Grow up! Stop being a two-year old! Stop being such a baby! Be a man! What kind of man are you? Stop asking my permission! Grow some balls!
Before I even begin to write this blog post, I realise that it will take quite a bit of space and time to get it all said. After the last post, about the need to be authentic and transparent, I know that this is one area that I need to stop avoiding. Every man who has ever been in a relationship, if that man is honest with himself, knows that his partner is more than just a physical person. I am married, yet at times I become a child with my wife. Consciously I know she is my wife and that I am enjoying her physical and psychological presence as my wife, as my love-mate. Yet there are things going on beneath the surface that we both become dimly aware of – something uncomfortable lurking beneath the surface. And we may or may not give voice to what we sense. My wife has no problem telling me that I leave her feeling as if she is my mother rather than my wife at times. that I have, at least for a moment, become a child. At times I hear her call me Papa, moments where I am a dependable authority who will make the good decisions needed for the questions that are ready to be asked. Both of us shift out of our relationship as husband and wife, and become mother and father and for the most part, we are unaware that it has even happened. And truth be told, we both vehemently deny the appearance of the inner child into our relationship with each other. In other words, we are normal people in a relationship, not unlike every other relationship that exists in some fashion.
What has appeared for both of us, are complexes; a mother complex for me and a father complex for her. We all have complexes and they almost always show up in our relationships with people; intimate relationships, friend relationships, work relationships, community relationships. Whenever we find ourselves reacting with energy to another person, a complex has been activated. There are all manner of complexes that lurk beneath the conscious surface. But rather than try to list most of them here, I want to focus on just one, the mother complex. Why this complex and not a different complex? Well, it is this complex that is messing up quite bit of my psychic life – and actively since the death of my mother just over a year ago. With that said, it’s time to begin.
Before there comes into being, a mother complex, there is something beyond our personal experience of mother. Of course there is the instinct of mothering in each woman and of being mothered, by all infants. The role seems to exist outside of the limits of any one, single female. C.G. Jung called this bigger than life mother, the Archetypal Mother. It is the psychic source from which each woman takes her turn, should life allow, at being a mother whether it is intentional or not. Even women who never bare children slip into the role of mother, sometimes consciously, most times unconsciously, during her life. Every child exists because there is a mother. So much for the background of the mother archetype. If you want a fuller understanding, the pdf that is linked above will likely provide enough before heading into the depths of Jung’s work for a more complete understanding. It is enough for now to say that in spite of the reality of my biological mother, there is/was more going on within me which has made its way into my relationships.
Daryl Sharp, in his book, Getting To Know You, takes some time to explain how complexes such as the Mother Complex, limit our ability to relate to another person.
“To the extent that we’re still unconscious of ourselves, so we are limited in our ability to relate psychologically to another person.
Let me put it another way: whatever aspects of ourselves we’re not conscious of, we’re apt to see in someone else. The question is, are we then relating to that person at all, or to an unconscious side of ourselves?” [Sharp, p. 29]
There is so much more to say, but I have to be patient and approach this without trying to say it all at once. But before I leave today’s post, I want to end with some words from Jung, words which will serve as a direction sign post for where this will take me, as well as where I have already been.
“Complexes interfere with the intentions of the will and disturb the conscious performance; they produce disturbances of memory and blockages in the flow of associations; they appear and disappear according to their own laws; they can temporarily obsess consciousness, or influence speech and action in an unconscious way. In a word, complexes behave like independent beings.” [Jung, CW Volume 8, par. 253]
Being a psychotherapist doesn’t make one immune to the descents into the dark side of one’s being. Doctors get sick and priests have crises of faith. So it is for therapists who wrestle with the demons of the psyche. Much of the issues that come from crises of faith and descents into the darkness of the psyche have to do with transference. Listening to, being attuned to, engaging with, and simply being with parishioners and clients-patients activates something in both parties.
