The House of Relationship
Tom Kenyon, M.A., published 2006
In some ways, relationships are like houses. They have a lot of rooms, and every room has a unique view of the world. Some rooms have giant windows that look out onto a world immense with possibilities. When we live the dance of relationship in these rooms, life seems pregnant with promise and boundless potential. Love (romantic and otherwise) can thrive in these rooms.
But some rooms in the house, look out onto brick walls. And some are so dark there is not even the glimmer of a chance for illumination or self-awareness. These are the difficult spaces that those of us in relationship sometimes (or perhaps often) find ourselves in.
And while these uncomfortable spaces in the house of relationship are challenging to say the least, and deserve much attention on their own, in the brief space of this article I would like to confine my discussion to the bathroom—the toilet actually—and to be as specific as possible, what to do when the damn thing backs up.
Now I know that some people think that Sacred Relationship is all wonderful warm fuzzies and happiness rainbows. But sometimes, when we least expect it, the toilet stops working, and the shit hits the fan—so to speak.
As I write this, I am reminded of an incident that took place over fifteen years ago at a personal growth intensive I was conducting with a friend and Rolfer. It was a body-oriented psychological workshop and there were about a dozen people, all of whom had gathered at the Rolfer’s house. In about the first hour or so, it became clear that there was a lot of psychological shit to deal with, if you know what I mean.
It was about then that the toilets in the house stopped working—no joke. The suckers wouldn’t flush. For the two-day intensive, we had no working toilets—a mind boggling and irritating synchronicity, or coincidence if you want to be more rational about the thing. Anyway, on the last day of the intensive, in the last hour, we heard this weird sound from all the bathrooms and suddenly the toilets started belching. One of the participants tiptoed into the nearest bathroom and suddenly, for no apparent reason, the thing flushed! Now I have seen some pretty weird synchronicities/coincidences in my twenty-three years of working as a psychotherapist, but this ranks, I think, right up there in the top twenty.
If I look at the toilet weirdness from a symbolic perspective, then we were really holding onto our shit. And it was only when we let go of it, psychologically speaking of course, that the toilets freed up.
In the House of Relationship what happens with toilets is that they sometimes back up. And those of you in relationship may have noticed that these types of toilets often back up at the most inconvenient and socially inappropriate times.
Now I could blabber on and on about this metaphor because I love the labyrinthine passageways that metaphors open in our minds. But for the sake of brevity, I will get more to the point. What usually backs-up the toilets (in relationship) is nothing more and nothing less than good old fashioned resentment—yep, resentment.
Honey, Why Are You Pissing Me Off?
Most anyone who has been in relationship long enough has probably experienced resentment from time to time. It just comes with the territory of interpersonal interactions.
Sometimes our resentments are little, like when our friend or partner takes the last bite of our dessert. I recall an incident at a nearby table in a restaurant awhile back.
The waiter was taking dessert orders, and I heard the woman say, “Nothing for me; I’ll have a bite of his.”
“To hell you will,” I heard her male companion blurt out. “You always say you are going to have just a bite, and then you wind up eating more of it than me!”
Yes, food resentments do happen. But usually our resentments center around more significant things—like promising to do something, and not following through with it, or when we hurt our partner’s feelings.
These types of resentments and resentment in general have, what I call, a festering-shelf life. What I mean by this is that an unacknowledged resentment can go underground where it is put on a shelf—much like one of my aunt’s pantries where she would put up Mason jars of vegetables and fruit from her garden. They just sat there until she needed them, and then voila, in the middle of winter, she would pull out a jar of strawberries and plop them on the table.
Resentments can be like that sometimes. It is an odd quirk of human nature that when someone pisses us off or makes us sad, we sometimes show it and sometimes not.
When we don’t express to our partner our authentic feelings in the moment, especially when they are of the resentful variety, they tend to be set aside, psychologically speaking. And then when we least expect it, our partner may grab them from their dark shelves and plop them on the table, right in front of us. The toilet has backed up.
