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Ambivalence - The Supernova of Psychic

By Don Fenn

We humans are uniquely fortunate that ambivalence pervades everything we experience,
think, feel and intuit, or we wouldn't have gotten as far as we have. Though you wouldn't
know it from the way we feel about ambivalence. We hate and mistrust it. For centuries
we've been trying to do away with it by denying, and as much as possible, obliterating its
presence from our consciousness. We've worked very hard to achieve an alternative, that
for thousands of years we've considered to be nothing less than heavenly: i.e. single-
mindedness without complication or contradiction.
In science we readily acknowledge that nature is full of complexity and ambiguity.
Ambivalence is a personal acknowledgment of the emotional experience of ambiguity.
Viewed psychologically it is nothing more or less than a clever inventive psyche, capable
of simultaneously holding several options in mind, recognizing that all possibilities
probably take place, and precedence, at one time or another, and can therefore be learned
from. This attitude could be described as the scientific approach to experience, which
recognizes infinite possibility as constantly operative.
Science generally excludes emotional experience from its territory. Psychology has
discovered this to be impossible; so lets first notice, and then explore what's happening
when ambiguity crosses our path-as it does every day of our lives.
At any given moment in time, a disturbingly ambiguous conflict of desire, or opinion, or
both, occurs spontaneously in order to find an as yet unseen third alternative; which more
effectively resolves particularly contradictory circumstances. This is best accomplished by
allowing polarized options to slug it out subconsciously and unconsciously-more in dreams
than in thinking about it-a very different strategy than the forced premature decision we
usually expect of ourselves. This spontaneous discovery of additional options will always
take place in an open mind given enough time, and in the absence of prejudice.
Ambivalence is the emotional awareness of the most dominant characteristic of reality, that
whatever is happening can always reverse itself and go in the opposite direction. We call it
change that is perpetually taking place, like a transformation of matter into energy, or the
reverse happening, energy into matter. A more familiar ordinary example is standing on
unstable ground, literally or metaphorically; if we move we may trigger a landslide; yet if
we don't move it means perpetually to live in impossibly unreliable circumstances.
Ambiguity, the noun that describes our awareness of opposite conflicting possibilities, is
best illustrated by Einstein's equation, EMC2, which moves in both directions; either to
release enormous energy by tearing apart the forces that bind particles to each other, the
atom bomb; or to capture potential energy by attracting particles full of energy, such as
potassium and chloride precipitating to form salt.
The word, ambivalence, is most commonly used to describe the human experience with
which we have the most trouble: i.e. the emotional dilemma of feeling 2 or more ways
about the same event, possibility or person. It's an experience we perceive almost entirely
as dysfunctional, something to be avoided at all cost. Indeed emotional ambivalence is
generally regarded as pathological-"indecisive, can't make up their mind".
When the possibility of feeling contradictory emotions about the same idea, event or person,
is the most fundamental skill required for handling conflict of both varieties: internal and
interpersonal. Indeed it's the essential skill that will eventually vault us into the wisdom of a
peaceful world community; without which we will continue to wander cynically on the
premise that it can never be accomplished.
Violence is one of the principle outcomes of our misguided belief in single-mindedness. In
order for one side of the argument to be absolutely true, the other side must be erased by all
means possible-usually in the name of God as a holy cause! Human history is
overwhelmingly dominated by such primitive violent behavior.
Unfortunately our experience, particularly of emotional conflict and contradiction has never
been successfully cut down to size in ways that remove it from the category of trauma to
become simply problem solving. We almost always experience conflict, whether internal or
interpersonal, as traumatic-beyond coping, something that can't be tolerated, which must be
stopped or run away from. We regard those who in any way contribute to conflict, even
when they're non-violent, as villains deserving of censure, punishment or even retaliation.
This is why we invented good and evil, good guys and bad guys, in order to vastly
oversimplify this seemingly intolerable experience. To avoid the responsibility of conflict
and its contradictions, thousands of years ago we even handed over most of the power of
our own lives to anyone whom we could believe was a god; meaning someone capable of
being in touch with the gods that ran the universe and made disaster, or good times, happen;
so on our behalf they could plead for mercy and special treatment. Many people still
believe and function in these ways.
Ambiguity exists in everything human-seen because we are an animal capable of perceiving
things in contradictory and multiple dimensions. Though some of the other apes have some
degree of self-consciousness, only we can simultaneously hold in the mind's eye several
layers of possibility. The simplest way of expressing it is that we can simultaneously do
things, watch ourself do them, comment upon what we're doing, even criticize it, and at the
same time imagine doing it in other ways. That complexity of perception is the principle
trait that makes us what and who we are; and ambivalence is the key skill necessary for the
creative management of this remarkable gift of multilayered comprehension.
Within the scientific realm dealing with tangible objects, we have become very accustomed
and skilled at managing and using contradictory possibilities and options. In fact that's how
science has progressed. It's become the art of putting things together that previously weren't
supposed to be married, and taking apart things that were supposed to remain together.
But when it comes to dealing with ambiguity in the intangibles of human life, most
accurately described as the realm of the human spirit-of which the psyche is the principle
agency-we suddenly lose it! We stumble into ambiguity-illiteracy. We try and make reality
caveman-simple, of which good and evil is the best example; in making the most important
decisions of life we have only 2 options instead of a thousand or more.
Lets face it. Ambiguity, particularly the emotional variety, still scares the hell out of us. But
truth is, the problem is ours, not everybody else's, or God's. We seem to connect simple-
mindedness to being safe, which, as has been seen, it isn't. This misperception could mean
the problem has a lot to do with the ways we love, where we confuse a lot of things in our
mad dash for the human essentials: i.e. support, encouragement and comfort. Perhaps we
need to rethink how we do, and understand love. At the very least we need to find
alternative ways of thinking about the human spirit, its emotional experience, and the
personal management of conflict.
In my efforts to do all of this I sometimes regard the active spiritual part of us, the human
psyche, with all of its remarkable parts, as the only thing we'll ever experience in this life
that's holy-not what we do with it, but what it's capable of-something I suspect that we've
hardly begun to comprehend.
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