Archive for the ‘James Hollis’ tag
Yes, what then is love? I know it exists and that it blossoms and often withers turning into bitterness, sorrow and even sometimes hatred. I that magical attraction in others, and even see it in birds and animals. And most importantly, I have lived the experience of love, and still continue to find myself held within its bounds. Is it simply chemistry? Or, is there more to it? Sadly, I don’t have the answers but I do know that love exists.
For a man, it is confusing, this thing called love. Perhaps it needs to be called lust, or need, or dominance, or perhaps simply just love. Because of my history as a child, and because of everyman’s history as a child, the Mother creeps in to claim her share, to voice her approval and disapproval, to give or withhold as we enter into relationship with a woman once we have left childhood behind. The mother-complex influences us, directs us, pulls at us within our unconscious. For us as men, we simply find ourselves fascinated by a particular woman, a stranger or someone we have seen often, but yet have never really seen. We don’t see the energy of a mother-complex at work. For us as men, we simply fall in love. We don’t need explanations or reasons. It’s simple. We fall in love.
“We say we love, yet we know not what it is. We say we love many things in many different ways. We borrow words from the Greeks who sought to differentiate these states of desire: eros, caritas, philos, storgé, agape. And yet we sense the shadowy beast behind our purest motives.” [Hollis, The Eden Project, p. 30]
But, it turns out not to be so simple after all. After time has allowed us to discover the real person beneath the fascination, with in turn that person discovering the real man beneath her fascination, we are faced with dealing with loss, real loss that demands that we go through the stages of grieving for what has been lost, that Magical Other. For some, time and effort allows a new kind of love to emerge. For others, the grieving becomes destructive of the relationship creating even more grief. And for more than a few, the desire for answers to pull us out of depression, dysfunction and confusion sends us into therapy. We need to find ourselves and know ourselves as we find ourselves lost in some dank and dark swamp. With loss of the Magical Other, we are left questioning our own identity. If only we would know then perhaps we could again be in relation with our Magical Other.
“So we bring ourselves to relationship. With scant knowledge of ourselves, we seek our identity in the mirror of the Other, as we once did in Mom and Dad. With all the wounds of this perilous condition we seek a safe harbor in that Other who, alas, is seeking the same in us. With the thousand adaptive strategies derived from the fortuities of fated time, fated place, fated Others, we contaminate the frail present with the germs of the past.” [p. 32]
Hang on, there is hope. There is a way out of the swamp.
“. . . the capacity to suffer wounding and learn to adapt to it is crucial to the development of self. . . We have wounds, and the clusters of energy that accompany them, because we have a life history. The deeper question is whether we have the wounds or they have us.” [Hollis, The Eden Project. p. 21]
The wounding – are we victims of our woundings; or, do we use these woundings to craft the unique individual we are?
So, getting back to my own story which is not so unique as all men have a story that includes a mother-complex, it is important to note that how a man is wounded has a huge impact on how one responds to life and to relationships to life, particularly to the women in our lives. Our mother-complexes exist because we have parental imagos, that is, we all have images of parent – mother and father – regardless of ever having had a particular relationship with one’s unique biological parents. Present or absent, a relationship exists within the psyche. Positive or negative experience, presence or absence, too muchness or not enoughness – all help to colour that image we unconsciously build of parent and of our future relationships to both men and women.
“Children are driven unconsciously in a direction that is intended to compensate for everything that was left unfulfilled in the lives of their parents.” [Jung, CW 17, par 328]
To understand the unconscious image we build of mother and father, we not only include our experiences, but as Jung tells us. we have all the unconscious inheritances of those images within those we engage in familial relationships. The unlived lives of parents influence their way of being with their children. All this and more all mixes together in an unconscious mess, a shadow image that becomes our foundation for what it is to be mother and father. As well, it serves to create the roadmap for relationship.
My story of being a child to a woman who was also wounded as were her parents allows me, at this point in my life to understand and accept better the wounds inflicted unconsciously. That said, I was a child.
“If I have found myself essentially powerless against the Other, and what child has not, then how am I to comport myself in order to manage this distress? If I have routinely been invaded by abuse, verbal, emotional, sexual, or have more commonly been at the mercy of the moods and emotional vagaries of the parent, so I am inclined to identify with the Other.” [Hollis, p. 23]
Identifying with the Other, in my case my mother. James Hollis, in his book, The Eden Project, exposes the raw truths and how response to wounding makes its way into relationships and life in general. With abuse, one either learns to be controlling or to be pleasing. I fell into the pleasing mode of managing my response to abuse.
