"Are you happy?"
That's what I recently asked a seasoned colleague and friend. I expected not a simple no answer but a qualified yes, as I had gotten from the many others to whom I had posed this question in the past.
"I guess I am as happy as one can be, given what is going on in the world," he replied dismissively.
"And prior to now?" He was obviously reluctant.
"Well, you know I have a good job -- though I could use a little more money; I have a great wife -- though she could make a little more time for me; I have great children -- though they could be a little more thoughtful; I am in good health -- though I could do without the migraines and heartburn and a few other daily aggravations."
"My mother -- she is neither dying nor living: she is too old, too sick, too cranky, and, in all honesty, too expensive; and my 'old house' -- something is always going wrong, either the roof leaks or the air conditioning doesn't work; the maid doesn't show up; the repair people don't do their jobs. And when all is well, the burglar alarm goes off spontaneously. Don't let me go on," he said with an exasperated voice.
"So, you are not really happy!"
"Well, it depends what do you mean by happiness."
Yes, what do we mean by happiness? How do we continue, never mind be "happy," when the adversities in life -- enormous or minor -- seem overwhelming? How do we psychologically survive the major calamities in the world -- man-made or natural? How do we face the loss of a loved one, serious illness, and impending death and still find meaning and happiness in life? The answers to all these questions lie in being a grown-up, soulful, and spiritual person.
André Malraux, the French novelist, described a country priest who had heard confessions for many decades and summed up what he had learned about human nature in two statements: "First of all, people are much more unhappy than one thinks...and second, there is no such thing as a grown-up person." These two observations are very closely related, if not one and the same: people who have not grown up cannot cultivate their souls and spirits, and therefore remain chronically susceptible to unhappiness.
The happiness that we all yearn for is a sentiment commonly associated with the lost paradise of our childhood -- when we felt omnipotent, entitled, and immortal. Happiness in adulthood, however, requires realism, reciprocity, and coming to terms with one's mortality. It is cultivation of forgiveness, tolerance, patience, generosity, and compassion. If this sounds more like "sainthood" than adulthood, it is because "the first step toward spiritual growth," in the words of Scott Peck, is "growing up."
People seek happiness everywhere, except where it may be found. They acquire material possessions, money, and power, and at times explore the avenues of therapy and analysis, or even medication. They try to work through their past and present conflicts, develop insight and empathy, pull out their pathological anchorings, cuddle their inner child, and redesign their outer adult. They attend inspiring workshops and read sundry self-help books dealing with the meaning of life and secular spirituality. Candlelight dinners, gifts, and communication from the heart, however, go only so far. Some people try to find comfort in the structure of religion. Others cannot tolerate the rituals and specific prescriptions, repetitive sermons, and literalness of religionism. Some devote themselves to Buddhism and the like; others find such practices incongruent with their culture and religious background, and they drop out. Yet even the failures of all of these attempts are relative successes, though transient, as each attempt opens the door for another: the seeking itself generates hope.
Nonetheless, those unsatisfied always have a feeling that something is missing; some "thing" they cannot easily articulate that always escapes them. Though not totally sure, they suspect that the "thing" has to do with an ill-defined happiness. They search for life grounding in old and New Age philosophies, struggle between an existential void and pessimism, and experiential refills. They get married and divorced, have love affairs, experiment with drugs and alcohol, change jobs and towns.
With each of these changes, they find that vague unhappiness and restlessness seem to decline temporarily, but a gnawing, hollowing dysphoria always returns. Some of these people are therapists, counselors, rabbis, priests, ministers, or philosophers themselves. They are even more demoralized by the fact that their profession doesn't make them any better. This vague discomfort isn't limited to any specific group. Most of my friends, students, patients, and acquaintances try to speak about similar feelings whenever they allow themselves to be vulnerable to me. I know exactly what they are all talking about, for I have been there myself.
The "thing" that everyone is yearning for is not mere ordinary and transient happiness but rather an extraordinary and permanent joyful serenity. Psychologically, it is a state of fully grown-up adulthood anchored in a soulful and spiritual existence. The door to this state of mind can be opened only by a combination key involving both the soul and the spirit. It involves the soul through love: the love of others, the love of work, and the love of belonging. It involves the spirit through believing: believing in the sacred, believing in unity, and believing in transformation. All culminate in the belief in and love of God.
There is no easy or quick path to happiness, only a slow and arduous one toward it, as there is neither an end product nor a finishing line, only a starting point. In your quest for joyful serenity, there is no single spot where you can start. Where you are right now is the best place to begin.
Copyright © 2003 by T. Byram Karasu
Chapter One: The Love of Others
SELF-LOVE PRECEDES THE LOVE OF OTHERS
When Lisa, a twenty-eight-year-old, smart, beautiful, successful actress, walked into my office, fixed her big green eyes on me, and began to cry, I wondered what on earth could be making her so miserable. I knew a few, if distorted, things about her from the tabloids regularly displayed at my supermarket checkout counters. In between her uncontrollable sobs, she managed to say that she was very unhappy -- unhappy with her choice of men, who all want to change her; unhappy with her career, in which she is reduced to a mouthpiece by a bunch of cynical writers; unhappy with her family, who take and take and are never satisfied. But most of all, she said, "I am unhappy about who I am and what I have become. I should not have been born, or I should not have been born as a human, maybe as a cat. In the next life, that is what I am shooting for. My cat and I are in perfect harmony. My cat seems to be the only one who has no complaints about me and me of her. Even my therapist thinks that I have a well-hidden inner bitch, and therefore am too narcissistically vulnerable. I just don't want to live anymore. Maybe I don't deserve to live, for I am such a bad person. I seem to be always irritable, angry, or depressed. Why should anyone bother to live with someone like me? Why should I bother to live? People who know me from my TV show might think that I am such a sunny person. They have no idea of my darker side. If they knew, they wouldn't want any part of me, because even I don't want myself, this totally selfish person."
I asked her how she had arrived at that conclusion that she was a selfish person. She said her boyfriend Joe had left her after a year and a half, because she was a "selfish bitch," an abnormal person, too self-absorbed to be a wife, especially a mother. Although she was somewhat hurt by the breakup, it was about time, because, she said, "he was too demanding. Plus, he always smelled of bubble gum, which he chewed to hide the smell of cigarettes. I don't know which I disliked more." Nevertheless, his reason for the breakup totally ungrounded her. Worst of all, she thought he might be right, and she remembered that even her own mother had accused her of being selfish throughout her childhood. In fact, her mother has used the same derogatory words as did Joe. "I don't even know who I am, or what I am anymore."
