Aphrodite’s Revenge and the Beautiful Life

AphroditeThe goddess Aphrodite represented for the Greeks the sacredness of beauty and sexuality – not the only aspect of the feminine, certainly, but an essential one.

And so, too, for civilization, in the Greek way of thinking about such things. We need ways to honor and to embody Aphrodite energy in our architecture, in the arts, the design of our parks, and in the quality of our relationships too. But where in our culture, are these values still expressed in conscious ways that heal our troubled souls?

I think a case could be made that, in the way our planet is suffering, we can tangibly see how Aphrodite is actually under siege. She is ignored, or more likely, actually debased, and so earth suffers under the weight of Aphrodite’s repression. Beauty is being exchanged for the ambitions of technology as Earth’s resources are extracted (raped?)at a perilous rate. The beautiful life in exchange for humankind’s thirst for profit and material success.

James Hillman addresses this in his book, Anima (1985):

      Modern man has an accumulated debt to Aphrodite on which she is today exacting payments at a furious rate. It is as if she were actually demanding our souls for all the centuries that they were denied to her by Judeo-Christian repression. But we pay her back best in the true coin of Aphrodite. To pay her in the guise of soul-indulgences cheats the real cost. It is more comforting to visit her planetary house in the name of anima development than it is to suffer the venereal evils, entanglements, perversions, revenges, furies, and soporific pleasures for her sake alone. (p. 29)

Heavy duty stuff! Here’s the take-away for me though…

What if it is true that Aphrodite is actually in a state of revenge? Not debased to the point of inaction, but to the point of full-on counter-attack? We might see her revenge in the multiplication of porn-sites on the internet, making a semblance of Aphrodite easily accessible, but doing so in dark, illicit, and destructive ways. Aphrodite appearing now in divorce court in the form of “Exhibit A: The Facebook Account!” The spirit of Aphrodite acted-out in our addictions to all sorts of substances and things. Our culture values work for work’s sake, for ambition, for financial and material gain — but where has beauty and soul-filling sexuality gone?

Well, of course beauty never goes away. Beauty is eternal or archetypal if you will. It is spirit as well as body. But when Beauty’s value is shoved to the side in favor of overpowering the spiritual needs of the body, Beauty exacts a price in her own ways.

Christianity has to assume some of the blame here, as Hillman states: for centuries of treating the body as if the body itself is sinful, something to be ashamed of; and thus sex, too, got a bad rap for a long, long time – until Freud and Jung and Horney and others invited Aphrodite back into the consulting room and back into open-eyed culture, making what had become unconscious conscious once again.

We need Aphrodite. Not for her surface beauty alone, but for her substance. The beautiful life is a life worth living and tending. We honor Aphrodite when we visit museums and gardens or when we care for the textures and colors and shapes in our homes, in the clothes we wear and the foods we consume — good, healthy, delicious, sensual foods that is. We honor Aphrodite in marriage and in intimate relationships when sex is cherished. And as John Gottman (The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work) says, everything in marriage is sex — not just physical intimacy, but also the intimacy involved in sharing housework, in how we handle differences, and nurturing trust and friendship.

We honor Aphrodite, too, when, we do her bidding for the beauty of the earth and the cleanliness of our skies, and in the protection of our rivers and lakes and oceans. When we balance work and work’s rewards with the embodied joy we experience in deep and meaning-filled friendships; when in our communities we love the least ones along with the easily love-able, and when we fight for laws that protect earth’s beauty rather than ravaging her. In all these ways, and more, we turn Aphrodite’s revenge into Aphrodite’s smiles.

 

FROM WHENCE SELF-WORTH?

Self WorthSo how does one get self-esteem or a feeling of self-worth? Where does it come from?

It all depends, doesn’t it. Your boss may define your self worth in one way. While your wife or your husband or family may define your worth in a very different way. In a culture increasingly dominated by people born after 1980 — the millennials — worth may be defined based on appearances or having innovative ideas or on being “millennial-like.” Those of us in the baby boomer generation often are fighting to preserve a sense of worth by staying fit and flexible, eating right, boosting our 401-K’s, and basically fending off the effects of old age at every turn.

