Both Sides Now
Complementarity & Generative Trance
Gilligan on Generative Trance
The great quantum physicist, Neils Bohr, used to say that there are two types of truth. In the shallow type, the opposite of a true statement is false; in the deeper type, the opposite of a true statement is equally true. In generative trance work, these two levels correspond to the conscious mind and the creative unconscious. We see the conscious mind as being tied to a specific position in a systemic field (of many positions), while the creative unconscious rests in the field (of all positions). We further see the conscious mind as being helpful when we want to repeat previous patterns, while the creative unconscious is better when new patterns or understandings are needed.
Of course, it is easy to get stuck in the rigid positions of the conscious mind, and keep repeating the past. A main focus of generative trance work is thus how to free consciousness from fixed positions, so that new learnings may occur. A central method in this regard is the process of complementarity, wherein attention is simultaneously attuned to multiple (often contradictory) positions—for example, I am wounded AND I am whole and unwounded, or I am connected with others AND I am separate. When held in a centered, open way, these “both/and” patterns break the “tyranny of the single truth” and open the gateways into the “infinite possibilities” of the creative self. However, these same patterns, when held in a disintegrated context (such as stress), can throw us into an abyss of symptoms and sufferings.
S. Gilligan cont.
1. Duality is the basic psychological unit underlying experiential realities
At its core, the cognitive mind is organized around dualities. Everything contains its opposite, and reality is constructed through a dynamic relationship between these opposites: Breathing in and breathing out, self and other, stillness and movement, etc. One of the basic differences between the conscious mind and the creative unconscious lies in this relationship between opposites: The conscious mind organizes around “either/or” relationships and gives preferential focus to one side of the complementarity over the other, while the creative unconscious holds a “both/and” relationship in which both sides are simultaneously engaged.
2. When opposites are held in rhythmic balance, life goes well
In that the conscious mind can be seen as the managerial facilitator of the vision of the creative unconscious, a balanced shifting between positions makes sense. For to create anything in the world, one value must be chosen over another at any given point. To walk, for example, we need to put one foot forward, then the other, then back to the first, etc. As long as there is a rhythmic balance, there is no problem. We work hard, then we rest, then we work again; we connect with others until we need solitude, which then brings us back into connection with others; we have a stable map that eventually becomes untenable and unstable, which leads to a new stability. In this way, the conscious mind realizes the vision of the creative unconscious.
3. When opposites are held in rigid opposition, problems develop
While each side of a complementarity can be used in either positive or negative ways, and can be experienced and expressed in a virtually infinite number of possible forms, it is easy to get locked into fixed values and judgments. This blocks the rhythmic shifting between opposites that is crucial to creative unfolding, and thereby creates symptoms. A major focus of generative trance is how to hold both sides of a relationship in positive ways, and then see how they can “make love, not war.” One is invited in trance to allow one's creative unconscious to develop new ways to experience and express integrated forms of this complementarity, e.g. to BOTH do good work AND stay connected and relaxed. Finding a balance between the two sides becomes an integral part of the healing process.
4. When both sides of a complementarity are activated simultaneously, deep splits and negative symptoms occur
In general, we can see most symptoms in terms of a violent clash between opposites. A simple representation of a problem is: I want X but Y happens instead. In such cases, X and Y can be seen as complements that, when activated in a mutually inhibitory relationship, overwhelm the single position of the conscious mind and create a disturbed (unintegrated) experience of the “both/and” unconscious, i.e. a negative trance or symptom. Generative trance work provides a safe and resilient context in which the conflicting parts can be untangled, and then integrated into a complementary unity.
5. When both sides of a complementarity are held positively & activated simultaneously, creative integration produces new consciousness
Imagine the creativity of “both sides now”—for example, having the maturity of an adult and the innocence of a child; or feeling a part of something yet also apart from it; or holding feelings of both wanting something and not needing it. The capacity to enjoyably experience opposites has been found to be a central characteristic of creative genius. In his landmark study of multiple creative geniuses, Csikszentmihalyi (1996) found that these extraordinary individuals shared 10 characteristics, all having to do with “both/and” qualities. For example, they were intensely active and energetic, but spent considerable time in restful reverie and trance-like states; they were playful but also quite disciplined; and they were both introverted and extroverted.
(6) Generative trance facilitates creative work with the core complementaries underlying a reality or identity
Generative Trance allows each part of a systemic identity to experience acceptance, respect, and support. Its deconstructive nature allows the different surface forms attached to a part to be dissolved, and new possible forms to be explored. Its fluidity allows many new possible connections to be explored. Generative trance is a creative field that carries virtually unlimited potential for new consciousness. A person shifts from identification with one position (against another) to a field that holds the interplay of all the perspectives in the field. Thus, conflicting relationships can be untangled and put back into play, allowing new connections to slowly move towards an integrative crescendo that gives birth to new dimensions. Happiness, health, healing, and creative performance are all expressions of an aesthetic intelligence that integrates the parts and the whole of a systemic identity. Examples of such aesthetic intelligence include a musical symphony, a good meal, an excellent book, a well-functioning family or business, or a creative person.
This is an edited summary. You can read the complete article here.
Steve's new book is Generative Trance: The Experience of Creative Flow.