I asked her to give me some examples of her selfishness, as Joe or she saw it. "Well," said Lisa, "here is the most recent incident that actually prompted the breakup. I got an offer to work on a movie in L.A., which unfortunately coincides, time-wise, with our long-planned vacation to Alaska. I discussed this with him, the importance of the offer for my career, and that we could reschedule our vacation. I was torn myself. But I finally chose to accept the offer. There we are. Yes, I am selfish; he is right. Some other woman would have chosen the relationship over this specific opportunity; chose marriage, home, children over the career. I mean, Joe is a normal person, he wants a wife."
I asked her why his demand that she choose what he wants makes him less selfish. She stopped crying. In fact, I said, "both of you are quite selfish" -- she burst into laughter -- "but in a good sense of the word. You both have your 'selves' to take care of. You have the right and the responsibility to love and to protect yourself. Your choices are part of that self, which needs and deserves respect and self-compassion."
Self-love is benign self-compassion, not malignant self-centeredness, which unfortunately we call narcissism. Narcissism refers to a metaphor that describes a particular state of mind in which the world appears as a mirror of the self. It is used as an expression of unprincipled self-preoccupation. Even at that level of reading, as Thomas Moore says, "Narcissus falls in love with his image [and] discovers by his own experience that he is lovable." We tolerate better, and in fact find warmness in, such self-love when we see it in children.
This positive view of the myth of Narcissus tells a story of transformation through self-love. The word narcissism derives from the classical Greek myth, in which the main character, a youth called Narcissus, falls in love with himself. The child, in fact, is so beautiful that not only he but everyone else is in love with him. In his self-absorption, he is unable to relate to anyone, never mind being able to love another. The closest he gets to anyone is to a nymph (ironically called Echo), who can only repeat what she hears. She becomes a mere voice reflecting him. Isolated and unengaged, he gazes at his own image in the water and yearns only for himself. As he reaches down to touch his reflection, he disappears into the abyss of the waters of the river Styx. Ultimately what remains in his place is a flower, a yellow-centered daffodil with white petals -- the narcissus. Although Western psychology generally interprets the myth as Narcissus drowning in his own pathology, in fact the story has less to do with being destroyed by one's self-preoccupation than with the ultimate salvation inherent even within the most desperate of us. It is the story of transformation from one form of nature to another -- a boy who becomes a flower. In such a transformation, the boy becomes a part of a larger whole.
In self-love, there is a potential for being part of the whole. In this sense, self-love engenders a feeling of union with the rest of nature. It is a mutual self-love, a form of communion among all creatures. This is a merciful self-love, healthy narcissism and, far from being pathological, it is very much needed as a basic ingredient for attachment to and love of others.
THERE IS GOOD ONLY BECAUSE THERE IS BAD
Birds make great sky-circles of their freedom.
How do they learn it?
They fall, and falling, they're given wings.
-- Jalalu'l-Din Rumi
That evening, less than ten hours after breaking up with her, Joe called Lisa and wanted to bring some take-out food to her place. Lisa was elated. She put back into the refrigerator a six-pack of Joe's favorite beer, which she had removed earlier. She wasn't going to allow some cheap beer she would never serve to her friends to occupy space in her refrigerator. Joe walked in with only two boxes of Chinese food. No flowers, or any other sign or gesture in recognition of their coming together after a painful day of his rejection of her. She, meanwhile, welcomed him powdered and totally naked except for one of his bright red ties. His first reaction was anger: "You ruined my tie! Now the powder will never come off. You know I paid eighty dollars for it, you fool!"
Lisa felt horrible. She had been so excited while she was preparing herself for him. "He will be so pleasantly surprised that we'll forget the food and jump into each other's arms," she joyfully expected. Instead she got a serious scolding, disapproval and anger. Not only did he not want to make love but he didn't even want to sit down to eat. He spent the next half hour on the balcony shaking his tie violently to get rid of the powder while talking with someone on the cellular phone. How could I be so wrong? she thought. She tried to shake off the powder, but he wouldn't let her do it. "I'll buy you another one. I am sorry, I wanted to entertain you after we had such a horrible day. Can you at least acknowledge that it was sexy, or well-intentioned? I mean, am I crazy, totally out of it?" Joe wouldn't respond. She kept begging for some recognition. He remained disapprovingly silent. Joe would have equally rejected Erasmus, who stresses in his Praise of Folly that intimacy develops through the appreciation of foolishness.
Lisa, by contrast, never minded tolerating such explicit rejection and would go around to sniff hints of it. She was always seeking self-validation. Not only couldn't she stand people disagreeing with her, because disagreement fed into her self-doubt, but she also wanted to be liked by everyone, especially by people she disliked. At a party, if everyone was friendly toward her except one individual, she would gravitate toward the unfriendly one and try to obtain some sign of acceptance or approval. Her friends never understood why she would spend most of her time with utterly obnoxious and unlikable people at every gathering, professional and social. Lisa couldn't tolerate the idea that self-validation requires being rejected by some. Confucius was asked, "Is it best that all the people of the village like a person?" "No," he replied. "It is best when the good people of the village like him, and the bad people of the village dislike him."
Lisa would come home from such parties or meetings unhappy and disturbed, because she wouldn't have gotten the validation she required from these unvalidating characters. She thought that by some "karma" she was drawn to such bad, rejecting, negating people and would recite at length the awful experiences she had had with them. But in fact what was happening was much less mysterious. She came from an enmeshed and negating household. She was drawn to similar people and feelings as a home base, however painful. Noah benShea's book The Word: Jewish Wisdom Through Time tells a Yiddish folktale that shows how where we came from and to whom we may want to go affect our predisposition:
An old man sat outside the walls of a great city. When travelers approached they would ask the old man: "What kind of people live in this city?" And the old man would answer: "What kind of people lived in the place where you came from?" If the travelers answered: "Only bad people lived in the place where we came from." Then the old man would reply: "Continue on, you will find only bad people here." But if the travelers answered: "Only good people lived in the place where we have come from." Then the old man would say: "Enter, for here, too, you will find only good people."
This story, in order to make its point of the powerful influence of past experiences on the present, polarizes "good" and "bad" as distinct entities. In reality, such a distinction rarely exists. People in Lisa's present life were neither all angels nor all monsters. Those awful people from whom she sought approval were also most likely rejected, insecure, anxious, or in some other ways troubled themselves. So were her parents.
There are no such things as good people or bad people as Lisa tried to classify them. There is only goodness and badness delivered by individuals. Some people do more good than bad, and some more bad than good. "Badness" and "goodness" define human beings and are often opposite sides of the same coin. As the wisdom of Lao Tzu says, "If goodness is taken as goodness, wickedness enters as well," to achieve that which characterizes much of the world. To cultivate the good and eliminate the bad is as unlikely as to have an electric current without both positive and negative poles. It is better to accept the principle of polarity -- plus-minus, north-south, sky-earth, passion-reason (and indeed all pairs of opposites), because they are really different aspects of one and the same system. These two alternative forces, or phases, in the rhythm of everything in the Universe have been portrayed as Yin and Yang. The disappearance of either of them would mean the disappearance of the whole.
