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The Slinky Principle

The cycles of my emotional experience have always reminded me of a slinky:  the coiled spring toy which fascinated me as a child.   Kinetic energy animates a slinky in ways that makes it bounce and jiggle and, more to the point, able to walk itself down stairs.  Each wave of its energy builds up and then catapults the next movement forward.

I am reminded of the changes in my mood that often occur when I engage in Inquiring Deeply about something.  In the first phase of an Inquiry,  a question or issue galvanizes my attention.  As I begin writing, I am often aware of a felt sense of struggle, of something within me that needs to get resolved. Writing is one of the ways that I am able to work out such issues.  Regardless of the particular content, the cycle feels predictable:  The writing moves forward in fits and starts as the energy of the inquiry builds towards a change that, slinky-like,  eventually propels my psyche forward towards clarity and resolution.

This pattern of energy, I have observed, happens with many kinds of problems:  struggle is followed by letting go.   Perhaps this reflects a more general underlying principle of how psyche—how life— is organized:  breakdown is followed by breakthrough.  In bipolar disorder,  depression rebounds into mania.  Death is followed by rebirth.

Many people experience such cycles during critical phases in their lives, often following a traumatic event, loss, or change.   A common example is found in recovery from addiction:  Typically, it is only after a crisis of “hitting bottom” that renewal and growth occurs.  This is the cycle of transformation.

In Jungian theory, such bipolarity is thought to be the dialectical essence of phenomena:  opposites are required for the definition of any entity or process. One end of a continuum helps to define the other.  The dynamic tension of opposites leads to an alternating pattern between progression and regression; in common vernacular, two steps forward are followed by one step back.  Impasse is followed by letting go.

The medieval Sufi mystic Rumi states the basic idea in several lines of poetry: “All action sways between contraction and expansion, both as important as the opening and closing of the wings of a bird in flight”.

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