Entries for month: August 2011

The Royal Marriage: Opposites Make the World Go Round – and Are a Key to Growth

This blog originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Caught some of the news coverage earlier this summer on the royal wedding – Prince William and Kate Middleton – and I’m sure I’m not the only one!  A sense of anticipation, a lot of pageantry, an enormous range of feelings – including expectation and excitement.  And now William and Kate have begun to settle into the realities of the marriage and what it means.

OK, stay with me here because this may seem like a ninety-degree turn. On a seemingly unrelated topic, something else happened this summer that mattered a great to a large number of people. Some of us are aware there’s a fairly popular movie series came to an end this summer. Some might call it a rousing conclusion.  Others, the culmination of a movie phenomenon.

Harry Potter of course!

What do the royal marriage and Harry Potter have in common? British, yes certainly. Lots of fans, yes.  What else?  There are many good answers here, but I’m looking at a specific commonality.

It’s alchemy.

In alchemy, the conjunction of opposites – the union of seemingly separate elements to give birth to and reveal a higher form – is often referred to as the royal marriage. This marriage is of fundamental concern to alchemists because it is a key to transformation – to personal and social evolution.

Nicolas Flamel was a famous historical alchemist (Isaac Newton was another) who played a passing fictional part in the first Harry Potter book and movie; Flamel had created the philosopher’s stone. (The book’s original title – under which it was released in the U.K. - is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.) In alchemy the philosopher’s stone is a substance said to be able to turn base metals into gold, and is also purportedly able to confer youth and extended life on those who partake of it.

In a previous blog, I referred to the psychological processes of Thinking and Feeling. Specifically I wrote about the phenomenon of tough-minded females and warm-hearted males.

Interestingly, Jung – on whose work that model of psychological types is based – was very interested in alchemy as a process that described the stages of personal individuation. For Jung, the quest for the evolution of one’s psyche could be understood through such metaphors as the conjunction of opposites (e.g., Thinking and Feeling) to yield the philosopher’s stone.

Jung – using an alchemical metaphor – often referred to marriage as the crucible of consciousness.

I’ll say.

Those of us in committed relationships have decidedly experienced the sense of being in a crucible as we work to understand and negotiate differences between our partners and ourselves.  “He doesn’t know a stranger. I like my time alone.“ (Extraversion-Introversion). “I’m grounded and she’s imaginative” (Sensing-Intuition). “She’s tough-minded. I’m warm-hearted” (Thinking-Feeling).  Or, “He’s organized and I’m adaptable” (Judging-Perceiving).

A successful relationship requires a space in which such differences can be “held” – where something new and higher can emerge as a result of the union of the complementary opposites. Two people (two psyches) are thrown together and the heat is turned up. The crucible – the holding space – contains the process of transformation.

But why oh why do these transformative “opportunities” so often emerge at bedtime? I’m guessing I’m not the only one who’s felt the urge to shut down just to stop dealing with “the issue.” It’s late and I’m tired.  It’s at those times I especially want to go unconscious, but it doesn’t have to be bedtime to feel as though I want to jump out of the crucible.

And that’s the rub of all this. You can’t simply go unconscious. Not if you want to transform the relationship and yourself into something different – something new and higher. You can’t simply cover your head with a pillow just because it’s an uncomfortable conversation.

A marriage of opposites means something comes out of the crucible that is different - more - than the two separate elements that went in. The two people that went in to the crucible both come out changed. The Thinking type has learned the importance of Feeling and has more access to it - hopefully. The Feeling type has acquired – if the work has been done – more access to Thinking.

Why stay in the crucible?  Why put up with the pain and discomfort of all this, well, work?

Because inside we know there is something deeper and higher in us that is served by staying in the crucible. In fact, we already are this deeper and higher thing. The lead and the gold.

The royal marriage - between two people and within one’s self - serves something more than the couple or the individual. Whom does the grail serve?  The land.

The grail - that’s another story!

Now back to the complementary opposites that compose psychological type: Extraversion-Introversion, Sensing-Intuition, Thinking-Feeling, and Judging-Perceiving.

