The relationship between the individual and “the system” (whatever system that might mean) is useful as a cultural context. The deep and profound reality that all of our cultural “systems” have a “patriarchal” foundation.
And the dynamic of this cultural foundation means that “feminine value of feeling, relatedness, and soul consciousness have been virtually driven out of our culture by our patriarchal mentality….Women..have been taught to idealize masculine values at the expense of the feminine side of life. Many women have spent their lives in a constant feeling of inferiority because they felt that to be feminine was ‘second best.’ Women have been trained that only masculine activities, thinking power, and achieving have any real value. Thus Western woman finds herself in the same psychological dilemma as Western man: developing one-sided, competitive mastery of the masculine qualities at the expense of her feminine side….(M)en unconsciously search for their lost feminine side, for the feminine values in life, and attempt to find their unlived feminine side through woman. (Robert A. Johnson, WE, Understanding the psychology of Romantic Love, Harper Collins, New York, 1983, p.ix)
This social, cultural, psychological analysis by Johnson, although it was penned three-plus decades ago, continues to resonate into the twenty-first century, although many men have made considerable strides to search for, to find and then to celebrate their feminine side. Listening, advocating, empathizing with their female partners and colleagues, as well as developing an active participatory interest in the details of their children’s daily lives are some of the visible signs that western men are indeed evolving.
Johnson’s book analyses the myth of Tristan and Iseult and parses the monumental forces at work in the process of experiencing romantic love. Positing that romantic love has “supplanted religion as the arena in which men and women seek meaning, transcendence, wholeness and ecstacy,” (Johnson op. cit. p. xi), Johnson poses a serious and significant challenge for the Christian church, given the church’s having commandeered the question of sexuality into its exclusive domain. Whether romantic love has supplanted religion at least in part because of the church’s unrealistic, perfectionistic, idealized notion of exclusion of divorcees, ostracising of extra-marital sexual relationships, banning LGBTQ individuals first from full fellowship and then from ordination, and/or because the church has fallen hook-line-and-sinker into the masculine, corporate, power-driven activities syndrome remains an open question.
Male spirituality, in recent years, has been written about as processes including healing the “father” and the “mother” wound and the accompanying issues of loss, grief, and “rites of passage” sessions including male initiation into age old traditions guiding men into manhood. Johnson, a Jungian disciple, takes time to detail the dramatic difference between “romantic” notion of being “in love”:
“When we believe we have found the ultimate meaning of life, revealed in 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, a superhuman intensity that lifts us high above the ordinary plain of existence…The psychological package includes an unconscious demand that our lover or spouse always provide us with this feeling of ecstasy and intensity. Despite our ecstasy when we are “in love” we spend much of our time with a deep sense of loneliness, alienation, and frustration over our inability to make genuinely loving and committed relationships. Usually we blame other people for failing us; it doesn’t occur to us that perhaps it is we who need to change our own unconscious attitudes—the expectations and demands we impose on our relationships and on other people.
This is the great wound in the Western Psyche. (Johnson, op.cit., p.xii)
In a culture that denies the unconscious, the inner life, especially under the umbrella of the patriarchy, it may seem a “bridge too far” to speculate on Jung’s teaching that the unconscious is indeed the “source: the primal matter from which our conscious minds and ego personalities have evolved” (Ibid, p.3)
The myth of Tristan and Iseult explores romantic love, as the first such story in western literature, the source of our romantic literature including Romeo and Juliet and many love-story movies. A “man’s myth,” it shows symbolically the “development of an individual male consciousness as he struggles to win his masculinity, to become conscious of his feminine side and to deal with love and relatedness. It shows a man torn among the conflicting forces and loyalties that rage within the male psyche when he is consumed by the joys, the passions ad the sufferings of romance.” (Ibid, p. xiv)
Johnson pictures western people as “children of sadness,” similar to the young man Tristan of the myth. “(T)hough outwardly we have everything, probably no other people in history have been so lonely, so alienated, so confused over values, so neurotic. We have dominated our environment with sledge-hammer force and electronic precision. We amass riches on an unpre3cedented scale. Bur few of us, very few indeed, are at peace with ourselves, secure in our relationships, content in our loves, or at home in the world. Most of us cry out for meaning in life, for values we can live by, for love and relationship. (Ibid, p.21)
Blaming our sadness on the loss of our feminine side, the Johnson’s exegesis of the myth points to Blanchfleur, Tristan’s mother, who brings him into a world of “constant war; men think only of empire building, accumulation of territory and wealth, and domination of the environment at any cost. We still call it progress. But this lopsided mentality kills Rivalen, husband of Blanchfleur and father of Tristan and Blanchfleur and leaves Tristan an orphan.
