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Ambivalence is a useful experience to get to know more intimately.

Ambivalence is a useful experience to get to know more intimately.

Ambivalence essentially means "mixed feelings".

One way ambivalence can show up is when we sense that we want something for both "right" and "wrong" reasons.

We can have adaptive and maladaptive motives for doing something. We can have a drink to celebrate connection with friends, and we can have a drink to avoid emotional pain. This is a common source of internal confusion. We desire something, and there is a sense that it is a "good" thing to desire, yet there is also a feeling like we want it for the "wrong" reasons.

Here's a personal example.

I love books. I love abstraction and theory. I love learning. Some of my peak experiences in life have been while reading (not joking!). There's a euphoric rush of understanding that is electrifying. The experience feels saturated with meaning and offers a moment of transcending myself and feeling connected to something bigger than me, connected to the millennia-spanning quest for knowledge and understanding.

This “love of learning” feels like an adaptive or "good" motivation to me.

However, I've come to understand that my "love of learning" can be distorted into an obsessive or desperate searching for some kind of security or safety. Some understanding that will make me feel competent and secure in the world.

This awareness creates ambivalence when I look at my bookshelf. On one hand it is an artifact of my passions and commitments as a person (e.g. to wisdom and understanding), on the other it is a reminder of my particular brand of protectionism from an uncertain and painful world.

In my view, clinging to things to shield us from encountering reality directly is, if not "wrong", at least sub-optimal. Chogyam Trungpa talked about this as the "cocoon". The ways we keep ourselves contained by comforts. The ways we insulate ourselves against the fundamental groundlessness of being.

This is what fuels my ambivalence about abstraction and theory. I reach for books both as a celebration of the human knowledge project and as an attempt to protect myself against the world

What in your life stirs ambivalence in you? How do you respond in the face of this ambivalence? Do you squelch one side and insist on the other? Do you recoil with noisy mental chatter and freeze up? Do you walk away from the source of conflict?

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