As the professional opens doors, the contents of those they work with often serve as triggers and at times find themselves hooking into the psych of the professional. For a while, the priest becomes the father, the god-like being he stands in place of as mediator. The same is true for therapists who become either father or mother, again becoming a saviour, god-like for their patients. The professional holds the contents as if they are sacred (which they indeed are) taking some of the weight from their parishioners and patients. Taking the weight, they allow space for breathing and with that breathing, an opportunity to find some healthy release and with that release, an opportunity to heal.
But there is a cost to the therapist and to the priest – that cost must be paid. There is a need for the healers to find someone to whom they can turn to work through their personal stuff that get activated in holding and dealing with the stuff of their parishioners and patients. I have found myself bending almost too far and so needed to find the resources that I needed to recharge my batteries. But in the space in between holding too much and release from that too much, I have my own crisis of faith, of psyche, of self. The healer must take his or her turn at being healed again, and again, and again. To be a good priest in being able to handle the crises of his parishioners, the priest must have lived and survived his own crises – only then can he be in tune with and thus serve as a healer. The same is true for a therapist – in order to heal, one must have been broken and then gone through the process of being healed.
In today’s professional world of psychotherapy there is no guarantee that the therapist has been there and done that. The only guarantee (usually) is that the therapist has attended classes and achieved certification. The have learned well from books and have practised using the appropriate skills. And as consumers of therapy, there is a tendency to look at the certificates and hope for the best. Who would trust an older man or woman without the certificate?
In my career as a school principal at various schools, I found that some of my best staff, being able to work with students and help them learn, to relate, to connect – were not trained teachers. Some were parent volunteers, some were trained to assist with special needs students (or at least be willing to work with these students as an aid). Some of the worst people I have had in my schools had good education, high marks on their transcripts, and had attended very reputable colleges of education at high calibre universities. I learned as a principal that needed to look beyond the certificate and find the person standing behind the certificate.
As a therapist in need, I, like my clients, need to find someone to trust so that I may work in a safe containing relationship to heal myself. It isn’t enough just to download onto a different healer, to transfer my stuff onto a guru or analyst or bishop or . . . There is an apt expression that comes to mind – “Physician heal thyself“ -
“The phrase alludes to the readiness and ability of physicians to heal sickness in others while sometimes not being able or willing to heal themselves. This suggests something of ‘the cobbler always wears the worst shoes’, i.e. cobblers are too poor and busy to attend to their own footwear. It also suggests that physicians, while often being able to help the sick, cannot always do so and, when sick themselves, are no better placed than anyone else.” [The Phrase Finder]
“One has no right to talk about the last stage until he has accomplished the second one. One has no right to talk about the oneness of the universe until he is aware of its separateness and duality.” [Johnson, He, p. 8]
The second stage, the “imperfection of middle life” stage is where most of us get stuck and stuck hard. I have met a number of people holding all manner of belief systems that claim they are well into the third stage of enlightenment, people for the most part much younger than I am. I don’t mean to be judgemental, but most of these people are grasping and squeezing the rituals and the status of “enlightenment” that is awarded by participation in a particular belief system such as Ascendant Masters, Scientologists, Mystics, and so on. The New Age movement is rife with all sorts of esoteric belief systems that promise a way out of the messiness and discomfort of the imperfection of middle life.
To be honest, I can’t lay this all on the New Age movement for fundamentalist religious participation promises the same thing, promises enlightenment if one suspends all critical thinking and accepts the theology of the particular religion as the “Word of God.” And if one begins to doubt, the community of faith will rally around and pray for one to regain certainty, total and complete trust in the faith. One learns to deny one’s inner doubts, one’s own questions and even the stirrings of one’s own body. One learns to deny self, to deny the authority of self, to deny the evidence of the senses. And in that embracing of denial, one becomes a fanatic claiming enlightenment through faith and with that enlightenment, power. Men who gravitate to fundamentalism become blind to themselves as they cast their shadow and the shadow of their chosen people onto others who have not embraced their faith.
