Everyday Mysticism: Part II

Everyday Mysticism: Part II

From Unity to Duality: The Mystical Advantage of Polarities

In Part One of Everyday Mysticism we talked about Unity as representative of the Whole.  However, in order for the Whole to perceive itself it must become the focus of its own inquiry.  In doing so it becomes both a subject and an object, or a polarity. The focus of Part II is on the mystical advantage of polarities.

If Unity remained singular we would not exist.  Everything would be One with no differentiation.  The force that creates contrast and differentiation occurs through polar interaction.  But how do we get from Unity to Duality?  Try this thought experiment; imagine you have a blank piece of white paper, which will represent Unity.  Now draw a line, any kind of line, somewhere on the paper.  In mysticism, the drawn line represents an impulse of consciousness, and is used here as a simple depiction to show what it looks like when Unity becomes conscious of itself.  The act of self-consciousness, the sense of “I Am” as an identifier of individuality, differentiates Unity into a Duality.  That is, the paper is now divided into what’s above the line and what’s below the line.  It’s no longer simply a Unity of white paper.  It’s much more than that.  Above and below are now polarities that give definition to each other.  The line itself, as narrow as it is, has a top part and a bottom part.  Top and bottom are polarities.  Just as inside the line and outside the line are polarities.  We also have the contrast between the white paper and the dark line that appears on it.  Light and dark are now polarities.  As we can see, the contrast between one pole and another is what gives definition to the Whole.  We use these relative terms to decide how we define ourselves.  That’s the mystical advantage of polarities.  They help us define ourselves relative to something else.  We don’t know right without wrong, rich without poor or good without evil.  Additionally, we define ourselves based on what we don’t like as much as we do based upon what we do like.

To bring this to a practical level, you can find the same equation in a marriage where two people come together to form a single union without losing their individuality.  The struggle to maintain individuality within a singular union is a very difficult task indeed.  In fact, one of the main reasons couples have conflict is because in the land of dualities everything becomes an either/or proposition.  This either/or mentality accounts for the divisiveness we often see in marriages (see blog post, Why Marriages Fail).  For one spouse to be right, the other has to be wrong.  The spouse that is wrong becomes naturally defensive because the spouse that is right is never completely right to begin with.  Bickering ensues and over time the bickering turns to resentment and the resentment turns to entrenchment.  At that point, if you listened to each spouse talk about their marriage separately you would swear they were living on different planets.

Healing the split involves changing our orientation from either/or thinking to both/and thinking.  The idea of two things existing simultaneously is foreign to us in our either/or society, but in mysticism the whole exists within the polarities that define it so something can be simultaneously whole and separate, right and wrong and good and bad.  In physics, the thought experiment created by Edwin Schrödinger, aptly called “Schrödinger’s Cat”, illustrates the difficulty we have thinking that two states can simultaneously exist.  Schrödinger asked us to imagine a cat in a box that contains a vile of toxic gas.  At some unspecified time the vile breaks releasing the gas and killing the cat.  The only way to know if the cat is alive or dead is to open the box.  Until we do Schrödinger suggested that the cat is both alive and dead since we have no way of knowing its condition until we lift the lid.  That was his way of showing us the restrictive nature of our either/or thinking.  It’s always a major breakthrough in a marriage when an entrenched couple can see that both positions are right at the same time but also somewhat incomplete.

Now that we’ve briefly explored the concept of Unity and how it gives way to a world of polarities, we will explore how polarities give rise to creativity in the third and final installment of Everyday Mysticism.

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  1. Ruth Frei says:

    Very Interesting! Thanks so much for sharing that. It will help me to remember we can both be right- and wrong in a disagreement.

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