The Tension of the Opposites - Article

The Tension of the Opposites

by Paul Levy

C. G. Jung articulated very eloquently the archetypal descent into the unconscious. He realized that when you go into the psyche you are invariably going to meet "the problem of the opposites." This is that double-bind that is at the root of our self-consciousness. To quote Jung, "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."

Jung says it is crucial at this point to "hold the tension of the opposites." This is the creative tension which creates the pressure in the alchemical vessel. This pressure is the necessary ingredient for the process of transmutation of impure to pure elements in the psyche to successfully occur.

When the opposites first get constellated, there can be wide oscillations between the two polarities; this can at times look like manic-depression. If the person doesn't have a strong enough sense of self, which is to not have a strong enough alchemical container, they will split-off, repress and project out one of the pairs of opposites and identify with the other. Instead of a reconciling symbol arising, symptoms result.

If a person is able to hold both opposites simultaneously, it can be an excruciating experience. Jung points out that, symbolically, this is a veritable crucifixion. This is to be genuinely imitating Christ. To quote Jung "It is no longer an effort, an intentional striving after imitation, but rather an involuntary experience of the reality represented by the sacred legend."

Going through this experience can be very painful to the ego, as the experience itself is about nothing other than the death and transcendence of the ego. This is why Jung says, "the birth of the Self is always a defeat for the ego." As long as one is still identified with the ego, this experience will invariably involve getting in touch with one's utter impotence and helplessness, which St. John of the Cross calls "the Dark Night of the Soul."

When Christ was being crucified, he uttered "My God, why have thou forsaken me?" Read symbolically, this would say that, if Christ himself went through it, even an experience where one feels totally disconnected from God is a Divine moment. And not only that, it is the moment closest to the resurrected body, which is symbolic of the birth of the Self.

Jung makes the point that we are only able to creatively hold the tension of the opposites if we realize that the opposites themselves are manifestations of the Self and are not of the ego. Recognizing this will allow us to not identify with either of the opposites as well as to disidentify with the conflict itself, and by doing this we will be clearing the space for the solution to come. This is the birth of the Self, which is none other than the incarnation of God in and through us. By consciously going through this real life passion play, or in Jung's words, a "divine drama," we become a conduit for the incarnating Godhead itself, which Jung realized was the greatest service that we could do for the divine. This is what Jung meant when he talked about "a broadening process of incarnation," "the continuing incarnation of God," and "the Christification of the many." This is why he defined individuation, the process of becoming whole, as incarnation, for to the extent that we claim our wholeness we allow God to incarnate in this world.

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The purpose of the Analytical Psychology Society of Western NY is to study and share the work of C.G. Jung and related contemporary thought.

In addition to our continuing book service, The C.G. Jung Center is pleased to announce a working relationship with Talking Leaves Bookstore that will greatly expand the availability of Jungian literature in Buffalo.

Since our inception, access to the books we sell has been limited to times when our center is open to the public. As part of our arrangement with Talking Leaves they will be expanding the number of selections by Jung and related authors that they keep on their shelves.

Most of the titles will be at the Main Street store, however a list of what's available will be kept behind the counter at the Elmwood location.

We hope you will take advantage of this greatly increased opportunity to purchase these informative books so full of meaning for Psyche in the world.

APSWNY / CG Jung Center

Analytical Psychology Society of Western New York


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"I have been compelled, in my investigations into the structure of the unconscious, to make a conceptual distinction between soul and psyche. By psyche, I understand the totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious. By soul, on the other hand, I understand a clearly demarcated functional complex that can best be described as a "personality". (Jung, 1971: Def. 48 par. 797)


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