Saturday, 7 November 2009


What, with one thing and another the phone has been running a bit hot lately, so I used my day off to do a small job for the parish which would take me out of cell phone range: I towed a trailer up to Alexandra to collect a sliding door. The sun shone, the hills were golden brown and the air was diamond sharp. My little car performed approximately well and I listened to a CD of Robert Johnson, the Jungian analyst, talking about paradox, the shadow and creative imagination. I have been reading Robert Johnson's books for a long time now; his little trilogy He, She and We are revelatory and his insights on the inner life have been sure guides. Now, 87, he has produced a CD set called The Golden World which condenses much of his great insight into 6 or so hours of conversation.

Yesterday I listened for an hour as he spoke of paradox, the shadow and creative imagination. We live, he says, for most of our lives with paradox. We fall in love with people we can't form relationships with. We raise children with the sole purpose of making them strong enough for them to leave us. We become enamoured of dreams and visions we cannot possibly hope to fulfill. This concept of paradox is not new to me, as it is the basis of the narrative theory I have been living with for about 20 years. What was new was his way of exploring paradox. Caught in a dilemma between two irreconcilable opposites, he says that our tendency is to label one of the horns of our dilemma "good" and the other "bad". We have one of the options in front of us we would greatly prefer and which on we spend much energy and imagination trying to realise; and the other which we spend a lot of energy denying, suppressing or railing against. He says that most of our prayers are structured this way. His insight is that both horns arise from parts of us that are integral and undeniable. That is, we cannot escape our paradox because it represents, externally, a duality which resides within us. Instead of trying to reduce our paradox to an achievable single focus, we need to honour it. He says we must find a symbolic way of getting the two sides of our particular dilemma into relationship. Both aspects need to be honoured and both need to be given equal weight. Neither needs to be judged or condemned. Robert Johnson's experience is that most of the time, when the two sides of our situation are put into a proper mutually informing relationship they cancel each other out and free us from the tension that exists between the two poles. Allowing both sides of the dilemma to have equal worth and dignity often allows us to fashion a way ahead that enriches the whole of us.

The tool he recommends for doing all this is creative imagination. This can be used in a number of ways but for him the most successful way is to allow each side of the dilemma to speak in an imaginary conversation, which he writes down, taking as much time as the issue demands. It is a difficult process to commit oneself to, but even more difficult is not committing oneself. As he says in owning Your Own Shadow,

" To transfer our energy from opposition to pardox is a very large leap in evolution. To engage in opposition [ie fighting the situation we find ourselves in ] is to be ground to bits by the insolubility of life's problems and events. Most people spend their life's energy supporting this warfare within themselves... a huge amount of energy is spent by modern people in opposing their own situation. Opposition is something like a short circuit; it also drains our energy away like a hemorrhage."

For example. When my free time gets filled with work stuff what should I do? Give both sides equal worth. let them speak to each other. Find a way which honours both work and freedom, such as making a work related trip to somewhere pleasant and out of cell phone range.


Alden Smith said...

I found this post very interesting and would like to read the book. The creative imagination exercise sounds very much like some of the Anthony De Mello exercises in Sadhana - A way to God.

I can't help thinking though that a resolution becomes necessary. In the end a choice needs to be made. In making a choice the alternatives can still be honoured, seen not in terms of polar opposites but rather of one choice that is the 'best fit' but to move ahead, for growth to take place either one or the other alternatives needs to be chosen -trying to maintain the paradox over time sounds a bit like trying to have your cake and eat it too - sustainable over time? - we walk down a hallway, there are many doors that we can go through, they are all open to us as potentialities, paradoxically they coexist as parallel realities at the time we consider them, much of the richness of each choice is apparent at the point of consideration but the not perhaps the 'end game', but we cannot fully engage in the richness of a potential choice unless when we go through one of the doors, and when we do the other doors close - Resolution involves making a choice I think, resolving the outer duality perhaps resolves the inner - non resolution maybe has us in a sort of limbo - like the wood between the worlds in Lewis's "The Magicians Nepthew"

VenDr said...

Of course, not making a decision is making a decision.

There are circumstances we are in where the paradox will never be resolved. Whichever course we take (and sitting tight in the wood between the worlds is one of the possible courses) will have consequences that we must live with - probably forever. We walk down the corridor and choose a door but we still bear responsibility for what is behind the other doors. Robert Johnson is concerned not so much with the decision making process as helping us to come to terms with the paradox - the weight of inner investment we have on both sides of an irreconcilable opposition.

It's on a CD not in a book. I could email you an MP3,or lend you the box set once it has been returned to me by the parishioner who has just borrowed it.

Alden Smith said...

Kelvin, I would certainly like to listen to the CD, so yes, the CD or an MP3, whichever is the most convenient for you would be great -thanks.

Anonymous said...

Living with our personal paradox is what I have for a long time referred to as standing in ones shadow.
It has been a huge relief to me to "meet Robert" - to hear him speak out - clarify foe me, so many things the spirit has lead me to over years.
Than you for your avid reading and sharing that constantly leads us in personal growth and to holiness.