The Power of Opposites in Psychological Growth

One thing I’ve learned in building fires over the years is that adding a cold log to a dwindling fire has an enlivening effect. I suspect that the temperature difference between the burning logs and the new log increases the air convection within the fire. More air movement means more oxygen which means a more rapidly burning fire. So here we have the paradox that adding cold to a fire creates a more dynamic and hotter burning fire.

Much the same is true in our lives. Tension between the opposites creates movement which stimulates growth. When one pole of your personality rules the day, day after day, you become stagnant. You’ve probably heard the saying, “All work and no play makes John a dull boy.” This saying reflects the fact that a one-sided development of the personality can cut you off from the enlivening and enriching aspects of your other side. So, for example, a rigid adherence to the rules and precepts of society can suppress the creative spark of your shadow and the fuller expression of your individuality.

We may consciously seek peace and harmony in our lives, but it seems that our deeper self goes out in search of problems and challenges. A part of us wants drama, adventure, and the clash of opposites because these things provide opportunities for growth. Conflict, properly contained, builds heat which can transform the personality. Inner debate, tension, and opposition call forth a third perspective that transcends the stalemate of opposing viewpoints. The tension of conflict makes our lives burn hotter, and the heat of a vigorous fire can transform what a weak, sputtering fire cannot. The result is often growth and deepening of consciousness.

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