Monday, July 14, 2008

Theory of the Mind V: The Miracle of the Knife, Forgiveness and the Feminine.

"Your recent entries exceed the ambitions of a blog. As blog entries, I feel they are too demanding a read. Do you plan to systematize them in a more formal sense?"

So spake my most reliable literary correspondent. Right now I am just riffing as I go, but my scattershot approach has already borne fruit.

Today at the Mendocino Headlands, picnicking with my daughter, was an orange leather couch some youths had hauled down to the cliffs, nearly identical to a couch my first wife and I purchased when we first moved to San Clemente, one of the happier times in our marriage. More miraculously, a man at the headlands sold me the exact model of a Buck Knife he'd bought at a Rainbow gathering that my second wife purchased in Alaska but kept as a secret for two months until my birthday. I had pointed it out at a knife shop in Juneau from the display window after hours, and though she was terrible at keeping secrets, she kept the surprise from me, which I took as a sign of love. Further, my third wife, the love of my life, broke that same knife in Mexico trying to jimmy a lock that separated her from her ransomed service dog, whom I afterwards recovered through legal means, though we each spent a night in jail over him due to our misguided attempts at physical intervention. After breaking it, she threw the knife away without consulting me, and the genuine replica fell into my hands today for half the price of a new one. Here is a picture of it:

Buck Vanguard

I chose it because it was a strong, practical knife good for many uses, from skinning to cleaning to slicing rawhide or carving wood. Its main disadvantage is also its strength, a fixed handle with a thick blade, whose steel needs a lot of attention to maintain a fine edge. But it is intended for field dressing, just as this new turn in my blog is intended for stripping down my consciousness to its various processes.

I take these little synchronicities as signs that I am making progress in the area of forgiveness toward past wives, though my second marriage carries none of the weight of my first. The second divorce was also worlds easier, especially because children were not an issue. My second wife and I parted at exactly the right time for me to meet Kathleen, whom I consider my true wife--in Jung's anima terms, my "Mary," though this is unfair to my former ones, as my capacity for partnership increased as I matured, though my finding Kathleen is a love story for the ages.

My first marriage was instigated by infatuation and impulsiveness, the second by friendship, the third by true love, composed of eros, agape and phileo. My relationships to women thus improved as I progressed as a person.

From the viewpoint of my second wife, my great shortcoming was that I was not necessarily "in love" with her, but I loved her as best I could and we had a better partnership than I did with my first wife.

Pain can shut us up emotionally, compartmentalizing great griefs into untouchable boxes of denial. But the unconscious teaches us that where our pain is greatest is where we most need to go in order to heal the root. If we ignore the quarantine imposed on one root or branch for its painfulness, we can limit the tree, even poison it with enforced repression. When the need for light exceeds the need for repression, the psychic economy can open up new territory to health.

If we are only partly healed, it is because all griefs lead to one great grief, that of emotional isolation or blunting. This is evidence of non-self, where the self has been stymied by expending its energy on emotional quarantine of certain distressful periods. We all fear being swallowed up by the void, and much of what we seal off is not a void but rather dark matter needing exposure.

When I think of the universe I think of the expanding stars as masculine and the vacuum of space as feminine, but all selves partake of both masculine and feminine qualities, as Jung points out in his theory of anima and animus. Woman envelops, man invades. Woman comforts, man protects. Women help build civilizations, men tear them down. Women symbolize the receptive, man the initiative. Women often go around while men go through, women more often make peace while men confront. Men want the truth, they want to be right, and women prefer the truth of social compromise. All of these are traditional traits of the idealized masculine and feminine, but I also know, as a man, what it is to envelop a baby in my arms and rock her to sleep, what it is to absorb the negative verbal energies of a teenager without counter-attacking, how to go with the flow and make social peace at the price of a few intellectual objections, because in me I find the feminine as well. In marrying three times and fathering three daughters, surely my exposure to the feminine has been a strong influence in my development, though it took a while for me to embrace it consciously.

How does this polar concept of gender traits fit in with the self and its functions? There are both conscious and unconscious identifications with the male and female principle in all of us. Those more integrated will have their "opposite" gender traits more conscious than those who have yet to make peace with their idealized opposites. Once conscious, the feminine or masculine becomes a strength for the opposite gdnder, and can be accessed by intention, not just by the imprinting of childhood from parental imagos.

