Evolution happens at the margins. It can happen when and where you least expect it. Other times you expect it, but in only one dimension – when or where, but not both. And who is a big part of it all. Those on the margin are almost always the drivers of evolution. How could it be any other way? If you’re part of the establishment, you almost certainly want to keep things relatively static to maintain your position.
Right now women in Iran are an evolutionary force. Women have almost certainly been one of the major forces of evolution the last century. Women are generally on the margin – or at least in some respects. This does not mean they are not powerful. In fact I think it can be argued that the margins are the source of greatest power. The leading edge of evolution is always at the margins and is often ignored by the establishment until the momentum is overwhelming.
Iran is seeing widespread protests that haven’t been matched since 2009. According to this BBC report, there is no central leadership to this opposition and the government if working to stifle the disruptions by restricting social media.
And women who do not follow the religious dress codes will no longer be subject to arrest according to this report. This is a new police policy and instead of detention, they will be offered “re-education” on Islamic values.
It’s not clear if this “re-education” is voluntary or not, but these two developments indicate to me that evolution is proceeding in Iran. Voices of tradition and the establishment everywhere should take heed – no wait a minute – go back to sleep. It’s only Iran. The margin is always on the move and never more so than now. Our own unconscious is really on the margin of our awareness and is it not the source of our psychological evolution? Art is on the margin because it is often our portal to greater and deeper awareness. It turns things around, or turns us around, and puts us in the liminal world beyond our normal or traditional understanding. Dreams are from beyond the margins and we meet them there.
Finally this all reminds me of one of the great metaphysical comedians, Steven Wright, who joked:
I’m a peripheral visionary – I can see into the future, but just way off to the side.
Way off to the side, on the margins, is precisely the source of our future. – our evolution.
Long live the margins! Long live those who show us those margins and coax or drag us beyond them. Long live evolution, because without it, there is no life. May 2018 usher in lots more evolution.
We are now a people of billions of kingdoms. The atomization of humanity is very real, but far from complete. We remain united by love, by family, by society, by archetype, by the collective unconscious, and by our fundamental nature. Our dual nature of radical individualism, but within the legacy and reality of remaining embedded in humanity’s unity and oneness, is shaping us as individuals and as a species. Now is the most demanding and the most exciting time to be alive. Carl Jung did not use these words, but he recognized this time to be special – in its dangers and in its opportunities. As an optimist, I acknowledge the dangers, but see much more opportunity for our evolution – to be better – to be more human. To paraphrase Churchill, this is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. We all have a long road ahead of us.
Relish the journey. It is our destiny and cannot be avoided, or denied – it must be embraced, and celebrated. We are all sovereign kingdoms, but at the same time, we are all in this together.
The feminine and masculine polarity is one of the great drivers of evolution. Contrast of opposites is fundamental to life and to our evolution. Sexual reproduction ushered in the possibility of much greater genetic diversity. We’re the products of sex and of the polarity of the feminine and the masculine. This polarity exists within each of us, regardless of our gender or our sexuality. As a heterosexual male I have a certain perspective on all this and I cannot fully understand the perspectives of women or homosexuals, but we all carry within us the same poles of the masculine and the feminine. And that polarity exists in all of our relationships, whether they’re romantic or not, but most acutely in romantic relationships. Our society and culture work with those two great poles as well. Our psyches and our culture are a product of the interaction of those poles, and others.
It’s pretty obvious that this doesn’t come without issues and problems, but if everything was nice and easy, with no conflicts or drama, we’d be stuck in an unchanging universe. The two genders are here to serve our growth and evolution, along with other polarities. But the feminine and masculine polarity is enormous in its importance and its pervasiveness. We are constantly reminded of gender in our interactions.
Regardless of our own identity, we all face the feminine and the masculine from our first days and for almost all of us, our first intimate relationship is with our mothers, a mixture of the feminine and the masculine as is everyone else, but fundamentally female first. Boys and men have the challenge of depending upon and identifying with a mother as their first caregiver and source of life, and then having to separate from that, to establish a masculine identity. As a man I’m in awe of feminine power, both divine and mortal, yet I must establish my masculinity and integrate my feminine – I’m finding that’s a lifelong process. Woman have their own challenges.
