A Consideration of Opposites
As long as I have been studying and learning about life I have bumped into the idea of opposites in countless discussions. The opposites or dualities most commonly mentioned are those of love and hate, peace and war, good and bad or right and wrong . The thoughts associated with these opposites (though love and hate aren't opposites per se as love is not an emotion) are core mental constructs and have a significant, even profound affect on our view of the world and how we react to experiences. Our rational mind tends to judge everything and nothing is so easily judged as that which only has two considerations, such as right or wrong. They affect me as well and with given my curiosity, it was only natural that these are ideas I give a great deal of thought to and have over the years.
As my understanding of these terms "grew" I found that people held strong feelings about them. I wanted to understand these ideas to learn more about how they affected me and hence my understanding of myself. I also found that, no matter how I explained my thoughts and views about them, I often triggered emotional reactions including some consternation when I would say such things as "our views of what is good and bad are relative and personal" or that "there is no such thing as absolute good or bad as we tend to view them". The operative words in these two phrases being "relative" and "view".
By making these statements I am not denying that in one sense or at one level harming another is "bad", I am only saying that "bad" is not a universal quality. Further, there is no denying that our morality, personal beliefs or philosophy views on life and so on, affect how we view the words themselves and hence what we view as, for example, what is good or bad.
Some see these pairs of opposites as representative of absolute truths or that they are fundamental aspects of our human existence or that they are the result of Cosmic or universal laws that all are subject to and there are yet others who see them as, in reality, meaningless and what they illustrate is simply polarity and that any deeper meanings they have are those that people assign to them. This form of dualistic view extends to the eastern idea of karma as well, where some have come to believe that there is such a thing as good karma versus bad karma when there is no such "thing". So what is it about these types of opposites that get people so emotional and concerned in their thoughts, feelings and comments about them?
The aforementioned question is not one that I can answer, for only the person making the valuation knows for sure why they view them this way. I have my own as well, though at the same time, I also relate to the words without those valuations which in turn helps me to get beyond the emotional attachment to them more often. The fact that people react emotionally indicates attachment to the words and is an expression of their judgment, measure or valuation of their meaning.
What I do know is that whenever I want to examine ideas I start by trying to extract any emotional components I may have attached to them. This helps me reduce them to core elements without any or certainly less judgments that I may have consciously or otherwise associating with the words. Once I understand them this way I can then consider the other levels of meaning and valuation in the light of their fundamental aspects. This, in turn, helps reduce the tendency to add in irrelevant considerations. With this base I can better understand the layers we add on, ones that are part of our view of the words.
For example, it is difficult to consider good versus bad without automatically considering that what is good is helpful or beneficial or in keeping with some religious or spiritual laws while what is bad is hurtful or harmful or in opposition to some laws. How I feel about the words because of my perception of them through experiences are not necessarily relevent. These assignments cloud ones ability to get to the deeper core level of understanding of the words and subsequently how they affect us. This understanding is an absolute requirement otherwise I cannot be sure that I am not interjecting personal "I" considerations into the equation and even more important, that what I am considering is consistent and complete. This may seem a bit deep, however consider it in terms of numbers:
The idea of what a whole number or a complex number is must be consistent with and covered by the idea of what a "number" is. The idea of number being the concept that underlies any type of number we might imagine or consider.
Extracting the differences of degree between the various opposites listed and the emotional components we associate with them allows us to get "beneath" the way we view the opposites as a whole and the meanings we associate with the words. What is beneath these is the notion that the words represent forces or ideas that are diametrically opposed. We can talk about how they are in opposition, but that is still above and beyond the fact they are merely opposites. As I explained above where the core concept was a "number", the core concept here is "opposites". Hence, to understand words that represent opposites and all that entails, I must explore just what an opposite is. This is a conceptual exploration rather than a mathematically one which is "In lexical semantics, opposites are words that lie in an inherently incompatible binary relationship". The mathematical view, which defines what we are talking about, does not help me understand the riddle.
