Archive for the ‘eros’ tag
Strolling the beach on the Mayan Riviera reveals so much about the human condition. Yes, there are people of all sizes and shapes wearing all manner of clothing and bathing suits [or none at all]. But, it is the faces that tell the biggest stories, the authentic stories. The Mayan Riviera is one of those romantic get-away locations for many in North America.
There is an allure that is pregnant with expectation, even for singles who hear the stories of love found, love and lust, and “what goes on in Mexico, stays in Mexico.” So many, if not most of us, head to the tropics for a few weeks of love, romance and the promise of “Eros.”
Yet, all is not well for many not long into these romantic get-aways. It comes down to expectations. For, as Aldo Carotenuto notes in his book, Eros and Pathos: “When expectations do not coincide with reality one is struck by panic, by a suffering that is almost physical.”
There is somehow a belief that by changing setting, to immerse oneself into a romantic tropical setting, the problems that have arisen between to, even unspoken problems, will somehow be banished with a renewed commitment to the depths of romantic love. However, when one arrives in paradise, one finds that they have not escaped conscious and unconscious issues that have been nagging in the background. If anything, the expectation of paradise results in so many people walking along the beach with sad and strained faces, even as they walk with their chosen other.
It feels like the ultimate betrayal of love. “How could you not be a better person? I thought that at least here you wouldn’t do [fill in the blank] and embarrass me. If you truly loved me, you would [fill in the blank].” And so it doesn’t take long for paradise to become an emotional hell.
We are so quick to blame the other, to see the other as breaking the promise of love forever after. We don’t realise that it is not the other that has betrayed us, but our own inner image of the magical other that has both ravished and ravaged us. The image found in the face of our beloved is a reflection of our inner self, an image that triggers Eros making us think we have found a soul mate. We are unconscious of the drama and find ourselves on emotional roller coasters in relationship.
Yet, the person chosen as significant other was no accident. For, the person we have unconsciously chosen to hold our projection of soul mate has been unconsciously chosen because of the hooks embedded in their psyche, ready to catch those very projections. It remains the responsibility for each within the couple to become conscious of themselves so that they can consciously appreciate the real gold in the other with whom the fates have drawn together.
The decision to take time with one’s significant other in a different setting can open the portal for both to see each other, completely free of the trappings of work, commitment, community. Stripped naked and facing each other, there is a golden opportunity to finally see the beautiful truth of the other and in their eyes, one’s own beauty. It becomes vital not to take time for things to emerge without being forced. One needs to sit still with one’s sense of brokenness in order to move from narcissism into a fuller sense of love.
As I sat and thought about today’s post I realised that I wasn’t really talking about men or women, I was talking about love - Romantic Love. It is the relationship that is magical. Robert A. Johnson has clearly defined this in the introduction of his book, WE:
“Romantic love is the single greatest energy system in the Western psyche. In our culture it has supplanted religion as the arena in which men and women seek meaning, transcendence, wholeness, and ecstasy. . . . Romantic love is not just a form of “love,” it is a whole psychological package – a combination of beliefs, ideals, attitudes, and expectations.” (p. xi)
For the most part, this is what I believed, after all, like almost everyone else, I fell in love and that became my life, the centre of my life, my foundation.
“When we fall “in love” we believe we have found the ultimate meaning of life, revealed in the form of another human being. We feel we are finally completed, that we have found the missing parts of ourselves. Life suddenly seems to have a wholeness . . . ” (p. xii)
It was amazing for me. I had met a young woman only one year younger than myself who was beautiful and had that magical quality that gripped me, possessed me. By some grace of the gods and goddesses, I became a magical other for this young woman. Three hours after we met I proposed to her and she accepted. The emptiness and meaningless of life disappeared, was sent to some far corner of the universe and bound up with chains and locks, tucked into a dark closet from which escape seemed impossible. There was no questioning of what had just happened. We believed and that was all that mattered. Then life happened.
