The Ageing of Relationships

The Ageing of Relationships

“Why is it that we sometimes can’t feel close to someone we’ve lived with for a long period of time?” This was the heartfelt question from a young woman and mother who was struggling in a relationship with her partner. The relationship had been going sideways for years, but she was reluctant to break up the marriage for a number of good reasons, including her concern for the children and of course finances.

At the heart of her question was this feeling of alienation and distance from her partner. Having been together since a very young age, they had found that as they matured and had children, they had grown apart. Young people often gravitate towards each other because they fall in love with someone who they see as different – someone who seems to offer something they are lacking, or seems to complement them in some important way. Positive projections just happen – it can feel like a god force moving through you, and it carries a feeling of uplifting excitement and intoxication with it. Falling in love is a beautiful thing and I am loathe to analyze it, unless it becomes problematic in some way.

The problem in this and similar cases, is that when the glorious projection has fallen off and we are faced with the stark reality of what we have gotten into, we have to deal with some hard or bitter realizations. I remember Marion Woodman once saying that this was when you have the hard task of learning to really love someone. By this she meant, can you learn to love and accept them just the way they are without trying to change them?

Sometimes you can and do learn to love that ‘other’, and sometimes it doesn’t mean that you have to live with them for the rest of your lives. Sometimes it is about learning to co-parent in a loving and mutually supportive way. These are different values from the values of my parents’ generation when people just stuck it out through thick and thin until death parted them. Some people met the challenge and were transformed by that experience. Others shriveled up and died. But times do change, and the collective psyche also changes as new values rise to the fore.

When the positive projection falls off, the loss of the exhilarating ‘in love’ feeling can feel like a huge disappointment. “Is this it?” you may ask yourself, or “this isn’t what I bargained for!” or “I didn’t sign up for this!” or “I thought it was going to be different!” or “I can’t deal with this!”. The spoiled inner child, or the disappointed romantic, or the young puer or puella (see blog on Inner Community) starts up its inner rant.

Don’t get me wrong. I know what this feels like. Most adults have faced this confrontation with themselves and their partners at some point in their lives. And I don’t have the answer. There isn’t any one answer. When we have had children in that relationship, it becomes (or should become) a much tougher question. It forces you to carry the cross and to suffer the dilemma. Relationships without children (or other in-built responsibilities) are often easier to walk away from.

When we have to suffer the consequences of our choices, it forces us to grow and deepen in ways that are not there for us when we are in La La Land. Remember Odysseus? He was delayed from returning Home for a long time because he kept getting sidetracked on the islands of sense pleasures and addictions. “Falling in love” can become very addictive, and you will see some people bounce from relationship to relationship, always looking for that fix. But with the dawning of consciousness, the getting sidetracked eventually becomes a part of the over-arching journey.

So I wish I had the easy answer for this wonderful young woman and mother. She is an absolute gem. I wish I could alleviate her suffering and make it all better for her. But then again, I know that this journey will take her to the other side. I have no idea where she will end up, but I trust her process and her Life. And I hope she does too, because that is what will be her guiding light.

Listen to a great teacher, Jean Houston, talk about the myth of Odysseus:

About the myth:

The movie:

Projection: The Bitter Pill of Psychology And why it matters.

Projection: The Bitter Pill of Psychology
And why it matters

Although a great deal has been said about the nature of projection in the current discourse of pop psychology, it is nevertheless a concept that seems to cause a lot of confusion. The idea behind it is that things, people and events that we are interested in carry meaning, feeling or energy to the degree that some of our essential psychic content is projected onto it.[1]

To try to paraphrase Jung on this complicated subject – an empathizing individual wants to feel his or her own life in the object, and by an unconscious fantasy either devalues or depotentiates the object or enhances its value or importance. In this way the individual gains a feeling of control over the object.

A person with a strong thinking function can find him or herself in a frightening situation that seeks to overpower them. Their response is to think up strategies and rationalizations that allow them to hold their own in the face of an overwhelming reality that threatens to smother them. They retreat mistrustfully and ‘build up a protective anti-world composed of abstractions’. Abstraction, (a strong thinking function) according to Jung, seems to be a function that is at war with the original state of mystical identification of our early ancestors. In contrast, the individual with the empathic attitude lives in ‘in a world that needs his subjective feeling to give it life and soul.’ He or she gains power over the object by projecting values onto it.

