The Function of Feeling.

My dog reminded me of something today.

We live in a very quiet rural place, but sometimes heavily laden tractors thunder by in the lanes where we walk.

There’s not a lot of space and though he’s sensible I always grab him by the scruff for safety’s sake as they roar past. On this occasion I let him go a fraction too soon and he shot off on his belly away from the scary monster.

For a moment it just seemed like fear but then I saw the gleam in his eye and the expression of excitement.

”look, I’m getting away, master!”

There was joy in the skulking.

”See me leap and bound, master!”

He was in some timeless Jedi moment…

”Check out my moves and skills, master…’

the thrill of evading the terrible jaws of the tractor beast…

…and when it was vanquished he was so pleased with himself he pranced about with accomplishment.

Apparently no-one had told him not to be afraid, or that it was ‘negative’, or that he couldn’t possibly be thrilled as well.

But then he hadn’t had two millenia of good vs evil to contend with and so he could do what most of us within the Single System system cannot.

he could feel all kinds of stuff at the same time.

If God refuses to contain opposites then what are we to do with ours?

And if we must cast out the Great Mother on pain of being burned at the stake for eighty generations, what happens to individual mothering? 

What happens when Her place is usurped  by an obscure patron saint with the unlikely and instantly forgettable name of Gerard Majella…

…. born in Muro Italy 1726.

Now you know.

Gerard, patron saint of mums.

Not the Great Horned One, or She of the Triple Moon.. who trampled down the flaming Titans..


In the absence of any sacred space to experience the divine feminine, let alone her compexity, any  individual mother is liable to struggle to integrate these complexities within herself, and so it can seem…

”as if the child had actually grown up with an archetype rather than a real mother. This legacy of a one-dimensional, split mother image may thus come to be handed down from generation to generation.” Carl Gustav Jung

What we do with this impoverished legacy is what any child does in the face of a disenfranchised or divided parents. We split ourselves up internally and keep the wound open with guilt. We do this in order to remain more than bit players in what is already an overwhelming cosmic drama.

To paraphrase Ronald Fairbairn,

”If I am guilty, I am responsible. If I am responsible, I can influence events. I am not so weak and helpless after all.”

And so the child magically divides up its inner world into parts judged ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in order to hold the outer world together. It becomes contradictory so as to not to live in contradiction. It becomes divided to be in harmony with division.

One of the things the current flood of psychologists in the world are needed for is that life is not allowed to be complicated. We can’t be scared and excited. That’s messy…

…and politically incorrect. It has to be one or the other. And so our feeling lives grind to a halt . Because we’re only allowed half of life and pride ourselves in being ‘positive’.

The loss of the Principle of Relatedness makes this process all the easier and so we hardly notice the slow demise of conversation between I and me, the growing rifts between estranged siblings, nor the stealth with which life’s issues become so new and improved.

Our Good is no longer bedecked in Forest Splendour but in the Opiated Tinsle of an easy life where everything is obvious and nothing has to be puzzled over or wrestled to the floor.

And we like it like that. Even if it makes us ill….

The split allows us to feel….. sophisticated an’, an’, an’, worldly.

Having hived off the scrag ends of experience we make for a prettier patient..

…but medicine is not enough if the body doesn’t want it.

“People seem today to misunderstand how to be cured. They just take the medicine. (But) sometimes we try to keep our hurts and pains. Sometimes it does not want to leave us. Medicine is our friend and can help, so help the medicine. Tell the medicine you have talked to your body and ask the medicine to help you.The medicine and the body need to be friends.” Joseph Eagle Elk

The body mostly doesn’t want the medicine. So we just live out the one tiny  corner of life we’re allowed, patting ourselves on the back for our ‘positive attitude’ which has, in fact, done no more than reduce psychic life to a millpond where the slightest stir of wind has us reaching for the rescue remedy…

..or (name your poison here).

We have been so schooled in treating ourselves with suspicion that we no longer trust our bodies or our feelings. Diana Whitmore calls it, ‘the tyranny of the positive.’Our evolutionary pinnacle is thus one of contempt, not just for the dark brother whom we have already projected out into the world, but contempt for the world of feelings which, despite out ‘alternative’ vision we are still dividing up into good and evil.

There is no such thing as a negative feeling, only those that make us uncomfortable. You can ‘let it go’, but actually anything that doesn’t go by itself is being pushed away and all that’s happened is you failed to learn from experience. A place of honour, on the other hand, gives it somewhere to come to rest where its not going to hurt anyone and buy you the time to find out what its doing in your psyche.

