Or is contentment enough?
by Cliff Bostock
(Originally published in the "Paradigms" column of Creative
A reader writes: "I am a 38-year-old, divorced professional woman,
more aware than most. (Yes, I'm trying internet dating, which is highly
correlated to this question.) I'd like to understand why making my contented
life open for more passion and joy meets with such seemingly impenetrable
resistance. It's as if some exterior force tugs me back in line when I
dream of more, as though I'm being told that some things are not available
to me. My soul work has made me much more content and aware, but slightly
saddened and lonely. While I've stopped making poor choices, the things
I've hoped for haven't appeared. Acknowledging the gap makes it wider,
and leaves me wondering if contentment should be enough." - Sarah,
I presume, Sarah, since you refer to internet dating
and passion, that the "things you hope for" are actually the
companionship of a mate. If that's what you mean (and I'm really not sure),
another way of stating your dilemma would be to say that you are fundamentally
content but that, without a mate, you don't feel passionate. Further,
you seem to say that acknowledging this leaves you feeling resigned to
a life without passion. So, for you, it seems, passion depends on a mate.
Of course, I cannot really address your love life here, but you do raise
some questions that are deeper than the purely personal. First of all,
you notice something very natural -- that a wish or a goal seems to give
rise to its opposition. There's nothing pathological in that. Freud observed
that we are always thus conflicted to some extent, having both an erotic,
creative drive, as well as a death drive. Jung expressed it somewhat differently
but likewise noticed that whatever is present in the conscious constellates
its opposite in the unconscious and vice versa.
And, yes, Jung also theorized, like you, that this conflict may arise
outside our personal psyches, in the realm of the archetypes. I might
suggest at the outset that you read Goethe's Faust.. Dr. Faust
was suffering your same dilemma, an absence of passion in an otherwise
successful life, and Goethe observed that his dilemma actually originated
in heaven, the realm of the archetypes, in a bet between God and Satan.
So your problem is part of what is given with human nature.
Freud and Jung were both heavily influenced by Goethe. Freud argued that
we have to identify and repress the destructive drive, the one that draws
us away from our reasonable pleasure. Jung argued, more intelligently
in my opinion, that the two opposites have to be held in conscious tension,
so that a third unimaginable possibility can emerge. In Jung's way of
thinking, the problem is not that the "gap" you write about
becomes wider, but, perhaps, that you don't let it grow wide enough so
that the third possibility can emerge.
Our culture's priests - I mean the religious and the psychological types
- continue to preach that if we do the right things, such as go to therapy
and "unlearn" our parent-based relationship styles, we will
be rewarded with monogamous relationships in which our sexual, romantic
and domestic needs will be met. So we all go to work on ourselves. We
learn what messes our families were. We try "to become the person
we would want to love." Perhaps we try to become "centered,"
looking for a divine spark, thus spiritualizing our situation. If we don't
pathologize or spiritualize our status as single people, we genderize
it. Men, after all, are from Mars while women, obviously, are from Venus.
We have to fix everything
and quickly. But we still end up awaking
at 4 a.m., the hour of the wolf, as the French call it, overcome with
melancholy and disappointment, alone.
My training as a therapist followed by the work I developed as an alternative
to therapy has taught me that passion and a deep sense of purpose cannot
be recovered in an agenda set by the ego or by hopping on the bliss-ninny
train. I have three observations that may be helpful.
First, the unconscious for most us now resides in the body. There can
be no real split between body and mind since mind, obviously, resides
at least partly in the body, even if you imagine it purely as a brain
function. Thus, when Descartes attempted to split mind from body, he really
just rendered the body unconscious. I have repeatedly found that the body
provides the clearest clues to the passion we have disowned. Any massage
therapist can validate this. Touch the body with compassion, and emotions
The center of this body knowing is the heart, but there are other centers
of consciousness in the body that can be reawakened. The heart until very
recently in human history was known to be an organ of perception. In James
Hillman's terms, it has its own logos. So, if you feel you have lost your
passion, the first thing I counsel is re-establishing contact with your
body and it's heart-knowing. Massage, yoga, energy work are just three
ways to reintroduce yourself to your body.
Second, beauty is the path to passion. More than anything else in modern
life, the aesthetic has been devalued. To really have an experience of
passion, put yourself in beautiful circumstances with an open heart.
And this begs a question: Who responds to beauty and who is reawakened
in the conscious body?
That's my third point. Our souls respond and awaken. This is the great
failure of modern therapy - forgetting that healing is not for the persona,
but for the soul, the angel, the daimon that possesses us and demands
our respect. Soul is the unacknowledged presence in the usual therapy
room. Passion is awakened when soul is given its voice and body.
So, Sarah, in summary, to rediscover our passion, we let the gap between
what we want and what is true widen, not narrow. We sink fully into the
body, paying special attention to the heart - the heartbreak you wrote
about. In this conscious grief, the emotion which really separates the
more evolved from the less evolved, we give ourselves an experience of
the beautiful. You will have an experience of what the Germans call sehnsucht
and the Greeks called pothos -- a yearning for your own divine
nature. If you do this, I promise that soon enough, your passion - your
duende, to use Federico Garcia Lorca's term, will spring to life.
Copyright 1999 by Creative Loafing
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