Breathe in, breathe out.
Which is better? More necessary?
Neither, of course, both are necessary to life. If you try to inhale and hold, what happens? A sensation, a force, shows up that wants something else. The held breath wants a complement, the CO2 buildup inspires a tension, a drive of energy to exhale it, to complement the inhale.
I’ve used this breathing cycle illustration in my preaching recently and will again this Sunday. It is simply the best teaching tool that I know of for connecting people with the basic truth of polarities. Gestalt therapist Barry Johnson is credited with originating a systemic lens called polarity thinking that tracks the principle of complementarity. It’s a systemic view that helps us see the plot of the story of a person, a relationship, or a collective in terms of poles and to then move the story in the direction of an integration of poles that generates vitality and health.
Polarities are simply the base interdependent energies or values in a given issue or system. Like the inhale and exhale, they do not resolve and are not "either/or" choices. Polarity thinking involves "both/and" thinking in an attempt to create a virtuous cycle (inhale and exhale) where both energies are leveraged for the greater goal (adequate oxygen + lowered CO2 = vitality).
When a pole (value) is neglected and feared while its opposite is idolized and inflated, you have a polarization that leads to a vicious cycle. For example, if the common good and shared responsibility are always pejoratively called “communist” and individual freedom and choice are always seen as pure and good (like the political organization Freedom Works does), the outcome will be a vicious cycle that leads to diminished resources for most (and eventually all) in a disorganized and/or dog-eat-dog world. The opposite, of having only conformity and the collective, will also produce a vicious cycle. We need both freedom and responsibility, both the individual and the group. It is always a matter of AND, never "versus." This pole AND that pole in search of a virtuous cycle.
Why share about this?
Because solutions to our personal and collective struggles rarely come from neglecting or demonizing one of the poles or values. Because when we see others, ourselves, and collectives from this point of view, we can see them more compassionately and creatively as we see them trying to meet their needs or express their values, but tragically and painfully excluding something out of fear and shadow projection. Polarization is a sign of a system poorly and painfully meeting its needs through exclusion.
I believe the Good News of the Gospel is profoundly inclusive. The truth that sets us free and that fills us to the brim (our Lenten theme) is a truth that integrates energies, poles, and values for the purposes of Life. See if in your Lenten reflections about missing the mark in your life, in our church, or in our nation if there might be an active polarization with a dominant pole and a demonized or neglected pole.
The Rev. JT Smiedendorf has been a UCC minister since 2001, serving churches in Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming, and Washington. He has a particular passion for reclaiming the earthy, embodied, and experiential aspect of Christian spiritual practice. He and his wife Allison are co-founders of The Sanctuary for Sacred Union, an inter-spiritual initiative, and he is currently earning a postgraduate Certificate in Psychedelic Therapies and Research. Read more about JT here.