Calling a set of feelings ‘negative’ is tantamount to waging war on oneself. Its a declaration of mistrust directed at our own hearts.

I knew a woman who was proud that she never used the word ‘hate’, and forbade its use in the family. Her children grew up full of hate, for themselves, because they had to turn it all in instead of affording it proper context. Nor could they embrace their individual destinies  because the primary purpose of feelings is to guide our values and show us what is important in life.

If we label large chunks of our feeling world as ‘negative’ we forgo our own bearings and are liable to lose our way  despite the luxury of forshortening the ballpark that such suppression permits.


Medusa and the Stone Child.

One of the most striking stories from ancient times is that of Medusa. Her name comes from the Egyptian, ‘Maat’, meaning ‘Truth’, and is the source of words like ‘medicine’ and ‘mathematics’. She is one of the most archaic mythical figures,

”perhaps, an echo of the demon Humbaba, decapitated by Gilgamesh.”Camille Dumoulie.

Like the story of Humbaba (, Medusa is not really a monster at all, or if she is, she did not deserve her reputation. Medusa was a priestess of Athena who was raped in the temple by Poseidon.

Athena then turned her long locks into protective snakes and gave her a look which had the power to turn men, and their unwanted advances, into stone.

She is given the power to protect and destroy.

Her terrifying, petrifying glance, is some attempt to rectify the balance of unavenged desecration.

Poseidon’s rape of the sacred feminine is an allegory of what had actually just occured in the nascent moments of Western Civilisation. The Goddess was violated in her own temple and demonised. Perseus, in later stories, kills her. But her powers are not diminished even by death. She continues to petrify and is finally mounted on the shield of Athena herself where she serves the Goddess as her most deadly weapon.

How are we to understand the symbolism of all this? Is there some sense in which Medusa’s frightful glance is relevant to modernity?

The desecration of the sacred feminine was the precursor to a scurge of Single Systems that had a very limited and therefor inherantly intolerant perspective on life, meaning and purpose. This gives the adherants of Single System systems,  a great sense of certainty, cast-iron beliefs and unassailable self-constructs.

These serve to create a tremendous sense of self-justification but there is a price to pay.

The overly determined self-construct turns us to stone.

Of course we need some kind of self construct, we couldn’t do without it, but sometimes our adaptability is sacrificed in favour of unreflected pride, the  vulnerable tips of life’s budding supplanted by the concrete of  absorbed conviction.

Ernesto Spinelli, called it ‘sedimentation‘, a term borrowed from geology which gives the idea that something fluid and alive has been packed down so hard it becomes like rock.

”Life becomes fixed and calcified, laid down in a rigid and inflexible way that obscures experience.” M Cooper.

In other words we lose the capacity for reflection. We switch to automatic pilot. I can no longer talk to me. Nothing can be learned. Growth stops. And for all the fun of being right as an a priori fact of existence…

”The sure path can only lead to death.”CG Jung

The reason for this is that sedimentation, for all its conviction, becomes an unyielding bedrock, immovable, unadaptable, beyond discussion or influence. This stunts the possibility that new things and fresh encounters might inform, re-animate or enrich life.

”What is hard is a companion of death, what is soft and weak is a companion of life.” Tao Te Ching.

In order to lead a creative life we have to be receptive to the Unknown. We have to be willing to be led by circumstances, sometimes even against our better judgement. There must be some chink in our armour that lets in the Other so that the imagination can flower.

Without some vulnerability to the Other there is no interaction with the world or with our own depths. Nothing comes in or goes out. Conversation grinds to a halt.

”The petrifying stare is synonymous with the inability to accomodate or change.” Camille Dumoulie.

Sedimentation happens when our beliefs and attitudes are packed down to stone, when nothing can be questioned, when everything is pre-judged, where there is no longer any seeking for the truth. Of course, there is anxiety in admitting you don’t know, can’t be sure, or have no absolute conviction, and yet to have one’s inner world carved in stone is quite terrifying by comparison.

”As soon as by one’s own propaganda even a glimpse of right on the other side is admitted, the cause for doubting one’s own right is laid.” Adolf Hitler

Compare that to the following statement from the most prolific writer in psychology of our time..