I fell in love with her and she fell in love with me. Two strangers from different cultures, even different parts of the country, were held captive by the magic of Eros, that god who represents desire, that yearning for someone that evokes life energy. Two strangers met and joined. We thought we knew each other; not the surface knowing, but a deeper knowledge. ”When we abandon ourselves to the power of Eros, all previous points of reference are impaired or swept away.” Aldo Carotenuto tells it like it was for both of us in his book, Eros and Pathos. For both of us, all our guards and protections had fallen away leaving us stunned with the power of Eros that coursed through our veins.
And so began, for both of us, the journey of a man and a woman who had discovered in the eyes of the other, a magical other.
I am finding Hillman’s book to be quite challenging and fascinating. He is forcing me to rethink my own muddled ideas about self, and to look at the culture in which I was born and raised. As I read daily in newspapers, editorials and in the social media of Twitter and Facebook, we are, as a culture, caught in a vortex of energy that wants release, wants to escape the messiness of a world we have created. We have “Occupy” movements, we have loud and sometimes violent and destructive protests hoping somehow that we can change the world we have created. But, can we change this bed we have created for ourselves without changing our sustaining myth as a culture? That is the critical question. Certainly, we cannot change that myth if we don’t know what that myth is.
“Were we to be interviewed by an aboriginal anthropologist from Australia for our “dream,” our “Gods,” and our “cosmology,” this would be the story we would tell. We would tell of the struggle each day brings to Ego who must rise and do battle with Depression and Seduction and Entanglement, so as to keep the world safe from Chaos, Evil, and Regression, which coil round it like an oppressive Swallowing Serpent. This gives account to our inquirer of our peculiar irrationalities, why we sweep the streets, why we pay taxes, why we go to school and to war – all with compulsive, ritualistic energy so as to keep the Serpent at bay. This is our true cosmology, for Ego, who changes rivers in their course and shoots to the moon, acts not out of hunger or Gods or tribal persecutions, as the inquiring aboriginal might imagine in his savage mind, so inert and lazy bound to the maternal uroboros, with his “weak ego.” No, our civilization’s excessive activism is all to keep back the night of the Serpent, requiring a single monotheistic single-mindedness, a cyclops’s dynamism of all the God which She and Ego have partaken together at a Western banquet lasting three thousand years and perhaps now coming to it indigestible conclusion as Ego weakens in what we call “neurosis| and the swallowed Gods stir again in the imaginal dark of his shadow and of her belly. Ego and Unconscious, Hero and Serpent, on and Mother, their battle, their bed and their banquet – this is the sustaining myth we must tell to account for our strange ways: why we are always at war, why we have eaten up the world, why we have so little imaginative power, and why we have only one God and He so far away.” (Hillman, Senex & Puer, pp 144-145)
“Perhaps it would not be too much to say that the most crucial problems of the individual and of society turn upon the way the psyche functi0ns in regard to spirit and matter.” (Jung)
This is how James Hillman begins chapter four in his book, Senex and Puer. One of the things that strike me in this quote is the use of the word “society,” a word that jumps out in context of what is happening in the world today. The lack of focus on “society” and a single-minded focus on the “individual” is the Achilles heel of Jungian psychology. Lately I have been reading from a number of different authors in different fields trying to find something that resonates at a deeper level, something that doesn’t get lost in my personal ego. Why is this important to me? I think it has to do with the idea of relationship with other. For me, the key word is relationship.
Psychology asks us to develop a good relationship with the self with the assumption that if we can focus on this dynamic, the rest will take care of itself. Somehow, that only seems to be making the situation of our collective worse, not better as we would have expected. As we go deeper and deeper within our psyche, we seem to get lost in the world of the Great Mother. The hero’s journey has us battle the Great Mother in order to win the reward. Depth psychology . . .
What is missing, in my opinion is the soaring psychology that embraces logos, the spirit – the world of the Great Father. I know, this is almost a dirty word in our modern world who somehow sees the Great Father as an evil force that is more about rape and pillage and brutality. Yet, as I think about it, our modern world of science, economics and politics is really an expression of the Great Mother (mater/matter). Our world is all about consumption, about things, not about ideas. Science has brought us to the idea that there is only the earth, this ecosystem which is spinning in a larger physical cosmos – God is dead and buried and Gaia now rules undisputed.