Books, articles, and blogs are written about how to develop one’s sense of worth, but I wonder if any of them have lasting value. I’m sure some do. They encourage us to learn to love ourselves. But how, prey tell, does one love oneself if he or she is already feeling unlovable? This makes no sense to me. I recall those silly Saturday Night Live skits where the comedian sat in front of a mirror mimicking the words, “I’m special, I’m lovable, and darn it – people like me!”

I am guilty, myself, of misplacing my sense of worth from time to time. I used to think that if I had the right job or the right relationship or worked out just the right amount of time, that I would gain a sense of self worth. While these methods work temporarily, I can tell you that, after many attempts at these ego-centered solutions, my research says conclusively that they do not work!

So what does work, we ask?

Consciousness. Consciousness, alone, is the sole lasting solution to the challenge of self-worth.

My Methodist heritage and my training as a Jungian-oriented psychotherapist teach me the same thing. There is an inner wisdom instilled in us from the moment of our conception that resides within us until the time we die. John Wesley used an unfortunate, linguistically difficult term for this: “Prevenient Grace.” Jung taught the existence of a Divine or Sacred Self that is constantly working silently in the background to shape us and to develop our felt sense of worth. The problem is not that we have to find our self worth — it’s more that we are rarely encouraged in our culture to look within to locate its source. To actually become fully conscious is a lifetime task, and it’s not really for the weak of heart. Consciousness requires effort, awareness, and usually a spiritual guide, a compassionate therapist, or a guru to help bolster my courage along the way.

For example, if I am truly conscious, then there may be those in my circles of influence who will disapprove if I am not working so hard to please them. Or if I am being consciously aware of what is going on in my selection of relationships, I may begin noticing whether this or that relationship is actually healthy for my soul. Is it the right timing? Am I carrying too much of my share of the relationship load? Is the relationship a good balance of communicating and responding to each other’s needs, or do we spend enormous amounts of energy avoiding any hint of a conflict — choosing to remain unconscious? Or it may be a job that puts pressure on me to stay unconscious, to avoid what is truly in my heart, to follow the crowd, or just get a paycheck. This kind of situation is a prescription for loss of soul and loss of one’s sense of health and meaning and spirit.

You see, consciousness is about values — inner values. Values connected to the way you and I are within ourselves, and how we express those values in the ways we live and work. And values are connected to our emotions: sadness, longing, desire, pleasure, pain, anger, joy, shame, and fear. Our emotions are designed to be like a compass that guides us through life, steering us away from the rocks and guiding us to what makes our souls sing the songs they were meant to sing. Consciousness brings with it a certain amount of felt anxiety, to the extent that we are refusing to simply adapt to others’ values. But consciousness also breathes into us the joy of self worth and living a life that is completely worth living. Not a life without failure from time to time; but certainly a life that has loads of meaning, heart-felt experience, and a fair dose of adventure.

CAN WE REALLY STOP TIME?

Stopping Time (2)Recently, I had a couple of experiences in which it felt as if time stopped. A felt sense of time stopping, not a logical measuring of time. I did not plan to have these experiences, although I certainly was an agent in bringing them about. Let me explain.

The first experience happened unexpectedly. I met up with a friend whom I had not seen in nearly 50 years. We had had a close relationship long ago in elementary school and then middle school, but we had stayed in touch only very sporadically over the years. We really didn’t know who the other had become, but there was a definite mutual interest in catching up. So as it worked out, our paths crossed one crisp, sunny early spring afternoon, and we took the opportunity to meet for a walk in a local park.

We were only together for a couple of hours, but it felt as if time mysteriously stood still. In all, we probably walked a total of three or four miles, but distance was meaningless. If I had planned to go for a 3 or 4 mile walk, knowing me, I would have procrastinated, found other things to do. But this was different. We connected. Awkward at first, not knowing how to start a conversation that had ended almost 50 years ago, we easily slipped into a conversation that flowed with a rhythm as palpable as the steps we took effortlessly and joyfully. There was a sense of seamlessness between our conversation, the sharing of memories, noticing the obvious beauty of our surroundings, and promising to stay in touch as we said our goodbyes. I have little doubt that we will stay in touch. We shared something so special — both created by us, and also created by something that was bigger than us. I have no assurance that we can succeed again at stopping time in the same way. Maybe we can. But no. This felt like a gift — a gift joyfully and gratefully received.

