Wednesday, March 30, 2011



One of the most interesting forms of complexity is contradiction. We need to rediscover contradiction as a creative force within the soul. Beginning with Aristotle, the Western thought tradition has outlawed contradiction as the presence of the impossible, and consequently, as an index of the false and the illogical. Hegel, alone, had the vision, subtlety and hospitality of reflection to acknowledge contradiction as the complex force of growth which disavows mere linear progress in order to awaken all the aggregate energies of an experience. It is the turbulence and conflict of their inner conversation which brings an integrity of transfiguration and not the mere replacement of one image, surface or system by another which so often passes for change. This perspective makes for a more complex notion of truth. It demands an ethic of authenticity which incorporates and goes beyond the simplistic intentions of mere sincerity.

We need to have greater patience with our sense of inner contradiction in order to allow its different dimensions to come into conversation within us. There is a secret light and vital energy in contradiction. Where there is energy, there is life and growth. Your ascetic solitude will allow your contradictions to emerge with clarity and force. If you remain faithful to this energy, you will gradually come to praticipate in a harmony which lies deeper than any contradiction. This will give you new courage to engage the depth, danger and darkness of your life.

It is startling how desperately we hold on to what makes us miserable. Our own woundedness becomes a source of perverse pleasure and fixes our identity. We do not want to be cured, for that would mean moving into the unknown. Often it seems we are destructively addicted to the negative. What we call the negative is usually the surface form of contradiction. If we maintain our misery at this surface level, we hold off the initially threatening but ultimately redemptive and healing transfiguration which comes through engaging our inner contradiction. We need to revalue what we consider to be negative. Rilke used to say that difficulty is one of the greatest friends of the soul. Our lives would be immeasurably enriched if we could but bring the same hospitality to meet the negative as we bring to the joyful and pleasurable. In avoiding the negative, we only encourage it to recur. We need a new way of understanding and integrating the negative. The negative is one of the closest friends of your destiny. It contains essential energies which you need and which you cannot find elsewhere. This is where art can be so illuminating. Art is full of intimations of the negative in ways that allow you to participate imaginatively in their possibility. The experience of art can help you build a creative friendship with the negative. When you stand before a painting by Kandinsky you enter the church of colour where the liturgy of contradiction is fluent and glorious. When you listen to Martha Argerich play Rachmaninov Three, you experience the liberation of contradictory forces which at every point threaten and test the magnificent symmetry of form which holds them.

You can only befriend the negative if you recognize that it is not destructive. It often seems that morality is the enemy of growth. We falsely understand moral rules as descriptions of the soul's direction and duty. Yet the best thinking in moral philosophy tells us that these rules are only signposts to alert us to the complex of values latent in or consequent upon our decisions. Moral rules encourage us to act with honour, compassion and justice. They can never be descriptions simply because each person and situation is so different. When we notice something immoral, we normally tend to be harsh with ourselves and employ moral surgery to remove it. In doing this we are only ensuring that it remains trapped within. We merely confirm our negative view of ourselves, and ignore our potential for growth. There is a strange paradox in the soul: if you try to avoid or remove the awkward quality, it will pursue you. In fact, the only effective way to still its unease is to transfigure it, let it become something creative and positive that contributes to who you are.

One encouraging aspect of the negative is its truthfulness. The negative does not lie. It will tell you clearly where you court absence rather than inhabit presence. On entering your solitude one of the first presences to announce itself is the negative. Nietzsche said that one of the best days in his life was the day that he rebaptized all his negative qualities as his best qualities. In this kind of baptism, rather than banishing what is at first glimpse unwelcome, you bring it home to unity with your life. This is the slow and difficult work of self-retrieval. Every person has certain qualities or presences in their heart which are awkward, disturbing and negative. One of your sacred duties is to exercise kindness towards them. In a sense, you are called to be a loving parent to your delinquent qualities. Your kindness will slowly poultice their negativity, alleviate their fear and help them to see that your soul is a home where there is no judgement or febrile hunger for a fixed and limited identity. The negative threatens us so powerfully precisely because it is an invitation to an art of compassion and self-enlargement which our small thinking utterly resists. Your vision is you home and your home should have many mansions to shelter your wild divinity. Such integration respects the multiplicity of selves within. It does not force them into a factitious unity, it allows them to cohere as one, each bringing its unique difference to complement the harmony.

This rhythm of self-retrieval invites your generosity and sense of risk, not merely internally, but also externally, at the interpersonal level. This is probably the uneasy territory of which Jesus spoke when he exhorted: 'Love you enemies.' We should be careful in our choice of 'adversaries'. An awakened soul should have only worthy 'adversaries' who reveal your negativity and challenge your possibility. To learn to love your adversaries is to earn a freedom that is beyond resentment and threat.

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