Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"The Union of Irreconcilables"

Recently, I got hexagram 38 ("Estrangement") when asking about what the heck is going on with me and G. It was the same old story, but what I ended up getting was a puzzle to say the least: the image of fire over a lake, each one pulling in opposite directions. I had no idea how it applied to my situation: Did it mean us? Or was it something I was supposed to do?

As usual I did the best I could with understanding the meaning and then went on with my life... and as usual, when I don't really understand something, something else comes up and sheds light on the issue.


Boxing the sheep

To begin with, I want to go back to von Franz and her exploration of the puer/puella; specifically, with their difficulty in standing tension. The following refers to Antoine de Saint Exupéry's The Little Prince - the scene von Franz is referring to is the one where Saint Exupéry first meets the little prince and tries to draw a sheep at the prince's request. Three different drawings are rejected for one reason or the other, and finally Saint Exupéry just draws a box and tells him the sheep is in the box.
Placing the sheep in the box is not a gesture of escape; rather, it springs from what one might call a certain vital strength in order to be able to stand a conflict. Saint Exupéry wants to get back to work on his engine. Instead of letting him quickly draw a sheep, the star prince bothers him, saying this drawing is not right, not this, nor this, so that Saint Exupéry is torn between the engine and the child, whose importance he completely realizes, and who, in a typically childlike way, bothers him. He feels sure that even if he draws another sheep it won't be right, or there will be a lot of questions, and in reality there is the urgent situation of getting his engine in order. If you take that symbolically, it means a conflict between the demands of the outer and the inner life, which establishes a tremendous tension. How can you comply with the demands of outer reality, which reason tells you is right, and those of the inner life at the same time? The difficulty is that the demands of the inner life need time. You cannot do active imagination for five minutes and then go off and do other things! If, for instance, one is in analysis, dreams have to be written down. This may mean two hours' work to just write them down, which is only the beginning, for one has not yet done any work. One should also meditate on them. It is a full-time job, but very often there are also the urgent necessities of outer life. This is one of the worst and most difficult tensions to stand - to be capable as far as possible of giving each claim what it needs.
(von Franz, Marie-Louise, Puer Aeternus, pages 45-46)

This is yet another feature of the puer/puella, but I didn't make the connection between the reading and this section until I read the following from Jung. Here too was a description of the difficulty in standing the tension between the worlds of the conscious and the unconscious, the demands of our inner and outer lives. Jung goes into more detail about what the conflict between the two consists of, not just the time demands but the radically different worldviews of the two worlds; the rational, ordered world of the conscious and the irrational world of the unconscious. The situation comes up specifically during the circumambulatio, the psychological circling around a central area of focus:
[I]f the life-mass is to be transformed a circumambulatio is necessary, i.e., exclusive concentration on the centre, the place of creative change. During this process one is "bitten" by animals; in other words, we have to expose ourselves to the animal impulses of the unconscious without identifying with them and without "running away"; for flight from the unconscious would defeat the purpose of the whole proceeding. We must hold our ground, which means here that the process initiated by the dreamer's self-observation must be experienced in all its ramifications and then articulated with consciousness to the best of his understanding. This often entails an almost unbearable tension because of the utter incommensurability between conscious life and the unconscious process, which can be experienced only in the innermost soul and cannot touch the visible surface of life at any point. The principle of conscious life is: "Nihil est in intellectu, quod non prius fuerit in sensu." ("Nothing is in the understanding that was not earlier in the senses.") But the principle of the unconscious is the autonomy of the psyche itself, reflecting in the play of its images not in the world but itself, even though it utilizes the illustrative possibilities offered by the sensible world in order to make its images clear. The sensory datum, however, is not the causa efficiens of this; rather, it is autonomously selected and exploited by the psyche, with the result that the rationality of the cosmos is constantly being violated in the most distressing manner. But the sensible world has an equally devastating effect on the deeper psychic processes when it breaks into them as a causa efficiens. If reason is not to be outraged on the one hand and the creative play of images not violently suppresed on the other, a circumspect and farsighted synthetic procedure is required in order to accomplish the paradoxical union of irreconcilables. Hence the alchemical parallels in our dreams.
(Jung, C.G., Dreams, pages 219-222)