Lisa's "stingy Joe" was the same Joe who gave a lavish surprise party for her twenty-seventh birthday in one of the most expensive restaurants in town and bought her a Tiffany pearl necklace. This "rigid Joe" was the same Joe who was willing to convert should they get married, if she so desired. This "unforgiving Joe" was the same Joe who didn't get angry when he contracted genital warts from her and after the first eruption never mentioned it again.
Things are never black and white, or black or white; they are black-white. In Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching (Way of Life), under heaven all can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness; there is good only because there is evil. How often are we surprised to find out that a person who is known to us as a good individual did something horrifying. Is it our poor judgment, our lack of intuition or knowledge, or was he so deceptive and duplicitous? None of these. He was always himself, a good person, who did a bad thing, or what we personally or collectively called a bad thing. Is divorcing a spouse after fifteen years of marriage a bad thing, or an honest thing though belatedly executed? Are donations tax-related incentives, or genuine charities? Are missionaries saints, or are their activities serving primarily to define themselves? Independent of the possibly mixed motives of individuals, donations and missionary services are useful contributions to the community. There are good things whether they were executed by good people or not-so-good people, or bad people or not-so-bad people, or good-bad people, or just people.
Marianne Williamson relates a memorable anecdote about the great Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci that reveals the invisible connections between these dualities:
Early in his career, he was painting a picture of Christ, and found a profoundly beautiful young male to model for his portrait of Jesus. Many years later he walked through the streets of Florence looking for the perfect person to portray the great betrayer. Finally he found someone dark-looking enough to do the job. He went up to the man to approach him to do the modeling. The man looked at him and said, "You don't remember me, but I know you. Years ago, I was the model for your picture of Jesus."
THE SEARCH FOR COMPLETION OF
SELF IN OTHERS IS PURSUIT OF
WHOLENESS, NOT LOVE
As much as Lisa needed some distance from people to feel independent, Joe needed others very close to feel whole. Lisa maintained her sanity by keeping away from her engulfing mother, who was still alive. Joe came from a divorced family. His mother left the family when he was four years old and lived with a man in the neighborhood. Joe shuffled between two houses but never really found a home. He maintained his sanity by clinging to his independent mother, who had died three years ago from breast cancer. Joe made statements to Lisa like these: "I want you to be with me"; "Nothing should compete with our completing each other"; "The more you assert your individuality, the less chance that we could ever merge and be soul mates."
Loving someone doesn't mean merging with that person. The myth of Hermaphrodite tried to explain why we human beings are so predisposed to merge with our lovers (not necessarily urging that we should or must do so in order to find true love, or even that merging is a desirable thing to strive for).
In Plato's famous dialogue Symposium, Aristophanes decided to help his friends learn the secret of love's power. He began by recalling the myth that human beings were originally hermaphrodites: each human combined two genders by being a rounded whole, with four legs and four arms, able to walk upright in either direction, or to run by turning over and over in circular fashion. These original dual-sex human beings were so strong, confident, and powerful that they became a major threat to the gods, who debated how best to reduce their power. Zeus decided that they should be bisected and arranged it so that reproduction would take place by means of sexual intercourse (instead of by emission onto the ground, as had occurred previously). The result of this division was profound: Each half-being felt compelled to seek out a partner who would restore its former wholeness. Love, concluded Aristophanes, is simply the name for the desire and pursuit of the whole. Similarly, in the Kabbala, Shekinah is God's feminine half, who hopes to unite with the masculine half.
Throughout the ages, the idea that we attain wholeness and complete ourselves by merging sexually with someone else has been the major inspiration of romantic literature and the stirring climax of countless novels about love, often at the expense of enduring relationships.
Joe's desire was not to relate to Lisa but to merge with her, which she experienced as a sort of psychological cannibalism. Such an urge is not being with the other person but actually being the other. In this sense it is self-annihilation, expressing only Joe's intolerance of separateness. This intolerance generates a variety of manifestations. Alone, it engenders ungluing anxiety; with another, it is an intolerable, domineering attitude and demanding dependency. Paradoxically, the more the male dominates, as Joe was trying to do with Lisa, the more dependent he becomes. To a greater and greater extent, the relationship takes on qualities of the mother-infant bond, which in turn results in greater fear of separation and even greater domination. In adulthood the male-master becomes excessively dependent on his female-slave, and the female-slave grows to love her chains because of her hidden power over the master. Meanwhile, their wholeness becomes embedded in the context of mutual self-negation. Lisa's "selfishness" is her desperate attempt to put some obstacle in front of this seemingly inevitable recruitment by Joe, while she is intrigued by the hidden power it carries for her.
PRIMAL NEED TO MERGE
INTERFERES WITH RELATIONSHIPS
We bake a lump of clay,
Molded into a figure of you
And a figure of me.
Then we take both of them,
And break them into pieces,
And mix the pieces with water,
And mold again a figure of you,
And a figure of me.
I am in your clay.
You are in my clay.
In life we share a single quilt.
In death we will share one coffin.
-- Kuan Tao-Sheng
Our prenatal state is one of total fusion with a pregnant female. The mother basically breathes and eats for her growing fetus. The fetus is not differentiated from the uterus, which receives all of its nutrients from its arteries, while its toxic elements are removed through its veins. Naturally, whatever the female is doing for her uterus and its contents, the fetus, she is doing for herself. All is a single entity. But at some point in gestation (approximately three months) the fetus's brain starts to receive information from its own parts. As it matures, it will experience tactile and auditory sensations, as well as differentiate internal from external stimuli.
Until then the fetus lives in a nondifferentiated, merged state of passive calmness. This blissful state is imprinted and remembered in our minds and bodies as the most secure and most peaceful existence, rendering us incarnates of longing. For the remainder of our lives, we long for this soothing state in its innumerable forms and situations, either directly and primitively trying to enter women's inner space or less primitively and indirectly seeking transitional objects. The term transitional objects, in fact, has been adopted to refer to substitute external objects (not part of the body) to soothe the infant, such as blankets or bibs, soft toys (like the classic teddy bear), certain clothing and familiar objects, even people who may function as surrogate soothers to whom babies may connect when anxious. Joe wanted Lisa to be his transitional object, but permanently, even though she was neither satisfactory for the role nor willing to accept it.