Early on, some of the thoughts that helped shape how I view these opposites comes from the Qabalah, in particular Qabalistic views on the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each letter in this alphabet has, unlike English words, meanings associated with them. There are twenty two letters in this alphabet and there are seven letters that are referred to as "doubles" because each of them has a hard and soft sound. These letters have been assigned a pair of opposites. I have listed the letters, for interest their planetary and Tarot card associations, and the actual opposites themselves below. They are:
Beth (Mercury - The Magician) Life and Death
Gimel/Gemel (Moon - The High Priestess) Peace and strife
Daleth/Dalet (Venus - The Empress) Wisdom and Folly
Kaph/Koph (Jupiter - The Wheel of Fortune) Wealth and Poverty
Peh (Mars - The Tower) Grace and Sin
Resh (Sun - The SUn) Fruitfulness and Sterility
Tav/Tau (Saturn - The World) Domination and Slavery
I did so because it struck me that these opposites represent the fundamental challenges in our world. While they relate to us personally, they are reflected in our societies as a whole. Take for example, Tav, Domination and Slavery. In Paul Foster Cases book The Tarot, he refers to it this way....
Domination and Slavery is the pair of opposites attributed to Tav. Right Interpretation of the necessity for limitation in any form of manifested existence is the secret of domination. Wrong interpretation of the same thing is the cause of our slavery to conditions. The clue to the right understanding is the aphorism "He who would rule Nature must first obey her laws.
He refers to the opposites of Grace and Sin, associated with Peh as:
Grace and Sin, Beauty and Ugliness, are the pair of opposites attributed by Qabalists to the letter Peh, because the issues of life, directed by human speech, result in on or the other. Sin, or "missing the mark" results in maladjustment and ugliness. Hitting the mark in right action results in the manifestation of beauty.
Both of these help me in my considerations, but they are examples of "things in opposition to each other" and therefore contain concepts of a higher level. All of the pairs of opposites are different hence they are at a higher level than the core concept of opposition. The quote I have given has three elements; things, opposition and relativity (as in the things to each other). The core concept in this phrase is opposition for while the "things" can change, what remains, regardless of what the things are, is opposition. We do not need to concern ourselves with their relativity as this is implied by the term opposition. So, what is opposition, how does one view two "forces" that oppose each other?
When any "things" are in direct opposition they are diametric to each other, mathematically that is they are at 180° relative to each other. Since everything consists of energy, that is movement in a direction, opposites are things that move in opposite direction. This may seem far removed from the notion of say good or bad and it is, yet any thought about good and bad must be based on opposition so as removed as it may be from actual "good or bad", you cannot view these terms without excepting this simple fact.
Now, consider that in order for there to be anything, be it a thought, an emotion or a physically manifested object there must have been opposition. That is if everything is the same nothing is created. It is important to note that it does not take direct opposition to create. There are no interactions between things that are they same, they are in harmony, not conflict. I had found my root concept but in doing so it also became clear that my core concept of opposition now had a bigger scope than just the ideas of good or bad, it was the core concept for all that is.
I had to step back at this point, because while I understood opposition, I had brought in all of that is manifest (thoughts, emotions, things etc.) into the equation. Had I gone too far, in that the notions of good and bad do not even exist yet, that they are higher level constructs themselves? So while I may have answered my question as I originally conceived it, I was left with more questions. If opposition is the core concept behind pairs of opposites, and if nothing exists without opposition then good and bad seem irrelevant except for how we personally view them. For, if nothing can exist without "forces in opposition", then good and bad are a necessity. We may chosse to value one or the other more, but without them nothing is manifested.
This certainly did not help me decide what is good or bad, what it did give me was a deeper sense of understanding that good and bad, right and wrong are merely relative. In "The Cosmic Doctrine" by Dion Fortune, which is an examinaton of the Cosmos from the beginning, the first force was the movement of the Unmanifest and the second movement was the resistance of the "space" around It in opposition to the first movement. These are referred to as "good and evil". These two "forces" interacted for aeons and by gradual differentiation led to all the complexity which is the Cosmos as we know it.
I meditated on this and over time it occurred to me that I was going about this all "wrong" at least in part. Good and evil or good and bad, peace and strife, wealth and poverty are necessary aspects of life, not because we prefer them or want them, rather simply because there is nothing at all without them. Our valuations are merely personal views, I see something as good or bad for various reasons, but I cannot even consider one without the other. Good has no meaning unless I consider bad as well, the same for all other opposites, further that the meaning of good itself can only be considered in terms of it's opposite.
