This article has been a long time in coming. The first seed for it was planted when I read Keith Thompson’s interview with Robert Bly in New Age magazine in 1982. I was very excited as I read Bly’s description of the deep power of the masculine that needed to be freed in the male psyche, both because I realized how important it was for men (and for women) and because my intuition – aided by several years of working with women (including myself) through dreams, bodywork, and counseling – told me there was some parallel between that masculine need and something that was waiting to emerge for women.
Now, five years later, an answer has taken shape for me, one that promises to be not the end of the conversation, but rather the beginning of another level of understanding.
THE WOMEN’S MOVEMENT has taken us a long way. Many women have been through the struggle of waking up to the oppression of ourselves and our sisters and the deeper pain of recognizing our own part in that oppression. We have worked hard to clear sexism from our own hearts and minds, been through the dark night of anger and blame, and come through to the continuing process of vigilance and of forgiveness of self and others.
Many gifts have come as a result of this work. We have discovered our power and developed our ability to think clearly and creatively, to initiate projects, and to take positions of leadership. We have learned that we can be independent financially and emotionally if we choose to. All of these gifts come from within, and those that are assertive, expressive, and projective in nature come from our masculine aspect, or animus. As we have opened our minds and hearts to these possibilities, they have unfolded like flowers that were waiting for the spring.
All this work is good, and the fruits are sweet. But something is missing. Slowly, in the last couple of years, a vision of that next step has come into focus for me. It is the power to surrender.
I’m sure the word "surrender" conjures up as many demons for women who have fought hard for independence as the "wild man" did for men who were trying to develop the qualities of gentleness and nurturance. But perhaps the idea of surrendering also touches a chord in us of yearning, of wanting to be able to let go of something on some deep level. In any case, as with the "wild man", it is necessary to look more deeply and to define carefully what we mean. Looking only at the surface, it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that Bly was saying that man’s true nature is to be a brute and that I am advocating a regression into female slavery, both of which are completely off the mark.
Much of the personal and cultural progress we have made through the women’s movement has been due to the discovery and application of psychological wholism. Women have discovered that we are not only receptive, nurturing, gentle, and patient; we also have the assertive, intellectual, and expressive qualities more often associated with men. And so in part, the "women’s liberation" movement has been the liberation of the masculine within the female psyche. But that’s only the first phase of the journey. A woman needs to find her strength, her courage, her decisiveness, her intelligence, her expressiveness, but to what end?
To answer that question, I find I must first play with another one. What is the purpose of life? One of my responses to this question is that the purpose of my life is to be the most "I" that I can be. That means developing my talents and abilities and using them, accepting and appreciating myself just as I am, with all my peculiarities, and following my inner voice as to what I’m to do.
In my inner pantheon, or cast of characters, there are two who are primary in this drama of my life. They are my Self, that wise, compassionate, and loving part of me that knows just what I’m here for, and my animus. I have come to see the relationship between these two parts of me as that between a Queen (with sovereignty over the whole of my life) and her devoted Knight. He is brave, strong, powerful, and dedicated, and her wish is his command. It is she who has the wisdom to know what course to take, and it is he whose strength and courage are often needed to carry it out.
This relationship is much like the ideal of romantic love which had its roots in the medieval tradition of the troubadours, but with one important difference. In that myth, the Lady is the lovely and untouchable ideal of highest principle and an image of the soul or anima of the Knight. But in this relationship within the female psyche, the Queen and the Knight must also become lovers. Theirs is the union called the hieros gamos (sacred marriage) by the Greeks. Without this union of the masculine and feminine principles, the marriage remains unconsummated (from the Latin consummare, to complete or reach totality with). One might say that the whole which is greater than the sum of its parts is never created. And once this sacred marriage has occurred, and the Knight has taken his rightful place beside the Queen, a woman no longer needs to project the Knight on a flesh-and-blood man and attempt to control and manipulate him. A happy inner marriage makes a happy outer one possible.
One of the perils of the feminine journey lies in liberating the inner masculine and then handing over to him the keys to the queendom. In psychological parlance, this condition is known as "animus possession". Women living with this situation tend to be opinionated without knowledge, critical of self and others, subject to workaholism, unable to relate closely to others, and/or cut off from their innate intuition. It’s a case of trading oppression by the outer male for oppression and possession by the inner male.
In my work with my dreams and the dreams of other women, I have seen many symbols and metaphors for various states of relationship between the Queen and the Knight as the dreamer begins to deal with her animus. Perhaps some of them will be familiar to women readers: the dreamer being chased by a man – a man in the driver’s seat of the dreamer’s car – power struggles between the dreamer and a man for control of a situation or a territory. Often the role of the animus in a dream is "played" by a woman’s waking-life partner, and it seems as though the dream is only about the relationship, but one of the wondrous powers of dreams is that they speak of multiple levels of reality with a single image. In this instance, a dream of power struggle with one’s mate is also about the struggle between the Queen and the Knight.