The moral dimensions of staying

Standing the tension has elements of both in-born strength or weakness, as well as the moral choice we all have to make. In the section below, von Franz emphasizes the "nature" side of the "nature vs. nurture" equation, while Jung, on the other hand, points to the importance of making a choice and actively coming to terms with the challenge. In fact, it is on becoming aware of one's personal responsibility that it becomes a moral choice.
The weak personality - and I don't mean "weak" as a moral criticism - would imply not being born physically strong. The weak personality reacts with a short-cut response, making a definite decision to do the one and put the other aside. Here, there is an incapacity for standing the tension beyond a certain point. A weak personality has an impatient reaction, whereas a strong personality can continue in the tension for longer. In this case, one sees that Saint Exupéry, after the third attempt to draw the sheep, gives up and makes a short-cut solution in order to get back to his engine. This is an indication of a weakness that shows in certain other features; for instance, the star prince's planet is very tiny, he himself is very delicate, or, to take the first dream, the hero does not come out of the devouring snake; i.e., the mother. Also, if you look at photographs of Saint Exupéry, you will see that he has a very strange "split" face: the lower part of it is like that of a boy of seven, the expression of the mouth is completely immature; it is a naive, little child's mouth, and there is a thin little chin, whereas the upper part of the face gives the impression of a very intelligent and mature man. Something is weak and just like a child; therefore, there are certain tensions which he cannot stand.
(von Franz, Marie-Louise, Puer Aeternus, pages 45-46)
The focusing of attention on the centre demanded in this dream and the warning about "running away" have clear parallels in the opus alchymicum: the need to concentrate on the work and to meditate upon it is stressed again and again. The tendency to run away, however, is attributed not to the operator but to the transforming substance... It did not occur to these philosophers that they were chasing a projection, and that the more they attributed to the substance the further away they were getting from the psychological source of their expectations. From the difference between the material in this dream and its medieval predecessors we can measure the psychological advance: the running away is now clearly apparent as a charcteristic of the dreamer, i.e., it is no longer projected into an unknown substance. Running away thus becomes a moral question [emphasis mine].
(Jung, C.G., Dreams, pages 219-222)

The question here is: Do we really believe we are given exactly what we need? Inherent "weakness" itself is part of our challenge. In those further from the unconscious - i.e., those who are more comfortable in the outer world than the inner - the challenge is to find the strength to withstand the terrifying incursions of the unconscious into one's safe, rational life. On the other hand for the puer or the puella, who lives close to the unconscious, the challenge is to work, to stick it out in in the deadly boring, everyday dreary reality which is so unbearably painful. But the conflict is ultimately the same; the clash between the outer and inner worlds, the conscious and the unconscious.

The two are shadow sides of each other. The extrovert or sensation type is focused on this world. They are willing to work hard to achieve perfection; and yet, because of their pathological aversion to doing anything which is less than perfect, they often find themselves impotent and incapable of achieving anything at all. Anything they do would be imperfect so they do nothing at all. This is G's problem. The introvert or the intuitive, on the other hand, because they can't stand the tension of staying with a thing until it's done well will eventually throw something haphazard together but this is usually after an extended period of doing a whole lot of nothing. So in the end both fail to overcome the tension.

Both G and I have to stand this tension. Also, as a puella, I have to stand the specific tension of staying with unpleasant work. It can be argued that, whether we are aware of the choice or not, we have a moral obligation to make the choice - that the refusal to see the choice is itself a choice. And that, regardless of our personal strength or weakness, in every situation we are confronted with, the choice is always present.


Fire over the lake

"The 'union of irreconcilables:' marriage of water and fire. The two figures each have four hands to symbolize their many different capabilities."