We honour the Great Mother and we are rewarded as good sons with riches – good sex, material wealth and guilt, the guilt of being too enmeshed with the Great Mother. And we have bought into this way of believing and functioning as a culture. The way to insult a man today is to say his head is in the clouds, that he is an egg-head lost in the world of spirit. Our world celebrates “common sense” and doesn’t trust logos. As a result, we have a world spinning out of balance – a world focused on the individual and not on community.
As I read through James Hollis’ book, What Matters Most, the constant reference to Eros suggested that I take a bit of a time-out in order to get this Greek God figured out, that is arrive at a psychological understanding as it relates to my own self. I borrowed this image from the Wikipedia article which can be found here for those who like doing their own reading and interpreting. As I read through the article, this passage struck me as vital:
“At the beginning there was only Chaos, Night (Nyx), Darkness (Erebus), and the Abyss (Tartarus). Earth, the Air and Heaven had no existence. Firstly, blackwinged Night laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Darkness, and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Love (Eros) with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest. He mated in the deep Abyss with dark Chaos, winged like himself, and thus hatched forth our race, which was the first to see the light.”
This Eros is different in some fundamental way from the Cupid version. This Eros is the one that I recognize as hovering at the edges of darkness. As Eros enters the darkness, Anima or soul, begins to be awakened. I guess it might even be said that the mating of darkness and love gives birth to the soul. And of course the soul, Anima, contains both the golden light of Eros and the darkness of Chaos. Psychologically speaking the journey is to balance, to find the thread, an individual thread between the archetypal power of both Eros and Chaos. To shift into the realm of Eros or Chaos is a shift into psychic pathology, into being numbed by either of these two archetypal gods – numbed with darkness, emptiness; or numbed by being to much into other so that the self is abandoned.
There, I think I have that understood, at least in my own mind for the present. Now, I can return to reading, thinking and writing.
“Generally speaking, women have a better, more balanced relationship to Eros than men, for they are psychologically more likely to find the ministries of the god in varied venues. Men, having so often the god with success in their endeavors, are devastated by retirement, impotence of any kind, defeat or displacement. Sadly, they are more likely to drift into sadness, depression, substance abuse, suicide, compulsive sexuality, or seek some quick surrogate lover or diverting cause. Accordingly, they handle the death of a marriage or spouse, retirement, or occupational displacement poorly because they have lost contact with their inner soul life.” (Hollis, What Matters Most, p 52)
Hollis’s words have reached deep within me as usual and set me to wondering about how much I have yet to learn. I am blessed with my marriage and know that I would be devastated with the death of the marriage or my spouse. Somehow, I sense that I would survive the devastation because I have regained contact with my inner self, my soul and I have come to terms with aspects of my shadow self as well. I am not so sure if I would have survived it a number of years ago when my soul and life was fully placed in outer life and the people in my outer life.
The will to life is the mark of one’s relationship to Eros. There was a time or two or more in my life when Eros was absent, when the will to engage in life was numbed. I went through the motions as if I was in mourning – and I was in mourning though I didn’t know it – mourning for my own soul. I kept myself busy so as to avoid as much as possible being alone with my self, being alone with the darkness that seemed to crowd out feeling.
As it happens, between writing the first sentence of the last paragraph and the following sentences, I took a time out from writing to eat my evening meal and then do a bit of reading – Fire and Irises, a book by Margaret Nicol. Just a bit of background before I go on – Margaret is from the same area of Canada as I am from, the Ottawa area. Like myself, she has had a career that spanned both education and psychotherapy. We are also close to the same age. I will leave the rest of her story for you discover. The purpose of saying this much is simply to preface the next quote from her book and to say that I could have said the same thing regarding myself:
“From the outside I suppose I looked as though I was fairly ‘together.’ I was a psychologist and held a full-time job, which I did adequately. But that was the cover story. I despaired that I would never be normal and wake up feeling happy like other people.” (Nicol, Fire and Irises, p. 34)
Eros was absent, well almost absent. What I know now is that Eros wasn’t really absent as this god continued to be present though I was unaware of its presence. Teaching and counselling others, coaching, continuing with studies to try and fill the emptiness were signs of Eros’ presence, waiting patiently for me to wake up out of the blackness. Eros showed in the flashes of compassion, the time I spent listening to the fears and anxieties of others. I found the lost ones in my classrooms and let them know that I saw them, that I accepted them just as they were. I just couldn’t do the same for myself.