Our human history is a sordid, violent and angry history made by men who step into the role of the enlightened without having dealt with their personal imperfections. We have fought wars with God on our side, feeling justified in committing any and all dark behaviours on the heathens, on those who by definition of not being enlightened, are the mindless peasants and minions of the devil, of Satan.
For a man, even in our modern and more liberal societies, becoming aware of the dual nature of being a man, the dual nature of the universe as he sees and senses; and then accepting that dual nature which in turn changes his behaviour, even his manner of being present in the world – life becomes more problematical in relation to these fundamentalist groups be they religions or New Age movements. As a man becomes aware of his inner feminine, his manner of relating to the world is altered. He becomes a bit softer and gentler. Now a soft and gentle man becomes a target for those who feel threatened. Men feel their own masculinity being threatened, often seeing that softness and gentleness as signs of homosexuality. Women who are in relationships with these soft and gentle men feel their space being invaded and even their security being threatened – who will then protect and provide for them if their man stops being manly?
Yet, as Johnson points out, there is no way to enlightenment that does not cross completely through the messiness and complexity of middle life. One must abandon the blind obedience to dogma, to any given philosophy in order to be able to wrestle the demons of his inner darkness to a draw, to find balance between the darkness and light, to find that space between breaths – the field of true enlightenment.
One of the hardest things that I am forced to confront about my ego self is a tendency to be stubborn and hold onto things and ideas as if they were carved in concrete. Growing older, my body is telling me just how absurd this is.
“. . . there is a widespread notion that the ancient Gods can provide models of identity and sexuality for boys and men, while the Goddesses provide such models for women and girls. The origins of the notion are obvious: the Gods are felt to be masculine archetypal essences that have a bearing on males, while the Goddesses represent feminine styles appropriate for women. However, this simple equation is mistaken, mainly because the Gods and Goddesses represent metaphorical possibilities within the human psyche, and cannot be neatly parcelled out to this or that gender. The masculinity of the Gods and the femininity of the Goddesses must not be equated with the maleness of men and the femaleness of women. To make such an equation is to engage in concrete or literal thinking . . .” [Tacey, Remaking Men, p. 22]
As I grow older, I am engaging more in the feminine aspects of who I am under my skin that is lined with wrinkles and creases that accumulate as I age. It isn’t so easy for me to maintain the certainty of my masculinity though there is no disputing my maleness. It wasn’t that long ago that I truly did look only to the ancient Gods in my attempts to understand my self. Thanks to all the Gods and Goddesses for waking me up and coming to understand that all of you are buried somewhere in the shadowy spaces within my psyche
“Every relationship has its particular dignity. There is no such thing as an unworthy love or one to be ashamed of, because each experience corresponds to a profound individual need. And if and when it ends there is nothing to regret, because at that particular time the loved one filled our emptiness, no matter what happened next.” [Carotenuto, Eros and Pathos, p. 33]
These are powerful words, words that heal where often we use words that attack the self or other due to feelings of present discord within a relationship. There is no such thing as unworthy love. What we have a hard time understanding that love doesn’t owe us anything other than the experience. We need to learn to accept the gift of love whether it is for a short time or for decades. And, when that gift of love has disappeared into some other place leaving us alone with ourselves in spite of the presence or non-presence of the one with whom we shared love, we need to say thank you for that time of love rather than engage in interpersonal warfare.
As I walked the beach earlier today, I looked at the people along the way. Most were couples; most of those couples were men and women. It was easy to spot those who were in love and those who were in hate. The rest in the middle ground were for the most part, more into themselves than their partners, but not oblivious of their presence. Most of these others were obviously couples well used to each other’s presence.
I have to admit that both my wife and I are still filling our empty spaces with each other. In spite of more than forty years together, the well hasn’t run dry and there is no taking each other for granted. Not unlike young lovers caught in the throes of Eros, of Cupid’s arrows, we need to see each other and be close enough for touch when the need for contact presents itself. In absence of each other’s presence, we are left holding onto something empty.
And when the need for the Other is no longer necessary, when the holes are filled by whatever love was needed and offered? What then?