These types of everyday resentments can be difficult enough to manage in a relationship, but there is another type of resentment that is much more insidious, and in some ways, much more difficult to manage—because it lives in our unconscious. Returning to the metaphor of the house, this resentment festers in the basement, far from the other rooms. Most of the time we hardly know it is there. It is only when it barges in, unwelcome and unannounced, into our living room or bedroom that we even know it exists, much less that it was pissed off.
So what is this resentment of which I speak? It is the resentment born from when our partner fails to live up to our image of how we need or want him or her to be. To explain this beastie, we will have to take a little walk down into our own basements—our unconscious minds.
It’s tricky down there, because as you go further down the stairs, you tend to get sleepy and forget why you came down there to begin with. So before we actually descend into our own pit, we’d best, I think, talk about it a bit.
The Androgyne Within
As odd as it may sound to some of you, each of us is two—at least in psychological terms. Now, what I am speaking to here is not what some refer to as subpersonalities—which are aspects of our personality that can sometimes have a life of their own. And virtually anyone who has done any kind of real self-inquiry has probably discovered the rather odd truth that there is more than one of him or her. We have a plurality of selves, some of them in opposition to each other.
Say you have decided to stop smoking. As soon as you set up a psychological tension like this, it is almost as if you have two selves. One wants you to stop and the other wants you to keep lighting up. If you have a vivid imagination, the one who wants you to stop may appear like an angel in your mind, while the other self appears as you know what.
And while subpersonalities are a fascinating topic and certainly of importance when undertaking self-transformation, the beastie I am talking about lives at a deeper level of the psyche. To find him and her, we will have to descend into the very darkest part of the basement (dark, in this instance, meaning deeply unconscious). Notice that I said him and her, not him or her. That’s because this beastie is both.
At a deep archetypal and psychological level, each of us is an unusual dyad. The psychiatrist, Carl Jung referred to this dyad as anima and animus. The anima is our feminine self, while the animus is our male self. These two selves are not related to biological gender, but rather they are psycho-spiritual aspects of consciousness. Thus, all men have both an internal masculine and feminine, and all women have both male and female aspects as well.
These potent forms of anima and animus are usually birthed from a combination of our innate spiritual essence and our primary relationships, i.e., our mothers and fathers. In some cases a powerful or significant figure other than a parent can be internalized as well—like a strong grandmother, a grandfather, or some other person close to the child.
In the murky cauldron that is human psychology—it is inevitable that certain types of men represent aspects of our own introjected male, while certain types of women represent aspects of our own introjected female. This is because the outer male or female expresses qualities or attitudes that match or resonate with our internal anima and animus.
The weird thing about all of this is that the person in the outer world probably has no idea that they are activating the anima or animus of the other individual. But to the person whose anima or animus has been activated by the presence of a man or woman, that man or woman will have a magnetic quality about them, to which one is either drawn or repelled. And this attraction or repulsion has little to do with the actual person, but more to do with the internal psychological forces of one’s own anima or animus.
Let me get a bit more specific so that, hopefully, the concept will make a little more sense.
Bob (not his real name) came to see me because he was having problems with his wife. It was his third marriage, and as we explored his psychological territory, it became clear that the same problem had cropped up in his previous marriages as well. With all three wives, he was initially drawn by their physical beauty, and all of them were blondes. But as the marriages unfolded, he felt nagged, criticized and undervalued. Emotional gulfs appeared and he and his wives inevitably drifted a part. This was, of course, Bob’s version.
Karen, his current wife (also not her real name) felt that whenever she pointed out anything negative in Bob’s behavior—like leaving his dirty clothes on the floor—he would go nuts. To her it seemed like a reasonable request. But to Bob it was inflammatory, critical and questioned his very manhood.
As it turned out, Bob’s mom was a blonde (like Karen and his previous two wives). His mother was also physically beautiful, and had, in fact, been a beauty queen. But there was a toxic element in their relationship. She hated men and voiced her distaste for men in general, and Bob’s father in particular. This put Bob into what is called a double bind. In other words, he was fucked. He was a boy—which meant that someday he would be a man and a recipient of his mother’s anger. But he didn’t have to wait for manhood in order to become his mother’s target. She regularly criticized him and belittled him for the smallest things. The net result was that he internalized his mother’s criticism. His anima, which by nature should have been a source of intuition and inner-connectedness, was poisoned. She (Bob’s anima) carried his mother’s venom. Because Bob had not realized this, he had not undertaken the psycho-spiritual task of transforming his own internal feminine negativity. Instead, it got projected outward.