My dreams started to talk more openly to me about Eros, about a divine spark of life that was still buried within the depths, behind the layers of darkness. Not quite hearing clearly, I wandered through cyberspace connecting with ghosts of people, with the faint whispers of Eros that made its way into my poetry. As I wrote in my dream journal and my poetry, I began to paint the scenes. And then, I saw/heard/felt something beneath the darkness, saw a child that had been abandoned.
Reclaiming that child was a long journey, one that is still in progress if I am to be fully honest. Reclaiming that child meant awakening the darkness within which the child hid. The blackness had protected the child, waiting for the adult to have the tools and courage to peel back the layers of the darkness in order to reclaim the child. In the process I had to be both father and mother to this child hidden in darkness so that the child would believe that it was safe to come out of hiding, that it was safe to again feel. And in the process, Eros began to pulse in the adult. Contact with the inner soul had been made and a journey of transformation was begun.
As I was walking down a rocky path through the jungle on Cebu Island in the Philippines, I came across this scene where a man was singing karaoke outside of his thatch hut. I was amazed that in spite of the evidence that pointed to extreme poverty, there was a karaoke system sitting on a crude table just outside of the flimsy hut that served as the family home. I don’t think anyone would question the presence of love, of Eros in this scene. It is there in terms of music, in the triad of mother, father and child, in the eyes of the child that finds the onlooker. Eros is the animating force that says yes to life. But I am ahead of myself here. Before giving any kind of answer, the question must be asked fully.
“What is Eros, and how does It/He/She conform with or differ from the erotic? What is the proper role of this “god” in our lives? How, when all of us have had our hearts cracked and crazed, if not broken forever, can we still steer our leaky craft through the dangerous but necessary shoals of love? How can we honestly grieve loss and disappointment and still, with due deliberation, plunge again into risk and emotional danger? How can we, in the face of shame and failure, open up to life, and open repeatedly? How can we honor Eros, this much misunderstood god, yet not be enslaved by It/Him/Her? Who among us has not made foolish, irretrievable decisions while possessed by this god? Who among us does not long for such violent possession? Who among us can control that god, or compel its acquiescence to our agenda? And why should we so eagerly return to get beat up again by such a petulant god, over and over again. Perhaps because we have no choice, because Eros is a god. and we are not. ” (Hollis, What Matters Most, pp 45-46)
Hollis’ words strike right into my depths, and for that I am thankful for it allows me to think kinder of myself for all of my foolishness in matters of the heart, in matters of sexual attraction. And, in hearing these words, I get to understand better how it is my wife continues to hold to me in spite of all the rough patches that have left scars, emotional scars. Somehow, this god, Eros, has seen fit to allow all the ups and downs to be experienced with the same person.
But, I want to know more, for Eros is not just about man and woman as I said in my opening words, it is about much more:
“Eros is the life force – desire that wishes most to connect, to build, to combine, to fuse, to generate with the other. (Hollis, page 46)
Yes! This is what I was trying to say, this is what connects me with life, with others, this is what allows me to dig deep within to continue on though the way gets almost too hard and when depression would tell me to simply quit and retreat into nothingness. This depth lets me understand how others, whose lives are infinitely more difficult than I could ever imagine living, still find a way to stay alive and yet embrace life, to find the voice to sing to their families and to their own souls.
I found these two emerald green tree skinks on the tree just a few metres from the balcony of the villa in the Philippines. The chased each other and nipped at each other’s tail. It immediately brought the image of Ouroboros to mind so I raced for my camera. Of course, ouroboros (or uroboros) really is about a single lizard or snake biting/eating its own tail. That said, this image of two circling lizards just begged to be taken and become part of the on-going story of images here.
But rather than see this as a classical ouroboros dynamic, I want to look at it in terms of dualities circling each other, in constant tension of attraction and repulsion, the dance of the masculine and the feminine, the balancing act of the conscious and the unconscious self. One other duality that must be mentioned is that of Eros and Kronos – the dance between life and death – the urge to create and the urge to break down and destroy.