Jung believed that in the process of personal development, we first specialize and then we generalize. It’s natural and necessary to start early in life as – say – an Extravert, with Intuition, Thinking and Perceiving. In specializing, we develop confidence and competence in being who we are naturally inclined to be. 

In this specialization, it is all too easy to believe – from the stance of Extraversion - that Introversion is a little less good somehow. Or vice versa from the stance of Introversion. When Extraverts and Introverts are partners, the real work lies in finding a space where the value of both can be appreciated.

We continue the process of development throughout life as we generalize. We attempt to reintegrate the complementary opposites we earlier pushed aside – e.g., Introversion, Sensing, Feeing and Judging. The royal marriage, the work in the crucible, can then – possibly - happen.

The royal marriage can occur between partners (e.g., one is Thinking and one is Feeling) to yield a higher form – a stronger, more enlightened relationship.  That alchemical marriage also happens within individuals (often as a result of bumping up against people who are different from you of course). Continuing with Extraversion-Introversion as our example, the royal marriage within the individual would mean learning to honor the reality and importance of both our outer and our inner lives.

On our paths to personal evolution, we are asked –over and over – to find the meaning and gift in the seeming opposites. Extraversion-Introversion. Sun-Moon. Head-Heart. Heaven-Earth. Yin-Yang. We must hold the opposites in the crucible of ourselves and learn to be comfortable with the discomfort of their seemingly competing needs. Out of that can arise the philosopher’s stone.  We grow. Magic not only becomes possible but has already happened.

Here’s another pairing. Work-Play. Sometimes you have to take a break from the work. And just play.   Does that mean it’s ok to cover my head with a pillow sometimes? Sweetie I’m tired.

I wish William and Kate a life of love and transformation.  A life and marriage that yields the philosopher’s stone for them - individually, as a couple, and for the land.

Oh and that movie was pretty darn good too!

Magic. Lead into gold. For sure.

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Thank goodness you decided to read on. Thank you.  For some, eulogies clearly are about the topic of death and that is enough to keep them away.

I am at an age where people I know are dying and some are such good friends that I want to acknowledge their life in some way.  A eulogy is one way to do that. 

The church I attend has a “collage of voices” in the memorial service in which they combine remembrances from many people into one long eulogy.  I am a regular contributor. 

So how do I write those eulogies?  They call for use of the functions and my type dynamics as an ESTJ.  I use extraverted Thinking to structure the process and I have come up with a formula – I want to include stories, humor, personality characteristics and quirks, family member acknowledgements, and tugs at my heart.  I carefully critique my eulogies, often tweaking them as I remember more and more about the person and go deeper and deeper into their lives.  (If you want to see an example, you are invited to read "Susan Brock: A Memorial." (2000). Journal of Psychological Type, 53, 37-39.)

So here’s my process.  I use my introverted Sensing to recall as many stories about the person as possible; how did we connect?  What did I see that person saying and doing? 

Then I figure out what each of those stories told me about the underlying characteristics of that person using Intuition to find the patterns. Did the story show them to be inventive, conscientious, analytical, giving or just what?

Sometimes I reverse that process, first identifying their characteristics and then finding illustrations of those. 

Each person has left a mark in this world through living out their values and I make sure to include those values and their contributions (aka introverted Feeling). Each person also leaves loved ones behind and I try to acknowledge them and their special relationship with the person who has died. This part calls upon my inferior function and is what often brings me to tears as it hits me and I see what we’ve lost.

Once after a memorial service a friend and I were talking about how lovely the eulogies and those collages of voices were and how we need to hear those things in our lives now.  I promptly went home and wrote up something for her.  She said when she opened it, she cried, and thanked me for it. 

The school of positive psychology suggests writing these “gratitudes” and sending them to people in your life who have made a difference.  And even more important for your state of mind, it recommends that you do this for yourself daily answering the question “what of your strengths did you use today in a new or different way?”

Career counselors sometimes use the technique of having clients write their own eulogies. It helps to focus on future goals and reveals what is important to the person.

I find eulogies to be uplifting and the ultimate story; they inspire me to live a life of both service and joy.  What do you find them to be?


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