Archive for the ‘Magical Other’ tag
Men, all men, are wounded in some fashion by their mothers and fathers, as are all women. But as I am a man, I can only speak as a man. When I was a youth of 18, I went to see a live production of Oedipus Rex at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. I was captivated by the story. I wondered why, in later years why a teenager would like a Greek play such as this where the pull into an incestuous relationship with the mother lead to so much destruction. The presence of Eros is always there between a mother and a son (as well as between a father and a daughter) despite all conscious intentions. Thankfully, most parents manage to navigate the relationships of parent and child without falling into the unconscious expression of Eros upon a child.
With the death of my own mother, the veil was lifted to reveal my own Oedipus story. Men are wired to find an Other that evokes the mother either as a positive or a negative figure. Regardless of the dark or light aspect of personal mother, each boy child wants to be loved by his mother, the person with whom he has had the most intimate of all relationships from birth until separation. So, it should come as no surprise, that following separation, the search begins for someone else who will then love the boy child grown into a man. But, it would be a mistake to think that this someone else is necessarily a woman; it just isn’t that simple.
The person we find becomes a Magical Other.
“Behind the search for the Magical Other lies the archetypal power of the parental imagos. Our first experience of ourselves is in relationship to these Primal Others, usually mother or father. Consciousness itself arises out of that splitting of the primal participation mystique which characterizes the infant’s sensibility. The paradigms for self, for Other, and the transactions between, are formed from these earliest experiences. They are hard-wired into our neurological and emotional network.” [Hollis, The Eden Project, p. 37]
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.
“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.
As I lay beneath the rays of the sun on the beach in Puerto Morelos allowing my body to darken without tan lines, I listen to music on my mp3 player. While listening to the music with the waves rolling onto the shore, the time passes quickly making it easier to be still and at peace, my mind was caught by one song I had listened to many times, Bruce Springsteen singing Secret Garden. I knew immediately as I listened that the song had touched something much deeper than normal. I knew that the song would become today’s post. I wasn’t yet sure, nor am I now as I am writing, exactly what I would say. Before going further, I want to put the song here. The lyrics will be added at the end of the post for those who want to have them in text form.
I know that I typically write about the feminine on Wednesdays, but this deserves being brought here a day early. With the words that talk about being allowed “in her house” should one come during the night immediately brought to mind the she that is a man’s anima. This mystical woman of the Secret Garden is the Magical Other to whom we sewomb farch for in our wives, consorts, our significant others. Of course, no human female can hold all of this and stay sane. At some point we have to realise that this Magical Other is found within our own psyche, not projected out onto other humans. Think of the Garden of Eden, the womb of humankind where the essence of all that is masculine and all that is feminine unites in a holy marriage; a garden where Ego gets in the way, and effectively destroys the garden. This is the guiding principle of individuation in Jungian Psychology, and in Buddhism. We must learn to set the narrow limitations of ego aside and allow the fullness of our psyche to escape from the shadows.
Secret Garden – Bruce Springsteen
She’ll let you in her house
If you come knockin late at night
Shell let you in her mouth
If the words you say are right
If you pay the price
Shell let you deep inside
But there’s a secret garden she hides
Shell let you in her car
To go drivin round
Shell let you into the parts of herself
Thatll bring you down
Shell let you in her heart
If you got a hammer and a vise
But into her secret garden, don’t think twice
Youve gone a million miles
How fard you get
To that place where you can’t remember
And you can’t forget
Shell lead you down a path
Therell be tenderness in the air
Shell let you come just far enough
So you know she’s really there
Shell look at you and smile
And her eyes will say
Shes got a secret garden
Where everything you want
Where everything you need
Will always stay
A million miles away
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.
“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.
Well, the Eden Project seminar series is now done and it is time for me to find another focus for my Jungian interests. One of the big “take aways” from working with a Jungian analyst as seminar leader and eleven others (four women and eight men as seminar participants), was the realisation that we did more than study a book, we also built relationships based on shared interests and passions. Living in a new city with a population of 1,000,000 it isn’t easy getting to know people let alone people who have a curiosity about Jungian psychology. As a special “extra” for me was the discovery that one of the participants belongs to the same “sangha” that I have recently joined and that at least three others have a strong interest in meditation and Buddhism. This adds a lot of extra energy to the dialogues in which we engaged during, between and after seminar sessions.
Now, I have opened up a book that has sat for a long time on my bookshelves waiting for an opportunity to gift me with more thoughts to chew on. The books is The Vertical Labyrinth, by Aldo Carotenuto, a Jungian analyst who lived and worked in Italy. I have read his book Eros and Pathos quite a number of years ago and have hopes that there is much in the book that will enrich me, nourish me so to speak. And, as expected, the opening pages let me know that I hadn’t made a mistake in choosing this book at this time.
