Love by Alexander Milov Photo: Vitaliy Deynega
"Either you don't see this as sacred or you have a very different relationship to the sacred."
- words from a dream
I read an article in Elephant Journal this week called "Marry A Woman Who Knows You are Real," It is an article directed towards men (there's also one for women that I link to at the bottom of this article), imploring men to marry a woman who sees past their every day ego personality and into their soul, their magic, their flaws, and their depth; a woman who can see a man fully because she is whole in herself. The article moved me and led me to reflect on how much fear, superficiality, and avoidance I see in the dating world today, qualities that prevent men and women from having the love they so desperately are seeking.
As the days become shorter and we begin the descent into the darker winter months, I find myself reflecting even more on the themes that the article touches on for me - magic, shadow, and depth.
So often in the dating world, I see people with deep soulful connections to each other who choose not to be together or sabotage the relationship because it's some variation of "too hard," or they "feel resistance." Difficulty and resistance are natural parts of dating because dating brings up flaws that some of us would rather scapegoat than face, or feelings of shame and pain we'd rather suppress in the basement of our psyches than have erupt messily into our hearts and lives. Often the kinds of connections that bring up our wounds are the ones ripest for the deepest and most profound kind of healing.
I implore daters to reframe their relationship to resistance. Resistance is not necessarily a bad thing but perhaps a weather vane helping us perceive the direction of our soul's calling. As Steven Pressfield puts it in his aptly-named book, Do The Work, “the more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more resistance we feel toward pursuing it." If we can turn towards those parts of ourselves in ourselves and in relationship, difficulties in relationship offer us potential for the greatest magic and transformation possible.
What's hard about a soul connection is not the connection itself but the wounds brought up in each person's own feeling world that need to be faced. Choosing to consciously face these wounds and tend to them brings healing, and relationships can be the sacred container where this healing can happen. Choosing to walk away or find an easier relationship is a way to avoid that containment. More importantly, it is a form of "experiential avoidance" as it's called in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. While you might imagine this avoidance refers to avoiding the relationship, experiental avoidance is actually the avoidance of the experience of our own difficult and uncomfortable emotions. This kind of avoidance is the driving cause of substance abuse and addiction, workaholism, overthinking, rationalizing, overeating, inability to commit, and other compulsive behaviors (like Tinder swiping for validation.) When we choose not to face our feelings and instead just react or run away from them, we are allowing our wounds to fester and keep running the show. We do this because doing so feeds our ego by giving us temporary relief and control, and the illusion of emotional power. However, avoiding our feelings does not ever lead us to feel true emotional freedom or satisfaction. As Charlotte Kasl explains in her book If the Buddha Dated:
"our growth begins when we realize we are facing parts of ourselves that have always been there. It's not the relationship, it's not the other person. No one made us feel that way, they simply touched a place in us that was not yet clear...we want inner peace but we're scared to surrender our rigid ego or interrupt our busy schedule to experience stillness (or the agitation that comes when we attempt to be still). We want a partner, but we shy away from pain or discomfort, or the possibility of loss. We want intimacy, but we don't want to let go of our longing to have someone take care of us. These fears come from the stories that conceal our wounds."
This internal conflict between facing our wounds to work through them or escaping them for temporary feelings of power and control is an age-old conflict in love, and reminds me of Milan Kundera's exploration of love, lightness, heaviness and the trapped feeling of eternal return explained so well in The Unbearable Lightness of Being:
"If every second of our lives recurs an infinite number of times, we are nailed to eternity as Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross. It is a terrifying prospect. In the world of eternal return the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every move we make…
The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become…"
We often avoid facing these wounds for fear of getting stuck in the heaviness, sinking beneath its weight, being "nailed to it." But the paradox is, that only by allowing ourselves to sink into it, do we become spiritually and emotionally free.
In my practice and in my circles, many of the people I see are choosing the difficult path of facing their deep feelings and healing their deepest wounds. They are choosing the path of facing and validating their own truth in a world that constantly invalidates the importance and truth of authentic feeling. It can be difficult, and it can be a descent, but I see people begin to touch their own depth and magic as they let go of illusion and step into truth.
As children, we all felt a world of feelings and truths. We observed incongruence in the adults around us, and we knew and trusted that we saw the truth. Over time, as the adults around us and world around us chose to pretend what we saw wasn't real or in some cases, denied or manipulated the narrative to invalidate what we believed. We learned not to trust or validate our own feelings. We learned that feelings and the energy we perceived, and the magic we initially felt or learned about, weren't real. The things we believed in, the things we loved and hoped for, were not treated as truth. We learned that we had to grow up, put on a strong face, "gut it out," be responsible, be parents to our parents in some cases, and let go of our innocent and childlike sense of truth, knowing, and magic. We had to enter the world of mundane, and then to fake the appearance of magic for children without really believing in it ourselves.