There is nothing I am quite sure about. I have no definite 
convictions - not about anything, really. I know only that I was born and exist, and it seems to me that I have 
been carried along. I exist on the foundation or something I do not know." — C.G. Jung

By contrast the rigid character structure of the Single System system already knows. His one perspective is certain but because his sole point of veiw cannot help him to find where he is on the map, any more than can a single compass bearing, his anxiety grows. He clings all the more to what he knows beyond doubt.


“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” Descartes.

No Single System system can achieve this. Reinventing yourself, breaking the hard mould, means to doubt what you strove for, to be genuinely confused at your own internal contradictions, to admit you don’t know.

Without this softening, the rigid character is doubly endangered.

Firstly, his own potential must be sabotaged. Learning about something is experienced as a narcissistic admission of defeat. I have seen many addictions and ‘getting stoned’ rooted in the resulting disruption and frustration of  potential. Unlived life doesn’t go away. It can haunt our dreams like an aggrieved wraith,



and despite the efforts of the various rattling skeletons above, we get to feel that we’ve arrived and know what’s what.

Instead of being petrified or awed by our own depths, its strange Otherness will be attributed to the world beyond Single System’s borders, that which terrifies, some other mono, and make war on it, condense it into terrorists.

Bodies stone cold.

The alternative is by way of the Inuit story of ‘The Stone Child’ marvellously told and interpreted by Clarrissa Pinkola Estes….

The stone child is mothereless and clings to a cold stone that gradually sucks out his life.

But the stone child recognises its unmotheredness and allows its anguish and grief expression . This cracks open the stone that sucks out warmth and life.

Its not that we suffered any one particular thing that wounds us eternally but that we have not felt it to the full.



Sado-Masochism and the Self.

There is a story about a poor  peasant who was so down on his luck that he did not even have a pair of shoes to wear.

Then, one day, he miraculously came into some money.  He walked all the way into town and bought the finest pair of shoes he could find. There was even some money left over, so he bought a jug of wine and drank it on the way home.

The wine got the better of him before he could get back and he fell into a ditch where he passed out. In the small hours of the morning a coach came by. The coachman saw the peasant’s legs dangling out of the ditch across the road and he called out loudly lest they be run over. The peasant raised a bleary eye, looked carefully at his newly shod feet and shouted back, ‘they’re not mine, drive on!’

What is the moral of this story? What can we make of the peasant’s masochistic invitation?

Whilst Sado-Masochistic traits can be derived from developmental dysfunction rooted in inadequate bonding, it’s also true that there are aspects of S/M that can be addressed from both existential and archetypal points of veiw.

The reputation of Sado-Masochism as a sexual perversion seems easily consolidated by its costumery and paraphanalia which readily convince that this is primarily an erotic phenomena. But a great majority of S/M enactments are common or garden varieties to be found in the psychopathology of everyday life.

Since S/M is about what happens between people it would be better to say that S/M is a perversion of the Principle of Relatedness, of which sexual relatedness is only a part.

You could also say that the Principle of Relatedness, traditionally the preserve of the sacred feminine, has been eroded by the patriarchal to the point that dysfunctional expressions of relatedness are only to be expected. As such they are not ‘deviant’ at all, but the inevitable underbelly of a puritanical culture that values the cultivation of persona over and above a healthy ego wherein some of the aspects of S/M might be better contained.

It might also be added that a culture deprived of the divine feminine, personified by the Great Mother, is going to bleed mothering per se of its sacred context. The ramifications of this for mother/infant bonding and the impact it has on the quality of early life is something we can infer from comparative ethnography which does indeed suggest that the loss of the Goddess has greater consequences for us as inheritors of Western Civilization than we have previously considered.

The child of any epoch or culture instinctively maintains the conditions in which it has learned to be at home. If deprivation and loss of a sacred context is the world we are born into then even that…

”will be maintained indescriminantly as part of development.” Jean Liedloff

This gives rise to our culture’s ‘divine homesickness’, a striving for the experience of Paradise which creates,

”a nostalgia the intensity of which is inversely proportional to the amount of fulfillment encountered in the earliest phase of life.” Mario Jacoby

Longing for the archetypal mother is important says Jacoby because,

” it harbours within it the yearning for confidence in some solid, nourishing ground.” ibid

So, there is something of a false dichotomy between early developmental theory and archetypal psychology. Having said that we can still tease out some specifically existential aspects of S/M and the more obvious psychopathology of ego’s encounter with the Self symbolised by the peasant’s predicament in having to re-invent himself.