Another thing I’ve learned from dream work is that, once the Queen makes it very clear to the Knight that she is running the show, but that she loves the Knight and depends on him to help her, he is only too glad to take his proper place as her devoted protector and champion. It has always been a fascinating enigma to me that, in classical Jungian psychology, it is said that a man’s task is to learn to surrender to his anima, while a woman’s is to harness and direct the power of her animus. Perhaps, in the human psyche, male or female, it is Sophia, or wisdom, that must reign supreme.
Now what does all this have to do with surrender? Perhaps a better word for it is the Native American term "give-away." Once the inner Queen has made it clear what is worth doing, a woman needs the courage of the Knight to stand behind that purpose, to give herself completely to the task at hand, regardless of what others might think or do, regardless of what is "politically correct" or popular. Once she has that inner knowing of what’s right for her to do, she must give herself to it without reservation, and that is surrender; that is give-away. It could be to a job, a relationship, parenting, a cause, a spiritual path. In the course of my life, it has been all of those. It is a giving-away each moment, a being present to each instant of life. It is a way of being with oneself and with all of life. It means being in touch with one’s feelings, noticing the small things of life, feeling a part of it all. It means bringing complete attention to whatever one does, whether writing an article, cooking a meal, making love, running a meeting, digging in the garden, listening to a child, or giving one’s life in the service of peace and justice.
There is much work that needs doing in this world, and many of the tasks to be done are humble ones of service behind the scenes: dishes to be washed, phones to be answered, floors to be swept, diapers to be changed. Injustice is the result of the blind assumption that only women should perform these tasks, that all women are meant to do so, or that any woman must do so all the time. But it is equally unbalanced to hold that such work is demeaning to a woman. It is only so if the woman feels called to do something else. It is important that we not mistake an inner call to do whatever needs doing in the service of a chosen goal for a regression into powerlessness and oppression.
And what of the fabled "woman behind the man," the supportive wife or partner of the man in the limelight? Only she can know whether she feels called to fill that role and is happy in it, or whether she feels limited and used. A woman who is in tune with her inner guidance and is doing what she wants to do, regardless of whether her work is acknowledged and appreciated by the world at large, is a woman with a healthy and well-integrated psyche.
But some women are called to roles of leadership, to initiatory or creative work that may bring with it fame and public acclamation or condemnation. The call to surrender for such a woman is the same; what is required of her is different in kind but not in degree from that required of her less visible sister.
Perhaps a few words should be said about what surrender or give-away is not. It is not over-extension of oneself to the point of burnout. One of the dangers on the path of total commitment is that we will forget to consider our own needs for rest and regeneration. No water can be drawn from an empty well. Every woman (and indeed every person) has a responsibility to take good care of herself as well as others; give-away is not to be confused with self-neglect.
It is also important to recognize that, once one makes a commitment to give oneself totally to one’s chosen work, there may be (and usually are) turns in the road that are completely beyond one’s expectations. What once seemed the only thing worth doing may fade in importance or relevance as one grows and the world changes; a new task or focus may come forward to claim one’s heart. One might tend in such circumstances to accuse oneself of failing to keep one’s commitment, of deserting one’s post. But, looking more deeply, one sees that the commitment that has been made is to nothing less than Life and whatever it might ask. To be receptive to the Call is to be flexible enough to follow wherever it might lead.
As we explore the qualities and ramifications of giving away, it becomes clear that it is no longer the feminine story we are contemplating; it is the human story. While the inner constellation and the journey to wholeness is different for men and women, in the end, the same thing is asked of all human beings. The male journey begins with separation from the mother, moves on to pushing himself beyond his limits and his fears to discover his masculine courage and strength, and leads him to find and surrender to the anima (the inner feminine as lover, not as mother), and with that sacred marriage comes the integration of his inner being. For a woman, the task is to find the inner masculine, demand his allegiance and protection, and experience the union of her Self with her animus. The end result in both cases is an integrated human being capable of meeting the opportunity Life offers to be all that we are and to bring all of ourselves to whatever we do. All of us, male and female, must finally embody the qualities of courage, strength, intelligence, intuition, creativity, compassion, and love in the service of our people, our planet.
by Lila Forest
Tall straight evergreen
Flexing with the wind
Tai ch’i master
Pushing and yielding
Living your unproclaimed
Serving truth and justice
You walk your path
Within my heart
And I question