Holding (seeming) opposites

The other day I had (another, I might say) experience of the magic of being the one that holds (seeming) opposites, which is a feature of Focusing that I truly treasure.

I think that one of the corners that (many of us) Westerners have painted ourselves into is the notion of “either-or”, “black-or-white”, “good-or-bad”, “shit-or-great”. It’s as if (at least in some of my circles) we’re supposed to always feel happy and content, and if we don’t we’re supposed to stay at home and leave others in peace until we’re back to feeling happy and content again. Or we have very little space for mixed feelings – we’re supoosed to make a choice and stick with it and to not be ‘easily lead’ etc. Or we’re not supposed to bring up what might not be so great about something that everyone else seems to be over the moon about, because we’re being “negative”.

This blog post is my promotion of having space for all that is there so we can discover the richness of our very colourful inner lives.

If you would stick with me, I will try to describe my process from the other day and then say something about what I think is so important about honing the skill.

My ‘situation’ or ‘problem’

I brought into a Focusing session with one of my mentors a decision that I am facing these days. I won’t speak of the content, as I still want to be respectful of my inner world, but I hope this description will still make some kin of sense to you.

I had been one hundred percent sure about entering into a process some months ago, and had started doing those things that you do when bringing something new into your life and trying it out for the first time etc. As often is the case when trying new things, the first few attempts didn’t bring the perfect result, and I had to take a little breather before my next attempt. I had set an approximate time about a few weeks later, where I would make my next ‘move’ with this.

Suddenly, one morning, I woke up thinking “No, I’m not doing this”, and I was shocked. Hadn’t I been SO clear that it was the right thing for me to do? This thing was something that had been growing in me for quite some time and when I made the decision to go for it, I had been so glad that it was finally feelign possible.

I was confused for weeks, the approximate date I had set passed me by, and then more time passed, and I was still confused. I tried to think about it, see whether there was some logic to it, I sat with it with Focusing partners, I talked to friends about it, I wrote in my diary about it etc., and nothing seemed to move.

I thought that part of it was some kind of ‘cold feet’, which was kind of true. I also noticed that some of the people involved with this new thing I was doing didn’t feel quite as safe as I would like for them to be. Another thing I became aware of was that I felt some kind of specifically alone with it all. None of that seemed to move this.

I started thinking things like “maybe it wasn’t right for me afterwards”, or “I’m not the kind of person that can pull this kind of thing off”, or “Maybe I’m just doing it to get some kind of credit for it from others” etc. – none of which felt exactly ‘untrue’, and at the same time never seemed to ‘hit the spot’.

So I contacted one of my Focusing mentors, saying something like “I need some time and space to sit with this without trying to make it clear and without feeling like I have to make the decision, even though it’s something that has a kind of a deadline. We set up a time and date for a session.

My Focusing session of ‘holding both’

The session started with me explaining some of what was involved, and then I went inside to see if I could sense ‘all of that’ freshly. I attempted a ‘seting aside’ of everything that I ‘already knew’ about the situation, and came into contact with some kind of grief, some kind of scared, some kind of confused, something frustrated and something I don’t quite remember.

At some point there was a kind of a discovery of a ‘knowing’ of how it ‘could’ feel (other than confusing and frustrating etc.). And then there was also that kind of grief that was there before. I decided to really hold them both in my space and even kind of used my hands to do so: I held my hands up in kind of a ‘holding’ position, as if I was really, physically holding two different things up in front of me. And then, again, I actively set aside everything that I ‘knew’ or was ‘thinking’ about it all, and just went quiet. My listener was right there with me, mainly just reflecting back to me what came.

As I was sitting there, holding them both without making a choice: in my left hand (but also the whole left side of my body), I held a deep feeling of niceness, free-ish kind of warmth and a sense of ‘forward moving’; in my right hand (which also extended to much of the right side of my body), I held that place that was scared, grieving, confused; then something seemed to happen in my chest. There was an almost crying that I hadn’t felt there before, and suddenly there was this realisation that for all the talking and Focusing I had done, it hadn’t seemed possible to be with the miracle of what had actually happened.