"Old men should be explorers." --T. S. Eliot

And young men should have the freedom to make fools of themselves, to follow their hearts into adventure, and women should have the same opportunity, though differences in brain structure an acculturation incline men to fill this role more naturally. Even as female astronauts succeed I conjecture that there are many more qualified male applicants.)

We need the comforter and the prophet, the enveloper and the initiator.

In biological terms, men and women of previous centuries lived these traits out as their destiny, especially in the act of conception. Now technology has complicated such roles, as in the recent birth of a baby to a woman surgically altered to appear a man, utilizing her still present ovaries and uterus.

The differences in idealized gender archetypes form a conscious and unconscious repository of feminine and masculine approaches to life. Men usually want to "fix" things, to stop a woman from crying, to solve her problems, while women are more likely to accept another's complaints without the need to find a solution, learning to be with the sufferer rather than to try to mitigate the suffering through action. Men get uncomfortable when women complain, often thinking it's because of some shortcoming of theirs, and masculine anxiety makes them want to answer the problem rather than envelop the problem with emotional solidarity.

Though necessarily oversimplified, such traits allow the human will, the center of our construct so far, different approaches to the demands of persons. Something perceived as a problem to a man may as easily be perceived as a wound by a woman, needing tending rather than surgery. Women are by nature more socially aware and political, and work better in groups than men, or at the very least, differently. They are much better at reaching a consensus that satisfies all than men are, who make stands for concessions rather stubbornly. In a word, men like to be right and women like to be loved.

All this affords the self that has integrated the unconscious feminine and masculine a greater palette of responses from which to choose. I, for one, have learned by long practice to listen to a feminine complaint without feeling the need to solve it. It is often enough just to sit with the person as they vent, and in that action is much wisdom, as Job's worthless comforters proved when they first opened their mouths in judgment.

The feminine has more patience as well, and more investment in the process than the result. Impatience is my cardinal sin, and I have learned much from the feminine to reduce it. Not that my impatience is cured, for it is not only a sin of pride but also a manifestation of an intervention-oriented self when it comes to problem-solving.

If a man has claimed his masculine side but neglects his feminine, he may end up a grotesque exaggeration of manhood as in the celluloid image of John Wayne, whose character is often confused by the power of women. Men he can handle; women are a mystery. In addition he embodies the exaggerated concept of the lone wolf, the maverick, the self-made man. There is no such thing. There are degrees of independence, but all of us are subject to interdependence except for hermits who grow their own food. If no man is an island, some pretend to be, and for the most part, such persons are not happy, for they have sorely neglected their feminine side. All of us must learn the feminine in life, and one of its chief virtues is the ability to ask for help, as in the previous example of the surgeon. To the myth of the self-made man, I say: "Grow up! You have stood on the shoulders of giants." And by giants I mean not only explorers that have gone before, but the very early influences of primary caregivers, traditionally the parents. Nothing looms so large in the imprinting of the self, as object theorists have shown. The only factor larger is the innate personality as determined by the roll of the DNA, for this determines how such influences are perceived and employed.

There is no self-made self. The self is a living embodiment of all the selves it has rubbed against, for better or worse, along with its native intelligence and tendencies. In affirming our uniqueness we at the same time must affirm the diversity of influences, not only that were chosen for us, but that we chose. Freedom is only limited by our conception of it.

To be continued...


  1. Freedom is only limited by our conception of it.

    I hope your your continuation adresses this more fully, in respect to the Will,--for instance.

    Hey! The dalai lama sent a bunch of scientists with loads of equipment up into the mountains to hook up some monks who lived alone up there to happiness machines --they found

    "experiments have shown that experienced meditaters have more activity in the left frontal lobe, the part of the brain associated with positive emotions, such as happiness, joy and contentment"

    which does not negate of course your concerns over the asocial in western society but does raise further issues about it.

  2. And that is also the lobe for obsession, and just behind it on the left, depression. It's a thin balance. I have addressed hemispheric differences in my Logopoetry essays, but this riffing is wide-ranging and should touch on the brain eventually. Thanks for the encouragement. BTW, did you know that Denmark ranks as the happiest country?


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