“Since the child felt powerless in the face of the Other who was yet the source of well-being, so it learns to be pleasing, to be mollifying or overly responsible for the well being of others. What is called co-dependence is one such anxiety management strategy. If I am responsive to the needs of the Other, the, possibly, the Other might be there for me. “ [Hollis, p. 24]
As I read these words, I was shocked. How had Hollis got inside my head? These words exposed me, left me feeling naked and vulnerable. I thought, “Now everyone will know the truth about me, that I am a defect, not really a caring person at all, but someone who acts this way simply to keep the darkness of abuse barricaded. As the eldest child, I was the one who brothers and sisters would go to for help. I became the alter parent. I took care of my mother’s needs and found that what I did was never enough as more and more was needed. As an adult I became the trusted “go-to” teacher, the one to whom others would tell their sad tales knowing that I cared and would support them. I was the mediator between students, between staff and even for others in the community. I took it all on yet somehow knew that it was never enough. My childhood survival tactics translated into the tactics that I would use as an adult. And, as to be discovered in another post, into the tactics that I would bring to relationship to the woman who became my Magical Other.”
“As no popular culture has built itself upon the idea of romance more than twentieth-century [and 21st] America has, so no one has founded itself on more shifting ground. A necessary corollary, then, is that no culture has more set itself up for disappointment than the one which seeks its affirmation in projection, illusion and delusion.” [Hollis, The Eden Project, p. 45]
As I have said a number of times before, Romantic love for a man is projected love, a love based on one’s response to one’s personal mother and to the activated anima archetype that represents the feminine, the archetypal lover and mother and whore. Beneath this gossamer web of projection lies a real woman who either accepts and joins in the fantasy of Romantic love, or rejects it and walks on in her life in search of her Magical Other. When all aligns as it will and should, two souls are joined as one, similar to the images of sun and moon together or the yin-yang which has the two in a perpetual dance always reaching and retreating at the same time.
This image has blurred edges that face each other, barely discernible faces in dialogue with each other while the self lives oblivious to the presences of shadow and anima, the unknown masculine and feminine archetypes that pull and push. With time, the pushing and pulling forces a man to begin to question himself and his Magical Other who is also suffering the tidal forces of her shadow and her animus. First one, then the other feels betrayed as their Magical Other becomes less magical and more human.
”the public face that hides a thousand cuts. For how many couples grow roughly in the same direction at roughly the same pace? Seldom do both perceive life at the same level of consciousness or possess equal capacity to process difficult matters. More often, one partner has outgrown the unconscious premises of the relationship while the other clings to the original implicit bargain. The former feels frustrated, depressed; the other feels anxious and controlling. My experience has been that most often it is the woman who seeks change and growth.” [Hollis, pp 44-45]
And whether it is the man or the woman, the sense of being alone again, like this young palm tree above, is brings the pain of loss; a loss of the Magical Other and often a corresponding loss of the marital partner. When the marriage holds together in spite of the loss, the face of the marriage rarely betrays that loss. Rarely does the public face of a marriage match the psychic reality beneath that surface when projections fall away revealing the scarred, scared and complexed individuals that have been joined in the marriage.
“Everything, everything, seems to ride on this thing called love. We love nature, we make love, we fall into and out of it, we pursue love and ask it to save us. Romantic love, by which we mean that élan, that heightened ardor, that intense yearning for the Beloved, that frantic grappling, that profound sorrow when the Beloved is lost, that anxious uncertainty about the fixity of the Other – all this and more is both the greatest source of energy and the chief narcotic of our time . . . one may even suggest that romantic love has replaced institutional religion as the greatest motive power and influence in our lives.” [Hollis, The Eden Project, pp 42-43]
I met this woman more than forty years ago. It was love at first sight for both of us, the classical tale of Romantic Love between two strangers who cross each other’s life paths not even searching for love. Whatever plans and dreams that had been in placed disappeared as all of our energy shifted, all of our individual histories vanished as if by magic. Hollis has it right, for both of us, Romantic Love was our ticket of escape from childhood and youth woundings. We looked to Romantic Love to save us from our own histories, to open a doorway into a Garden of Eden where love is everything, and love would last rever.