Our transitional objects are clear agents of continuity, as the sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel explains, constituting bridges between the self and the world. They help the child to feel connected at the same time that it is experiencing its most devastating separation. Dolls and stuffed animals allow the baby to separate from its mother while they are experientially embedded in the immediate environment. As intermediaries between "me" and "not me," they help to establish an ambiguous, transitional zone between the self and the world, permitting the child to feel simultaneously separate and connected. We can easily observe that adults in everyday life can also cling (literally as well as metaphorically) to transitional objects no longer associated with babyhood -- mechanical objects like a CD player or cell phone, or even a car -- as expressions of a strong emotional need to feel attached to something.
Children don't give up their transitional objects -- nor should they be forced or cajoled to do so -- until they are developmentally ready, that is, only after they have the capacity to attach to others without fusing with them.
While Joe was looking for permanency, continuity, and connectedness by fusing with Lisa, she was trying to prevent fusion, as if they were tuning in different frequencies. She had had that with her mother and wasn't about to repeat the kind of enmeshment from which she'd spent a fortune to recover. Her last therapist had encouraged her to be totally independent and implicitly discouraged her from trusting men. This is a rather pessimistic view of the world, as it pins one to the past permanently. People grow, mature, or at least change; so do circumstances. Lisa's past may predispose her to certain conceptions, perceptions, and repetitions, as in the Yiddish tale I mentioned earlier, but they need not determine her actions. Heraclitus contends that one cannot step in the same river twice, because no one thing is ever the same thing twice. One may not step in the same river twice not merely because the river flows and changes but also because the one who steps into it continually changes as well.
At the opposite end of enmeshment, there exists an equally conflict-creating pattern of non-relating. Some people simply don't relate. I don't mean those with certain neurophysiological handicaps, such as autism or schizoid personality. There are individuals who do not consider relating to another person, never mind making the relationship a priority, important enough to invest their time and psychic energy. Relegating the relation to secondary significance is not limited to spouses. These non-relaters treat everyone (parents, children, friends) similarly. This stance may be to some extent tolerated with very creative people, but even then it is at a high cost to the individuals involved. However different from one another they may be in their personal lives, these creative people share an enormous capacity for original work -- often accompanied by a lack of close relationships with other human beings. Some may, in fact, logically argue that, if they have very intimate engagement with their families and friends, their singular achievements would be compromised, if not impossible. The heights of creativity demand long periods of solitude and intense concentration, which are difficult to maintain if a person is to engage emotionally with a spouse, children, or others. Creative people usually merge with their work, not with another person, in order to complete their selves. They mirror themselves on a canvas, or on a blank sheet of writing paper, or on a laboratory table. When they marry, their spouses no doubt chronically complain of being lonely, even in their "presence." A less tolerated version of this relegating of relationships to secondary importance is frequently observed with successful businesspeople and professionals.
LOVE IS CELEBRATING OTHERS' DIFFERENCES,
CONFUSIONS, AND PECULIARITIES WITHOUT
EXPECTING THEY BE LIKE US -- "NORMAL"
Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.
-- Leonard Cohen
One afternoon, according to thirteenth-century Sufi folktale, the beloved character Nasreddin, a humorous philosopher and wise fool, was sitting in a café with his friend, discussing serious matters of life and love, as told to Rick Fields.
When the friend asked if Nasreddin was ever interested in getting married, he replied that years before he had set out to find the perfect wife. In Damascus he had found a wonderful and beautiful woman -- but she wasn't spiritual enough. Then, in another city he found a spiritual woman, but they didn't communicate well together. Ultimately, in Cairo he found what he was looking for -- "She was the ideal woman, spiritual, gracious, beautiful and at ease in the world -- perfect in every way." When the friend asked why he hadn't married her, Nasreddin replied, "Unfortunately, she was looking for the perfect man."
Both Joe and Lisa wanted the other one to be perfect while rigorously denying their desire. Furthermore, they were putting themselves up as such examples of perfection. She would assail him for his crib talk and priapic preoccupation, and would complain of his always trading information. "Why do you always wear dark grays and blacks? You want to be able to show up at a funeral at a moment's notice?" He would criticize her for her "vagina talk," psychological decadence, and verbal bewitchment, and would complain of her always trading people. "Why don't you wear a bra? At a moment's notice you want to be able to get into the sack?" They didn't yet know that personal imperfections are what make one lovable.
When we refer to the perfect person, what we may really mean is someone resembling ourselves. That is why it is so difficult to find the perfect one, because each of us is unique. The people we encounter are to varying degrees different from ourselves. In fact, rewording the esteemed thirteenth-century monk, Thomas Aquinas, "Diversity is the only perfection in the universe." As there are billions of different faces in the world, there are that many variations in human personalities. "I" as the norm is puzzled and confused if the other behaves differently from "me." We automatically expect the other person's psychological structure to be similar to our own. Yet the moment a difference is recognized, however small, the individual would likely pull back, either remain relatively distant or emulate the other. Both attempts interfere with the development of intimacy. Genuine intimate relationships require that both individuals accept and foster each other's separateness. This acceptance is not a form of tolerance -- it is a celebration. We should not be hoping that one day this person will finally mature and become like ourselves.
To know a man as he really is, you must accept him as he is; otherwise, he may not reveal himself to you and you will miss him forever. Constant self-scrutiny as to be rational, perfect, sane, or praiseworthy undermines one's authenticity, and thus the possibility of genuine relations with others. Irrationalities are fertile ground for souls to join, as are their shortcomings and failures. Enduring relations are a series of optimum failures. If you want successful relations, make a habit of practicing the following daily prayer from the Course in Miracles: "Today, I shall judge nothing."
SOULFUL INTIMACY IS THE PROTECTION
OF THE PRIVACY OF THE OTHER
Joe's excessive clinging is the most frequent manifestation of structured emotional dependence on another person, which is often taken for love. Such intense and intractable attachments, however, invariably lack the very ingredients required for genuine love -- delight in the other person in his or her own right and in the person's own way as an independent being. The kind of love Joe professes is a counterfeit love and tends to deprive his partner of a life of her own. Such people's love does not even discriminate among partners; having love needs met becomes more important than who meets them. This motivation harkens back again to the infant-mother relationship, in which one is not interested in who provides the milk and sings the lullaby as long as someone does. For Joe, a Lisa is needed not as someone to relate to; she is needed to fill his inner emptiness.
Healthy attachment requires healthy distance. A healthy distance is accomplished by allowing, if not making sure, that one's partner's separateness is secured. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke's advice for a happy relationship is for each person to protect the solitude of the other, never mind his own. Only by being separate can one be together.