I see much of the misogyny and aggression toward women and the feminine as men’s fear of feminine power – the feminine power found in women outside of the man and that same feminine aspect within the man himself. How could a man possibly see a woman as being fundamentally weak? Virtually every man had his first confrontation with life and death power in his own mother. No. Men are all too aware of feminine power, either consciously or denied, but living and vital in their unconscious. And the more a man denies that great feminine power, the more he is driven to compensate and project in some way. A man cannot fully come to terms with his own masculine and feminine nature without consciously processing his relationship to feminine power. He has been imprinted with that since birth. I don’t want to further complicate this, but I also have to mention the collective unconscious and archetypes, which further affect our psyche beyond our ego and conscious experiences. Archetypes exist in both the feminine and the masculine spheres, but we’ll stick to the primary gender poles now.
Men in denial of this feminine power, are afraid of this creative and destructive power they sense so clearly in women and many compensate by acting and treating women with such disrespect, as these misguided men seek to preserve and put forth their own power in the face of the threat they perceive in the feminine. These men often use sex to demonstrate their power, which is a potent arena for the dance of gender that calls us. Sex may be the field of play, but power is the game. The path to your own power is never found in denying others their power, but if, deep down, you are terrified of the power of the other – in this case the feminine – you will not move beyond your own compensations, until and unless you face that fear within you and stop trying to deny it and cover it up with your hostility to the other.
This is the reality of human life that faces us all. Many cultures, including our own, have become dominated by largely masculine values, at least on the surface, that are neither inferior nor superior to largely feminine values, but it is the asymmetry of gender power that is so destructive in our society. But out of destruction, comes renewal, evolution and creation. And even in male dominated cultures, women are not without their ability to use their feminine power and they also call upon their masculine side, as men call upon their feminine.
I don’t see this male domination so much as a conscious male strategy, but it does come from our collective unconscious, as well as from within our own psyches, and is a large element of our evolution as a culture and a species as it takes place within each of us. This rise of the masculine over the past centuries and millennia has been an emergent property of our evolutionary processes and of the angst that men feel in the face of the feminine. Humanity requires both the feminine and the masculine. This is part of our human evolution and in that way it has been a positive development, even though the effects on individual people and cultures has carried with it lots of negative consequences and outcomes. That’s the messy evolutionary process at work. Sometimes the way forward can appear to be a few steps back.
Here is the sobering, sad, and uplifting story of Salma Heyak and Harvey Weistein, which inspires my title here – gender, sex, power and evolution. It describes Heyak’s experiences with Harvey Weinstein in making her movie Frida. It is the story of an artist, Salma Hayek, working with Weinstein, trying to tell the inspiring story of another artist, Frida Kahlo. It is the story of a present-day female artist coming up against the shadow of a powerful and dysfunctional man who, I would suggest, is so terrified of the feminine, and his own shadow, that he feels compelled to act out in the most disgusting and bullying ways. I am sure he treated many men poorly as well, but not nearly to the same extent as when he faced women. You might say Weinstein treated women much worse, because the culture allowed that to happen. I don’t disagree, but I think that Weinstein likely was also much more motivated to treat women so poorly, because of the gender issues within his own psyche. Heyak comes across as a powerful figure and I believe that Weinstein was even more encouraged to project his power over her as a result of her strength, and was particularly enraged when she resisted his attempts.
Stories like this about a bully treating another human being in a despicable way is sad, but it’s also an inspiring story, because things are changing – humanity is evolving. Hayek held her ground, as much as possible, and she was able to complete the movie, largely in the way she intended.
We have more signs of evolution in the defeat of Roy Moore who ran for the American Senate in Alabama. Despite being accused by three women of having sexually assaulted them, when they were younger than eighteen years old, Moore continued his election run and denied the claims, even though other Republicans considered the accusers to be credible and a number of future potential colleagues asked him to withdraw from the race. Earlier, Moore had a checkered career as a judge who was not afraid to ignore laws that did not meet his views on religion.
Moore lost to the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones, in a state that leans decidedly to the Republican Party and has done so for decades. This election and defeat of Moore is widely seen as an important turning point in American politics, at least for now. The long-term consequences can only be guessed at, but I’m certain that this points to more evolution in the future.
The times are changing and the messiness of evolution will no doubt continue in anything but a straight line. I believe we just have to trust the process and not agonize over the apparent negative developments, and likewise, not get giddy or too over-confident at the positive developments. Overall the thrust of evolution is positive, but it will continue to lurch forward, this way and that. My favorite Zen story points to the impossibility of freezing any moment in time and considering it to be good or bad – “maybe” is always the ultimate analysis for a world of constant change. At the ego level, where we are most aware of our lives, there is the temptation to constantly judge events and things. From a deeper and broader perspective, that becomes harder and harder to do, because the context is always expanding.