At the same time I considered that the first movement is "good" the reaction to it "evil" and that these two combined led to the first manifestation of the Cosmos, that being the synergy of the two into a third "whole" which has both these elements and their balance inherent in it. It is not good or bad, it is both and that all that is manifest (thoughts, feelings, "things" etc.) is merely the result of this process repeated over and over, this is the process of evolution. This was a revelation, at least for me, as I saw the what is built is manifested from both good and evil (or as some would view it - bad).
For me personally, it meant that while there is good and bad as "distinct things" in life and we can view them this way when we experience them, however, we are able to grow when we integrate them. We need both to come to a higher level of knowing about them, one that includes not just them as separate aspects but also as a combined whole. Once we do this we lose the good and bad and are left with the deeper understanding that is neither good nor bad, yet one that contains a true understanding of both.
How did this awareness help me? Did it change the way I related to the world? Did it lead to a better understanding of myself? Did it make me a better person? It did all of these things. It made me a better person because rather than seeing good and bad in people, right or wrong in actions and so forth, I saw the Cosmos manifesting. It mattered not what I saw as good and what I saw as bad, it mattered how I viewed them as a whole and what I could build with this understanding. Saying this in no way belittles the impact of the harm we can cause ourselves and others nor is a way to avoid the consequences; nor is it a suggestion that "bad" is actually "good", though in certain contexts this can appear to be the case, as we will touch on shortly.
Now, I also believe that everything happens for a reason, that there are no coincidences, that I chose this life, and the experiences I had, am having and will have are so that my higher self can learn. This means that when "bad" things happen to me they may be bad from my perspective, however, they are necessary for my growth. Believing this means that I see what happens to me that is bad as a reflection of what is not in balance in me. To grow I must learn what it is that holding me back (or bad) and understand it in order to move past it. I also believe that I cannot do this without some negative or bad experiences, that is negative from my perspective. It can be very difficult to understand why we attracted a particular experience, but the fact remains that we did. So while I can view events as good or bad what matters is not my view, rather that I can only come to a higher understanding or awareness having experienced both so I do not need to have the "lesson" repeated.
A couple of examples might help.
Example 1: You are going to be taking a flight somewhere for vacation or a business trip and as you are getting ready to go I get in an argument with you. During that argument I give you a shove and you are hurt. You have to get that dealt with and by doing so you missed your flight and were angry for my doing a harmful or bad thing to you. Later you find out that the plane crashed and all on board died.
Example 2: I have strong anger issues that led me to act recklessly and I am punished by the system for my actions.
In example one, I ask "did I do a good thing or a bad thing?" and in example 2 it appears obvious that "it is hard to see how my actions could be seen as anything save bad". My new understanding of opposites helps me deal with both of these and I do this on two levels, one personally and one in terms of my higher self. From my perspective, in example one I did bad thing that led to a good consequence. and in the second, I can see the bad, but recognize the good in it. How you ask? Well, in the first case, I can see clearly that by harming another I have an issue that needs to be dealt with which led to a negative impact on another even though some good did come out of it. Realizing this will help me KNOW that I should not harm another, and I could only get that awareness by doing the "bad" thing. So, good comes out of bad. In example two, if I am accepting responsibility for my actions, I can learn that there are consequences to my actions (assuming I am trying to learn of course) which is also good. Only through the combination of bad and good can we learn to not repeat the choice in the future.
So, how does this help me in everyday life? Well, quite simply I no longer view what happens to me solely in terms of whether it was good or bad, there is the new dimension of what it enables me to learn as a result. Now, if this applies to me then it also applies to everyone else. I can see the personal impacts to me when others do "bad" things to me and I can also see that whatever it is they are manifesting (which affects me) is necessary for them. If I truly care then I cannot be solely concerned with what's in my best interest or for my higher good I must also consider that the experience was also for the other persons highest good. Knowing this doesn't prevent me from reacting in the moment or from having to deal with either the emotional and mental responses (or trauma) and perhaps life changes that may result from what was done to me. What it does do is affect how I integrate this experience.
I can choose to focus on the good or bad of it, or I can grow by integrating them together and not seeing them as separate "things". I may get angry, I may be hurt or whatever, yet I realize that these experiences are ones I attracted and so I must look beyond my reactions to them to see why I attracted them. If I remain stuck on the good or bad consequences as I view them personally I never integrate it fully and will remain out of balance until I do so.