SOULFULNESS IS NOT BLAMING
Lisa and Joe constantly blamed each other, even for inconsequential matters. He expected total loyalty. If he had an argument with a waiter in a restaurant or with a cabdriver, he expected her to support him, regardless of whether he was right. Any failings of her support were considered utter disloyalty. She blamed him for being satisfied with trickled down analyses from her, not knowing acts of emotional intimacy, such as hugging, kissing, or cuddling, except as quick foreplay for self-affirmatory sex. And there was not even a pretense of afterplay. He'd turn over and snore. "He doesn't communicate, share his inner thoughts, his demons," as she put it. He, in return, accused her confusing living with being in therapy and "genderlect" conversations. He blamed her for his own reticence about his inner world. What's more, as soon as he did so, she would attack him, accuse him of perversity, and demand that he see a therapist, one with gravitas, rather than a "lite therapist." A therapist of transpersonal persuasion that he reluctantly agreed to visit discharged him after the first session by saying, "You are not OK, I am not OK, and it is OK."
Both wanted to know more about each other but got upset with each finding. He was jealous of her intense interest in musicians and her taking voice lessons with a gay woman. She was upset by his bringing work home on weekends.
Lisa's and Joe's chronic complaints about each other didn't help much in changing their behaviors. They served only to lower the couple's threshold of psychological vulnerability, and gave rise to anger and rage. People are at their best and worst when in love. At their worst moments, Joe and Lisa called each other all kinds of names. She was a "NutraSweet" soul and a "hothouse lesbo"; he was an "id-ridden asshole" and a "zoo-raised lion." They threw things at each other; he shook her, she bit him. After these fights, escalated by the contagion of anger, they would remain aloof or continue to accuse each other and eventually make up in bed, but never explicitly apologize. Implicitly they accepted that the passion ensued from transgression.
Most arguments escalate between spouses, other family members, friends, or co-workers because no one takes the blame and says, "It is my fault, and I am sorry." An apology could end even major wars among nations, never mind the ordinary arguments of individuals. Commonly, people accuse someone else for whatever has gone wrong, and there may be a small truth in that projection. But the accused's insistence that he is only an innocent bystander, if not the victim, is usually perceived by others as an insult to their intelligence, a maneuver that compounds the original wrongdoing. There may be a deeper reason, in fact an ontological one, for this universal defense of not accepting blame. It goes all the way back to Genesis in the Bible, when God put Adam in the Garden of Eden and commanded him never to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. When Adam hid from God because he didn't want to be seen naked, God wondered how Adam knew that he was naked and asked, "Did you eat fruit from the tree of knowledge I commanded you not to eat from?" He answered, "That woman, the one you gave me, gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it." Then the Lord God asked the woman, "What have you done?" "The snake deceived me," the woman answered.
Adam, in fact, not only blamed the woman for giving him the fruit but also blamed God for giving him the woman. And the woman accused the snake and blamed God, the snake's creator, indirectly. Incidentally, God never bothered to ask the snake what happened. We can only speculate that the serpent itself would have blamed someone or something else, most likely the tree, and indirectly God. If we cannot blame someone easily identifiable, we all directly or indirectly blame God for our failings. God has no one to blame. Becoming soulful means becoming God-like, thus not blaming others even when justified, and also accepting the unjustified blame from others who may still need to blame.
DO NOT SHED TOO MUCH
LIGHT ON THE SOUL
ardOne always learns one's mystery at the price of one's innocence.
-- Robertson Davies
At the beginning, Joe and Lisa had a fully satisfying sexual relationship. As time passed, they had to invent little games to get themselves excited. But each would insist that the other come up with an intriguing scenario. Finally, they'd throw a coin, and the loser would proceed with a story. In one of Lisa's stories, she was a maid to Sir Joe, an English lord, who was sitting in an oversized leather chair, reading a newspaper while sipping a cognac, smoking a cigar, totally oblivious to her comings and goings as she tidied the place. She would get closer and closer to his area, take his slippers off, pull down his pajama bottoms, wash his genitals, dry them with her little apron, and then suck him until he came. Meanwhile, the lord wasn't supposed to make any change in his routine, as he continued reading, sipping, and smoking, even at the time of his ejaculation.
Although Lisa guessed and delivered accurately Joe's fantasy, she'd go into a funk afterward, and if Joe pursued her with "what's wrong" questions, she'd berate him about the impersonal quality of his sexuality, the interchangeability of "the server." She would demand to know in detail what went on in his mind during all his acting, to which he'd respond, "Honestly, nothing." "Nothing? Nothing?" she'd scream. First she couldn't believe that and accuse him of lying. Then, if halfway convinced, she would attack him with pity, saying that he was just empty-headed, a bore. "How can we have an intimate relationship when you are always hiding from me?"
"Doctor, does that make me a bad person?" Joe asked. "The situation is a little like the final scene in the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy unmasks the powerful wizard as a mere mortal, old and bald, and accuses him of being a bad person. The Wizard replies that he is really a good person, even though he may be a bad wizard. Like the Wizard, I am a good person, but not a good communicator. At times I don't even know enough about myself to communicate to Lisa."
Intimacy doesn't require absolute knowledge of oneself or the other person. There is always some resistance to too much self-exploration. People really don't want to know or have it known what secrets are slumbering in their souls. If you try too much to penetrate another person, you'll find that you have thrust him into a defensive position that he fights against. In fact, the knowledge of the other is best initiated not by exploration but by a simple declaration: You are fine as you are. Of course, in order to offer such acceptance to another, one has to accept oneself. Such self-acceptance requires the acknowledgment and ownership of a bad as well as a good side of self, one's hidden darkness or shadow.
The shadow may include our anger, selfishness, jealousy, pride, insecurity, wildness, or destructiveness. Although these qualities are an integral part of us, we want to hide them or deny them. They get out of the darkness when we project them onto others -- husband, wife, child, friend, neighbor, co-worker, or another race and culture. Only by accepting one's own shadow can one allow the other person to keep his own secrets.
Stripping the other person of his depth and psychological secrets is not getting to know someone. In fact, getting to know someone deeply would require not seeing too clearly. The magic in relationships is maintained partly by taming one's excessive curiosity to discover the ingredients of the whole, by resisting unweaving the mystery of otherness, by not throwing too much light on the person. Every soul has "a lie" in its formation, because it is never fully formed; at any given stage, it seems like pretending. Dr. Relling, in Ibsen's Wild Duck, says that he takes care to preserve his life lie. If you take away the average person's "life lie," you rob him of his happiness too.
The need not to shed too much light on another person harkens back to ancient Greek mythology -- the beautiful princess Psyche and her beloved Eros (Cupid). Psyche was unable to find a husband, but an oracle revealed that a monster on top of a mountain would marry her. Unbeknownst to Psyche, that beast was really Eros, whom she had promised never to look upon. Convinced by her jealous sisters to break that vow, she lit a lamp and beheld the handsome Eros as he slept. Suddenly awakened and realizing that he had been betrayed, the winged figure flew away.
