-realization mediated not by any institution or individual but by one’s own Essence or True self.

“The healthy individual is one who is capable of seeing both the light and the dark side of his nature simultaneously, thus being freed of the control of the opposites.”   We would rephrase this to read: “The healthy individual is one who is capable of seeing the illusion of the opposites” (i. e. that there is no good and bad). A synthesis of the good and bad makes possible transcendence to a higher level of awareness.  Thus is consciousness itself created.

“Jung names such a turnover, such a transfer of leadership from the conscious to unconscious factors, enantiodromia, a ‘running the other way,’ which is a term borrowed from Heraclitus, who taught that everything in time turns into its opposite. ‘Out of life,’ Heraclitus wrote, ‘comes death and out of death life, out of the young the old, and out of the old the young, out of waking sleep and out of sleep waking, the stream of creation and dissolution never stops.’ The idea is fundamental to Jung’s psychology, and applies, furthermore, to all pairs of opposites: interchanges not only of the four functions but also of those two contrary dispositions of psychic energy that Jung termed Extraversion and Introversion.”

“The two opposite forces, nature and spirit, are considered to exist together in the psyche and to be responsible for its self-regulation. The conflict between ethics and sex today is analyzed as a struggle to give instinct its rightful place as a creative power in our lives. In a discussion of religion, the concept of one God, paradoxically both a creator and judge, is an expression of a profound psychological truth in its tension of opposites, a truth that defies logic. The function of all religions is viewed as providing a spiritual counterforce to instinctuality. In the first half of life with its biological and instinctual orientation, man can usually afford to expand his life. The older man, on the other hand, is oriented toward culture, since the diminishing powers of his organism allow him to subordinate his instincts to cultural goals. It is observed that there is an almost total lack of guidance for this extraordinary important transformation of energy from the biological to the cultural form.”  Simple Reality provides this “guidance.”

“The process of individuation [is the] discrimination between self [True self] and ego [false self].”

“The immature ego nature is abolished by the widening of the circle of consciousness, making psychic paradoxes conscious and resolving sources of psychic conflict.”

The Lord turns my darkness into light.   2 Samuel 22

We conclude Jung’s observations about the pairs of opposites. “It is concluded that good and bad are relative and only meaningful when considered within the human sphere. The self [True self] is defined as the result of the union of these opposites and represents psychic totality. This unity is represented by the God image in religion. The Gnostics are credited with being among the first to seek systematically the symbols of the self, since they were ruled by their natural inner experience.”

Eckhart Tolle is an example of a contemporary mystic who demonstrates that a profound understanding of the pairs of opposites has remained consistent over time and place. Interviewer: “Is it right to say that it is your lack of ‘reaction against,’ your acceptance of the opposites of this world, that brings about changes in the way the opposites manifest? [Tolle]: Yes. The opposites continue to happen, but they are not fueled by you anymore. What you said is a very important point: the ‘lack of reaction’ means that the polarities are not fueled. This means, you often experience a collapse of the polarities, such as in conflict situations. No person, no situation is made into the enemy.”  Choosing response instead of reaction “collapses” the polarities of the illusion of the pairs of opposites thereby creating consciousness.

“The entire phenomenal universe exists because of the tension between the opposites. Hot and cold, growth and decay, gain and loss, success and failure, the polarities that are part of existence, and of course, part of every relationship.”

Thomas Moore in his book Dark Night of the Soul, adds a richness to our exploration but remains consistent with the insights of our other sources. “It was popular during the European Renaissance to make images showing the paradox of youth and age. You find a turtle with a sail on it, a butterfly on a crab, a figure with the head of an old man and the body of a baby. People wore medallions with cryptic sayings etched onto them, such as senex-purer (old-young), matura celeritas (mature-lively), and speed-patience. A popular motto, festina lente (hurry slowly).”  “Opposites weave back and forth into each other, like a thousand yins and yangs interpenetrating.”

“The entire phenomenal universe exists because of the tension between the opposites. Hot and cold, growth and decay, gain and loss, success and failure, the polarities that are part of existence, and of course part of every relationship. We cannot get rid of polarities on the level of form. However, you can transcend the polarities through surrender. You are then in touch with a deeper place within yourself where, as it were, the polarities no longer exist. They continue to exist on the outer level. However, even there, something changes in the way in which the polarities manifest in your life when you are in a state of acceptance or surrender. The polarities manifest in a more benign and gentle way.”

“The polarities themselves cannot be removed, but one could say, the whole universe becomes somewhat more benevolent. It’s no longer so threatening. The world is no longer perceived as hostile, which is how the ego perceives it. Every human life is made up of the light and the dark, the happy and the sad, the vital and the deadening. How you think about this rhythm of moods makes all the difference. Are you going to hide out in self-delusion and distracting entertainments? Are you going to become cynical and depressed? Or are you going to open your heart to a mystery that is as natural as the sun and the moon, day and night, and summer and winter?”

“And we are left with a great battle, not between good and evil, but between really living and just pretending. Both the righteous and the evil avoid life. They don’t have the subtlety to understand that good and evil are the yin and yang of existence. Anyone passionate about life is neither all good nor all evil.”

“It is an alchemical image, finding an effective container so that the opposites of chaos and order can meld into something livable.”

And indeed, we are neither good or evil at all but perfect. How to experience that perfection is our challenge and one that we are all capable of achieving. How to do that moves into the concluding portion of this article beginning with cautionary advice from of Deepak Chopra.

“Nirvana is the release from karmic influences, the end of the dance of opposites. For the sake of keeping society together, religions hold it as a duty to respect goodness and abhor evil. Hence a paradox: the person who wants to be liberated is acting against God. Many devout Christians find themselves utterly baffled by Eastern spirituality because they cannot resolve this paradox. How can God want us to be good and yet want us to go beyond evil?”

“If you spent every moment turning every thought and action to good, you would be just as far from enlightenment as someone who used every moment for evil.”

Perhaps we intuited and experienced the perfection of Creation in the past or in simpler cultures more readily than we do today. “The Elgoni [African tribe] believed that all things created by their god were good and beautiful, and when asked about the predators which killed their cattle replied, ‘The lion is good and beautiful.’ As for illness and disease, ‘You lie in the sun and it is good.’”

The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.   Shakespeare in “All’s Well That Ends Well.”

As Shakespeare put it “nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” In the words of the Buddhist philosopher, Seng-tsan, “The concern between right and wrong is the sickness of the mind.”  There is no “problem” with life, no pairs of opposites, because there can’t be anything fundamentally “wrong” with perfection.


*   See also Good and Bad

References and notes are available for this article.
Also find a much more in-depth discussion of Simple Reality
on this blog and in published books by Roy Charles Henry.

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