I will leave with this wonderful telling of the story by the late, great, Alan Watts. My advice? Trust the universe and evolution.
Change is in the air. Can you feel it? I can. I can’t avoid it. It’s everywhere.
Every age probably thinks that it’s in a time of big changes. Or at least most people likely do. They compare their lives with their parents and cannot comprehend life back then. We have the telegraph and newspapers now. We have the radio and telephone now. We have TV now. We have the internet now. Technology is a big part of these changes and on the surface, often the most obvious. But I’m talking about a cultural change that is impossible to define precisely. Its related to a change that’s happening in humanity and within each of us. Both these changes drive the other and technology helps to drive and facilitate them all. For hundreds and thousands of years, life didn’t change that much. Living a poor existence on a farm or urban space meant life for you, much like for your parents. But that’s changed in the last few hundred years and for the last century even more, and is accelerating. I can see that, in many ways, my life as a kid was not nearly as different from my parents, as my kids’ lives have been compared to mine.
For much of life, up to the past hundred years or so, the biggest questions were discussed in churches or universities and most people were only vaguely aware of these deep discussions. Modern living, in the last fifty years especially, has brought greater wealth to so many people that they have the time to ponder the bigger questions. Modern technology – cheap books, magazines, television and now the internet, has made the spread of ideas so much easier. More people are more highly educated, formally and self-taught, and exposed to these big ideas.
One of the greatest and most misunderstood philosophers, who steeped his life in facing these big questions of our existence, was Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.He was largely ignored during his life, but has had a profound influence on modern thought in philosophy and Jung recognized his genius in psychology as well. Philosophy and psychology are intimately related and Jung completely appreciated this. Both Nietzsche and Jung lived that union of those two big “P’s”. Jung added the third big “P” – physics.
This is not going to be a discussion of Nietzsche – that will come later. He is a fascinating thinker, who is often misrepresented in popular culture, and in scholarly areas as well. My point is that Nietzsche is infinitely more well known and discussed now than he ever was and I expect his influence will only grow as more people are exposed to his ideas. In spite of the fact that he’s often misunderstood and even vilified, at least more people are aware of him and the opportunity exists for them to find out the truth, to come to their own opinion. That’s a lot more important than simply swallowing whatever shallow interpretation of Nietzsche you come across. Nietzsche is much too deep and complex to be dismissed without making a real attempt to know the real Nietzsche.
But as Oscar Wilde said: ” There is only one thing in life that is worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
Nietzsche, and deep ideas generally, are being talked about and exposed more than ever in popular culture. For me this is both a sign and a driver of the evolution of our human consciousness, which is taking off.
I’m just going to talk about two examples, but they are legion. I’ll start with Rick and Morty. Rick is an alcoholic, mad scientist, who travels around in science fiction adventures with his grandson Morty. Here Rick has just constructed a sentient robot, disappointed that its purpose in life is not up to the possibilities that its questioning mind is capable of developing. He asks his creator for guidance and is crushed by the answer. Hmmm. Does that sound like any other species you might be familiar with, according to a materialistic world view? Pass butter – make money – more similar than different.
But there is much more to Rick and Morty. Interestingly, and perhaps not coincidentally, Nietzsche is referenced. Rick and Morty explore some big ideas and present them to a world that is hungry for meaning and purpose.
Rick and Morty is not a show that can be taken lightly. It explores some pretty important questions of existence. Not everyone is going to fully appreciate all the references and questions posed. I certainly appreciate Nietzsche, but haven’t studied him enough to get anywhere near everything he has to offer – I still have time. My point is that popular culture, like Rick and Morty, have exploded onto the scene to expose many more people, and often younger people, to some really big and deep ideas. This is a major development for our species and is not to be dismissed or ignored.
My second example comes from music – a new video by the band, MGMT. They’re an American band that isn’t afraid to make uncomfortable art posing some big questions and opening up some big issues. Here they explore death and the shadow world within, using both beautiful and disturbing images. Its a compelling and provocative video. I can’t watch it without being taken to that world within. No piece of film making can do justice to dreams, but for me, this comes the closest I’ve seen. It’s quite the trip.
I’ll end this with another great MGMT video – short and sweet – “Your Life is a Lie”. Pop culture poses a possibility.