Of course, Eros was Love.
ALL TRIANGULATIONS DESERVE
JEALOUSY AND CELEBRATION
If you love one, you will be loved by many, but
if you love many, you'll incur the wrath of one.
Not only was Lisa pretty but she also worked in a setting where everyone was chosen for attractiveness, physical or psychological -- mostly physical. They also had many parties, and seemed to have lots of fun, in contrast to Joe's dry, driven world of money, wherein a party meant getting together with people to make deals, which were drawing much emotional blood from Lisa. He'd go to her parties only to come home to fight. "Why do you have to touch people caressingly?" he would complain. And "what is that seductive curling of your lips whenever you talk to your boss? Are you sleeping with him? You would, if need be," he would conclude with the not-so-well disguised self-pity of a jealous lover. On such nights they would sleep in different rooms.
But whenever Joe went on a business trip, he was accompanied by an assistant, or a junior colleague, mostly women, especially one Lisa called "a scheming type." "What do they talk about during dinner?" she would wonder. "Do they share a bottle of wine? Does the maître d' treat them as lovers? Do they taste each other's food? I can almost see her extending her fork to Joe's lips, 'Oh! You've got to taste this.' Joe would roll it in his mouth and look into her eyes, 'It is delicious.'" Lisa would so elaborate her fantasies that she'd call Joe at his hotel and break up with him.
Both Joe and Lisa were like many other people, who are very jealous and provoke such feelings in each other. Nevertheless, they refused to admit having these feelings because of the demeaning implications of such an admission. In reality, jealousy is corrosive only if left unattended. Otherwise, it is a natural human emotion and, as such, a building block of one's soul. One needs to recognize its archetypal existence, understand its nature, chip away its sharp edges, attend to it, and put it to good use.
Jealousy has the potential of converting to an obsession. When that conversion occurs, no preemptive dismissal helps, nor does reassurance or the advice of friends, the admonishment of others, the threat of punishment, the danger of loss of prestige, dignity, reputation, marriage, even life. What kind of madness would let a person take such a destructive and self-destructive road? That person could, in fact, be very sane, well-educated, well-bred, extremely intelligent, highly sophisticated, someone who holds a major office, or is a respected community leader. We have seen judges, teachers, doctors, and ministers become victims of jealousy and act on it, destroying their careers, if not their lives, as well as the lives of their loved ones.
Biological sources of jealousy are conditional, designed to protect the territory for food and, ultimately, to perpetuate one's genes. Studies of primates show how their "jealous behavior" carries the clear mark of evolutionary purposes. In a discussion of the reproductive strategies of the male, Kalman Glantz and John K. Pearce observe:
Males are most vigilant when their females are in estrus. At other times, they are much more tolerant. A dominant (silver-back) male keeps a constant vigil on the movements of his mates as long as they are not pregnant. However, once a female has conceived, he becomes incredibly tolerant. He may watch, from a distance of several feet, while the future mother of his offspring copulates enthusiastically with another silver-back. A female may well indulge in more sexual acts, sometimes including homosexual mounts, during the early months of her pregnancy than during her estrus period. A pregnant gorilla can quite literally do no wrong.
Man's jealousy exceeds these biological restraints, and woman's jealousy has no counterpart in other mammals. In humans, it seems, the seeds of jealousy are sown originally in the archetypal triangulation. They are resown in early childhood, to be reenacted later in peer relationships and love affairs. In all these relations, one of the individuals (at times both) begins to lose his or her boundaries, is unable to tolerate the other's independent activities, never mind another love affair. To some extent, a real or fantasied third person is needed to fuel a dormant interest. At times lovers consciously or unconsciously play that game to incite passion. However, to keep the triangulation at the level of foreplay requires that the couple maintain a certain degree of introspective distance from their emotions. If such differentiation and distance are lost, the couple will be at the mercy of a drama of mythical proportions.
The story of Aphrodite gives us the archetypical triangulated jealousy. Feeling denied by Hippolytus, who seems to be favoring Artemis, Aphrodite sets out to destroy him. Her rage brings her lover an ironic death by being trampled by his horses, which were an object of his intense love.
Lots of marriages end up in divorce simply because they go through the neglect-anger-suspicion-jealousy-humiliation sequence, eroding trust and impoverishing the couple's souls. Finally, divorce becomes the only viable way to escape from this vicious, mutually depleting cycle, even though the partners may still be very much in love. Transient love affairs of married individuals generate terrible pain but do not necessarily precipitate divorce, if this vicious cycle is not allowed to be entrenched in the relationship.
THE SELFISH SAINT: TO FORGIVE IS TO FORGET
The mind has a thousand eyes, And the heart but one; Yet the light of a whole life dies, When love is done.
-- Francis William Bourdillon
As Joe and Lisa were celebrating the second anniversary of their meeting, their relationship faced a serious and most damaging challenge. She found a package of lubricated condoms in his pocket. They never used protection because she was on birth control pills. Yes, she was snooping. It turned out she always did. Now they were in totally untested waters. She threw his clothes out the window of their apartment, then changed the locks on the door.
He called dozens of times, at home, at work, left desperate messages, proposing marriage on the one hand, denying that the condoms were his on the other, said he had no idea how they got into his pocket. He proposed an explanation: "Could someone be trying to sabotage our relationship, like your lesbian music teacher?" He sent dozens of red roses, parked in front of the apartment to talk to her. She would not respond. She spent the next few nights sleepless, in pain and anger. She couldn't believe that after all they have gone through, he could have sex with someone else. Why? Was she depriving him of sex? Was she not a good sexual partner? She wondered who the woman was. The schemer? "Obviously someone young, childbearing age, otherwise why use a condom? Or was he sleeping with prostitutes?" She wondered whether he had given her AIDS. As her anger dissipated and a darker mood set in, not only was she betrayed and humiliated but she had lost her friend. As much as she complained about him, Joe was the best friend she'd ever had. How could he do that to her, just for sex? Did she really miss him, she wondered, or was she simply growing dependent on her opponent? Actually pushing away pulls one in.
Ironically, through her lesbian teacher's mediation Lisa and Joe began to talk. He was deeply remorseful. He confessed that he had had sex twice with a waitress in their neighborhood restaurant. He liked her "adventurousness" in bed. But the real reason for his "sin" was, as his therapist saw it, his "cold feet," that he was trying to undermine the relationship, which was getting too close for comfort. Lisa finally forgave him and said, "But I'll never forget." I urged that she should also try to forget it, for her own sake. She tried, but she couldn't get rid of the images of his having sex with someone else. She knew the other woman too and thought she had a cute rear end. She was obsessed with what Joe meant by "the adventures in sex." Were they having anal intercourse? That may have explained the lubricated condoms, she thought. But no way would she do that herself. "To hell with him, if that's what he wants."
