The Tension of Opposites: Love, Chaos, & the Wild Vortex by Chris Ash

“Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that a high tolerance for ambiguity, ambivalence, and a tendency to think in opposites are characteristics researchers have found common among creative people in many different fields. But professional creators… come to understand that in order to be creative, they need to give themselves to sensations of ‘knowing but not knowing,’ inadequacy, uncertainty, awkwardness, awe, joy, horror, being out of control, and appreciating the nonlinear, metamorphosing features of reality and their own thought processes — the many faces of creative chaos.”

– John Briggs and F. David Peat, Seven Life Lessons of Chaos

Christy CroftAs someone whose interfaith, nature-based spirituality regularly draws inspiration from science, I experienced my recent read of the book Seven Life Lessons of Chaos as both an affirmation and a challenge. Throughout the book, one theme emerged over and over, each time in a different context: the creative impulse – that which generates nature and space, planets and stars, love and rage – emerges from within the tension of opposites.

Creation doesn’t burst forth from one opposite overtaking another, but rather as the direct outcome of the unending push-pull swirl of outward and inward, boldness and fear, light and dark. Living in creative authenticity regularly leaves me stewing in a mix of often-contradictory feelings, and while it’s easy for me to revel in my confidence when I’m feeling bold or in my wordy wit when I’m feeling brilliant, it’s far more difficult for me to sit with wonder in times when I feel rejected, unlovable, unaccomplished, insecure, or ugly. My inner dialogue frequently finds me alternating between the opposites that pull at my heart, mind, and way of being in the world.

Really, this is where many of us often find ourselves – be smart but not too intelligent, be beautiful but not vain, be sexy but not sexual. Madonna-whore, virgin-slut – choose a side, but know that once you do you will be judged. We are asked to choose between equally restrictive and caricatured forms that have been pre-fabricated for us by years of cultural control and legal oppression – forms that emphasize who we are in relationship to others, to men, and to our religious laws, rather than honoring who we are to ourselves, to our gods, and in our chaotic brilliance.

Photo by Christy Croft

In those times when I am living fully in that brilliance, I easily see that the whole of me cannot be contained within cages positioned at polar extremes of acceptance and taboo. I am the confidence that boldly proclaims my heart in a voice strong with power, and I am the anxiety that hoards my inmost thoughts, as well, tucking them safely away from those who might hurt me. I am the joy that dances in twilight forests, starlike amidst the firefly sky, and I am the tears that fall until burning cheeks are the only reminder that once there were feelings. I am the “yes” that rolls off breathy lips trembling with waves of ecstasy, and I am rejection’s “no” that cuts and disembowels hearts and hopes and maybes. In acts of authentic creation, I am breasts and curves and teeth and tongue and soft and sharp – a wild-haired, bright-eyed, stretch-marked myth born of rivers and oceans and mountains and stars, and I will not clip my wings for anyone, will not soften my edges to be more palatable, and will not hide the paradoxes within me so that I might make more sense to the tame and disinterested.

My conceptions of deity and of the sacred are no less paradoxical and wild. I fall to my knees in adoration of one who is both Goddess and God, personal and abstract, singular and many and all. Sometimes my prayers rise to meet a transcendent Spirit whose responses come back to me in clear knowing, gentle reassurance, and powerful visions. Other times I join in prayerful ritual with Spirit within and around me, who speaks to me through trees and birds and clouds, healing and replenishing me through a mystical bliss that is as radically transformative within me as it is within the nuclear core of every star in every galaxy. This is what I see as the beauty of the chaotic nature of the universe – “families, societies and ecologies are not machines” (Briggs and Peat 160), and neither are we, neither is the Spirit I honor. We are wildness embodied and swirling potential, living breath and healing love.

