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An Ambivalent State of Mind

Updated on May 20, 2017
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All too often I have seen people pursued by their dreams and not the other way around. Who is in control, the person or the dream? Passion is good, dreams are good. But, ambivalence is that friendly warning “curves ahead” that tells us what may become of our dreams and passions, how they affect our actions, our character, our soul and those around us: I have seen dreams destroy a person’s capacity to enjoy the finer things in life.

People are often an intense mix of complementary (and in some cases, adversarial) attributes: Intense hope, brooding isolation and despair, back to boundless enthusiasm. Of interest here is how these characteristics are held in balance, or in check, within, and by the same person. To be forever drifting between opposite poles, that is an intense form of ambivalence. Note that by definition ambivalence is not about mediocrity: It is the holding of contradictory ideas within the same person. Depending on one’s mood, they may be mild, they may be fierce, but they are never plain!

Ambivalence as a disposition and process of mind is essentially deliberative: One can share ones doubts, fears and hopes with others, but deliberation ultimately occurs within oneself. Ambivalence is essentially a solitary process.

Do not make the mistake of associating ambivalence with Stoicism or Nihilism: The recognition of the Ambivalent nature of human life simply means that one can be suspended between two extremes, in some moods we climb the peak to the left, in others we feels ourselves tumbling down the mountain to the valley below, to begin the bloody climb up our mountain to the right. Ambivalence is the recognition that life is motion, that life takes place in both the valleys and the peaks. Reflection, self-reflection and contemplation are necessary and satisfying in themselves: Because people are complex and life is often difficult, we are often suspended between two minds. In our most lucid moments we recognize our place in our valley as we venture forth scaling this or that mountain. Moments of deep understanding and discovery take place, when we are invited to, and choose to descend into the valley of another and see our world through their eyes. To love and build connections with others, is to take the time to dig a tunnel or cut a path in this direction or that, venture forth upon the invitation, always returning at night to our valley to remember, to savor and to sleep.

There are moral systems devoted to ambivalence. There are entire ways of life that circle around it: Catholicism is certainly one of them. Of all the flavors of Christianity, it demands the most of its adherents: And what it demands is moral and spiritual deliberation, reflection as well as patience. These activities are profoundly personal and ultimately occur alone within ourselves. Ambivalence can be a lonely process, but it is a true and necessary one. But we will return to this in the future.

Yes, because an ambivalent cast of mind recognizes the darkness, ambivalence tends towards the solitary. It is one possible response to the mixed, complex and fluid nature of human life: The other is zealotry and purity. Ambivalence, to be blunt, is the deepening and hardening of the soul: It makes you stronger …. and asks that you be strong.

But, perhaps you, my dear reader grows tired of all this “high-falutin” talk. Well, let me bring you down to earth and talk about the lived experience of Ambivalence via my local “Cigar and pipe Club”. “Cigars and pipes? Do you mean Nicotine?” whale some of my readers demanding literary as well as chemical purity. Yes, but please, suspend your judgement dear reader and keep and an open mind: Ambivalence tells us that good can be extracted from the bad.

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