So often our approach to Love reflects the narcissism of our attention deficit times. We yearn to meet our soul mate, “The One” who will instantly ease our ache for intimacy, breathe hotly on the dim embers of our libido. We search for our soul mate who will share our interests, hear us, hold us, make us feel alive, young, bright and beautiful again. We encounter our soul mates in the first rush and blissful fusion of romantic love. That feeling that we have met before, that we are meant for each other. We return, innocent again, to The Garden of Unlimited Possibilty. A soul mate is defined as a person for whom one has a deep affinity, especially a lover, wife, husband – The World English Dictionary. This deep affinity awakens us from our slumber when we fall in love. When the shaken-not-stirred heady cocktail of chemicals bursts like champagne bubbles in our brains as we delight in the beauty of The Other; recognise the Divinity in ourselves. We float weightlessly, deliciously, in the amniotic warmth of our Return.
As a foundation for a lasting relationship, the drunken intoxication of meeting a soul mate is a Grace-filled initiation into the art of Love. And yet those of us who have endured times of travail on the long and often rough road of a committed relationship, or been shipwrecked on the inhospitable shores of loss after a brief ill-fated love affair, may wonder how this bliss of affinity is possible? In even the most compatible of couplings, there surely will be moments when a cloud of discord darkens domestic bliss? Barbie and Ken struggled to get through the brambles in their on-off romantic relationship – Mattel announcing in a news release that they had split up. Barbie’s broken heart healed once more when she become “friendly” with the Australian surfer, Blaine – never trust a woman with torpedo boobs and 3m femurs! The search for our soul mate is so often a fruitless quest for some ideal, some fantastic object of transcendence. A Big Ask, when most of us are little children in adult bodies.
If the relationship is to emerge from the chrysalis, there will be drops of blood. We will be required to strain and struggle from the warm, creative cocoon of romance in order to stretch and grow our wings, or they will remain forever crumpled. And when we fly free, as we must, we will collide with situations and behaviours that test our tenacity, bring us face to face with disowned parts of ourselves – and our lover.
The Imago model evangelises the concept that our soul mates are our wound mates. Says the high priest of this school of thought, Harville Hendrix, “We always marry someone for the purpose of finishing our childhood.” So when we are ready for adult commitment, more often than not, our unconscious mind selects someone who has positive and negative traits similar to those of our parents in order to have another chance to heal ourselves. All too often, though, we end up reliving the patterns that hurt us in the first place and stay stuck in a furrow of frustration, expressing our pain through criticism and angry words. Relationship guru, John Gottman believes that it is not conflict itself that lies at the root of relationship problems, but how it is handled. “Venting anger constructively can actually do wonders to clear the air and get a relationship back in balance,” he admonishes. But when what Gottman calls the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” – criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling – come crashing through our bedroom door and remain there, this is when the real work of repair and behaviour change begins. Or we can choose to descend into the sulphurous hell of an invisible divorce, where we live disconnected, like marionettes, going through the motions of marriage, “for the sake of the children”. And some of us hurt so badly, we dismember our love in the gruesome carnage of divorce.
Energy follows attention. “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them,” Albert Einstein said, yet we stay in the battle zone, guns blazing. When our needs aren’t met, we cry, sulk, have tantrums, withdraw – or walk away in the darkness of the Nigredo before the alchemy has worked its magic. Every time you “invest” in the negative, you are honing your ability to detect faults. Your energy amplifies the annoying and the fragile, and you create the conditions that allow your problems to grow like weeds in an unkempt field. Our spiritual work is in the templum of our relationships. “Only in Relationship can you know yourself, not in abstraction and certainly not in isolation. The movement of behaviour is the sure guide to yourself. It’s the mirror of your consciousness; this mirror will reveal its content, the images, the attachments, the fears, the loneliness, the joy and sorrow. Poverty lies in running away from this, either in its sublimations or its identities,” says Krishnamurti.
And still we wish and hope. We cast wide our net online. We sign up for soul mate encounter groups. We think we have found The One, and embark on the perilous journey of commitment with meagre provisions, believing that with minimal effort, no change in our rigid behaviours, things will organically grow and we will live happily ever after. Relationships are like gardens. They require tending and frequent pruning to encourage new growth and fragrant flowers. Often it is in conflict and despair that the real growth happens. Rumi says, “When the grapes turn to wine, they long for the ability to change. When stars wheel around the North Pole, they are longing for our growing consciousness.”
Elizabeth Gilbert says “People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave.” This may be Ms Gilbert’s painful experience, but for some, a soul mate is the person who stays long enough to allow us to feel safe. Stays long enough to heal our hearts so that they can blossom and breathe intimacy. It is with the soul mate that holds our hand as we journey over the rocks, knowing not all roads are smoothly paved, that we come to know what Love is.
Says Melody Beattie, “Accept each part of the journey as it comes. Let each stretch of your path be what it needs to be … slow down a bit if you need to, but don’t stop.”
Wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’
Plannin’ and dreamin’ each night of his charms
That won’t get you into his arms… Dusty Springfield 1964
Artwork: Waiting, by Donato Giancola