The second experience happened a few days later at a Moody Blues concert at a local theater. The crowd was made up of mostly old folks like me: people who listened to the albums of these wonderful minstrels who flourished during the mid-60’s and 70’s; and now we are all in our mid-60’s and 70’s! It was, by far, the most wonderful concert I have ever attended. The old dudes on stage took us back to when we were young — if only for a few moments. We listened, rocked in place, stood and cheered, sang, and remembered who we were before life happened to us in ways both pleasant and sad. And we forgot for those three hours who we now were — all was timeless. There was only an eternal now, savored and enjoyed and celebrated — at least, until the last chord faded with the applause, and we began heading back into the reality we call our lives.

Both of these experiences are holy moments for me. I cherish them as two of the most important experiences — among many others — in my life. And they cause me to wonder. I wonder whether I can find other opportunities to stop time. These times carry a felt sense of mystery that transcends life, infuses it with meaning and joy, and also a longing for more. If these times are gifts to us, can we not find ways to be open to receiving them so that our lives are enriched and deepened by them? Can you join me in the search? Let me know what you think.

Amen

 

WHO AM I WHEN THE “HUM” STOPS?

humming-birdWhen our lives are going well, we feel a certain “hum.” Skies are often blue, the sun shines bright, and warm, and when we look into our check books, we seem to always be in the black. Work is clicking along, with an occasional bump or pothole that temporarily deters us; but soon, with good colleagues and mental agility, we are back on our way, humming right along. We are loved and we love, and life is good.

But, what do we do when the “humming” stops? The stock market tanks, a door shuts on a cherished dream, a relationship abruptly ends, a loved one dies, or some other crisis drops down from the sky as if from “out of the blue.” What then? We listen, but there is no hum. We try to find the hum, to get it humming again, but effort and willpower get us nowhere. Maybe, instead, there is only silence — or pain, or anger, or fear, or helplessness.

Maybe we turn to God in such times – a common practice. But to which God do we turn? The God of comfort and compassion? Or do we turn to the God referred to by Jesus when he said, “Whoever wants to save (get the hum back) his or her life must lose it (the hum)?” Or do we turn to the God of solace and soothing embrace? Or what about the God of emptiness and non-attachment as suggested by certain Buddhist ideals? Which God we turn to can make a world of difference when the hum stops.

Carl Jung said that “God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my path violently and recklessly, all things which alter my plans and intentions, and change the course of my life, for better or for worse.” When the hum stops, part of the problem we face is that we miss the hum, we seek the hum as if we are lost children longing for home, we want to re-start the hum — and thereby, in our anxious striving, we end up increasing, rather than decreasing our suffering. It’s hard and nearly impossible to muscle the hum back into its resonant existence, no matter how hard we try. It’s not so simple as finding a key or unlocking a lock in order to unleash the lost humming. Sometimes, maybe always, the best thing to do when the hum stops is to lean into its mystery, lean into the unknown, see what else is there in the middle of our plans getting turned topsy turvy.

If we’re running into brick walls at work, for example, maybe we see in this how devoid our lives have become of play. Have we lost touch with our children, or have we been absent from the “child” that lives within each of us? If we’ve been living at light speed while sucking the life out of the humming, is there a message of stillness and observation and a need for peace in the midst of the lost hum? If a relationship is ending, is it really a catastrophe, or is it life inviting us into creating a new version of who we are? Are there others who want to be there for us, or new friendships waiting to be kindled? Looking backwards with 20-20 vision, we often see that this is absolutely the case. But what if, in the throes of hum-less-ness, we developed better forward-looking vision? We might glimpse the seeds of hope, creativity, spontaneity, laughter, new life, and adventure in the dark soil of loneliness, dullness, and even depression.A depth psychological view, a view from the perspective of the soul or the collective unconscious — or whatever you wish to call it — of hum-less-ness suggests that there is a whole world of creative energy beneath the surface of the way we wish our lives to be. I think, though, that it might be an entire rich and expanding universe, actually, that is down there. I’m betting on that, both for you and for me.