To love means to forgive, especially to forgive what seems unforgivable. Christ has always loved the sinner as being the nearest possible to the perfection of humanity. His primary desire was not to reform people any more than his desire was to relieve suffering.
Similarly, forgiveness is praised by philosophers and religious leaders alike as heroic existence. "Life is an adventure in forgiveness," declares Norman Cousins. "Have no malice in your heart. Have no desire for revenge," we read in the Hindu sacred poem the Bhagavad Gita. "Give the person a full chance to explain. Do not return hate." Jesus, a very brave man, prays while hanging on the cross of death, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the African American civil rights leader adds, "Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude." Finally, the writer David Ausburger concludes: "Since nothing we intend is ever faultless, and nothing we attempt ever without error, and nothing we achieve without some measure of finitude and fallibility we call humanness, we are saved by forgiveness."
If your partner acknowledges his or her mistake, expresses sincere remorse and repents, then you must not only forgive him or her but also forget the whole event. After such contrition, the slate must be wiped clean and the relationship must continue as if the wrongdoing never occurred.
In his book Further Along the Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck tells a poignant tale about a little girl who said she talked to God.
The villagers who heard of her experience began to get excited about it, and word reached the bishop's palace. The bishop, concerned of unauthorized saints walking around, appointed a monsignor to investigate the child's story. So she was brought to the bishop's palace for a series of interviews. By the end of the third interview, the monsignor, in frustration, cried out, "I just don't know, I don't know what to make of this. I don't know whether you're for real or not. But there is one acid test. The next time you talk to God, I want you to ask Him what I confessed to at my last confession. Would you do that?" In reply, the little girl said she would do so. When she came back for her interview the following week, the monsignor eagerly asked, "So, my dear, did you talk to God again this past week?" to which she replied, "Yes, Father, I did." He went on, "And when you talked to God this past week, did you remember to ask Him what I confessed to at my last confession?" Again she answered, "Yes, Father, I did." Finally, he asked, "Well? When you asked God what I confessed to at my last confession, what did God say?" Then the little girl answered, "God said, I've forgotten."
Whether this little girl was the one who had forgotten, and whether she had indeed talked to God, she was expressing the ultimate forgiveness.
Humanness is always imperfect, relative, and tainted by sin and folly. This view might help us to tolerate our own shortcomings and many uncertainties, including our moral failings. Forgiving would free us from the corrosive effects of anger and hate. It would save relationships among spouses, parents and children, and friends. I know spouses who never forgive an indiscretion and express their anger at every reminder of it. They will yell at the top of their voices, as if the matter had just occurred. Such chronic anger serves only to kill the love that was supposed to be its source. It is reminiscent of Robert Fulghum's report of a unique practice in the Solomon Islands of the South Pacific. Applying a unique type of logging, some native woodsmen cut down trees by yelling at them. They continue this practice for thirty days, until each tree finally dies, believing that their screaming killed the spirit of the tree. The tree may or may not literally fall over. The person who is subjected to anger may or may not die. We know for certain, however, that anger slowly kills love.
Ironically, the angry one (justified or not) suffers the most. Not only will he or she lose the love that is so vehemently being protected but the anger will weaken the immunological system. Being angry, in fact, has been likened by Frederick Buechner to gnawing on a bone, your own. The moral of the story is that people who say, "I forgive, but I will never forget," have not actually forgiven. Forgetting is the only real and possible forgiving, and that is a more saintly act, and a selfish one at that.
EXPECT LIMITED LOYALTY, RECEIVE PLENTY
We expect lots of things from friends and family members, frequently get disappointed, but nevertheless recover and continue with our expectations. Disloyalty, though, is the harshest of all disappointments. Even a minor betrayal by a friend or loved one comes as a devastating blow and a major surprise. We are unable to believe it when we face squarely an act of betrayal by those from whom we expected complete loyalty; it shakes all our confidence in relationships and even in ourselves. We couldn't imagine ourselves doing such a heinous thing. But is it true that there are no conditions in which our own loyalty is not seriously challenged?
Like all human sentiments, loyalty is context-dependent. It is a relative commitment. It is our expectation that loyalty be absolute that generates disappointments, conflicts, and loss of important relationships. By recognizing human limitations, we might be able to salvage our connections and also have peacefulness within us. And in fact it is only by not expecting absolute loyalty that we may receive it. In the Book of Matthew, we learn the nature of loyalty. Jesus said to his disciples, "All of you will abandon me tonight." Peter said to him, "Even if everyone else abandons you, I never will." Jesus replied to Peter, "I can guarantee this truth: Before a rooster crows tonight, you will say three times that you don't know me." Peter told him, "Even if I have to die with you, I'll never say that I don't know you!" All the other disciples said the same thing, and they all deserted the man to whom they had sworn loyalty.
MARRIAGE IS AN INDIVIDUATION PROCESS
WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF UNION
Last week Joe and Lisa got married.
It was a sort of miracle, because neither of them expected they could thoroughly recover from their chronic conflicts and the recent acute trauma. As happy as they were, Lisa said she was sad that she could never trust him totally, and Joe was resentful that she had put him on endless probation. With this relational truth, they declared a psychological moratorium on the subject.
I said, "You are both on probation. Your marriage is not the end of the story. 'They got married and lived happily ever after' belongs to fantasy tales. In real life, it is 'They got married and worked even harder on their relationship.' The issues of trust, intimacy, conflicts about work versus home, desire versus fear of independence, a need for care and affection, valuing what the other may consider precious regardless of how silly it may seem to the other, will continue for all of your lives."
The setting of Jesus' first miracle -- his transmuting water into wine -- is a wedding ceremony in Cana. "All marriages take place at Cana," says a faithful Thomas Moore. Therefore all marriages are miracles.
At the unhappy end of the spectrum, others join Montaigne, who says, "The land of marriage has this peculiarity, that strangers are desirous of inhabiting it, whilst its natural inhabitants would willingly be banished thence." But it isn't the marriage that causes the dissatisfaction, it's the problems of the people involved in the relationship.
Marion Solomon, in her book on the power of positive dependency in intimate relationships, identifies these disturbances under the rubrics of defensive dependency, anxious attachment, boundary busting, fragile connection, and defensive distancing. An even greater poison in relationships is the issue of mistrust, earned or not. An old Sufi parable, "The Ancient Coffer," as told in Moore, is a case in point:
A very respected man named Nuri Bey had married a much younger woman. A faithful servant reported to him that the wife was behaving suspiciously -- sitting alone guarding an old wooden trunk that was big enough to contain a body (i.e., another man). When he asked her to unlock the large chest, she refused to do so because it would mean acceptance of his mistrust. Instead she handed him the key to do so himself. After pondering the situation, Nuri Bey and his servants carried the unopened coffer far away and buried it.