Photo by Christy Croft
Photo by Christy Croft

“Chaos invites us to adopt new strategies of life, to walk the tightrope between oversimplifying choices by ignoring subtlety and overcomplicating direct action and clear decisions” (Briggs and Peat 97). What does that look like for us as feminists? For us in our spiritual paths? How does it influence our activism, advocacy, and teaching, or our ability to forgive and love our complicated selves? How do we maintain that creative tension from which our power, brilliance, and craft emerge without feeling stretched beyond what our beings can sustain?

For me, it comes back to this: the way I honor and serve my path, my God, is through radical compassion that loves on the contradictions, embraces the tension, and dances within the wild vortex. My imperfection is part of my beauty, my wounds part of my strength, and my obstinacy part of my voice. I am not an Other, I am a Many, and I do not feel compelled to choose.

For Further Reading:
Briggs, John and F. David Peat. Seven Life Lessons of Chaos: Spiritual Wisdom from the Science of Change. New York: Harper Collins eBooks, 2009. Kindle.

Author: Chris Ash

Chris Ash is a writer, teacher, and leader whose practice is inspired by nature, informed by science, and grounded in compassion. They have facilitated safe and sacred space for over twenty years, as a suicide hotline counselor, doula, rape crisis companion, support group facilitator, minister, mentor, parent, and friend. Their research interests include spirituality, compassion, trauma, gender, sexuality, and intimacy. They live just outside Chapel Hill, North Carolina, surrounded by academics who think they're a hippie and New Agers who think they're a nerd. They remain fully committed to being both.

13 thoughts on “The Tension of Opposites: Love, Chaos, & the Wild Vortex by Chris Ash”

  1. Thanks, Christy Croft, for such a profound and beautifully written post! I walk a similar path — “someone whose interfaith and nature-based spirituality also regularly draws inspiration from science.” I also love the way of Taoism, and joyously follow its roots in and adoration of nature.


    1. Thank you, Sarah. I haven’t read as much about Taoism as I have other traditions, but am interested. So much of what I’ve read about it thus far as resonates strongly with me. I am interested in learning more.


  2. There’s so much love and beauty here to work with, thanks Christy. And for me it’s almost like a prayer for all those gay men who died recently because of some insane person’s hatred. And so thinking about that, these tender words of yours, moved me to tears:

    “My imperfection is part of my beauty, my wounds part of my strength, and my obstinacy part of my voice.”

    The recent tragedy in Orlando is a voice crying out for gay rights, and maybe will in some way gain more understanding, more sympathy, and more respect for the everyday courage needed in the LGBT community, just to get up each day, and find their place in the world, and be who they are.


    1. Thank you, Meg. This was written before the Pulse Orlando tragedy, but after seeing your comment, I went back and re-read it with that in mind. Thank you for pointing out meanings in the writing that I had not even considered, and for the way that reading touched my heart. I lived in Central Florida for years, and have been involved with the LGBTQ community for many years now, so I was devastated to hear about this event. It does take a huge amount of courage just to continue being, to go out in public, to live as yourself, to love who you love.That can’t be understated, especially knowing what kinds of aggressions many of my loved ones experience on a daily basis from those who would shame them or scare them into silence. To think that any of my words might stand as a counter to that kind of bigotry and terrorism was humbling and powerful. Thank you again.


  3. Beautiful post, Christy. Since She is the entire universe with all its contradictions, the Goddess at the center of my spirituality encompasses all of them. Of course as you write, living out of that knowledge can be challenging.


    1. Thank you, Nancy. It definitely is challenging to figure out how to live out of that knowledge, especially in a culture that so strongly emphasizes either exclusively positive thinking or absolute doom. But She is greater (in my experience and in my path) than all of those divisions, and our capacity to rationally compartmentalize Her, ourselves, and each other.


  4. Ditto on the beautifully written.
    How often we are distracted from our path! For this moon cycle I am trying to focus on these distractions and ask the Creator of the Worlds for help in summoning up the courage to stand them down.


    1. Thank you. It is so easy to get distracted in so many ways. Focus is sometimes challenging, but so important.


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