The ambiguity of life

I have recently found myself reflecting on the word ‘ambiguity’ and its meaning. According to the dictionary it can mean “doubtfulness or uncertainty of meaning or intention; unclear, indefinite”. I was recently asked by someone after giving a talk to clarify the term ambiguity for them, and I found myself somewhat vainly trying to pin down a clear definition. This I found rather frustrating – it was as if every time I moved to define it, ‘ambiguity’ would slip through my fingers. In hindsight this feels symbolic, as the nature of ambiguity is that it does not offer itself up for clear, defined analysis. The reason I mention this is that James Hollis, the Jungian psychologist, says that the ability to tolerate and stay in relation to ambiguity in ourselves, and the world around us, is a sign of maturity. The desire for certainty, wanting things to be predictable, safe and familiar is a common response. But life is ambiguous, uncertain and unpredictable. Rather than expecting life to dance to our own tune, maybe we could allow for the mystery that is Life to touch us and open us.

“Certainty begets stagnation, but ambiguity pulls us deeper into life. Unchallenged conviction begets rigidity, which begets regression; but ambiguity opens us to discovery, complexity, and therefore growth. The health of our culture, and the magnitude of our personal journeys, require that we learn to tolerate ambiguity, in service to a larger life.” James Hollis