One of the most startling examples of the nature and reality of projection is in the work of the Japanese photographer, Dr. Masaru Emoto. Dr. Emoto’s work demonstrates that when we project energy onto an object – in this case water – it has a direct effect. The water crystals are extremely responsive to the energy and will change in shape and quality depending on the nature of the projection. Given that our bodies are approximately 70% water, this might serve as a wake-up call to monitoring your own emotional state. It is clear from Emoto’s work that our negative thoughts and emotions have a direct impact on our physical being, and when we project those negative thoughts on others we are having a destructive influence on the world around us.

It should also alert us to the awareness of the reality of projections. Fundamentally, there is no objective reality that we can all agree on. In other words, there is no there, there. This was articulated by Heisenberg in his Uncertainty-Principle:

There is no objective reality in the world of interpersonal relations either. We can only see the object or the person through our own particular filters. If your filter is clouded with anger and resentment, what do you think you will tend to see? And not only that, the energy you project onto the object will start to change it to be in accordance with what you are projecting! We live in a sea of energy, but until we start to take responsibility for the reality we are generating, we will flop around like victims in a sea of unseen force-fields.

In terms of our relationships with others, our positive projections on others are rarely troublesome until, with a familiarity that often comes with the passage of time, the object or our affection or admiration begins to lose its glow. Without consciousness this can lead to disappointment and disenchantment.

Generally speaking, the negative projections are the most difficult to deal with because we unconsciously transfer our own difficult shadow material onto the other. When we begin to appreciate that what we see and judge as being out there begins in large degree within us, we can start to realize when we are assigning blame or fault to the ‘other’. If we can withdraw the projection and begin to acknowledge that the shadow material is also in us (note, I do not say solely) then we have a chance to change how we see things and to potentially change the outcome. That which angers us most in other people is most often an unmet aspect of ourselves. This is the bitter pill of projection and why it matters.

[1] [Jung, Psychological Types]

It Will Be All Right in the End: If it’s not all right, it’s not the end.

It Will Be All Right in the End:

If it’s not all right, it’s not the end.

This was the on-going and delightful message in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – an uplifting movie about ageing, death and renewal. It made me laugh, because the young East Indian man was so relentlessly optimistic about the future prospects of his seedy and run-down hotel, which had clearly seen better days. His unfailing good cheer in the face of overwhelming odds couldn’t help but affect change in the lives of the six, despondent, geriatric clients who had shown up in response to his internet advertisement for the hotel: The-Best-Exotic-Marigold-Hotel: a Place for the Elderly and Beautiful.

It made me think about endings and new beginnings, and all the suffering that goes on in-between. It can feel very hard to make sense of suffering when you are in the middle of it. It’s only when you have come out the other side that you get the 20/20 hindsight. After you have been on a number of those roller-coaster rides, and you are still alive, you start to realize something. When you really get the lesson that was yours for the getting, the suffering is over. Blessedly over. Maybe for a while, if you are lucky. Given the realities of life, there may be another roller-coaster ride waiting just around the corner, but that’s the journey isn’t it? When we don’t glean what it is that we need to learn from the suffering, Life will provide another learning opportunity.

I think though, that as we mature and understand the nature of this process, we begin to trust our Life more and more. If we truly seek to be guided by the deep Self, we will be. If we are not interested in that yet, there will be more bumpy rides than you can shake a stick at. Hopefully, you will eventually wake up.

So this is a very optimistic message. There is a value in suffering, because there is something of value to be gained if we can open our eyes to that potential. It’s simply good to know that it will be all right in the end, and if it’s not all right, it’s not the end.

From Rumi

Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form. The child weaned from mother’s milk  now drinks wine and honey mixed.

God’s joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box, from cell to cell. As rainwater, down into flowerbed. As roses, up from ground. Now it looks like a plate of rice and fish, now a cliff covered with vines, now a horse being saddled. It hides within these, till one day it cracks them open.

Part of the self leaves the body when we sleep and changes shape. You might say, “Last night I was a cypress tree, a small bed of tulips, a field of grapevines.” Then the phantasm goes away. You’re back in the room. I don’t want to make any one fearful. Hear what’s behind what I say.

Tatatumtum tatum tatadum. There’s the light gold of wheat in the sun and the gold of bread made from that wheat  I have neither. I’m only talking about them,as a town in the desert looks up at stars on a clear night.