Unlike the tragic stories of Tristan and Isolde/Iseult, or Romeo and Juliet, My love and I survived our unconscious submission and submersion into Romantic Love. Like all who fall in love and get married, there was (and remains) an implicit contract that this love must last and stay as the foundation of the marriage. The differences that brought us together, a magnetic attraction of opposites, and not just opposites in terms of gender, were not seen. Each of us was caught in private projections which kept the real person hidden beneath a veil.
“Many marriages simply evolve beyond the implicit terms of the invisible contract. Whatever complexes or programmed ideas of self and Other may have inspired the marriage, the psyche has moved to another place. It is not so much that people fall out of love, but that the original controlling ideas have waned in favor of others – or the complex has decided that the Other cannot meet the expectations of the original agenda.” [Hollis, p. 44]
So this is the answer which perhaps explains why more than forty years later – the psyche has stayed in the same place for both of us. In spite of being different in just about everything that can be compared, we still meet each other’s expectations of Other. That and the fact that in bumping into each other over and over again, we dared face the realities and contradictions which forced us to continually re-evaluate the Other. The shock and pain of withdrawing projections didn’t result in a withdrawal of love. Rather, the withdrawal of projections allowed us to discover newness in each other. With all this newness, we remain awed by the magic of the other, still looking to each other for salvation, for safety, for love.
“Jungians view the psyche not as a monarchy, as the ego would have it, ore even as a central intelligence agency, bur rather as an entity that is polyfaceted, polymorphous, polysemous, polytheistic. So there are many voices, many intimations, many directives, some heard, some not, but all persuasive. Which voice is mine? ego asks. All of them, Self insists. . . .
So we bring ourselves to relationship. With scant knowledge of ourselves, we seek our identity in the mirror of the Other, as we once did in Mom and Dad. With all the wounds of this perilous condition we seek a safe harbor in that Other who, alas, is seeking the same in us.” [Hollis, The Eden Project, p. 32]
As I am a man, I am no different from other humans who seek to be in a relationship with a significant Other. Like most men, I found that significant Other, a woman. It isn’t necessary for this significant Other to be a woman, nor is significant other limited to one other person. If I go back to what Hollis is saying, this significant Other holds the mirror in which we “seek our identity.” That said, this yearning for “Other” in whom we find the needed mirror in which to find ourselves is rooted in eros – the desire for connection. And like other men, I filled this significant Other with my projections, all unconsciously, and saw in this woman my soulmate, my Magical Other.
I fell in love with this woman whom I had never seen before. It was love at first sight. What did I see in this stranger who had captured my heart and soul only moments after we had met? What did she see in me to have the same life-altering tumble into love? That was a question never asked then nor for so many years to follow. Both of us fell in love, became entranced, almost bewitched with the power of Eros. We both knew in an instant that this Other was the One who would answer our unknown and unasked questions. She became my Magical Other.
“The other great false idea that drives humankind is the fantasy of the Magical Other, the notion that there is someone out there who is right for us, will make our lives work, a soul-mate who will repair the ravages of our personal history, one who will be there for us, who will read our minds, know what we want and meet those deepest needs; a good parent who will protect us from suffering and, if we are lucky, spare us the perilous journey of individuation.” [Hollis, The Eden Project, p. 327]
Of course, when it happens to you, you don’t take time to think it over. Remember, it is an unconscious response rooted deep in our personal histories, our complexes, our woundings, and our unconscious needs. So, now that I have finally recognized what happened more than forty years ago, what next?