When Bob got into a relationship with a woman, it was with the unconscious hope that this one, this beautiful goddess that he had fallen in love with, would redeem him. She would not be the toxic mother he had grown up with. She would be the all-loving, all-embracing female he yearned for.Unfortunately, his psychological agenda rarely matched reality. The all-loving female eventually, in his mind, turned into a critical shrew. In reality, Bob was acting like an idiot and not taking responsibility for the behaviors that brought forth critical comments from his partners. The bitter irony is that they were never questioning Bob’s manhood, nor criticizing his being. They simply wanted him to pick up his freaking laundry!
This is one small example of how an un-owned anima or animus can wreak havoc on relationships. The same principles apply, by the way, for women in relationships with men. If the father/daughter relationship was imbalanced, a woman may find herself projecting the perfect man archetype: say the Knight in Shining Armor, or the All-Knowing-God/Man, or some other type of equally ridiculous baloney, onto the actual man she is in relationship with. And if her father was critical of her, she will feel undervalued and criticized by her partner. In extreme cases she will feel that she has no rights—that what the man wants and needs is the most important thing, eclipsing her own needs—a belief that is, unfortunately, actually held to be true by a large portion of humanity to this day. A woman who has been psychologically poisoned by her father, or in some cases by her mother, must transform this negativity before she can step into her own sense of personal power.
Just as with heterosexual relationships, unresolved issues with one’s mother or father can affect same sex relationships. The dynamics are very similar, since, as I mentioned earlier, our anima and animus are not related to biological gender—but to universal aspects of human consciousness. Psychological projections are thus not confined to heterosexual relationships either. Same sex relationships can fall prey to the same dynamics.
And in some instances, I have known individuals who thought they were gay who discovered that they were actually projecting their un-owned anima or animus onto their same sex partner. For instance, a man may misinterpret his attraction to men. It may not be sexual at all, but rather psychological. He might be projecting his un-owned animus, or he might be trying to fill an emotional vacuum left by a father who wasn’t present for him. The same can hold true for women, as well. To be clear here, I am not saying that all gay relationships are a result of this type of psychological projection, just that some are.
In Jungian work, one of the primary tasks is to bring one’s own anima and animus into a state of equality so that the inherent abilities of both can be used in the task of living a balanced psychological life.
So what, you might ask, does all this have to do with personal relationships—a lot actually. What is it that attracts us to someone? While personal tastes and personalities undoubtedly play a role, so do the unseen forces of anima and animus.
A man might find himself drawn to a woman with a particular quality because he is projecting this quality from his own anima to someone outside himself. This is often because he is unable to own his own feminine side, and is thus driven to seek it outside—to complete himself as the saying goes, by being in the presence of a woman who has those qualities.
He might also be trying to fill a psychological hole in himself due to a dependent and negative relationship with his mother (or a central female figure during childhood). In this case, he might unconsciously draw life force and inspiration from the women he is in relationship with because, without them—he believes—he cannot psychologically survive. These types of relationships are inherently draining to the partner who is being projected upon and inherently frustrating for both, because these types of psychological holes or needs cannot be filled by someone else. It is an impossible Herculean task.
A similar dynamic sometimes shows up with women attracted to men. A woman can easily project her own animus onto a male figure and desire to be in relationship with him. Unfortunately, if the projection is strong enough, she may fall in love with her own projection and fail to see the character of the actual man. Some women get involved with inappropriate partners because they “see” the potential of the person they desire to be in relationship with while conveniently disregarding the danger signals of their partners’ actual behavior. I think it is vital for such persons to clearly understand that one cannot have a real or fulfilling relationship with potential. Women who fall in love with the projections of their own animus may find that their men become like phantoms—enigmatic and perhaps attractive, but possessing no real substance.
