Embrace Conflict: Hold the tension of the opposites

It's a beautiful, spring-like day here in the Northeast and it feels good to be home enjoying the sun and warmth. Michael and I returned from Paris last week after a business trip that gave us the opportunity to visit places like the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church. The beauty and grandeur of Paris is beyond words. (You can see photos and video of our trip on my Facebook page here.)

During our vacation I was struck by a feeling I often experience when I travel - conflict. While I enjoyed the sights and sounds of Paris and the magical experiences we encountered, I also missed the beauty and comfort of our home (and, of course, our cat, Poupon). The feelings for both were equally strong.

Several times during the week I had to stop and re-center myself in the present moment to take full advantage of our time in Paris. When I did, I found myself recalling a message I heard long ago from a teacher who has had a profound influence on my life and my work. Her name is Marion Woodman and she used to tell us that wholeness comes from learning to "hold the tension of the opposites."

We live in a world of duality. There's daylight and nighttime, summer and winter, good and evil. It's the nature of living as a human being on earth to deal with the tension of opposites. And yet, navigating the complex feelings that come from holding this tension can be stressful and challenging at best. You interview for a new job, for example, and find yourself anxiously waiting to hear how you did while knowing that at the same time you need to be patient and detached from the outcome. Or, you try to be a good parent by encouraging your son to go out into the world to live a full, rich life, while everything inside you begs to hold tight to keep him safe.

How do we hold the tension of the opposites and still thrive and enjoy our lives? What can we do to make this experience less stressful? Here are a few things that helped me:

Give voice to your feelings. As I grappled with mixed emotions during the trip, I felt alone and a little crazy. After all, here I was in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and part of me wanted to be home. It didn't make sense. But, once I stopped suffering in silence and shared my thoughts with Michael, I discovered that he felt it, too. Sharing my feelings and knowing I wasn't alone immediately made me feel better.

Honor the opposites. Rather than judge one side as better or worse than the other, give both parts of you equal consideration. I spent some time by myself writing about the traveler in me who was thoroughly enjoying seeing new places, meeting new people, and having new adventures. And I also wrote about the other part that loved our home, missed Poupon, and wanted the comfort and peace of familiar routines. What I soon discovered was that giving time and space to both parts of me made me feel stronger and more capable of being with the tension.

Strengthen your ability to hold both. Once I felt stronger, I had a glimpse of what Marion was talking about when she said that "wholeness" comes from holding the tension of the opposites. Rather than try to exorcise or ignore my uncomfortable feelings, I needed to see the choice to be with both as a kind of "inner training session." As I centered myself in the tension, I imagined weaving parts of me together into a stronger, more mature woman. By doing this I was developing an emotional muscle that would ultimately allow me to bring more of who I am to the world.

I hope this makes sense. As is often the case, I'm working it out as I write. I know I'm not alone, though. We're all faced with the task of living with opposing feelings and experiences. It's what we do with it that matters most. My intention is to master the art of holding myself in the beauty and possibility of the in-between world. And I invite you to join me ?.

Take Action Challenge

This week, identify an inner conflict that reflects two different parts of you. Then, talk to someone about it. Share your feelings and experiences. Give time and attention to both parts by writing about them in a journal or notebook. Finally, find an image that reflects the strength of holding the tension and allow this image to inspire you to stay steady and strong.

I found this week's video while looking up the email address of a colleague I adore. It's captivating and inspiring as coach, Rich Fettke, tells the story of what happened when he jumped out of an airplane (with footage of the actual jump!). Thanks for taking us along with you, Rich!




FutureNow 10th March 2010 8:56 am

well I could deal with these kind of "opposites"-- Paris and a wonderful home is a conflict?
sorry but I dont see the problem I would be in a state of total appreciation! There are people who have lost families, are totally alobne now and/or cant get food or have shelter. This is conflict and opposites.... I would take Cheryl's "conflict" any day!
xo to all

angelika 10th March 2010 10:00 am

Hi Cheryl,
thanks for sharing this. I've got several things to do that I've been putting off - I'll use your perspective.

Generally I find it helps me as well to talk to someone about issues that bother me and it usually puts my world into a better place. As for writing things down, I found something that helps me with letting go of 'yes but' situations, where the mind just keeps going round and round stuff. I write all my thoughts and feelings onto either old print outs no longer needed, an old paper etc - the emphasis is on old, as in no longer needed/relevant. Sometimes I'm surprised by the words and phrases coming up and can feel the energy pouring through the pen onto the paper and out of me. Love & Blessings, Angelika

Anne 10th March 2010 11:49 am

Thank you for sharing this, Cheryl!

I think as energy is moving so fast, and we are all being asked to step up with our gifts, that this conflict is especially relevant.

In his book, Animal Speak, Ted Andrews talks about this: "Spider teaches us that through polarity & balance, creativity is stimulated." We are all walking the threads between heaven and earth, edge-pushing & comfort, masculine & feminine.

I have initiated some exciting plans for 2010 & am stimulated, but have days when I just want to curl up with a good book!

I am practicing that through presence and breath, I can be "at home" wherever I am!

I loved the video because I have had skydiving on my radar, and because "stop, be aware & resume control" is key to our inner peace & power.



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Author Information

Cheryl Richardson

Cheryl Richardson is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including, Take Time for Your LifeLife MakeoversStand Up for Your LifeThe Unmistakable Touch of GraceThe Art of Extreme Self Care, You Can Create an Exceptional Life with Louise Hay, and her new book, Waking Up in Winter: In Search of What Really Matters at Midlife.

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