No. Wait. I’m not saying your life is a lie. That’s for you to say. I don’t think MGMT is saying your life is a lie. Or maybe they are. Who cares what they think? What do you think? Like any good piece of art, they’re posing a question that only you can answer. But your life, or parts of it, could be a lie. Who would you be lying to? Your soul. And your soul might be pissed. It could be worth considering. And remember, if you come to the idea that your life is a lie, that’s not a conclusion, but only a beginning. Art is nothing, if not hope-filled, but it’s really so much more. And art can be found in popular culture – now more than ever.
As I learn more about individuation, I have more to say and to write about. As I’ve written previously, I consider that evolution is the meaning of life. Evolution is why we are all here and it is ultimately our purpose in our individual lives, and that of course leads to a very broad guide to our lives. And for me it explains a great deal and serves me in my life. I will be writing about the great value of seeing the world and our lives through the lens of evolution.
I believe that individuation, as set out by Carl Gustav Jung, is ultimately a form of personal evolution, so I believe it is intimately related to our purpose in life – to evolve. As I consider individuation more, as I learn more about it, and as I reflect on what I have written and on what I want to convey to the reader, I want to add some very important points to my understanding of individuation. I will be writing a great deal about individuation, as it has become central to my life and as I believe it is central to the evolution of each one of us as individuals and to humanity as a whole.
So here are my bedrock notions of individuation that one should keep in mind:
Individuation is not easy or simple. You can’t find any concise guides to individuation for two reasons. For one thing, individuation is a complex process for each person who undertakes it. We are all unique and the process of individuation within each one of us is going to be specific to our own psyche and to our own circumstances. The second and more important reason that you won’t find any “Individuation for Dummies” book is the same reason you would never find a book on “Flying an Airliner for Dummies”. Both individuation and flying a large plane are too dangerous to perform without expert instruction and guidance. Taking off a plane is not particularly difficult – you just get up to speed and pull back on the stick and you’re in the air. Now what? Now the serious job of flying has just begun and ultimately you have to land safely. Individuation is very similar. Getting started is not the hard part. The difficulty lies in confronting all the issues and features of your psyche that you must deal with and process. Individuation involves exploring the deepest and darkest parts of yourself and that is not easy or safe to do without professional guidance. Individuation is a challenging journey and process that can cause great pain and worse, if not undertaken with caution and help. Other psychological processes can unearth dangerous and hurtful demons that lie within each of us, but individuation is specifically directed toward confronting those aspects of ourselves and must be treated seriously.
Individuation is not the only form of personal evolution that is meaningful or important. We are all here to evolve and we can all do that without having to consider the process of individuation. I do think that individuation is the most profound and important form of personal evolution, but that doesn’t mean it is for everyone.
Individuation is done in the real world within one’s own life. Jung himself said you don’t individuate by going off by yourself to sit up on a mountain top. Individuation is a powerful psychological process that is supremely practical. It is not intended to be a spiritual escape from life, but is really a process to dive deep into oneself to know the Self in a profound way – for the first time. It is all about self knowledge and understanding, and that is accomplished within the context of your own life, not by running away or withdrawing from your life. Time spent alone is critical, but it is not sufficient I don’t think. This just reinforces how demanding the process is. But that also reinforces it’s great value for living better in this world.
I will have many more posts about this process of individuation. I think that even if individuation is not for you, or not for you yet, you will benefit from learning more. And I will be writing about it in the context of evolution, which is the great meaning of life for all of us. When you have fully absorbed this centrality of evolution, it will make your life more enjoyable and understandable. And my most important point to make about all this, is that you are the one to decide how you will live your own life to maximize it’s meaning and evolution. I am not a guru. Each one of us must find the guru that lies within. We each have a guru and guide within us.
For anyone who has had the privilege of teaching, I’ve no doubt that it was a humbling experience. A teacher is forced to confront her or his own ignorance and being forced to explain to others is the best way to learn something for yourself. I am here to learn, at least as much as I am here to teach. We are all here to make this up as we go along. I have an enormous amount to learn here on evolution and individuation, but I think my three points above are critical to begin to understand and appreciate this process.
My central thesis here and in my own life, is that we’re here to evolve and to grow. Ultimately everything is in service to that greater meaning of life. It means you have the fun and responsibility of making up your life without having to follow the dictates and demands of your family, your friends, your culture, or anything else outside of you. Your evolution is an inner job as you radiate out into the world, and the outer world radiates back, but your job is to master that material coming in, according to your inner self. Your evolution will affect your family, friends, the culture, and all of humanity, as everyone else’s evolution affects your own. This is the ultimate mashup of people evolving in humanity. But the evolution of humanity starts and lives within each one of us. We’re social creatures and that can never be denied or evaded, but we’re also autonomous individuals, and that’s where all evolution has to begin.
Carl Jung spoke about a fundamental process he called individuation. There’s no question that the evolution of each one of us can happen without knowing about Carl Jung or individuation, but I’m finding that the process of evolution is immeasurably helped by a certain structure and understanding. Individuation is not a recipe or a “how to” manual, but it is a map and a guide that helps me identify and understand the material that I must face, and it provides a framework of doing the work – and it is work.
“All my life I’ve wanted to be somebody, but I see now I should have been more specific”
– A great quote from the one woman stage play by Jane Wagner performed by Lily Tomlin – The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe. The line points to a great truth – deep down we do yearn to be somebody. Too many of us look outside of ourselves to find a role model or a template to “be”. But that deep yearning for a meaningful existence is the compulsion of the self to be realized. Too many of us deny our own true self it’s very existence. That is the source of so much of our pain until we begin to answer the call and Jung called the process of responding to that call individuation.
The movie with Lily Tomlin is a funny and moving look at life, the universe and everything, that deserves more attention than it received. The movie is true to it’s stage performance, that would have been amazing in its original run with Tomliin. Live theater, at it’s best, is a powerful experience and this one is special in its humanity and its grit. The central character is a wise, homeless person interacting with alien visitors in her head, but Tomlin plays many other people to riff on our existence. Here is a summary to give you a taste of the brilliance – I love the end of this and the movie – here at 9:55, but you need to watch the first 1:15 to understand the ending, but better yet, see the whole movie.
Jung and individuation speak to this quote directly – specifically becoming yourself – not just someone or anybody, is the gig, the job of personal evolution. It includes radically embracing your own self – an inner exploration to bring you past and through all the external flotsam and jetsam of your life. Who but yourself can direct yourself to become yourself? Listen to the outside world all you want, and then dive into your inner self, to find and construct your self.
“The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it.”
I’d say the first half of life is indeed forming that healthy ego because you need it to face the process of individuation. That inward journey is not for the faint of heart. One needs strength to be successful and as one clears the dreck and detritus, the ego can recede into the background as no longer being necessary or useful. My view is that this first part of your life, which may be chronologically less or more than half a normal lifespan, is the process of collecting much of the raw material for your self’s evolution and then the latter part of life is processing that in individuation. In this way, individuation is a process of pruning and integrating to arrive at a central core of the self. Then you can move into another phase of life where your self can achieve more, in different ways, without being dominated by an ego that is dedicated to its own narrow ends.
I love metaphors, so I’ll toss out another one. Our lives are like the multi-stage rocket that sent people to the moon decades ago. The biggest part of the rocket was the massive first and second stages that were needed to send the spacecraft holding the crew, out into space, away from the gravity and atmosphere of earth. As the rocket stages were spent and no longer needed, they were jettisoned as the spacecraft continued on its journey. The essential part of the craft carried the astronauts. The essential part of each one of us is our true self, to be discovered, uncovered and recovered, after the complications arising from the first half of our life are processed and integrated as we evolve.
I see individuation as a process of jettisoning and consuming the material that we collect over the first decades of life. This material consists of the complexes, neuroses and issues we collect and construct in the first half of life. They are inevitable, and likely necessary, to allow us, and to push us, to individuate – evolve – in the latter part of life. No longer weighed down with this material, as it’s been processed and integrated, we can evolve and grow more freely. We gain the freedom of traveling lighter.
This process of individuation will be one I keep returning to here. It is fundamental to our personal meaning and evolution. It is our core and the core of evolution.
Articles like this one – 4 ways to live a more fulfilling and meaningful life, according to psychology are all over the internet and on magazines staring at out at us at the check-stand. Sigh. Science and all its disciplines like psychology are implied to be these monoliths of TRUTH. But you can’t find an academy of experts who publish these “truths”. So we get soundbites and compact articles on complex subjects that can obscure much more than they reveal by suggesting easy answers to complex questions. And it implies that all of “psychology” or science agrees on some subject.