From both Jungian and Alchemical perspectives, one of the most difficult and crucial tasks is to stop the process of psychological projection and to take personal responsibility for one’s own anima and animus, which brings us back to the House of Relationship. Sometimes we see our partner with such clarity that it takes our breath away. Sometimes, however, we barely see our partner through the hypnotic fog of our own projections.
This type of fog usually arises when we are psychologically distressed, frightened or threatened. If an action of our partner resembles—in any manner—actions or attitudes we remember from our primary childhood relationships, the ground is fertile for the emergence of psychological projection.
What triggers all of this hubbub is the shock of a psychological mismatch—between the hypnotic effects of our projections and the reality of the moment. Let us turn our attention back to Bob and Karen for a minute.
When Karen was asking Bob to pick up his dirty clothes, she was, in her mind, making a very simple reasonable request. But in Bob’s mind, the scenario was quite different. When he asked Karen to marry him, it was not Karen he was asking. It was the all-loving goddess he had projected onto her. The real Karen was lost in the misty, romantic and delusional world of Bob’s projection. Now to give Bob some credit, I think he did see and value some aspects of Karen, the real honest and good person. But there was a lot of projection mixed in. And thus the stage was set for the third act of his tragedy.
You see—in the course of living real day-to-day life, Karen was simply pointing out a need for Bob to clean up his act a bit. But he internalized Karen’s comments as critical and demeaning. In these moments when he went “nuts” to use Karen’s own words, he was no longer seeing his wife—he was seeing his mother. In other words, the venom his mother had injected into his being as a child was polluting his relationship with Karen.
Bob’s anima was disturbed and nothing short of extricating his toxic mother would free him, his anima, or his wife from this bondage.
As part of his therapy, we began to work with both his anima and animus through a form of deep transformational imagery called Psychosynthesis.
This type of work is highly effective at dealing with conflicting psychological forces through the use of internal images and spiritual light.
But while this addressed his inner world, Bob needed to deal with his external reality as well—namely the dynamics of his relationship with Karen. First of all, he had to start picking up after himself around the house. This is just basic relationship stuff, and it amazed me that Bob could be so smart in some areas, and so stupid in others. But then that is often the case when it comes to our own emotional stuff.
Since we are on the subject, I would like to mention the fact that it took Bob working on both his internal world of thought and feeling, as well as his external world—his behavior—to resolve the issues between he and his wife. Bottom line—if you want to truly transform yourself, it takes work on both the inner and the outer. You can’t just think about it, you have to actually do something about it.
Bob and Karen learned new strategies to communicate with each other without blaming the other and without stepping off the edge into irrational behaviors. This part of their healing was tedious to say the least, but it was greatly facilitated by our going over some basic principles in interpersonal relationships.
It is not in the scope of this article to go review these fundamentals, but if you are struggling with your partner around communications, you might benefit by taking a look at Harvel Hendricks’ book, Getting the Love You Want. Hendricks’ book is a primer, something like Communications 101, so its simplicity may turn some people off. But I always say that it is sometimes good to review the basics—especially if you never learned them to begin with.
The sad truth is that the majority of people lack these basic skills, and without them relationships have little hope of evolving into what they could be—a wellspring of mental, emotional and spiritual sustenance. Instead, most relationships seem to eventually deteriorate into one of those soap operas you can catch on late-afternoon TV. A lot of relationships could, I think, be saved from such a fate with just a little basic understanding in how to talk and listen to each other.
The Kitchen of Hope and Despair
Somewhere in the House of Relationship is the kitchen. It is here, of course, that we prepare the nourishment that sustains us. I know of a Psychiatrist in New York who had a kitchen built in his office. After each therapy session, he would take his patient into his kitchen, and give him or her some soup that he had made himself, from secret recipes that he had perfected over many years. He firmly believed that his psychotherapy was more effective because his clients took in physical nourishment that had been prepared with love and awareness.
In the kitchen of Relationship the ingredients that we make our soup with are how we speak with each other, how we touch, and how we do the myriad little things for, or against, each other.