What was buried in that cold and lonely place was the soul of their marriage.
Most marriages start with some healthy ambivalence but also with good intentions. Two people faithfully enter an arrangement seeking many unspoken, if not unrecognized, fulfillments. They may end up with blissful epiphanies or bitter struggles. If an individual is expecting the partner to actualize his or her potential, that individual will frequently find that the partner falls short of that expectation, especially if the other is suffering from the same illusion. It is probably our idealization of relationships that causes marriage to be so vulnerable. One has to establish a healthy balance. If couples did not expect marriage to be their ultimate source of satisfaction, they would not be so susceptible to its disappointments. However, if their expectations are too low, even the marital relationships of people who relate well will take second place to work (mostly in men), children (mostly in women), or some other primary agenda.
Marriage at its best puts couples in a confusing dilemma: the attempt to have a union with someone else while maintaining an independent sense of self. Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary defines marriage as "the state or condition of community consisting of a master, a mistress, two slaves, making in all, two." The more the individual is undifferentiated, the greater the conflict with the partner. Marriage is a fertile ground for individuation as well as for union, but first one must be differentiated, just as a prisoner who wishes to help free his imprisoned companions must first break out of his own chains. Marriage requires attachment and individuation simultaneously, rather than sequentially, as it occurs in our early developmental years.
PREDICTOR OF LASTING MARRIAGE: GENERIC ALTRUISM AND SPECIFIC SELFISHNESS
It is overstated (but there is some truth to it) that in choosing a partner man tends to settle for physical beauty, and woman for a good provider, even though both seek many other qualities (intelligence, sense of humor, health, sensuality, good genes) as well. It is interesting that none of these qualities determines either the stability or the durability of a marriage. Obviously, no one enters a marriage with an expectation that it will not last. The conjugal vow "till death do us part" is a genuine belief at the time it is made, though heavily tainted with the excitements of sex and novelty. Therefore, mundane conflicts in the early stages of marriage are easily solved in bed. Sex becomes the "peace ground" for the couple.
Sex is also a battleground upon which many nonsexual skirmishes are fought. Because sexual intimacy invariably exposes one's vulnerabilities, it triggers some of the most primal fears and longings. Sexual contact may be experienced as an emotionally distant one-person affair or a blissful merging. Some individuals may feel unsafe in the sexual encounter -- enslaved, engulfed, or disintegrated -- while others may experience the reverse -- comfort, intimacy, affection, passion, and exaltation. Sexual behavior is just another manifestation of the individual's maturational level.
Sex, beauty, and wealth are only transitory binders. By contrast, being generous to strangers, surviving each other's provocation, and honoring what is precious to the other are potentially permanent binders. I'll discuss generosity to strangers in the "Believing in Unity" chapter. Let's look at the other two potentially permanent binders now.
The Israeli biologist Amotz Zahavi believes that some otherwise mysterious conflicts might be explained by the mechanism of "testing of the bond." By provoking the partner, he contends, one may assess his or her willingness to continue to deliver the "goods of marriage" in the face of future difficulties. A basic question, of course, is whether all lovers (in different species) have spats to test each other. Zahavi answers by providing examples from courting birds. Female cardinals, says he, peck and chase wooing males and allow mating only after long persecution of their suitors. Their subsequent bond lasts for many seasons.
I think Joe and Lisa pecked and chased each other enough that their relation will likely survive future tests. But their individual growth within the marriage must continue. They will need continually to learn to protect each other's solitude and privacy, not to blame, to tolerate life triangulations and, last but not least, to cherish each other's peculiarities, no matter how foolish they may sound.
Honoring what is precious to the spouse is best portrayed in an African tale, as told by Harold Kushner, of a sky maiden:
A sky maiden married to an earthling caught her husband opening the huge locked box that belonged to her. He was more puzzled than guilty about this indiscreet act because he had discovered that the box was empty. When she angrily began to leave, he was perplexed and asked her what was so objectionable about peeking into an empty box. To his surprise she replied, "I'm not leaving you for the reason you think -- it's not because you opened the box. Rather, it's because you called it empty. To me, it wasn't empty; it was full of sky and the aromas of my home. I can't be your wife if what is so precious to me is emptiness to you."
THERE IS NO STAND-IN FOR A SOUL MATE
The Soul selects her own Society -- Then -- shuts the Door --
To her divine Majority --
Present no more.
-- Emily Dickinson
Not only are Lisa and Joe now husband and wife but they have become soul friends. They call each other lovingly by their soul names; he is Hippo and she is Piglet. "Soul mateness," more than emotional intimacy, grows with crises and adversities. Although it occasionally occurs in an initial encounter, soul matedness is developed over time. A soul mate is not found but cultivated. Soul mateness is not like love at first sight but more like W. W. Benjamin's "love at last sight." "From love of man one occasionally embraces someone in random," says Nietzsche. But one must remain in that embrace for a long time in order for that person to evolve to a soul mate. There is no microwave equivalent to it.
The Catholic Scholar John O'Donohue's recent exploration of our yearning to belong calls such soul friendships "eternal echoes." The soul relationship is a bond so special that neither space nor time could destroy it. It arouses an echo that resonates in the hearts of the friends forever, so that they experience a profound and intimate belonging with each other. Such a soulful relation offers a place to capture and hold all the longings of the human heart.
The sexual relation between soul mates is rarely a passionate one, although it might have started as such. When people talk about soul mates, we do not ask what they mean. We somehow understand, even though we ourselves might never have had such a relationship. We intuitively know that profound connection, that effortless communion. This precious intimacy crosses all boundaries of sex, age, and culture. It has all the elements of other intimate relationships, such as friends, lovers, or siblings, but is also quite distinct from them.
One can't will soul mateness as one may friendships, marriages, and work partnerships. One can only position oneself by being soulful. The soul mate will appear. The soulless person, in reaching for a soul mate, finds only himself again. He puts on a mask of soul but remains ego within. Such people may achieve important positions, accumulate great wealth, marry and have children, but they will always feel alone, and will make others feel even more so.
Mysteriously enough, even the most soulful of us rarely gets more than one chance in life to encounter a soul mate, because this relationship requires a sexual partner who is also a soulful person. Very few are graced with multiple opportunities. Do Joe and Lisa really value what they have? They have learned to accept what is precious to each other and definitely survived a number of provocation tests. I wonder now whether they'll remain embraced long enough to cultivate their souls. Somehow, human beings don't fully appreciate the preciousness of the gift of having a soul mate until we lose it. Then we begin our long and painful odyssey to find a replacement. Alas, there are no stand-ins for soul mates.
Copyright © 2003 by T. Byram Karasu