Tristan’s mother had been traded off to Rivalen by King Mark, Tristan’s uncle, for help in defending his territory. “She is a piece of property, to be used as the masculine ego sees fit in the service of its power drive. If we are awake, we see this in our own society. When a man uses a woman’s feeling to get power over her, when a man starts a friendship only so he can sell something to his friend, when the advertiser on television tells that that we will buy his product if we “really love our children” each of them is cynically putting love and feeling in the service of power and profit. (p. 22) Although written in the mid-eighties, Johnson’s insight proves both cogent and prescient in 2019 and the process of “servicing power and profit continues unabated, if not surging on patriarchal steroids.
Another of Johnson’s insights about the threat of the patriarchal foundations of western culture is evident in these words, the import of which continues to be ignored, denied or outside the purview of the Christian church:
If a man or woman clings to the dominant patriarchal attitude and refuses to make peace with the inner feminine, then she will demand a tribute: When we refuse to integrate a powerful new potentiality from the unconscious, the unconscious will exact a tribute, one way or another. The “tribute” may take the form of a neurosis, a compulsive mood, hypochondria, obsessions, imaginary illnesses or a paralyzing depression. In his writings Carl Jung gives un a vivid example. His patient was a brilliant intellectual, a scientist. The man tried to exist without feelings, without emotional relationships, without a religious life. He suddenly developed on obsessive belief in a stomach cancer. The cancer did not exist, physically, yet he suffered all the terrors of hell. The obsession paralyzed him and his professional life. His orderly, rational mind could not solve the problem. He found relief from this obsession only when he consented to reintegrate the feminine side of his psyche, the human values and spiritual values he had discarded many years before. (p. 27)
A professional career of some forty-plus years in Canada and the United States can and does attest to the entrapment of most of the men in positions of responsibility in school, municipal politics, and the church. And my own life, as well as, although to a lesser degree my father’s, can and does attest to a “drivenness” to be heroic, in a pursuit of career goals fueled by the neurosis of inadequacy that generated an application per month for many of those years. Courses in basketball coaching, executive leadership, supplemented by a “walter-mitty” imitation of hunting and fishing both the issues and the personalities of politics, through a free-lance, untrained adventure in print, television and radio journalism as well as a stint in selling suits taken together comprise a gestalt of both neurosis and isolation, alienation from friendships, as well as a metaphorical iron wall between my consciousness and my unconsciousness, the inner life.
It was in a class in seminary that I first heard about the cognitive difference between the words “extrinsic” religion and “intrinsic” faith. I bolted upright in my chair, in the winter of 87-88, and have been sniffing out the implications of that little nugget ever since. I had stepped off the career “hamster-wheel” for the identified reason that while I recognized I could pursue additional academic qualifications, my need was to dig into whatever it was that was driving me to work up to eighteen hours per day, and to reflect on what I was coming to perceive as a singular need and appetite for “applause” in whatever form that might take. Something “inside” me needed to be confronted, although at that time I had absolutely no idea what or who that “something” was. Thinking and even believing, ironically and tragically as it now seems, that a deeper look into what I then considered my own “faith” and “spiritual” life might turn up some new insights along with the hope they might unveil. Perhaps I was, at the time, summoning the strength to protect myself against the raw power plays of the inter feminine.
I knew too much about the raw and even abusive “raw feminine” in my early life, likely, in retrospect, even transferring my deep-seated anger and resentment that I felt toward my mother onto an unsuspecting and undeserving spouse, over twenty-plus years. What I did not “know” or appreciate or even anticipate about the “inner feminine” could then have filled a library, a hard drive or even a “cloud” in today’s world. I did not even contemplate the notion of an “intrinsic” religion or faith. Clearly a deep and, at least to my ‘eyes’ an arrogance persisted that I could conquer whatever it was that had been driving me to ever more challenges, and ever more desperation with each attempt. Cognition, reading, rehearsing, challenging myself in ways I had never imagined was clearly not meeting some deep and profound need.
And the irony is, from the perspective of an additional three decades, that the real role and evolution of the heroic masculine ego is to let go, to give up ego control, to stop trying to control the people and the situation and to turn the situation over to fate and to wait on the natural flow of the universe. “To give up the oar and the sail means to stop personal control, to stop trying to force things. To leave the sword means to stop trying to understand by intelle3ct or logic, to stop trying to force things. To take up the harp means to wait patiently, listening to a soft voice within, for the wisdom that comes not from logic or action but from feeling, intuition, the irrational and the lyrical.” (Johnson, op. cit, p.33)
And, along with this identified process of “letting go” came a corresponding and enhancing process of coming to grasp more deeply and personally the important differences between various iterations of male-female relationships.