We partake of this soup every day when we live with another person. And the emotions and thought-forms we experience with one another become metabolized as a part of our physicality just as much as do the nutrients in the food we eat. The emotional tonality of our relationships either elevates us, keeps us stuck in the same-old-same-old, or brings us down. Thus our view of life and ourselves is directly affected by the hope or despair that we emotionally eat on a daily basis.
Man versus Woman
I saw a bumper sticker several months ago.
It read—Women Are From Venus, Men Are Idiots.
I imagine that the owner of the blue van had simply had it with her male companions. Indeed, male-female relationships can be challenging, if for no other reason than sheer biology. Our brains work differently and our hormones are different—all of which means that we see and experience the world in radically different ways.
The late ethno-biologist, Terrence McKenna, once said that testosterone (the hormones dominant in males) really only has three questions. When a guy meets someone new, his deeper biology asks: Can I fuck it? If I can’t fuck it, can I eat it? And if I can’t eat it, can I kill it?
Admittedly this is an over simplification because not all males fit into this niche, but it does have some bearing on male behavior. In addition, many males seem to have a deep-set desire to inseminate as many females as possible. This is in stark contrast to females who generally desire to find a single mate to nest with. And all of this goes back, at least according to biologists, to our evolutionary roots.
An essential thing, I think, for men and women in relationship to understand is that they do, in fact, experience the world quite differently. And many of these differences are rooted in their unique biology—hard wired, if you will.
Now some of the differences between us men and women are rather fuzzy when it comes to the nature versus nurture question—how much of our difference is due, in other words, to our biology and how much to the ways we are socialized. Well, the verdict isn’t in yet, but child psychologists have made some interesting observations.
A group of boys and girls who were under the age of two, non-verbal and presumably with little socialization were put in front of a television to watch cartoons. For no apparent reason to the children, the cartoons stopped and the screen went blank. When the girls toddled up or crawled to the TV to try and get it to work, their efforts failed. In almost every case, they started to cry.
But when the boys went up to the TV and failed to get it working, they started hitting and kicking it. It would appear that there is an inherent difference between the sexes when it comes to how we handle frustration.
There are also fundamental differences in how our brains manage information. Some neurologists have estimated that the average woman (whatever that is) has about 23% more connections in the corpus callosum than the average man (again, whatever that is). What this means is that women tend to have more communication channels open between the two hemispheres of their brains. One effect of this is that they have a greater ability than men (in general) to communicate their feelings through language.
However, some of the differences between men and women are, I think, a result of socialization. I recall a summer afternoon years ago when my youngest son, who was seven at the time, and I had gone canoeing. When we returned to the dock and got out, he fell and hit his leg against the railing with a loud thud. He grabbed his leg and grimaced in pain. A few tears came out of his eyes from the intensity of the pain, but he didn’t make a sound. It was striking to see. Although I had never given him the message that big boys don’t cry, he had obviously picked it up somewhere.
There are a few guy laws that are implicit between males. Not crying and not showing vulnerability are certainly two of the more important ones. But this innate reluctance (or in some cases an inability) for men to show their feelings and vulnerability is problematic in male-female relationships. For one, women, to make a broad generalization, tend more to the interconnectedness of relationship. And sharing feelings and the emotional vulnerability that sometimes comes with them are important markers that validate the relationship. Men, on the other hand, tend more to autonomy, and emotional vulnerability can feel quite threatening—depending upon the man’s life experience with such matters.
While it is certainly an oversimplification to say that men rely more on thought than feeling, while women rely more on feeling than thought, there is some truth to it—though to what extent I am not sure. As a psychotherapist, it was quite common for my women clients to complain that their male partners were up in their heads that they refused to, or couldn’t, feel. And this lack of access to feelings presented real problems in the relationship.
On the other hand, I have known many women clients who had the same problem, in that they were unable to feel, and lived their emotional lives up in their heads. These women, though biologically female, demonstrated very clear culturally biased masculine traits. Thus, I think that thought vs. feeling may not be as rooted in gender as many suppose.