 

Peace,

John R

 

WHY PSYCHOTHERAPY?

counselingShould I or shouldn’t I pursue psychotherapy? And if so, then when and with whom? Important and sometimes crucial questions.

Truth is, most people wait until there is some kind of crisis in their lives. A loss, a break-up of a relationship, an illness, a job loss. These are the most obvious times, and it’s best, I think, if it’s sooner than later — before things get out of control or start falling apart.

But I think there are other not so obvious times to seek out a psychotherapist, someone who is most of all a good listener. We suffer most, sometimes, when we feel alone or when we feel as if no one really knows who we are. Conversely, we feel better if there is at least one person in the world who listens and cares or who affirms us just for being the person we are rather than for what we do. We are human BEINGS, right? Not human DOINGS.

We are a complex lot, we humans. And we are so imperfect. So, it’s easy to get in the rut of putting on a public face everyday for each other, for our children, for our partners, for our bosses. It can be frightening to let others know our hurts and our insecurities. But the  public faces we put on are like the tip of the iceberg — there is so much more beneath the surface of the lives that others can’t or may not want to see. Who knows the secret or private or even the hidden realities of our lives, the lives we know best usually only when we lie awake at night thinking, wondering, wishing, or worrying?

When I was in between relationships some years back, I posted a profile on an internet dating website. Instead of stating my vocation as psychotherapist or minister — which I knew would cause most women to run away as quick as possible — I listed my vocation as “someone who listens and keeps secrets.” I figured this might be more intriguing than frightening, and that I might attract someone who would want to get to know me beyond my public image, title, or job. And thankfully, I did!

We tell our therapists, mostly, our secrets — that which we would otherwise keep to ourselves. Oh yes, we might share over coffee or lunch with a friend something of what we are discussing and learning about ourselves in therapy. But with our therapist, we can go as deep under the surface as we wish; or we can go as deep as we feel safe to delve. Someone who has no judgment or no agenda except to be there for us and us only — to me, this is the core of a good therapist. Someone who knows me at my best and at my worst, and helps me to know even the darkest parts of me that exist like unexplored islands of mystery, discovery, and healing. I know well how seeds long buried in the fertile depths of the soul can grow into something life-giving and beautiful.

So, maybe there are many reasons to seek out a psychotherapist. But this is the key ingredient I try to provide: a safe sanctuary, a sacred space. We meet to talk about whatever is important, whatever hurts, and whatever gives the soul breath, life, hospitality, and joy.

A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO EVIL

Good versus evilWhat should we do now in response to the terrorist attacks in Russia, then Lebanon, and now Paris? What is an American response? What is a sane response? What is a response that predicts an effective remedy to an outrageous manifestation of evil?

Of course, these are just my reflections in the wake of a torturous week watching and hearing of atrocities inflicted on innocent victims by ISIS, the Islamic State. I feel what most feel: disbelief, helplessness, rage, more rage, and eventually numbness. But I confess that the rage remains. Part of me wants revenge. But I pretty much know the cycle of violence — we’ve seen all of this played out before. The Dalai Lama is right: “War is obsolete.”

As a Christian, I want to respond in a way that is true to my values, my faith,…and also true to my rage. I claim it as a “holy rage.” But the problem is, what to do with this rage? How can I can be truly authentic and also truly humane? Can I temper my rage with Christian compassion?

When Jesus told his disciples about his own destiny — that he would go to Jerusalem where he would suffer at the hands of the religious and political elite, and then be crucified and die — Peter spoke up for the others with his rage. He protested. He told Jesus “No!” Peter wanted a military solution. Which was when Jesus said the famous words, “Get behind me Satan!” Jesus pointed to the “Satan within” Peter — the same Satan that is within me, and you, and every member of the human race. We so naturally want to fight objective evil from the place of our own inner evil.

So, this week I have no final answers about a Christian response. I will pray. I will think about the suffering that the world experiences in the face of the evil that is ISIS. And I will also think about the children and the powerless, and the refugees who have left their homes. And I will try as best I can to keep Satan behind me and before me, always in my view. And I will seek the mind and the compassion of a Christ I long to know and to manifest in some way that feels both real and sane.

Amen