From Johnson we derive the notion that romantic love is not love but a complex or attitudes about love—involuntary feeling ideals, and reactions….finding ourselves possessed: caught in automatic reactions and intense feelings a near-visionary state. (op. cit. p. 45) Developed around the twelfth century, “courtly love” idealized the feminine, and under its laws, “each knight agreed to obey his lady in all things having to do with love, relationship, manners and taste. Within her realm she was his mistress, his queen. There were three characteristics of courtly love that will help us to understand it. First the knight and his lady were never to be involved sexually with each other. Theirs was an idealized, spiritualized relationship designed to lift them above the level of physical grossness, to cultivate refined feeling and spirituality. The second requirement of courtly love was that they not be married to each other. In fact, the lady was usually married to another nobleman. The knight-errant adored her, served her, and made her the focus of his spiritual aspiration and idealism, but he could not have an intimate relationship with her….The third requirement was that the courtly lovers keep themselves aflame with passion, that they suffer intense desire for each other, yet strive to spiritualize their desire by seeing each other as symbols of the divine archetypal world and by never reducing their passion to the ordinariness of sex or marriage. (op.cit., p.45-6)
We seek romantic love to be possessed by our love, to soar to the heights, to find ultimate meaning and fulfillment in our beloved. We seek the feeling of wholeness.
If we ask where else we have looked for these things, there is a startling and troubling answer: religious experience. When we look for something greater than our egos, when we seek a vision of perfection, a sense of inner wholeness and unity, when we strive to rise above the smallness and partialness of personal life to something extraordinary and limitless, this is spiritual aspiration….In the symbolism of the love potion (romantic love) we are face to face suddenly with the greatest paradox and the deepest mystery in our modern Western lives: What we seek constantly in romantic love is not human love or human relationship alone: we also seek a religious experience, a vision of wholeness. Here is the meaning of the magic, the sorcery, the supernatural in the love potion. There is another world that is outside the vision of our ego-minds: It is the realm of psyche, the realm of the unconscious. It is there that our souls and our spirits live, for unknown our conscious western minds, our souls and spirits are psychological realities and they live in our psyches without our knowledge. And it is there, in the unconscious, that God lives, whoever God may be for us and individuals. Everything that resides on the other side, in the realm of the unconscious, appears to the ego as being outside the natural human realm; thus it is magical, it is supernatural. To the ego, the experience of that other world is no different from religious experience the religious urge, the aspiration, means a seeking after the totality of one’s life, the totality of self, that which lives outside the ego’s worlds in the unconscious in the unseen vastness of psyche and symbol. (op.cit., p. 52-53)
Here is the great “nub” of attempting to posit, and then to convince modern western man (in the masculine sense of that word) that there is even an unconscious, inner life, of another world that there is another “side” to our ego, extrinsic consciousness. From all of our human experiences with other people, dealing as they are, have been and will be for the rest of our lives, we have been discussing, dissecting, deconstructing what we call “reality” of the empirical, sensate and manipulatable world of our senses. We generally leave to the poets and the philosophers, the mystics and the shamans matters of the inner, unconscious mystery. Nevertheless, through the reading of church history, dogmatic development, and contemporary operation of ecclesial institutions the words used, and the concepts noted, the dates determined and documented, the processes valued and applied generally if not exclusively apply to an extrinsic, sensate world. Even the definition of empathy, agape love (to use the church’s words) is expressed in physical, sensate terms, without even acknowledging the other side. Numbers of dollars, numbers of adherents, numbers of disciplinary offenses, excommunications, dismissals, and even the definitions of what constitutes “sin” is considered, taught and enforced as sensate. And it says here that the patriarchy is patently, and perhaps even permanently and eternally committed to the preservation of this reality, as if it were the substance and purpose of the institution’s existence.
From Johnson’s perspective:
It is the out of control quality in romantic love that gives us the deepest clue to its real nature. The over-whelming, ecstatic “falling in love” with someone is an event, deep in the unconscious psyche, that happens to one< One does not “do” it, one does not control it, one does not understand it: It just happens to one. This is why Western male ego has such trouble coping with romantic love: It is, by definition, “out of control.” It is out of control because that is what we secretly and unconsciously want from it—to be ecstatic, lifted out of the sterile confines of out tight little ego worlds. That bursting of bonds, that transcending of the ego-mind, is “religious experience,” and that I what we seek. Western men are taught that the male ego must have control over everything within and everything around it. The one power left in life that destroys our illusion of “control,” that forces a man to see that there is something beyond his understanding and his control, is romantic love. Formal religion and the church have long since ceased to threaten Western man’s illusion of control. He either reduces his religion to platitudes or ignores it altogether. He seeks his souls neither in religion nor in spiritual experience nor in his inner life; but he looks for that transcendence, that mystery, that revelation, in woman. He will fall in love. (op.cit.p.57-58)
To be continued….