This points out, I think, one of the many challenges in the area of gender-based behavior—namely that our cultural filters come into play. We expect men to be a certain way and women to be a certain way. While this is sometimes true, often it is not. To confine anyone to strict sexual stereotypes is essentially a type of mental and social imprisonment. In reality, some men act more like women (from our socially biased view), while some women act more like men. This could be a result of many factors, their personal anima and animus, which we discussed earlier, being one of them. But whatever the reasons, when one person in a relationship sorts the world solely through his or her thought while the other sorts solely through his or her feeling, the ground has been laid for difficulties in the relationship.
Men, in general, are challenged in their relationships with women due to several factors. For one, they tend, as we mentioned, to avoid emotional vulnerability and thus don’t really enjoy talking about their feelings. This is problematic for the female because she, generally speaking, uses feelings as a barometer to tell her where the relationship is.
Another challenge in male-female relationships is that men tend to be solution oriented when emotional problems arise. I have seen it over and over again with couples in therapy. When the woman was sharing some difficult emotional material, it invariably threw the man into a state of panic.
Males tend to be autonomous and action oriented. When their partners are in distress, they want to do something to fix it. But sometimes, perhaps more often than not, when a woman is sharing her feelings, she is not wanting her partner to do anything per se. She just wants to be heard, to be understood, and for her feelings to be validated and not discounted.
Denial and Pride
Most of us don’t like to admit that we are wrong. And when we are caught in the act of doing something we know we shouldn’t, many of us seem to lie about it.
I recall an incident several years ago, with my former mother-in-law. She was diabetic and was not supposed to eat candy, a habit she was never able to shake. One afternoon while waiting for a taxi, I noticed that she had deftly slipped something into her mouth from her purse. The air was suddenly filled with the faint smell of chocolate. Her husband turned to her and said, “Are you eating candy again?”
“No!” she said, the word muffled by the size of the bonbon in her mouth. He grabbed her purse and opened it to reveal a stash that would have made any Halloween trick-or-treater proud.
Many of us, me included, operate by what I call the Merlin Factor. I am not referring to Merlin the fabled magician, mind you, but to our family dog. Now Merlin was a hodge-podge canine, part Saint Bernard, part Bloodhound, part Great Dane and part Mastiff. At his prime, Merlin weighed in at around 160 pounds and was a bit more than six feet from tail to snout.
If you allowed him to do so, he would try to curl up in your lap. He also liked to watch TV with the family in the den. And this is no exaggeration—he would sit on the edge of the couch with his front paws in front of him touching the floor. He was that big.
But his favorite position was to be sprawled out on the sofa beside us, behind us, and over us—something we discouraged because, well…he was part Bloodhound, and the body odor could be overwhelming, especially after he had rolled in deer shit, which he dearly loved to do in the woods around our house.
It was a ritual that we went through at least a few times a week. And it made me think that perhaps the psychology of denial has canine roots. You see, Merlin thought that if he couldn’t see you, then you couldn’t see him. So he developed this method to sneak further onto the sofa—into places he knew he shouldn’t go. He would sneak up onto the couch backwards, yes, backwards. And he would look away from us as he did it, as if by doing so he became invisible. Invariably, one of the members of our family would say “MERRRLIN” with that disapproving tone that dogs almost always understand. He would always look back at us with shock on his face—like how did you see me?
Human denial is like that I think. If we pretend not to notice something, then perhaps those around us won’t notice it either. While this can be comic at times, it is a real problem in relationship, or to be more precise, Sacred Relationship.
Denial actually works in some relationships. In fact, without it, some of them would fall apart. But Sacred Relationship is built upon a bedrock of mutual trust and truth. Without honesty between partners, Sacred Relationship cannot exist. And so, denial is a kind of death-knell to this type of relationship.
To be clear and honest with each other about everything in the relationship can be a very humbling experience. It can also be, quite honestly, annoying. To be confronted by oneself or by one’s partner around an attitude or a behavior that doesn’t serve the relationship is to come face to face with one’s own character—or to be more exact one’s character defects.
I will never forget a comment made by a friend who was in her eighties at the time. “We all have fatal flaws; the important thing is what we do with them. That’s what counts.”