My first few attempts seemed to have so-called ‘failed’, and now I was preparing for another one, as if the first ones hadn’t happened. That part of it felt mechanical, cold, grey and numbing to some inner place, and now, all of a sudden, I got in touch with a sense of “Wow!” about what actually had been accomplished. And with the sad tears there were some kind of mixture of happy tears as I could really feel and see and savour that feel of “miracle-ness” about that, and it felt like some left-behind-part of me could really come back and ‘join’ me and I could be so much ‘more’, ‘bigger’ and more alive, suddenly.

So, there wasn’t really a solution to the decision that still needed to be made, but there was now a calm sense of ‘more me’ there, from which I could later make that decision, and be ok whether it would be a ‘success’ in an expected sense or if it would turn into something I hadn’t expected.

What is this “holding space for (seeming) opposites”, then?

Well, for this holding to happen, I think that:

  • there needs to be a kind of a ‘coming’ from inside of those two that seem like they are ‘opposites’. We need to really feel them (bodily, unless that’s an unhelpful word) as the ‘wholes’ that they emerge as from inside
  • next, we need to become aware of their seeming ‘oppositeness’,
  • then we need to remember that we don’t have to choose between them (they’re already both there anyway, no need to pretend otherwise)
  • when we really ‘have’ them both, we need to do some kind of active ‘holding’, it could be using our hands or our body to symbolise this kind of ‘holding’ or just an imagining of a me right here being the one that is holding them both
  • then we have to just actively wait and trust and sense, and hold, and wait and see, and breathe, and sense, and hold, and just see what happens

What can happen from this?

One thing that can happen is what I described, when there are two not so clear ‘all-of-that’s’ (also called Felt Senses) – like something coming ‘in between’ the two – a fresh insight of what is needed comes. Another thing that may come from that kind of process is a sense of ‘merging’ into a larger whole that comes with fresh and surprising insight.

Inner parts of us: If what we’re in contact with are parts of us, one part wishing for one thing and the other wishing for what seems like the opposite (which wasn’t really the case in my situation, but that can be), another thing that can happen is that the two become aware of each other freshly as we hold them without choosing or taking sides, and realise they are both there – from there, anything surprising can ‘come’

Inner criticism: Something else that can happen if we’re aware of this ‘holding of opposites’ as a possible process, especially if one is an inner critic and the other is something being criticised is that one of them seems to ‘want a turn’ first; as in the other temporarily steps aside (on its own, not because you decided) to give the one that wants the turn some extra space where you get to know it a little bit more. Then you can do a ‘hello’-‘acknowledging’-‘hanging out with’-‘describing’-‘resonating’-deepening-process with that one, until it gives space to the other one and that same process can happen with the other.

Inner criticism and other parts of us: Yet another thing that when we listen to seeming opposites that come as parts of us, we may discover that at the bottom of each part, if they each have some listening time – what they’re wanting to have happen for us is some vesion of the same. Let’s say an inner critic say something like: “You’re such an idiot, go do this thing I told you to do right now!” and the ‘opposite’ or the one who is being criticised say something like: “I’m not doing what you’re telling me to, it’s dangerous!” If each gets some time where you are there as a non-judgmental, interested and empathic listener, we may discover that underneath the criticism was some kind of wanting for you to get everything you dream of, and underneath the criticised is a similar version of exactly that!

I’m sure other things can also happen, so my invitation would be that if you find this interesting – try it out! And to always remember to be open for being surprised 🙂

Why should we be doing such a thing?

You might think that it seems a bit straining or something to be making an effort to “have space for (seeming) opposites”, or that the result seems to unclear or something.

I’d say that from something unclear, something freshly clear and impossible-to-think up, can come, because we’ve somehow taken a moment to be free of our pre-concieved concepts. It may take some effort, oh yes – but what in life is effortless and lasting? 😉

Fresh and surprising aliveness, I’d say is my general answer for why. Are you game?

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