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.