It reminds me of the Family Feud game show where the host would shout out “survey says!” when it was revealed how a random group answered such questions as “the best pizza topping” or “things you’d bring on vacation”. SCIENCE SAYS! PSYCHOLOGY SAYS! Ok so why aren’t we all smarter and happier?
I couldn’t find an example of the show’s tag line, but here’s Jim Carey from Bruce Almighty:
I find most of these articles on the psychology of making your life better are as over the top as Jim Carey here – “ten ways to find your true love” – “five keys to overcoming procrastination” – “you don’t have to be afraid of family gatherings – seven strategies”.
Actually this article is more interesting and more suggestive of some deeper ideas than most of these pieces on pop psychology. It refers to a book by Emily Esfahani Smith.
She stresses the importance of meaning over happiness as a goal in life. I completely agree.
Smith makes an important point that happiness is not the goal of life.
Pursuing happiness is like trying to walk to Toronto by staring at your feet. It’s a matter of scale. Happiness is the wrong measure of success. It is a guide – an excellent one that helps you to know if you are on the right path moment to moment and day to day, but it is not the goal. The guide is not the goal – it can’t be. Happiness can never provide the broader context that you require to make the important choices in life.
Smith advises us to pursue meaning. And happiness will come to guide you and to reward you. Equally, pain is not to be dreaded, but embraced as a guide.
Finding meaning in life is much more complex than even this video discusses – but to be fair, that’s inevitable. The meaning of life, which I believe is evolution, is such a broad and deep subject that one can only scratch it’s surface in a single chunk of communication – video, article, book, art – whatever.
Ultimately the meaning of life is constructing the meaning of your life – to me that is all in service to our personal evolution – individuation, and the evolution of our culture, society and humanity. Great news – we all have a gig that never ends. But that means (there’s that word again) that there are no easy answers. Every problem we face in our lives – our relationships, our work, our health, our search for fulfillment and happiness, are all tangled up in this process of constructing meaning – everything is connected. That’s one of the reasons that I find Jung such an important figure in psychology. He understood and never recoiled from facing the hard questions and complexity in life, because he appreciated the deep spiritual nature of our lives, quite apart from strict notions of God or religion. Jung understood and advocated that the meaning of our individual lives was central to our existence and everything we do and are.
Those brief and simplistic psychology articles are everywhere and can be helpful to give you a few strategies or to help you see something from a different perspective. But no article, or book, or movie is going to be anything more than a catalyst to urge you forward to do the hard and glorious work that lays before each one of us – evolving – individuating – deriving and constructing our own personal meaning for our life.
Not all relationships are romantic of course. Friendships and the collaborations that arise can be just as powerful in their ability to transform and evolve the people involved and for those effects to ripple out into the people and places outside of them.
This is a heartwarming story of two people in China who have built a powerful team to express their lives and their purpose in life. A blind man and a double amputee work together to plant trees. The world is full of such inspiring stories and I wanted to being this to your attention.
Bromance – a deep relationship between two hetrosexual men – and Time magazine has this phenomenon in their sights in this article.
Magazine writers are always casting around for new subjects and what’s better than a new trend and one with some worrying implications? The dating pool is shrinking!
The central idea is that hetrosexual men are becoming more involved in deep relationships with other men and they find these relationships are more satisfying than their romantic relationships with women. You have to be careful to believe too much of analyses such as these. There’s a lot of noise out there. But I think this piece brings up some important points worth considering. Almost nothing is more central to our evolution and lives than human relationships. In the potent brew of human relationships that we all stew in, nothing beats romantic ones for evolution, joy and heartache. They’re complicated. Everyone knows this. If you don’t, you’re missing the best part!
So men are more comfortable in close relationships with other men? Hmmm. So this is good news and bad news, if it’s true. But what is truth? Do we have to hear a report on CNN that 52% of men from ages 20 to 38 prefer their deep relationships with other men to those with women? I just made that up. Statistics can reveal truth, but the truth lies within each one of us – the individual. Regardless of the stats, this article points to a bigger truth that is worth exploring.
Relationships are monstrously important to our lives and to our evolution – all relationships, but probably none are more important or even as important as our romantic ones, because those push all our buttons and often loop back into our earliest relationships with our parents. Whew.
Really? Do we have to dig that deep to figure out our romantic relationships? ‘Fraid so I think. It’s been true for me.
“Men are all just inconsiderate, selfish jerks!” ” Woman are all the same – they just want to control you.” Yada. Yada. Yada. Romance starts off being the magic carpet ride of love and then not so much in many cases. Why?
