Holding the tension

By Beth Macy November 13, 2013

We would all like to have our professional or personal interactions be smooth and productive.  The fact is, if interactions really go to the depths, then likely at some point there comes an unwanted or unanticipated derailment.

In truth, tension is an opening to a deeper level of learning, capacity consciousness, and relationship…if the invitation is accepted.  Sometimes it takes a sizable energy charge to crack open we often call “the conspiracy of politeness,” that pull we all feel to keep the boat from rocking and to stay in our set ways.

Bohm stressed the wisdom of holding the tension.  He told the story of Bohr, Pauli and Heisenberg meeting and trying to resolve the differences each had proposed to the newly forming quantum theory.  The results of their efforts became known as the Copenhagen Interpretation.  Bohm believed they had compromised rather than resolved the creative differences that could have built an even farther reaching theory, all because they failed to hold the tension long enough for a creative resolution to emerge.  As a result, science lost some of the intricate delicacy of Bohr’s position that could have pushed scientific theory even further.

Bohm had been deeply influenced by the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s concept of the dialectic.  All was process, said Hegel, and process followed a particular sequence:  a thesis was opposed by an antithesis.  The two were resolved by a third, a synthesis.  That synthesis became a new thesis, and the process began forever anew.

Bohm’s idea of holding the tension refers to that point of confrontation between thesis and antithesis.  We all know what that feels like, the dreaded moment when we know we’re on the verge of a standoff between two firmly planted, diametrically opposite positions.  Holding that tension is the last thing we want to do!  Escape is much more appealing.

But Bohm directs us with a firm “NO!”  Hold the tension!  If the tension between the opposites can be held long enough without succumbing to the urge to identify with one side or the other, the third, a completely unexpected possibility, one that unites the two in a creative new way and moves beyond them, begins to form.

The term resonance is a metaphor from the sciences which underlies  Bohm’s concept of holding the tension.  The dictionary describes resonance as a harmonic and sympathetic vibration through which one system matches and guides the frequency pattern of another system.

In the midst of disagreements, one individual’s empathic ability to receive and resonate with that of another’s state facilitates both moving to a more positive state than either could generate alone. Resonance helps generates dynamic and positive states that increase the sense of bonding, co-creation, and authenticity.

How we receive and respond to negative communications has a major impact on their outcome.  If we can hold the tension, stay present and empathic, the negativity diminishes.  Our attitude, as described by Bohm, can open the possibility for the third to emerge.

The matrix or container of any relationship must be tempered.  It will stay weak if we only experience niceness within it.  It must have some tension and disagreement or confusion or frustration so that the strength of its edges can hold whatever seeks to emerge.  Bohm’s concept of holding the tension is that which tempers the container.