The honesty and impeccability required by Sacred Relationship can quickly bring to conscious awareness our hidden flaws and defects. While this type of self-knowledge is difficult to deal with, without it, authentic psychological and spiritual growth cannot take place—at least in my opinion.
The problem for many of us is that seeing our own flaws and defects can be so demoralizing, we either pretend they don’t exist, or if forced to see them, we flip into pride.
I am not speaking here of the kind of pride that has to do with positive self-esteem. I am speaking of a pride that sidesteps issues. When nothing else works to avoid being confronted by self-awareness, pride will often do the job. Perhaps arrogance would be a better word, though the two words are interchangeable according to the Thesaurus on my laptop. Arrogance puts other people off; it creates an immediate gulf, and in the presence of such an attitude, most people give up and back off.
I have personally found it helpful to nickname my various arrogant sub-personalities. And Charles Thomas is one of them. This was my father’s name, and my own animus (internalized male aspect) has, unfortunately, some negative qualities—like stubbornness, for one. I also have another aspect that is rather Ostrich-like. Ostriches, as you may know, have a quirky behavior in the face of danger or threat. They stick their heads in the ground! This may be their version of Merlin, the family dog I mentioned earlier.
Anyway, it helps to defuse some of the emotional charge around these aspects of our psychology when we give them nicknames. Try it for yourself. The next time one of these nasty un-resourceful selves raise themselves from your own psychological underworld, shock them and call them by name.
I offer this funny little suggestion because anyone attempting Sacred Relationship needs to have his or her wits about him or her. We need all the resources we can muster. And when an aspect of ourselves arises that is not only un-resourceful, but downright negative in its effects, then we’d best deal with it promptly. Negative aspects of one’s self can wreck havoc on a relationship, so my advice is to meet them head-on, and nothing works quite as swiftly as humor.
Those of us attempting to live the experiment of Sacred Relationship do so without the aid of maps or cultural understanding. It is indeed, the road less traveled. So as one traveler to another, I offer this simple practical advice: denial, pride, and arrogance may be our worst and most elusive enemies. They can pop up at the strangest of times, and when they do, my suggestion is to take a deep look inside. What are you trying to avoid and why?
If there is any advice I might have for those of us living in the House of Relationship, it is to genuinely seek to understand each other without projecting our un-owned desires onto each other. And we need to celebrate the differences between us. After all, it is our uniqueness that makes life interesting. A thriving relationship does not require that both partners do the same things, or that they see or experience the world in the same way—so long as there is acceptance, appreciation and mutual respect.
Finally, just know that from time to time the toilet is going to back up. All this means is that one or both of you have swallowed too much resentment (shit) and now it is time to deal with it. Admittedly it is easier and less messy to deal with resentments when they are small, but if you missed the opportunity to deal with them, and the toilets won’t flush anymore, take some action.
You might be amazed at how many people think it is a sign to abandon the House when there are plumbing problems or when things get emotionally difficult. To these people I have three little words—get a life. Take some responsibility. Have a heart-to-heart conversation with your partner. Clean things up. And next time, don’t swallow any shit from your partner. Bring it to his or her attention when it happens, without blame, without manipulation and without shaming him or her.
Now, sometimes it may actually be in your best interest to leave the House, and, as the song says, hit the road Jack, and don’t come back no more, no more. If you are being physically threatened by your partner or emotionally abused, you might want to figure out a way to get the hell out of dodge. Some relationships aren’t worth fighting for. Some of them are toxic and need to be abandoned. But unfortunately I don’t have any magic ruler by which you can measure whether your House deserves to be saved or not. Only you can decide that. But if your partner isn’t willing to even discuss your feelings about the relationship, and insists that everything is fine the way it is when you know deep in your gut that it is not—well then, I would say that’s a pretty good sign to start packing, or if leaving is not possible, then find ways to take care of yourself, psychologically speaking. In other words, don’t let a negative relationship undermine your own sense of yourself or your self-esteem.