I used to love her (him), but its all over now.
Let it be known that I am not cynical…not one little bit…except about politics. About love? Romantic love – not an atom of cynicism.
I find it impossible to see problems in a relationship without acknowledging at least some of my role in those problems. I’m equally certain I underestimate my part in the messiness. I don’t sit on the mountain knowing it all, but I can often see how I might be contributing to the problems and how couldn’t I be? I’m half of the couple.
As in most things psychological, Carl Jung has much to say about all this and I’ve found that a great analysis from this Jungian perspective comes from Robert A. Johnson, a writer and Jungian analyst. He’s written and number of books and they all have value, but three in particular are important here –
Johnson points out the role of romantic love in Western culture. Love and marriage are seen differently in other cultures and the role of romance in Western culture changed and came into it’s present form with the troubadours and led to the idea of romance that we see in stories like Romeo and Julliette – the idea of a soulful union of man and woman that transcends our everyday existence.
But our modern Western society is the only culture in history that has experienced romantic love as a mass phenomenon. We are the only society that makes romance the basis of our marriages and love relationships and the cultural ideal of “true love.”
The ideal of romantic love burst into Western society during the Middle Ages. It first appeared in our literature in the myth of Tristan and Iseult, then in the love poems and songs of the troubadours. It was called “courtly love”; its model was the brave knight who worshiped a fair lady as his inspiration, the symbol of all beauty and perfection, the ideal that moved him to be noble, spiritual, refined, and high-minded. In our time we have mixed courtly love into our sexual relationships and marriages, but we still hold the medieval belief that true love has to be the ecstatic adoration of a man or woman who carries, for us, the image of perfection.
Johnson, Robert A.. We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love (Kindle Locations 105-111). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Johnson goes on to explain what a heavy burden we place on our romance and on our romantic partners. In this book, “We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love”, he uses the original myth of Tristan and Iseult that was really the template of this view of romantic love that we have woven into our lives. Popular culture lives and breathes this stuff in songs, movies, books and our unexamined expectations.
For many, myths are just ancient stories or fables that don’t mean much in our modern lives. The opposite is true. These myths exist across cultures and time, and are just as active today as they were hundreds of years ago. We just don’t realize it. It’s too easy to believe these are modern times and we’ve moved beyond silly old stories. But these myths speak to our deep longings and needs, our concerns, fears, and hopes. Each one of us is shaped by these myths. These myths are very much alive within our culture and within each of us. Again, the task is to become aware of these facts in a personal way so that we can become more aware of our thinking and emotions.
Carl Jung has shown us that when a great psychological phenomenon suddenly appears in the life of an individual, it represents a tremendous unconscious potential that is rising to the level of consciousness. The same is true for a culture. At a certain point in the history of a people, a new possibility bursts out of the collective unconscious; it is a new idea, a new belief, a new value, or a new way of looking at the universe. It represents a potential good if it can be integrated into consciousness, but at first it is overwhelming, even destructive.
Romantic love is one of these truly overwhelming psychological phenomena that have appeared in Western history. It has overwhelmed our collective psyche and permanently altered our view of the world. As a society, we have not yet learned to handle the tremendous power of romantic love. We turn it into tragedy and alienation more often than into enduring human relationships.
Johnson, Robert A.. We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love (Kindle Locations 111-118). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
So it doesn’t surprise me that some men are retreating from romance with women. Romantic relationships are changing and it can be harder to find people willing to commit to a longer term relationship. Too many people have been too disappointed and in this book, “We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love” Johnson tells us why disappointment and pain in romance is almost inevitable, unless and until we become more aware of our expectations in romance and work to integrate them with a realistic view of our all too human selves and partners. We have nothing to lose and the potential for a fulfilling and lasting romantic relationship to gain.
It’s great if men are finding more satisfaction with their friendships with other men, but I think a heterosexual man has much more to learn and evolve when he’s in a deep relationship with a woman. He’ll learn more about women of course, but he’ll also learn much more about himself and that will all serve his evolution. And it’ll be more fun, with the pain and heartache along for the ride at times – all part of the trip.
I’ll be writing a lot more about myth and gender since they’re so central to our psychology and to our evolution, but this is a good start. You cannot go wrong plunging into these three books. Romance and love call, but it helps to know the message more deeply. These books are a great start – practical and poetic – like romantic love.