A Conflict of Complexes

September 21, 2016

vanier-parkAt the conclusion of a workshop I attended this summer, we were asked to prepare a poem summarizing four key elements that had touched us in the program. The workshop was titled, “Embracing the Human and Divine within us.” My poem was based on an experience with a guided visualization.

We were encouraged to begin in a place of beauty with which we were familiar. Mine was a magnificent Vancouver vista encompassing mountains, ocean and city and a pond in the foreground. I sit in this particular spot each summer night just before sunset and engage in a contemplation of the beauty around me.

During the visualization we were encouraged to see a figure walking towards us. I realized that approaching me was a duck, a familiar visitor on the long summer evenings.

A moment of confusion flitted into my mind when we were asked to seek guidance from the figure but I dutifully followed the directions. Of course my guest said only “quack” and I was forced to suppress my secret merriment to avoid breaking the meditative container. My poem evolved naturally from the experience.


When I shared this with a friend who was also attending, she responded that it only had one element not four. I noticed my resistance to her observation and decided that “the fat lady had sung” and that was all I was going to do.

I set off on my twenty-minute walk to the workshop and immediately noticed there were two distinct voices in my head. There was the rebellious, independent self who was quite content with what he had done. Yet there was also the compliant more apprehensive self who wanted to do what the teacher had asked. I observed the feelings connected with these energies and knew they were both old and familiar. Suddenly, quite unbidden, a new refrain emerged crafted by the compliant self.

‘Heart opening to music

Mind opening to story

Soul opening to Soul

I open to the Beloved”

I felt both fascinated and pleased. If we were asked to share, I had both options covered. It was only after I headed back to Vancouver I began to examine the significance of what happened.

These are both aspects of who I am. They represent two different strategies I adopted as a child to cope with my authoritarian and religious father. They carry both gifts and shadow. The rebellious self has independence, self-determination, innovation, strength of personality and can see outside the dots. The shadow aspects are that it can be abrasive, aggressive and confrontational.

The compliant self has the benefits of sustaining harmony, cooperating and safeguarding the persona from risk and harm. The shadow side is going along for the sake of peace, retreating and running away, not having a voice and becoming like wallpaper in a room.

In a teaching environment these two complexes can be in conflict. Depending on the circumstance I may be controlled by either one. The challenge is not to react to a situation and fall unconsciously into one aspect or the other. The opportunity is to become conscious of the underlying current and respond from the best of both.

As eminent Jungian Therapist James Hollis comments in his remarkable book “Hauntings”, complexes are not good or bad, but they do have a troubling power to “remove a discriminating judgment” from any given situation and impose a view based on our disempowered history.

I have learned the greater the awareness I bring to these complexes, the greater my choice in how I respond and the more empowered I feel. The wisdom can only be achieved in hindsight; in some ways it seems a shame that “life can only be understood backwards; but must be lived forwards.” (Soren Kierkegaard)