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🏞 Holding the tension of opposites
One month of writing on Substack
Tension of opposites
It’s been a month since I joined Substack. During that time, I started a weekly newsletter and have gotten glimpses of the writing community here. It’s been a great experience.
It’s a leap from the start of the year when I felt paralyzed by indecision. Should I start writing on Substack and join a writing community? Or should I first finish writing my novel, the one I have been working on in isolation for five years? The answer to this might seem obvious to some people. But I was gripped by a strange terror created by two competing and equally powerful parts within me. One part wore an Alice band and a long denim skirt, and she spoke to me in hushed, urgent whispers. She insisted I stay hidden under my desk. I needed more time and more practice, she said, because my writing still sucked. She repeatedly warned me I might run out of words if I started writing online. What if you use them up and have nothing left for your book? She insisted I wasn’t ready and there was a chance I might never be. And that it was safer to focus on the book and get it perfect before starting something online. Let’s face it, she said, starting something new is another kind of procrastination, yet another way of avoiding finishing the book.
The second equally vociferous part wore a sequined jumpsuit and was always irritable because she was impatient for me to get my work out. She liked to scream at me, spittle flying out of her mouth. “What are you doing? How long is it going to take? You know you’re never going to finish the book. Forget about it and start a Substack! Do something now! Anything! Get me in front of an audience! Can’t you see I’m ready? You’re dithering, you fool. Let’s go. GO!”
What each part said held enough truth that I felt stuck, unable to move in either direction.
You might have felt something similar, conflicting needs, either within you or in a relationship, or at work. Where both demands are valid and this creates a tension of opposites.
Holding the tension of opposites
I first came across this phrase through the work of Jungian analyst and writer James Hollis1. This is what I’ve understood from his work on what Jung meant by the tension of opposites: when there are conflicting needs or competing demands, there is stress to choose one way or the other. While some problems might be solved, many of life’s problems don’t have a solution. If we stay with the discomfort of not choosing between the two, holding the tension of opposites, something new, a "third", has space to emerge.
“The “third” means, neither this nor that, yes or no, but what is the developmental task this dilemma is bringing me. Where am I being asked to grow larger than, to reframe, to reposition this contretemps? ” - James Hollis PhD., Do we really solve our problems?
It’s not easy to ask the question “where am I being asked to grow.” I think our capacity to ask and the time we need to arrive at this question will vary depending on our situation. Here again is a threshold, this time between who you are and who you might become, and crossing it might have consequences. Just as not crossing it has consequences. (Anais Nin’s quote comes to mind: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.”)
In my case it took me months to identify that I was stuck and wasn’t progressing on either front, and even longer to open a Substack account. There’s no process that I can point to, no how-to that I can use for future decisions, except that an invisible, unknowable tipping point had been reached and it wasn’t possible to stay where I was.
In the last month, I have also learned things I thought I already knew. Take that first step. Don’t aim for perfection because “done is better than perfect”. Do the hard thing and it gets easier with repetition. Repetition creates habits and habits create outcomes. We are exposed to these nuggets of wisdom every day, both on and off the internet, and I’m sure each one of us has advised a friend or a family member to just do it, whatever ‘it’ is. I know I have. I volunteer as a health coach for a few hours every week and the topics of small, initial steps and creating sustainable change come up a lot in conversation. But, and this is another one of those things we are already aware of, knowing something and putting it into practice are very different. And it’s easier to encourage someone else to take action.
One month in, I am happy to be here and am looking forward to making new friends.
Do we really solve our problems? by James Hollis PhD ( https://www.jung.org/blog/6685213)