She knows I am taking her photo and she knows that she is loved regardless of reason. Reason doesn’t seem to enter into this at all. If anything, reason interferes with any hope of understanding. I married this woman 42 years ago. The journey of a marriage, of my marriage, is a curious journey that teaches so much about self and about other. As I mentioned earlier, this series will turn often to James Hollis’ book, The Eden Project. I bring his words here:
“A marriage vow is a guarantee of nothing certain, but it purports to be an expression of intentionality which is serious. long term and in depth. One of the implicit demands of marriage is that issues are to be faced and worked through, rather than evaded.” [p. 13]
This sounds rather straight forward and filled with common sense. But unsaid in the statement is the fact that much of what needs to be faced is not even recognised by either party. So much of what takes place and causes disruption and disconnect lays beneath the surface in the unconscious contents of both individuals as well as the dialogue of unconscious between the two. This makes the task much, much more difficult. Hollis goes on to say:
“the quality of all of our relationships is a direct function of our relationship to ourselves. Since much of our relationship to ourselves operates at an unconscious level, most of the drama and dynamics of our relationships to others and the transcendent is expressive or our own personal psychology. The best thing we can do for our relationships with others, and with the transcendent, then, is to render our relationship with ourselves more conscious.” [p. 13]
And this is where it gets most difficult, especially for me. It takes a lot of rearrangement of my thinking to accept that to do right for my marriage, I must devote a lot of energy to understanding myself. My patterns and habits have always focused on devoting time and energy to understanding my partner (not a great lot of success there since she still is a mystery woman to me) and to using every trick in the book to figure out what is needed and wanted (often contradictory). I function best as a caretaker, as a giver. Spending time on my own needs has been difficult, though necessary during the past few years as I am always feeling guilty about stealing time and energy from my partner, from the marriage.
I know that I am not alone in responding like this; many of us are tired of all the “me, me, me” that we have heard from other mouths. Most of that “me, me, me” has not been about doing the work of “I” or “self;” rather it is all about trying to satisfy needs and wants for which we don’t have the foggiest notion. Trying to feed the “me” is a losing proposition for we mistakenly take the desires and instincts at face value. The extra food, that more expensive car, the next husband or wife is not really about what had been there before being wrong or insufficient. All this wanting is a desperate act of trying to fill an emptiness within ourselves, an emptiness that we download onto others and for which we blame others. So, I have to re-think this business of getting to know the ins and outs of who I am, my psychology if I am to escape that forever repeating cycle of failure.
I look again at the photo of my wife and smile. The work behind and ahead is worth all of it.
“Through the bloodweb of our mothers, we start out connected to the pulse and rhythm of the cosmos. And then we are torn from the Mother, separated from the cosmos, separated from the gods, separated forever.” (Hollis, The Eden Project, p. 11)
Beginnings – we could easily get lost in the debate of which came first, a man or a woman without ever arriving at a satisfactory answer. For me, and for all humans, our first contact is with the woman, our mother. It is a contact that began in the womb. The relationship was physical and psychologically unconscious for each of us within the womb. We had no sense of self, no sense of separation, no sense of other. It was all one.
And then I, and you, were born. Our births began with a separation from our mothers. The cosmos within which we existed pushed us out. That initial universe died for us. The pulse and the rhythms vanished. Unconsciously, as we enter into a new universe in which we will again become engaged in relationship, we feel afraid. We have already learned loss and abandonment.
For me, like for all men, mother became the new centre of the cosmos. As we grew to sense that we were separate beings, mother became a magical being, an omnipotent being. Mother became our magical other.
I went searching for an image today as I knew I didn’t have one that would illustrate the idea that came to me while reading James Hollis’ book, The Eden Project. I found this image of Christ’s wound by Luis Guillermo Arroyabe that was found on the Ecce Homo web site. I have an opportunity to engage in a five-week seminar using this book for the foundation of for the discussion and investigation of Other and Sacred Other (Divine Other) within the work of individuation, the work of becoming a conscious (more conscious) adult.
I want to begin the post with the idea that we are all wounded, everyone without exception. We aren’t necessarily aware of being wounded, but our wounds do help shape our response to the world and how we are in relation to the world and to others. The image illustrates the wounding to one’s heart or soul (psyche) by Others. These Others are our parents, our significant others, and any whom we allow to enter into close relationship. Like the archetypal image of Christ’s wound, we learn that the wounding is necessary if we are to transcend from unconsciousness to a state of consciousness. One can either get stuck in one’s wounds as a victim, or one can expose the wounds to light and begin a process of healing, of renewal.
So how does one bring light to shine on these wounds? How does one engage in the process of becoming conscious, of healing, of resurrecting Eros? I want to respond to these questions by bringing Hollis’ words here for you to consider.
“Implicit in the task of becoming conscious of wounded eros are certain questions which constitute an inventory of self and Other. If we do not ask them of ourselves, then our partners will, or we will hit some wall which obliges us to begin. Among them are:
- Where do my dependencies show up in the relationship?