Like all other humans, I have a strong desire to live, to love, to create, to be in intimate relationship. Yet like all people, there is an underlying pull to the grave and to annihilation. It shows up in some of the smallest things, in the risks we take, the choices we make, and the fact that we are aging. We rarely realise that we are contributing, unconsciously, to the process of self annihilation; and that is as it should be.
However, we sometimes consciously choose things that hasted our own destruction. It really doesn’t matter why this happens, it only matters that it happens. I know that in my battle with depression I defiantly attempt to erase markers of my passage through life. During these periods of time I destroy photos of myself believing that when I am gone, I should really be gone and not hanging around in some photo album or on some computer. During these times I am certain that the world would be much better off with out my darkness. Little do I realise that in responding to depression in this manner, I am tilting the duality dance between Eros and Kronos in the favor of Kronos.
But as I grow more conscious of my self and my shadow, I hesitate long enough and avoid erasing more bits and pieces. The parts of the past I have already erased in earlier decades are gone forever. I erased without any thought of what others might need as evidence of my existence in their own lives. I knew less then and only knew that the darkness was too powerful. Today, the pull to Eros is stronger than the pull to Kronos. Kronos will wait knowing that I will eventually get there. But until then, I want to continue living, loving and creating.
At the beginning of the month when I walked around Hong Mei Park, the flowers were in full bloom and the number of park visitors was significantly high with most of them busy using their cell phones as cameras to try and take in the scene. There is something about spring and the bursting forth of flowers that stirs the life forces within each of us. There is an innate desire to possess all of this beauty, this vitality, this visible image of life energy. It doesn’t matter if one has a DSLR, an SLR or the crappiest camera phone, the focus is the same, the intent to capture and hold the moment.
Humans replicate this in other aspects of their lives, especially in relationships. The moment we feel our inner spaces stirred to the point that life forces start to surge, when in the presence of another person, we want to possess that person, to take that person into our bodies or enter into their bodies and become one with them as though in doing so, we would be complete, full, ready for everything life could throw at us. It really doesn’t matter what the person looks like or who the person is – all that matters is that somehow energy within us has been activated. The feeling, the rush that results tells us that this is what life is all about, this is what we need. And when there is a reciprocal response, the result is a relationship that primal and archetypal. We call it love.
Passion, rawness, sex, lust, love – so many words that call to the basic instinctual command to couple as a species. There is no room for logic or consciousness, just a throbbing of the loins to mate. When we begin to think about what our bodies command, we begin to travel a different road, one that often contradicts nature. Nature compels us to mate, to preserve the species as it does for all other species, a biological command. However, being human brings forth a different dynamic, one that both embraces and confounds the urges and demands of nature. I want to return once more to Gao XingJian’s book, Soul Mountain to have him speak of this dynamic from a “Chinese” scene.
“Young women in groups of five or six come to the river-bank, some standing in a circle and others holding hands, and begin calling their lovers. Melodious singing rapidly fills the vast night. . . .
. . . It is totally instinctive, uncontrived, unrestrained and unembellished, and certainly devoid of what might be called embarrassment. Each woman exerts herself, body and heart, to draw her young man to her.
. . . I am suddenly surrounded by an expanse of passions and think that the human search for love must originally have been like this. So-called civilization in later ages separated sexual impulse from love and created the concepts of status, wealth, religion, ethics and cultural responsibility. Such is the stupidity of human beings.
. . . I see her expectant eyes in the darkness, unblinking and fixed on me. My heart starts pounding and I seem to return to the long-lost trembling of my passionate youth. I am drawn to her . . . I see her lips moving slightly although she doesn’t speak again and just waits, and the singing of her companions grows soft. . . .
I’ve never encountered this style of love. It’s what I dream about but when it actually happens I can’t cope.
. . . I’m afraid of shouldering the responsibility of even pursuing momentary happiness, I’m not a wolf but I would like to be a wolf, to return to nature, to go out the prowl. However, I can’t rid myself of this human mind. I am a monster with a human mind and can find no refuge. (Gao, Soul Mountain, pp 228-229)