I took this photo yesterday evening from the roof top of the condo building in which I am staying until Sunday. The woman in the photo is my wife. We had made the journey to the roof for the specific purpose of taking sunset photos. I have been taking sunset photos that have both her and the sun in a spiritual dialogue. Of course, just saying this is a projective statement on my part. Still, there were no words spoken about poses – this was what appeared before my eyes and then camera lens.
As I have mentioned, perhaps too many times, all relationships are influenced by projections. Since no one is ever completely conscious, unconscious aspects of both one’s self and the Other make their appearance and inject their energy into the relationship. I can only know so much about myself, more than my wife knows about me. Yet, she does know things about me that I am unconscious of – my blind self. The reverse is true when it comes to what she knows of her “self” and of me. This makes for some interesting interactions over the years. As I age and change, change due to becoming more conscious as well as older in physical terms, and as she changes due to becoming more conscious and getting older; we find ourselves frequently encountering a stranger. Past patterns shift and new patterns emerge.
As consciousness shifts, increases due to unconscious contents being brought into the light, one chooses new ways of being and interacting with the world at large and with significant others, even Magical Others. Well, perhaps using the word “chooses” is a bit of a stretch. In truth, a new unconscious face appears, new triggers are activated, new hooks engaged and one either falls in love again, or one is left empty wondering where love has gone. I have been lucky – we have been lucky. Somehow, the constantly shifting unconscious continues to keep us enthralled with each other in spite of more than forty years together. Well, perhaps “lucky” is a lose term to use as we all learn that “love hurts” as much as it gifts us with wonder.
I am halfway through my stay in Playa del Carmen and somehow I haven’t seem to be able to find time, motivation or energy to approach this blog site. I could blame the Internet connection which is ver-r-r-r-r-y slow and sometime non-existent in spite of the fact that the connection utility tells me I am connected with five bars of signal strength, the highest. I could blame Internet, but that wouldn’t be telling the truth. Something else is activated (or not activated that should be) within me, something that has had me in disconnect mode, or perhaps in retreat mode. Even my daily meditation has been affected with me missing meditation practice for the first three days here. I have been somehow been perched on a high-wire balancing between going forward, going backward, or simply falling off the wire. Hopefully the stalemate has passed and I can once again follow my path through the days of my life with less high-wire balancing tension.
I guess it is enough just to be aware that this is my condition at the present.
“Being conscious is not a question of IQ. It has very little to do with how smart we are, or the accumulation of knowledge- how much we know. It’s a completely subjective phenomenon. It depends on how much we know about ourselves.” [Sharp, Getting to Know You, p. 27]
“According to tradition, there are potentially three stages of psychological development for a man. The archetypal pattern is that one goes from the unconscious perfection of childhood, to the conscious imperfection of middle life, to conscious perfection of old age. One moves from an innocent wholeness, in which the inner world and outer world are united, to a separation and differentiation between inner and outer worlds with an accompanying sense of life’s duality, and then, at last, to enlightenment – a conscious reconciliation of the inner and outer in harmonious wholeness.” [Johnson, He, p. 8]
I’m in my sixties and I would love to say that I am in the the third stage, but like most modern men, I am not there . . . yet. I left the first stage too early and perhaps that is the source of my hanging around in the second stage so long. Perhaps the third stage is not reached by most men in the modern world; perhaps it hasn’t happened in many cultures over the millenia of human existence. I am not so sure as to make this a statement of fact. Buddhism makes me think twice.
“The first touch of consciousness in a youth appears as a wound or as suffering.” [Johnson, He, p. 7]
Wounding is not something new. It is impossible to move through childhood and youth without being wounded. Even those with safe, loving and nurturing environments are wounded. The wounding isn’t necessarily due to abuse – physical, emotional, mental, sexual, psychological. In spite of all the types of abuse that make the news, everyone suffers the wounding of loss – the loss of innocence that comes with consciousness, that shift from childhood to adult through adolescence.