I cannot close out this composition without at least touching on the idea of "right and wrong". This is a question of ethics more than anything and is a concept we can examine on many levels. I am aware of Greek and modern ethics, and religious morality. While this are of to be considered I needed my own independent understanding, primarily because I was quite confused about it. I had seen so many versions about the notion of right and wrong, and while I understood it as it's understood in the common vernacular the more I considered it the more inconsistencies I found. They challenged me to reconcile them.
As a young child I believed adults to be honest, smarter, that they did the "right" thing even though my experiences did not always support this.The older I got the more flexible ideas such as truth and right or wrong seemed to be. I know what I was told about it; however, I didn't always see it as others did. I struggled with the idea that there are times when a wrong was right and vice versa and I wondered who decides? It was challenging for me to try and figure it out from what I observed, so I went to root concepts. I again considering opposites at the universal or Cosmic level for it is here that one can remove the personal feelings about what is right or wrong and consider it abstractly. To me this is proper approach for all other truths should flow out of the highest order truths we hold or believe.
The question for me was "is there some absolute measure of what is right and wrong?", and my answer was simply no. From my perspective, the Cosmos began with a movement (call that God if you will) that caused other movements to come into play and through the slow proves of evolution we have what we have now. There can be no assignment of right or wrong in the initial start of the universe yet we have these constructs now. I considered when can right and wrong even exist, and that answer was there could be no right or wrong until there is the ability to choose. It is not until much later, when consciousness evolves, that the ability to choose exists and right or wrong can be a considered. Further, there can be no right or wrong without some measure of it first. What is right and why, and what is wrong and why?
So, in the absolute sense any notions about what is right and wrong (be it a thought, feeling or something we do) are meaningless without someone establishing a measure. Those measures are what I first referred to, that of ethics. I see these like different currents in a stream, somethings flowing together and sometimes clashing. Seeing as how many different ethics there were I decided to find my own, and I looked deeper into the idea of karma, which I see as "the consequence of choice".
The Cosmos works a certain way, there are rules for consciousness as there are rules for physics and chemistry. The rules are in every major religion in the world, though they take different forms and are not always complete or accurate representations. What I did know was that the ability to both choose and then determine right or wrong are products of our thinking mind. I wanted my idea of right and wrong to be less depending on this mind. So, assuming our inner self "knows better", then reducing the use our rational mind will reduce the issue of right or wrong. The more we act in the moment the more likely our actions will be in tune or right.
So, how did this help me understand right and wrong? Well, I know there are always going to be people who judge and that there are rules and laws of different types and levels. There are family rules, rules for friends, for driving you car, for the city or country you live in. If we step outside the boundaries of any of them there can be consequences. What I had to determine was which bounds would I live by. First, the number has to be small. Too many rules leads to contradictions which would not help. Also, I wanted to respect the boundaries others have while not allowing their boundaries to override my own sense of right and wrong. I limited my "rights" to such ideas as causing no harm to others, to not manipulating for personal gain, to being caring and compassionate in my dealings with others and myself, in other words, to be in harmony with the world around me.
Now, knowing our rational mind is often poorly programmed at any time we might do something that is perceived as wrong by ourselves or others, the question is now "how to deal with this?" I remember our poor programming so when I am treated "wrongly" by another I try to not strike back, not think ill of them. There are means of recourse to deal with some things at other times I let it be or move on. When I do it I hope that I see it and can correct it as best as possible though without the expectation that others would treat me as I would them. And when I see what I consider a wrong I speak out, I do not let it pass, perhaps not for little things, but for what matters such as when someone is being hurt and my thoughts, feelings, voice or actions would make a difference.
I hope my thoughts about right and wrong and opposites in general gave you something to consider. Remember, we can react to our experiences in many ways. How we react is based on what we have come to know to be the case. It may seem hard to view both our consider our and others situations at the same time, and it can be, especially when we have either done or been the "victim" of more grievous harm, yet, if we do not we remain stuck. One of the ways to become unstuck is through true forgiveness, through letting go of our attachments to the emotional reactions we had and to the consequences.
We should all consider looking beyond our personal reactions to our experiences and see good and bad as necessary aspects of our evolution. Consider this as you go through life, for I believe that if you can not just react to the experiences you have as good or bad, if you can also see how these same experiences play a role in your growth then you will not only feel more balanced, you may actually save yourself the trouble of having to go through them again in some other fashion.
© 2011 Allan Beveridge
Last updated November 20, 2018