A Different Brand of Heroism taken from Love and Awakening
One of the great secrets of men, secret in the sense that we rarely admit it among ourselves, is that we are afraid of women. It takes great courage and strength for a man to meet a woman with an open heart and mind, to be receptive to what she has to teach, or to hold his own ground in the face of her emotional intensity or earthy strength. On one level, this is because our mothers were all-powerful when we were young and helpless. The son stands in a yin, receptive relation to his mother, who is yang in relation to him. Ideally the father or a group of elder males would help a young man separate from his mother and find his own yang strength. But many men today, lacking this kind of mentoring and support from older males, have had to wage their own lonely, titanic struggle to free themselves from their mother’s emotional grip. Such men do not readily give in to a woman’s influence again.
On another level, a man’s fear of woman reflects an inner suspicion and distrust of his own yin nature, his softer, more receptive side. We are afraid that being open and yielding will undermine our power, identity, and autonomy. And this fear keeps us on guard in our relations with women, especially if we believe that our strength resides only on our masculine side, and if we are unfamiliar with the larger power that springs from the integration of masculine and feminine within us.
Although intimate relationship provides one of he best vehicles for helping us forge this integration, not many men are able to make use of it in this way. We often imagine that relationship is a woman’s specialty, something that belongs within her sphere of influence. And this causes us to miss, or fail to appreciate, the many opportunities it offers for our own soul work, for deep inner reconciliation and synergy between our different powers and potentials.
In order to make sure of these opportunities, men need to develop their own vision of relationship, instead of seeing this aspect of life as a woman’s sphere. One way to forge such a vision is by reclaiming the original meaning of romantic love, as a sacred and heroic undertaking. Although romance today is often associated with trivial notions of hearts and flowers, this was not originally the case. The word romance comes from the French word for the novel, roman. The original roman was a tale of chivalry and brave deeds that the lover performed for the sake of his beloved, as an essential step in his own spiritual development.
When we speak of the romance of mountain climbing, of setting out to sea in a small boat, or of walking alone on the moors at night, we draw close to this original meaning of the word. These activities have a certain romance because they test us, call on all our resources, and bring us to an edge, where we move out of our familiar comfort zone. Romantic love poses a similar challenge because it impels a man, in Rilke’s words, “to ripen, to become world, to become world for himself, for another’s sake: it is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him our and calls him to vast things.”
This is what happens when a woman’s influence starts to work on us-it calls us to vast things-first of all by bringing us to an edge where we fear to tread. The kind of heroism required here calls for hand-to-hand combat with the demons of fear we encounter on the threshold of the unknown-when we approach the dark continent of the feminine, which we usually regard as alien and Other. In order to rise to this challenge, we need to re-vision relationship as a great transformative work that requires and calls forth wisdom and courage.