I believe the kinds of relationship the "Magic and Mundane" article espouses is a place where we can heal this split between the magical and the mundane. On some level, most of us believe love is a place where healing can happen which is why the struggle for that magical true love is so real. In dating, however, (and most especially now with online dating) it is easier to chase the perpetual fantasy than to surrender our control, face our wounds, and grow into the real magic of relationship. This fantasy about the love that is easy and free of hard work - is nothing more than a fantasy. The real magic we are seeking is in our descent into the challenge and the inner work of a real relationship.
A few years back I wrote a post about Peter Pan syndrome. If any archetype represents the inner magic of childhood, it's Peter Pan. And, if any archetype represents arrested development and stunted emotional growth, it's also Peter Pan. There is such a strong pull in San Francisco to live in this magical, romantic, eternally youthful Peter Pan archetype, and I believe this reflects how we attempt to recapture the magical nature of the inner child in a less conscious, less healthy way. It reflects the shadow of the inner child archetype.
As Wikipedia puts it:
In Jungian psychology, the "shadow", "Id", or "shadow aspect/archetype" may refer to an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself, or the entirety of the unconscious, i.e., everything of which a person is not fully conscious. In short, the shadow is the "dark side".
When we deny our shadow or try to control our feelings, in this case our wounds, our deep feelings, etc, the energy of the shadow does not go away. It simply comes out sideways...in a way that is reactive, less mature, less conscious, more impulsive, and ultimately totally out of our conscious control. (Note the paradox: By trying to control it, we end up out of control). True emotional health, growth, and maturity are not about ignoring our shadow emotions (i.e. "work a lot when you're feeling sad and you'll get over it"), but about acknowledging the shadow aspects of ourselves and all those emotions we don't want to feel. When we deny something, we don't allow it to become conscious, and it festers in the darkness. This is how the shadow works.
I believe Peter Pan syndrome is the shadow manifestation of our true need to feel and live in the magic of our inner child. That magical, sacred, inner child part of us houses our intuition, our sadness, our instinct, and our knowing of when something or someone is incongruent in words and action. When we suppress our inner child's true expression, the child needs gets subverted into a drive for constant stimulation, play, and distraction. Since the truth of our good and bad feelings are not being integrated and owned, they come out instead as an addictive lust for constant immediate gratification that never feels satisfied or fulfilled. We may immerse ourselves in dating, relationships, social media, fun activities, or any number of other "fun" activities to avoid being alone. As Peter Pan, we live in an arrested state where we are always seeking the next source of temporary good feeling, but never feel quite satisfied..
Despite all of the downsides of the Peter Pan archetype, I'd like to posit that this cultural fixation on all things magical - Peter Pan, unicorns, mermaids, and more - is actually a good thing. If we take this fixation as our soul's call for integration of our shadow and reclamation of our inner child superpowers. If, Instead of indulging our Peter Pan nature in unconscious ways, we can consciously turn towards and face the difficult feelings that come up - the shame, the lack of self-worth, the feelings of rejection, the sadness, the pain of invalidation - we can also begin to experience the beautiful and magical aspects of what is contained in that shadow energy.
Like the photo of Milov's art at the top of this post, let the magic of your inner child glow and guide you towards connection even when the mundane, logical, and rational would have you give up on that relationship where you feel a little scared. Turn towards the hard feelings. Not just the positive, light, immediately gratifying, cotton candy side of life, relationships, and feelings, but also the depths, the not so pretty things, the gifts that unfold with your patience and your willingness to stay in the discomfort and practice equanimity even when you want to run. Face your truth. It is only by following this call truly, by integrating the shadow and the darkness, by staying with your own discomfort rather than reacting to it, that we can experience true magic and love. Not just that whisper or promise of magic that we glimpse on Tinder, or the shallow expression of love we feel when we settle for a relationship that meets our immediate needs but doesn't challenge us, but the real heart-thumping, soul-quenching, butterfly-inducing magic of true love.
Source: Marry A Woman Who Knows You are Real
For the ladies: Marry A Man Who Knows You are Real
And a song that says it all. Shallow:
Lauren Korshak is a San Francisco-based Marriage and Family Therapist, Meditation Teacher, Dating & Relationship Coach, and former matchmaker. She has a BA in Psychology from University of Southern California (USC) and an MA in Somatic Psychology from California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS.) In her free time, Lauren can be found dancing, meditating, adventuring outdoors, making music, and spending QT with loved ones.