For those of us who choose to stay in the House of Relationship and find the courage and grace to allow each other to be who we really are, magic is often the result. Partners who may have been obscured from each other by their psychological projections and their resentments, suddenly find that they see each other clearly—in some cases for the first time.
Those rooms in the house that were so dark suddenly become illuminated with the hard-earned and precious light of self-awareness. And those rooms that looked out onto brick walls are suddenly filled with sunlight, because the walls that separated us from each other and from the world simply dissolve.
The Alchemical Symbolism of Anima and Animus
In some alchemical traditions, especially those out of Europe, the balancing of the anima and animus is called the Sacred Androgyne and is represented as a hermaphrodite—half man and half woman. In some traditions, this figure is actually called the Sacred Hermaphrodite, a word which is the union of Hermes and Aphrodite, male and female faces of the divine.
In alchemical iconography, the figure of the Androgyne is often depicted coming out of a furnace or a fire, sometimes with the sun and moon overhead. The fire represents the alchemical fires of purification required for the attainment of the philosopher’s stone—a heightened state of spiritual awareness (at least in the esoteric forms of inner alchemy). In the exoteric (or outer) forms of alchemy, the philosopher’s stone was believed to be a key catalytic agent that could turn lead or base metals into gold.
In esoteric alchemy, the sun and moon above the hermaphrodite represent the balancing of the solar and lunar aspects of consciousness. Alchemically speaking, the sun represents the male (animus) and spirit, while the moon represents the female (anima) and matter. The sacred task of spiritual alchemy is to balance the sun and moon to produce the Sacred Androgyne or Hermaphrodite, so that one gains access to higher realms of spiritual perception.
This is very akin to the task of Jungian psychology, though in the alchemical form, the context is spiritual. In Jungian work the context is psychological—or perhaps psycho-spiritual.
The use of the hermaphrodite within alchemical iconography shows up in other traditions as well. There is a form of Shiva that is highly androgynous. Shiva is the Lord of Death as well as the Protector of Yogis and Yoginis, and in his androgynous form he is merged with shakti (the feminine power of the cosmos).
In his Ardhanarishwara form, Shiva is a hermaphrodite, both male and female, and is depicted with the genitals of both sexes. This unusual symbolism speaks to one of the deepest alchemical secrets of Tantric yoga—that great spiritual power is gained when one’s internal male and female are conjoined in balance.
This balancing of one’s own internal energies is indeed the task of certain types of yoga. According to yogic anatomy, we have three subtle channels that run up the spine to the top of the head. The central channel is called the sushumna and is the path of kundalini shakti (which is represented as both a coiled up serpent of life-energy and as feminine in nature). As she rises up the spine, she enters the head and joins with Shiva to produce enlightenment, or liberation.
On either side of the sushumna are two channels, one associated with the internal sun (or masculine aspect of consciousness), while the other is associated with the internal moon (or feminine aspect of consciousness). The solar channel is called the pingala and the lunar pathway is called the ida. When the energies of the pingala and ida are balanced, then the yogi or yogini is able to catch a glimpse of the ever-present transcendent Self.
The theme of balancing the masculine and feminine aspects of consciousness shows up in Tibetan Buddhism as well, in the form of Kalachakra, which depicts the union of male and female deities in the act of sexual and spiritual ecstasy. From the viewpoint of Kalachakra, this balancing point of male and female is the root of all existence and all creation whether human or super-human.
Moving our attention from Eastern traditions to the Judeo-Christian, we see the theme of the Sacred Hermaphrodite repeated in a most unexpected location.
The Gospel of Thomas, is a manuscript which was lost until the mid-twentieth century when it was discovered in Egypt as part of what has come to be known as the Nag Hammadi texts.
In this Gospel, Jesus is quoted as saying something that bears a striking resemblance to the Sacred Androgyne of classical alchemy and even the Ardhanarishwara form of Lord Shiva.
“When you make the two into one, and when you make the inside like the outside, and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the female one and the same, so that the male be not male, nor the female female…then you will enter (the kingdom).”
I don’t think that this passage has anything to do with physical androgyny but rather the kingdom is a state of mind or awareness that is attained when one balances the internal male and female aspects of consciousness.