This was the image that Jung chose to illustrate the section I quoted; and it was this picture that got my attention. As soon as I saw it I knew it exactly described hexagram 38. This is what happens when we can stand the tension of opposition. It's after reading all of Jung and von Franz's exploration of what it means to withstand the tension, what it is, what it's for, how to do it, and the necessity to do so that the I-ching reading's mysterious pronouncements begin to make sense:
Hardly have conscious and unconscious touched when they fly asunder on account of their mutual antagonism. Hence, right at the beginning of the dream, the snakes that are making off in opposite directions have to be removed; i.e., the conflict between conscious and unconscious is at once resolutely stopped and the conscious mind is forced to stand the tension by means of the circumambulatio. The magic circle thus traced will also prevent the unconscious from breaking out again, for such an eruption would be equivalent to psychosis. "Nonnuli perierunt in opere nostro": "Not a few have perished in our work," we can say with the author of the Rosarium. The dream shows that the difficult operation of thinking in pradoxes - a feat possible only by the superior intellect - has succeeded. The snakes no longer run away but settle themselves in the four corners, and in the process of transformation or integration sets to work. The "transfiguration" and illumination, the conscious recognition of the centre, has been attained, or at least anticipated, in the dream. This potential achievement - if it can be maintained, i.e., if the conscious mind does not lose touch with the centre again - means a renewal of personality.
(Jung, C.G., Dreams, pages 219-222)

Fire above, lake below.
Amid fellowship, the superior person retains their individuality.

Fire moves upward, water seeps down: When they are quiescent, their movements can unite; when they are in motion, they draw farther and farther apart. But since this movement is a natural one, it comes itself to a turning point when it has reached an extreme.

Usually opposition is an obstruction, but it can also be a polarity: Heaven and earth, spirit and nature, man and woman. When reconciled these bring about the creation of new life. Heaven and earth are opposites, but their action is concerted. Man and woman are opposites, but they strive for union. All beings stand in opposition to one another: what they do takes on order thereby. Great indeed is the effect of the time of opposition.

Opposition is the natural prerequisite of union. As a result of opposition, a need to bridge arises. In the same way, it is the differences between things that enables us to differentiate them clearly, and therefore classify them. This is the effect of opposition, a phase that must be transcended.

Regardless of co-mingling, they will always preserve their individuality. Fire and the lake tend to combat each other, creating opposition, while their attributes lead to it's being overcome. The joyousness of the lake is fellowship, and the clarity of fire is clearly recognizable individuality. The reason the two tend to opposition is that the eldest, whose authority would maintain order, is absent.
(Hexagram 38: Estrangement)

Circling and stillness are the same thing, and they both are what Jung and von Franz mean when they talk about standing the tension. The focus must be keps on the center, where the change is taking place. "We must hold our ground, which means here that the process initiated by the dreamer's self-observation must be experienced in all its ramifications and then articulated with consciousness to the best of his understanding."

"Co-mingling" is the tension of bringing the inner and outer worlds together. Even when they are together they will always be different; it is their difference that creates the tension. However, they carry within them the very attributes needed to transcending the tension: the joy and fellowship of the heart, along with the clarity and ability to discriminate differences of the mind. The reason heart and mind, body and soul, have problems is because Spirit is missing.

Right now, I feel like Hexagram 38 is mostly about me, but some of it is about me and G: G is the outer world. I'm the inner. His movement to me is characterized by coming close then backing off; this is the referred movement of opposites to one another (and followed by repulsion, with attraction once again.) The thing is, G isn't standing the tension. He just let's himself by controlled by his fear and desire. The question is: Am I? Am I doing the same? Or am I doing the difficult work that needs to be done... not moving and standing the opposite pulls?

Is this why I got this when I asked about me and G? Because it's what we need to do in regards to each other; and that shows what we are (or aren't) doing? Do I need to be doing this? I feel like I've moved on from this relationship... Maybe it's because, despite having "stood the tension" and stayed with all the painful feelings, he's still failing to do the same. But, even if it's time for me to move on, this question will still be a part of my challenge. I don't think any of us ever grow past it. Also, it talks about opposition bringing about the need to bridge the differences, to transcend the diferences; this is necessary to bring about the creation of new life. So maybe it is about is... God, I still do not know! I feel like the more I understand about this the more I don't understand it!


I'm having a hard time finishing this post. Everything except for the conclusion came so easily, and this last part is like pulling teeth, so I just banged it out, trying to get out all the thoughts that have been circling in my head. The conclusions are many, but one that stands out is that I'm to stay in the tension. Whether that means in this relationship or simply in life I don't know. What I do know is that this isn't finished yet. I'm sure there will be more to come on this topic in the future!


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