Skip to Navigation Youtube Instagram

" The world is mud-luscious

and puddle-wonderful "


Solve et Coagula 2: The Impossible Relationship?

December 16th, 2013

Building on the ideas in yesterday’s post:

We may fear change or we may embrace it, but the planets turn, life goes on, the Great Cycles continue.

These cycles move Nature and our lives through death and rebirth, through containment and release, through holding on and letting go. The seed pod tightens and hardens around its precious cargo, then it breaks and releases the new life into the waiting earth.

Here is the problem that confronts us – personally, politically, and spiritually:

We need to be held. We need containment, structure, discipline, tradition, focus, continuity, direction. But we also need release, freedom – we need to break away from all those things, to taste the Nameless Way: to experience no boundaries, no doctrines or dogmas, no hierarchy, even no direction.

Some of us resolve these apparently contradictory needs by opting for one or the other, because to hold the tension is too difficult. The tension between these two impulses can produce agony in personal relationships, tragedy in political circumstances, and in our spiritual or religious lives it confronts us with a major challenge.

In our personal lives we can feel torn by the desire for union and the desire for separation: the yearning to unite with someone and the yearning to be whole and complete in ourselves, being torn between wanting the containment of relationship and wanting the freedom of having no relationship: trapped in the dilemma of wanting to walk into and out of the room at the same time.

On the political stage this tension is most dramatically seen in the current situation in the Middle East where the tension between the tight grip of control and the desire for freedom and release is being played out in often tragic ways. This same interplay exists at the level of economics: too much control and it’s a disaster, no holding and it’s a mess.

On the spiritual stage the opposition is found in the need we can feel for the holding, containment and guidance of a defined spiritual path, rooted in tradition. We want to feel some sense of authority, in the best sense of that word. And that authority comes from tradition, structure, doctrine, and defined practice.

And yet we also yearn for liberation – to break free from labels, from specific religious affiliations, from everything that limits us and holds us.

If there is a new spirituality that is trying to be born it must reconcile these two dynamics. If we opt for the containment, the safety of the old, at its extreme we retrench into Fundamentalism. If we opt for liberation from containment and seek nourishment wherever it is to be found, at the extreme we end up feeling lost without an anchor.

Are we talking here about the Impossible Relationship – irreconcilable dynamics that are somehow destined to forever undermine our personal, political and religious lives?

The challenge is this: how can we take the tension and use it? How can it become a fulcrum rather than a ring-pass-knot we try to untangle or a trapeze we try to walk? We can find a clue as to how we might do this in a study of highly effective creative people carried out by a psychologist called Richard Coan. He found that at the heart of a range of abilities they possessed, lay the ability to move between two apparently contradictory modes of being. These people were able to be very open: freeing themselves of restrictions and limitations by having open hearts and open minds. But they were also capable of being highly focused, creating specific boundaries and objectives in a precise and determined way.

Here of course we have the two great dynamics: Yin and Yang, or in western symbology, the chalice and the blade, Excalibur and the grail. The chalice opens out in ever-widening circles to encompass all creation, the sword defines and protects.

The effectively creative person is able to let go, to break free of the limitations of prejudice, of definitions, of certainty; but they are also able to work with the container they have chosen: the limitations of their media.

So within creativity we can say that the trick is to learn how to move, as if in a dance embodying containment and release, between these two modes of being, effortlessly producing great works of art and beauty. How easy to say, how difficult in practice!

But to me this strongly suggests a way forward, and we can ask ourselves how we can apply this understanding to the emerging new spirituality, or perhaps less ambitiously, to our own spiritual lives: accepting our need for containment, for tradition, for structure, and a the same time recognizing our need for liberation and the unbounded.

12 Responses to “Solve et Coagula 2: The Impossible Relationship?”

  1. Very wise observations, well-expressed, worth meditating upon. What about Buddhist philosophy? I’m not sure, but doesn’t it somewhat disregard opposites and propose a “middle” way?

  2. Brilliantly said, all of it. This subject came up recently in an ‘argument’ of sorts on line, a less then thirty something speaking loudly about how ‘no one needs rules’ in the new paganism – my objection being that those any older are still in the web of the old paradigm, and with more than twenty years experience I have been assaulted by these folks pleading for the likes of Nine Noble Virtues or some type of ‘bible of Our Way’, because they simply can not find a way to function without strictures. You’ve said here what I could not find a delicate way to say, ie., there is no spiritual growth locked in such restraints, nor is there much growth without boundaries. Great post.

  3. “…wanting to walk into and out of the room at the same time.” Beautiful description. It’s like wanting to enjoy the excitement of starting a task and the release of tension that comes with finishing a task simultaneously. Neither starting or finishing is better than the other, the dance is being attuned to whatever part of the process is currently at the forefront without wishing to be doing the other. Not to mention the space in between which is neither starting or finishing. Your post will help me with dancing better.

  4. Maybe it’s about becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable and vice versa….as we bump along our spiritual/personal paths, it seems we are guided sometimes by welcome disciplines and sometimes by unwelcome ones. Eventually the desire for these constraints falls away at the point where we don’t need them anymore. Then I think we become free.

  5. The middle way yet again. It is interesting to note that the Buddha “got it” when he let all the methodologies go. Of course, he was sitting under a tree at the time………

    Brilliant post

  6. Ohh a co-incidence! This digest talks in parallel to a design course I am studying, and here are some quotes from it that capture the essence of what caught my attention. This flux between states is all around us it seems, perhaps it is a natural as the in and out breath?

    Quote 1:
    Tim Brown, the CEO of the design company IDEO, describes design thinking as both divergent and convergent in nature. We are divergent when seeking out and creating new choices and ideas. We are convergent when making choices based on the information and experiences we have gathered. Thus design thinking relies on the to and fro between ‘analysis’, when problems are broken into their component parts, and ‘synthesis’, when ideas are put together. This process can make you feel that the more you know, the more you don’t know, and that you are moving further and further from an answer!

    However, this is the essence of creativity. For some people, particularly those who like to know answers upfront, it can be the most frustrating process in the world. However, persevere with this process and the fog can lift. Surprising, interesting and creative ideas may emerge.

    Quote 2:
    being genuinely creative means that you don’t know what you’re doing, even though you are responsible for shepherding the process. Engage the design process with patience. Accept uncertainty. Recognize as normal the feeling of lostness that attends much of the process. Don’t seek to relieve your anxiety by marrying yourself prematurely to a design solution. (M Frederick, 101 Things I Learned at Architecture School)

    Thank you for the digests, Nic

    • Nicole – those quotes are fabulous. It’s amazing how one idea can be expressed in so many different ways and can apply to so much – using it for design is another avenue that had never occurred to me, but of course it’s perfect and applies to creativity in general. The divergent/convergent way of thinking about it is very helpful – gives it a sense of movement, direction.Thank you!

  7. The analogy I have come to use for several years now is riding a surfboard. The boards structure defines the limitations but it also provides us with the equipment to ride the tides of life, allowing us to change direction, to ride the currents and eddies. We can expend time and effort to construct our board and that is needed to create our vehicle with which to experience. The board sometimes requires modifications for particularly difficult navigation, other times, a light touch is required. For me, life is about learning to ride the currents of existence.

  8. Great post, Philip! w/many fascinating points. Yes, and each contains a seed of the other, a dynamic Unity. Many threads to the Dance… (& this also reminded me a bit of T.S. Eliot’s famous lines in his “Four Quartets” poem) — enjoy!

    “At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
    Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
    But neither arrest nor movement.
    And do not call it fixity,
    Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
    Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
    There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

Comments are closed.