Saturday, May 15, 2010

Opposites, the Creative Instinct, and Our Unique Identity

an article by Lawrence H. Staples

the problem of the opposites

Jung recognized that the problem of the opposites is one of the most formidable obstacles to psychic integration. Even when we are able to integrate opposites there remains substantial tension between them. If the integration is so complete that the opposites literally merge, consciousness, as we know it, disappears. Consciousness of life depends upon the tension of opposites. So the problem is to bring them close together without a total merger in which one or the other of the opposites would lose its identity. This is indeed a challenging task.

To complicate, but also clarify, the problem of the opposites, I would like to share with you a quote from Jung that contains what for me is his most profound insight on the subject of guilt and its relationship to human existence. Jung said, “The one-after-another is a bearable prelude to the deepest knowledge of the side-by-side, for this is an incomparably more difficult problem. Again, the view that good and evil are spiritual forces outside us, and that man is caught in the conflict between them, is more bearable by far than the insight that the opposites are the ineradicable and indispensable precondition of all psychic life, so much so that life itself is guilt.”(1) It is important here to note that “side-by-side” for Jung does not mean a merger, mutual absorption, or synthesis of opposites.

The idea that life itself is guilt is based upon conceptions of how human consciousness works. As noted earlier, consciousness itself depends on the existence of polar opposites. Guilt, therefore, which attempts to keep us from our “evil other,” is closely related to the formation of the opposites in our psychic anatomy.

the creative instinct

Fortunately, there is a powerful tool that can help us resolve the problem of the opposites. This tool is creative work. Creative production in art, as in life, depends upon bringing two opposites, the masculine and the feminine, into close enough proximity to produce a “child”(i.e., a book, a symphony, a painting, etc.) without losing the identity of the opposites that created the “child.” When we begin to do creative work, we connect to the deepest forces that govern all creation. It connects us to God, to the self within, to put it in Jungian terms. Reflected in our language is the Judaeo/Christian idea and belief that God and the creator and sustainer of all existence are one. The words God and Creator are in fact interchangeable in English as well as in other Western languages, such as French and German. The ultimate product of this process of psychological, inner creation is a stronger ego that increasingly approximates a reflected image of the Archetypal Self, which is whole and contains all of the opposites.