Carotenuto begins with looking at an artist and as he speaks about the artist, I heard echoes of myself and what has been my experience too many times over the past decades. Listen:
“Fame pursued this man, but strangely enough this success was completely separate from the feeling he had about himself. For some time he had been troubled by the suspicion that he was dissembling, that he was not, so to speak, up to the situation. . . . the only way to deal with this distressing feeling was complete inactivity. He would have, of course, liked to go on painting, but the block was total: a sad farewell to creativity, a wish for death, the tragic and painful confrontation with his own failure.” (Carotenuto, p. 7)
It is strange how many, including myself, can be seen by others to be very successful, appearing to have life exactly where we want it but beneath the veneer of success is a mantra that denies this success as a sham, a magician’s trick of using smoke and mirrors to disguise the “truth” as we know it, that we are about as unworthy as it is possible to be. When the weight of this self-defined truth gets so loud that we can’t block it out, we crash and freeze. Feeling disappears and we are only left with the voices in the head that come from some dark, inner black-hole. It is a problem of ego, an ego that has lost touch with the foundational inner spirit. It is about loss of soul (or perhaps better expressed – denial of soul) and a loss of relationship to the inner self which is the source of a meaningful life. Carotenuto goes on to say:
“This is a sufficiently common experience that can strike anyone, man or woman, particularly at certain fundamental moments of existence. Perhaps it could also be called fear, but a special kind of fear, without well-defined outlines and endowed with almost mysterious characteristics, paralyzing in part and in part propelling. It is a fear that has to do with the world and with our own being in the face of it. But the world is infinite and gives us no response.” (ibid)
And this takes me right back to the Eden Project and how our desperate search for Magical Other which shifts from parent, to spouse, to work, to authority, to religion and to leaders who have all the answers can never give us what we so desperately search. By projecting to an Other, out these somewhere, we only find a response of silence for that Other who has the answers is found within our psyche. We can express it in art, in music, in dance, in work, in prayer, in so many countless ways – but, can only connect with it within our psyche. Waiting for the world to respond leaves us desperate and abandoned in the returning silence which only tells us that we haven’t been heard or that we are undeserving of being heard or that we are a figment of our own imagination. And, in response to the deafening silence we crash.
We crash and that could be the best thing that has ever happened to us. As Carotenuto has said, “paralyzing in part and in part propelling.” Propelling us to act. The old expression comes to life, “when you find yourself at the bottom, the only way left is to go up.” We are forced to either give up and call it quits, or to begin to fight back to win our soul and our meaning for existence.
“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.
On the Tonle Sap River in Cambodia near Kampong Chhnang, I came across these children who live on the river. These children are a proof that there is a beauty and vitality and hope for life. These children are the product of the human instinct for survival as a species and a deeper instinct for the preservation of the self as an immortal being. One doesn’t think of any of this when one meets the other with whom mating and giving birth and child-rearing becomes a life-consuming task.
Many reasons are given for marrying in our modern times – love, wealth, power, duty, loneliness – but whatever the initial impulse the two entering into a marriage begin to change because of the marriage, because of the intimate contact with an other person. Two people choose to be together in a contractual arrangement that is best described as a marriage. Yet, it isn’t too long before both parties of the contract have changed. Intimacy evokes a response as much as dropping a stone into a still pond affects change in an environment.
“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 o 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, The Eden Project, p 44)
Imagine if the two in a marriage became stuck in the initial human psychological developmental stage (it happens). Two who become forever adolescent; two who never move past that initial Magical Other; the result is tragic from the view of individuation as individuals, and perhaps even more tragic if these become parents who are so fixated on each other that the children are basically orphans in a psychological sense.
The binds and blindfolds of the Magical Other deny the growth of self. One is frozen in place and in time. One never does find the person behind the projections. And, one never does find the depths of one’s self.
I am bringing another photo of roses here as I want to look at eros, love and relationship with the feminine as a continuation of the thread I have begun earlier. Humans are drawn to beauty and I am no exception. Wandering in a large garden area filled with roses I am pulled to capture as much of the beauty I see with my camera. There is a rush of feeling, of energy that courses through my veins and all is good. I remember being captivated in a similar manner when I was young, when I came into the presence of that which I perceived as beautiful. At different times as a youth, the pull was intense though rarely did I give in to the pull as I was filled with as much self-doubt as I was by desire and what I felt to be pure love for an other.
Each time I was certain that this was it. The girl who sat several rows away in my classroom was the perfect woman for me even though we never talked. I was too shy, too aware that I was poor and didn’t fit into her social world. The girl who responded to my request for a dance once high school was over and I had begun working; a girl who was so damaged by her childhood that our brief moments of being in love, a pure unconsummated love that ended as I left her to the care of psychiatrists in a hospital, cured me of a belief in pure love, leaving me jaded and empty.
I didn’t realise that what I felt was not about these girls, these young women. Rather, this tumbling head over heels was more about my search for a magical other. James Hollis describes this search, this feeling:
“The other great false idea that drives mankind is the fantasy of the Magical Other, the notion that there is one person 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. 37)
I am no different, I believed in this Magical Other, and to tell the truth, that belief is still lurking in the background because of my good fortune to have stayed with the woman with whom I fell in love with when I was twenty-one, forty years ago – two strangers from different backgrounds, different cultures, different everything. Is there a truth to the Magical Otherness that captured my attention? I am not sure. I do know that time taught me that the stranger with whom I fell in love is a good person, a caring person, someone I continue to want filling my life. But in meeting the real person that was hidden by layer upon layer of projections, I discovered holes in my own psyche, my own sense of emptiness and darkness that no person could ever hope to fill or hear. My Magical Other could not protect me from suffering, could not read my mind or know my deepest needs, needs that are real but not definable even by myself. All that I wanted from a Magical Other, from my soul-mate, from the love of my life could only be given to me by myself.
Today we both still cling to each other as anchors in life in spite of our differences. A different love has emerged and it is no less problematic. Yet, it is gentler and kinder and more tolerant of differences.