One of the most common places we find S/M enactments in ordinary life is in the interactive patterns of narcissists and empaths. I’ve yet to meet a narcissist who didn’t exhibit strong sadistic tendencies, nor an empath who didn’t have masochistic features.

This relational dysfunction is much bigger than the sexual issues they might encompass.

Narcissistic sadism has, as its prime objective, the eradication of the other’s subjective reality. Its purpose is depersonalisation, humiliation, witholding and the refusal to value or accomodate. His doing-unto-others consolidates a fragile identity. I wound therefore I am.

Empathic masochism dovetails this with low self worth, poor boundaries and an unconscious victim mentality that colludes with and allows the sadist’s  ‘bad behaviour’. Identity is rooted in the persona of being done to.

”They are not my legs, ride on!”

Working with these issues from a developmental point of veiw is not enough. If the dysfunction constitutes a nucleus of identity, a core of self-construct, the resolution of it will precipitate existential crisis. Resolving ‘the problem’, is therefor out of the frying pan…

and into the fire.

”Once you have identified with some form of negativity you do not want to let it go and on a deeply unconscious level, do not want positive change. It would threaten your identity as a depressed, angry or hard done-by person. Eckhart Tolle.

So we resist what we want most because it costs us what we know of ourselves to have it.

”For someone who’s natural habitat is the brink of disaster, a giant step into security is as intolerable as the realisation of all he fears most.” Jean Liedloff.

Our poor peasant’s new shoes threaten his entire weltanshauung, his whole veiw of life. He cannot afford to identify with his own good fortune. Having his legs run over would reaquaint him with his familiar bad luck upon which identity has been constructed.

Moreover, in having a taste of his potential, the peasant encounters something of the numinosity of the Self. The miracle of his good fortune, leaving home and his creative adventure into town has the quality of a hero’s quest, part of which is invariably the motif of death/rebirth. If this is not realised in the inner world it will be enacted in the outer.

”Creativity… expresses itself in the ambivalent experience of rebirth through death (or) in sado-masochistic fantasies.” Erich Neumann.

To be more succinct,

”What is not brought to consciousness, comes to us as fate.” CG Jung

The process of self-realisation involves some painful archetypal processes over and above the unearthing of childhood trauma.

”The integration of contents that were always unconscious and projected involves a serious lession of the ego.” CG Jung

Why? Because it involves the recognition that we are not masters of our own houses. This leads either to a positive inflation in which ego identifies with the Self and becomes cruel, inconsiderate and puffed up with power, or a negative inflation in which we feel lower than a worm and deserving of nothing.

Its easier to act this out in our relationships than it is to contain the violent forces that can swing us back and forth between such extremes.

The alchemical tradition, which offers us a metaphor  for the process of individuation, is full of grisly symbolism. The ‘mortificatio’ and ‘putrefacto’ are stages of the journey in which the old sense of identity dies and rots as a result of the encounter with the Self. These ‘torments’ are described as…

”cutting up the limbs, dividing them into smaller and smaller pieces and mortifying the parts.” Rosarium.

This painful process is amplified in Solomon’s ‘Song of Songs’, in which the bride and bridegroom represent ego and Self.

”The coniunctio is both desired and dreaded. From a distance it is the source of all yearning, but knocking at our door it is an object of terror.” E. Edinger.

In Solomon’s song the bridegroom is wounded..

”You ravish my heart with a single one of your glances…”

This acknowledgement between self and ego….

”has a wounding or violating effect.” Edinger.

In Christian iconography this is represented by Jesus on the cross.

‘thou didst wound my heart with one of thine eyes when, hanging upon the cross, I was wounded for love of thee that I might make thee my bride.” ibid

In the Bahavad Gita, Arjuna asks to see Krishna’s true form and quickly regrets it.

”when I see you touching the sky, blazing with many colours, with mouths open wide, with large fiery eyes, my heart trembles in fear and I find neither courage nor peace. Devouring all the worlds on every side, you lick your lips. I implore you, as a lover to the beloved, show me a gentler form.”

We are perhaps used to the idea of sublimation, that ‘lower’, instinctive drives can find artistic, creative expression. So, too, can our potential and the dynamics of the individuation process be lived out in a less evolved, enacted fashion.

”Unlived life does not sit idly on the shelf, it will turn round and bite you.” ML Von Franz

And so we would do well, rather than falling into judgement or inveterate fixing, to ask what step on our path it is we turn aside from and allow compassion for our own faltering that has us live on the outside what belongs in our inner worlds.