Holding the Tension of the Opposites
Both talking and thinking.
Posted July 25, 2018 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
By learning to hold the tension of the opposites, we stretch and grow bigger. There is more space for seemingly opposite ideas, feelings and behaviors to peacefully coexist. We become less rigid and more flexible, less judgmental and more tolerant, less fearful and more loving.
Here are some examples:
- I am completely committed to my partnership.
- AND: I know that if I were to experience consistent misery that I would have to leave. I will not remain committed under any circumstances.
- I am passionately committed to my career development.
- AND: I keep a part of my life separate from my career to enjoy my family.
- I treat my parents and siblings with honor and respect.
- AND: If it comes down to a choice between my family of origin and my present family, my allegiance is to my spouse.
- I am devoted to my children and giving them the best possible start in life.
- AND: I save some time and energy for solitude to restore myself and for my romantic partnership to make sure it thrives.
- The Buddhists say to engage in spiritual practice as if your hair is on fire.
- AND: Our spiritual development is the work of a lifetime.
- I feel deeply hurt by the way you just spoke to me with those harsh words and tone of voice.
- AND: I realize that I have something to do with provoking your anger when I acted disrespectfully myself.
- I am afraid to take on this new challenge.
- AND: My commitment is so strong that I will take my fear with me and go for it anyway. I’m willing to risk it.
- I sincerely strive to learn and understand.
- AND: I realize that some things defy understanding and that I need to offer them up to mystery.
These are a few examples of holding the tension of the opposites. When we are caught in either/or thinking, our life becomes narrow and cramped. The tension can be uncomfortable, but when we practice on these little pains, we can be expansive in our thinking. Holding the tension of the opposites is a more emotionally intelligent way of operating in the world. Striving for a more expanded view promotes harmony with us and with those with whom we are close.
When we make a habit out of cultivating both/and thinking, we may be able to prevent breakdowns from occurring. But if a serious challenge presents itself, we are better prepared to meet it. When a serious breakdown occurs, as a protective mechanism, we feel our heart begin to close to our partner. Where the warmth and affection had been, we notice a coolness and distance. Where an ease of interaction previously flowed, there is tension, stiffness, and formality. The content of the mind becomes grumbling, characterizing the other in negative ways. If we pay close attention, we will watch our mind using any combination of derogatory adjectives: selfish, exploitive, dishonest, etc.
It is a demanding discipline to hold the tension of the opposites. It may be true that our partner has negative traits, and their actions may have derived directly from their unconsciousness and lack of skill. But what is also true is that they have beautiful qualities also, just as we ourselves have both. To bring these outstanding positive qualities to mind when we are feeling hurt and protected is holding the tension of the opposites. Bringing our mind into balance promotes the healing caused by the breakdown in trust.
There are powerful forces within us that are often in opposition to one another. It is in the creative synthesis of these opposing forces that we grow bigger. Examples are inner masculine-inner feminine, power-vulnerability, distancer-pursuer, freedom-responsibility, structure-free form, space-closeness, teacher-student, image-authentic self, the myth of independence-the romantic myth, and death of the old form-rebirth.
Because opposites attract, we are drawn to a partner who is developed at the other end of the spectrum more than we are. While we are experiencing the collision of the opposites within our own psyche, they will be played out in a power struggle in our relationship. It is in learning from these polarities through our relationship, and then encompassing both sides, that we become whole.
Developing a higher tolerance for being with uncertainty is the goal. When we put all our efforts into keeping everything tacked down, we lose. In so many periods of our relationship, we really don't know how it's going to turn out. We can hold the vision of our coming through the crisis intact and stronger and wiser than before, committed to doing everything we possibly can, and also embrace letting go, and holding our vision lightly.
Being willing to not know how things are going to turn out is a demanding skill. The mind hates uncertainty. Some couples would rather make a decision to give the relationship up rather than work with the anxiety of not knowing. But it is possible to make a commitment to use what life presents to us to stretch and become more expansive. As we learn to hold these tensions more gracefully, we come to a place where our inner harmony stimulates an outer harmony with our partner, and that’s a state worth striving towards.