- What am I asking my partner to do for me that I, as a mature adult, need to be doing for myself?
- How do I repeatedly constrict myself through my historically conditioned attitudes and behavior patterns?
- Am I taking too much responsibility for the emotional well-being of the Other? Am I taking on his or her journey at the expense of my own, and if so, why?
- Am I living my life in such a fashion that I will be happy with the consequences of my choices? If not, when do I plan to start? What fears, lack of permission or old behaviors block me from living my life?
- In what ways do I seek to avoid suffering?
Such questions reach down and into our souls. They stir old wounds, test our defenses and illuminate the strategies we play out with our partners. Finally, they reveal not only why our relationships are wounded, but also ways in which we can heal them by first healing ourselvesemphasis mine] (Hollis, The Eden Project, p. 99)
I am again drawing on another photo from Vietnam, a photo that could be taken in so many countries all around the world. I take photos, not simply in search of something unique, something special, but more often because the photo can evoke a collective image of the human psyche rather than just record some objective reality. In this image, the parts of the hibiscus evoke both the masculine and the feminine and how they meet in order to create both life and purpose. The purpose, to regenerate life. Humans, like the hibiscus have a similar purpose, that of survival of the species. But, there is something more that is needed for the human psyche to achieve a psychological meaning, soulful meaning.
“The erosion of the great myths of Earth Mother and Sky Father has left us to search privately for images to guide and support the soul and link it to the cosmic drama. Without such linkage, we are doomed to a life of superficiality. To experience life in depth, as part of a larger context is the central contribution of myth, which as Jung points out, “explained to the bewildered human being what was going on in his unconscious.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 54)
“It is no accident that the primary motive, the hidden agenda in any relationship, is the yearning to return. It is . . . the Eden Project . . . the yearning for the Beloved. It is essentially a religious search . . . ” (Hollis, The Eden Project, p. 17)
As much as I want to dismiss this as pure rubbish because of a number of factors including to my aversion to the word “religion,” I have to look even deeper into this because of the “heat” that the statement has elicited within me. That “heat” is a warning bell that I must heed if I am to reach my goal of freedom from my self-imposed boxes that keep me out of authentic relationships with others.
There is no question there is a yearning within me, there has always been a yearning within me for as long as I can remember. I wanted connection so badly I would do anything to protect whatever it was that could give me that sense of belonging. Most of the time, there was nothing I could do and so I would disappear into silence and into books. Sometimes life through what I perceived as threats to the thin threads of connection that did exist within my family – become a responsible adult as a child taking care of other children, becoming my mother’s little “man” of the house when my father was absent, being the offering to my mother’s father in hopes that she would be restored into a state of grace with her father. None of it worked. I blamed myself for the failure as is normal for a child when put into these life circumstances. Rather than feeling the bond of belonging, I was left wounded and betrayed by my mother, by my father, by my grandfather and by my church which has seen my vulnerability and exploited it. I was left empty blaming myself instead of others.
Then I found a girl who needed me and in turn, I found myself needing her, hoping that she could fill all of my empty spaces. She became my religion, my Magical Other. It was love at first sight for both of us with a commitment for a life of love and relationship given in those first few hours of contact. Who was this person, this young woman? I never asked that question, it was enough that she said “Yes” to my proposal of marriage in those first few hours. I was one of the lucky ones, I found myself in relation to a beautiful young woman, a woman who was everything I was not, as different as one could possibly be. And I filled in her holes.
But the holes only became bigger as the years and the decades passed; holes that had nothing to do with the “Magical Other” we had married, but had to do with something within the depths of myself. And as a result, relationship became strained – the “Magical Other” became a real, live, breathing woman as I became a man of faults, one not able to sustain the myth of her “Magical Other.” And it is here where I begin to sense the pull to something else, the pull into the religious or spiritual, a pull that can’t be filled with or by any woman; what I found missing in the dynamic was an authentic relationship to my “self.” As I wrote these last words, it dawned on me that I was trying to connect to something deeper that the core of Robert, but to the center of everything, the source that breathed life and soul into the joining of sperm and egg that would become a human. That is the religious home to which I find myself yearning for in my second half of life.
Does this mean there is no room for relationship with another human, with my wife? No! If anything, I will be better able to be in relationship, honest relationship that accepts the reality of the other person without need to project “need,” without the need to “use” this person to fill in my holes.