The arrival of consciousness at the cost of innocence. Typically this loss comes with adolescence where the body physically changes from child to a reproductive being. Testes enlarge, pubic hair emerges, the voice deepens, the penis takes on a curious life of its own often embarrassing the adolescent male. The shift from childhood isn’t the wound though. The wound is heralded by this shift.
“Most western men are Fisher Kings. Every boy has naively blundered into something too big for him. He proceeds halfway through his masculine development and then drops it as being too hot. Often a certain bitterness arises, because, like the Fisher King, he can neither live with the new consciousness he has touched nor can he entirely drop it.” [pp 7-8]
Like all other young males, I was wounded. I lost my sense of magic, of fantasy and fairy tale and childhood innocence. One day I am a child, and then the wounding leaves me a broken man in spite of the fact that I was only ten years old. I had been wounded sexually, physically and emotionally before I was ten, but those woundings were visited upon me when I was a child, and they didn’t change the fact that I was still a child after the abuse. The wounding means that childhood has come to an end.
It isn’t important that I detail my wounding. What is important is that I am aware of that wounding and what I do about it. I know what I did for the years following the wounding, years which I denied my wounding, buried it beneath layer upon layer of banishment.
“It is painful to watch a young man realize that the world is not just joy and happiness, to watch the disintegration of his childlike beauty, faith and optimism. It is regrettable but necessary – if we are not cast out of the Garden of Eden, there can be no Heavenly Jerusalem.” [p. 8]
Necessary? Yes, necessary. It doesn’t really matter how one is wounded, but it is necessary for wounding to happen. Otherwise, we would never leave childhood and become adult men and women. Now, I can understand this without becoming consumed by bitterness. I do understand that the wounding did force me to take a road away from my home in the years that followed the wounding. And like Parsifal, I went in search of my Holy Grail.
With that said, I take leave for now and pledge to return with more words of wounding, and becoming a man as a result of the wounding.
While waiting for some books I have placed on hold to be freed for me to download from my e-library, I have decided to read one of the e-books I bought last autumn for those “in case moments.” I bought a number of e-books that focused on Jungian psychology and Buddhism so that I wouldn’t have to haul around too many heavy books while travelling. I already own these books as either paperback or hard-cover books and have read most of them. The book I decided to read (re-read actually) is by Robert A. Johnson, a book called, He. It is a little book of only 63 pages long and it was meant to be a reference for the “masculine” series of posts. Te be honest, I had forgotten just how good the book really is. As I began reading, not having the highlights and underlined passages from my hard copy of the book in front of me, I felt like I was discovering new territory. I felt as if I was an old fashioned hero on a quest for hidden treasures.
It didn’t take too long into the Introduction for me to find the first treasure.
“We must remember that a myth is a living entity, and exists within every person. You will get the true, living form of the myth if you can see it as it spins away inside yourself. The most rewarding mythological experience you can have is to see how it lives in your own psychological structure.” [p. 4]
For me, this is particularly important as I sometimes take myth too literally. I am reminded that the myth is a universal representation of the human psyche filling somewhat the same role as a dream which is more of a cross between the universal and the personal psyche.
Johnson’s book is about the masculine and uses the myth of the “Grail” and “Parsifal” as ways to understand the masculine psyche.
“The Grail myth speaks of masculine psychology. This is not to say that it is confined to the male, for a woman participates in her own inner masculinity, though it is less dominant for her. We must take everything that goes into the myth as part of ourselves. We will have to cope with a dazzling array of fair damsels, but must see them too as parts of the masculine psyche.” [ibid]
Now that I have been re-oriented, I find myself wondering where this journey will take me. I know that as I continue reading I will continue to turn the microscope that Johnson is using on the tale, to peer within myself, to shed some light and perhaps understanding about my own wounding and growth into mature masculinity, into a whole, healthy man. I might be getting old, but I am still willing to dig into the depths and undo some of the fetters that have delayed the development my masculine psyche.
Right now, it is time to return to the book. I will be back later to share more of the treasures I find on this journey.