Translated by Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi

To watch more of the wonderful Coleman Barks reciting Rumi:

Be the Seer.

Be the Seer

Although I never met him in person, I consider Muktananda as one of my great teachers. One of the most important lessons I learned from him was this: Be the Seer, not the Seen. Over the 20 odd years of working as a psychotherapist, I have noticed that most people struggle with the whole notion of how they are viewed by others.

This is a product of having to learn how to be in relationship with others – how to interact with society in a productive way, and how to have meaningful relationships with loved ones. Of course it is important to be sensitive to how we come across to others and to be sensitive to their needs. Social etiquette is a necessary lubricant that helps everyone put up with each other in the course of day to day living.

However very often the means becomes the end and we become overly focused on what ‘they’ will think, whoever ‘they’ happens to be. This becomes such an engrained way of being in life that many people have lost sight of the fact that this has become their axis mundi or guiding principle. They live life as if they are always under the critical eye of the Other. They constantly feel judged, criticized, lacking, not good enough.

When you ask them who it is out there that is judging them, they are often at a loss. More often than not, they cannot come up with any one person whose opinion of them is of such paramount importance. The next step then is for them to realize that they have internalized this critic, and that this factor plays a huge role in their lives. Unfortunately, this not only affects how they view themselves, it also affects their worldview. The people who are most critical of others, usually have a raging inner critic.

Most people have an inner critic, to a greater or lesser extent, but that is not to minimize its importance or significance. It is a silent, critical voice within, or for some it can simply feel like a very negative attitude towards the Self. It is the part that has hateful things to say about how you look, how you act, how you think, the kind of work you do, the relationships you are in, the stupid mistakes you made in the past etc. In other words, it is never good and it is always poisonous. It can even disguise itself as a friendly voice – but then you need to ask yourself if it ever says anything supportive or kind. Sometimes it will take the shape or sound of the negative parent, the critic, the judge or the tyrant.

As a result, people will build up defenses or smokescreens to hide behind. This will often become a part of their personas (the mask that we show the world). The defenses that have been built up were probably a necessary tool at some point in your life. They are there for a reason. Maybe you had to protect yourself in some very toxic situations. The difficulty is that these defenses become a way of life that prevent you from fully engaging with your life in a creative, dynamic way. If you are constantly living your life so as to accommodate others so they will like you or love you, you will not be asking or addressing the more important questions: i.e., What is your soul purpose? Why are you here and what are you meant to be doing? You will be like Parsifal in the Legend of the Holy Grail, who never asked the right question: Who does the Grail serve?

People who are living their lives in order to please others are caught on a vicious merry-go-round. For one thing, there is no pleasing everyone. And if you are not living an authentic life, you are probably pleasing no one, least of all your deep Self. People who strive to be pleasers get caught in the nets of their own devising. Certain relationships will try to use you and take advantage of your willingness to be a pleaser, but woe betide you if you step outside the box and try to do something for yourself that they do not approve of. Pleasers attract tyrants and dictators who need followers and obedient disciples. They will not be happy if you start to become a more authentic person.

This is a harsh reality for some to wake up to. One of the first and most important steps in this whole journey into consciousness is to let go of being in the place of the Seen. Although this is a gradual process, you can eventually stop fretting about how others may or may not see you. Hold the intention of becoming a Seer – the one who sees. When you stop worrying so much about how others see you, it frees you to actually begin to see them.

Now this can do something extraordinary for you in terms of your relationships with others. Just imagine that you were more interested in actually seeing and understanding others. You would take an interest in them; you would ask questions, you would actually enjoy listening to them and figuring out what makes them tick. Probably most of you realize how rare it is to encounter someone like that. They are like the sunshine on a beautiful day, the honey in the open flower, a roaring hearth on a winter’s day. Others gravitate to that person – they don’t know why. When you can start to move into the place of the Seer, you become the Lover, the Compassionate Friend and Listener.

But make no mistake, this is not something a pleaser can paste on from a manipulative place in order to make others like you or in order to gain power. (That is the hidden motive of a complex like the Manipulator or the Great Mother – see my last blog Inner Community Rather it is an authentic, loving sight that stems from the core place of the one who sees.

For a more in-depth appreciation of the Quest for the Holy Grail and Parsifal’s journey:


Watch a clip with Wagner’s music from Parsifal: