It’s been three years since Nelinha appeared at my doorstep on Halloween night. The one and only night.
She came arrayed as a Greek goddess, in a short, white linen tunic, a thin, shimmering garland crowning her head, a bronze bracelet coiled around her forearm, gold glitter dusting her olive-hued chest and arms, exquisite feet in braided lace-up thong sandals, and a gleam of apprehensive desire in the darkness of her eyes.
At last, about to cross the threshold into the forbidden, stood the ideal, the eidolon, a woman in the league of Mary Magdalene, Cleopatra, Bathsheba, and Helen of Troy… women whose seductive power drive kings, emperors, prophets, politicians, and poets insane, chewing them alive, then spitting out their bones with regal indifference.
Like wax over fire, I stood speechless, my hand on the twisted door knob, watching droplets fall from the midnight of her hair, and these words playing in my head:
A prize one could wreck one’s peace for.”
And it was wrecked, for over a year. Worse, my obsession didn’t just wreck my peace, but came close to destroying her marriage and the lives of her two children.
As the flames in the fireplace warmed the living room and a mournful fado played on the stereo… as she reluctantly allowed me to caress her bare feet while taking small sips of her favorite drink — dark and bitter like her melancholy moods — as we hungrily approached the edge of the abyss, she pulled back, saving us both, and drove away under sheaths of rain.
“It is the woman in our heads, more than the women in our beds, who causes most of our problems.” — Sam Keen
Nelinha was not the first one. She was just the final link added to my long and woeful chain of amorous disillusions, each sharing the same features: roguish black eyes, flowing ravenblack hair, olive skin, a seemingly-innocent seductive cunning, primitive and exotic sensuality, graceful femininity, and exasperating elusiveness.
Elusive, because they personified the archetype Jungians call the ‘anima,’ or the unconscious image of ‘woman’ in the minds of men.
In ‘The Archetypal Female in Mythology,’ Dr. Joan Relke says the “anima manifests as an inconsistent creature: appearing positive one moment and negative the next; now young, now old; now mother, now maiden; now a good fairy, now a witch; now a saint, now a whore. She can be cruelly provocative, taunting, seductive, and terrifying on the one hand, and gentle, solicitous, and wise on the other. She is an active protagonist in male dreams, fantasies, and projections.”
Think Marilyn Monroe.
In ‘A Little Book on the Human Shadow,’ Robert Bly says, “millions of men projected their internal feminine onto Marilyn Monroe. In the economy of her psyche, her death was inevitable because no single human being can carry so many projections.”
For years, I considered these creatures to be manifestations of my “ideal mate” and pursued each one with impulsive avidity only to pay a heavy price every time the fantasy failed to match reality.
Nelinha was the final straw jolting me back to sanity.
Fed up with the turmoil, the sleepless nights, the dizzying swoons, the effervescent arousals and ensuing disillusions; desperate to rid myself from the chthonic allure of the archetype that had caused me so much trouble in life, I poured through my dream logs and journals searching for clues of where and when it had first infected me with the psychic parasite that feeds on dangerous infatuations driving many men to ceaselessly pursue a chimera, rather than tussle with a woman of flesh and blood, furor and tears, scars and wrinkles, and a fractured but ultimately endearing humanity.
What I discovered was shattering but ultimately lifesaving.
In my dream logs, I found this:
“She visited me again last night, in a long white cotton wrap-skirt like those worn by peasant girls or gypsies. I was sleeping in the dream while she sat on the bed with my head nestled in the warmth of her crossed, bare legs, and caressed my hair. I began to conjure stories, the words forming above us in wraithlike filigrees of smoke, words she rapidly copied inside a small, brown leather notebook as her face looked forwards and backwards.”
Like a powerful search beam, the last phrase illumed in my memory something I had just read in Robert Bly’s book ‘Iron John’:
“When a man is ready to make a decisive move toward ‘The Legends,’ a feminine figure whose face looks both ways may appear in his dreams. It’s as if she has two faces: one looks toward the world of rule and laws, the other toward the world of dragonish desire, moistness, wildness, and adult manhood. This dream figure is not a flesh-and-blood woman but a luminous eternal figure. The Mysterious Hidden Woman loves privacy, overhanging trees, long skirts, the shadowy places underneath bridges, rooms with low lighting… she wants passion and purpose in a man, and carries a weighty desire in her, a passion somewhere between erotic feeling and religious intensity.”
“They are temptresses,” warns Dr. Relke, “using sexuality to drag one into the depths of the unconscious, to the destruction of the conscious will and ego and into the wider world of the Self. The anima lurks in the unconscious, wielding her supernatural power to drive our lives either towards mystical knowledge, consciousness and individuation, or towards oblivion in sexual urges.”
What I, time and again, had been searching for in vain, bedeviled by sexual urges with disastrous consequences, was not something, or someone outside myself, but an integral part of my psyche, a luminous figure who constellated the intuitive, non-rational and creative energies I had repressed far too long by living one-sidedly in the world of reason, rules, and laws.
For more than three decades, I had squandered my erotic energy in pursuit of wealth and power. I lived in my head, exiled from flesh, and had forgotten to dance.
“There’s a devil in me who shouts, and I do what he says. Whenever I feel I’m choking with some emotion, he says: ‘Dance!’ And I dance. And I feel better! Men have sunk very low; the devil take them! They’ve let their bodies become mute and only speak with their mouths.” — Zorba the Greek
Eroticism must not be confused with sex. Eros, at origin, means “ardent desire,” the quickened-pulse feeling of aliveness where our whole being burns with radiant, passionate intensity. As it is, most men today burn out without ever having been on fire. “It’s nature’s way,” says Sam Keen, “of telling you you’ve been going through the motions, but your soul has departed.”
Nelinha, and all the others, were just like the women Robert Bly describes as ones “who throw a spark into dry wood, pull energy from a stagnant psyche, and are capable of stirring the sea with a single hair.”
I finally realized they were simply inviting me to dance with life.
Exiled from the realm of natural sensuality and bereft of erotic power, many men now desperately look for it through fantasy.
Take pornography, now a multi-billion dollar industry. According to Pornhub, the human race consumed enough hours of porn in 2016 to last 5,246 centuries! Porn, says psychologist James Hillman, is the manifestation of what we’ve repressed.
“Are we perhaps entering an age of excarnation where we obsess about the body in increasingly disembodied ways?” asks Richard Kearney in his blog for ‘The Stone.’ “For if incarnation is the image become flesh, excarnation is flesh become image. Pornography,” Kearney adds, “is paradoxically a twin of Puritanism. Both display an alienation from flesh; one replacing it with the virtuous, the other with the virtual. Each is out of touch with the body.”
How do we heal this split to find our way back to ecstasy?
By remembering and recovering the intimate relationship with our sensual selves.
“Learn to tango, the most erotic dance in the world. You will shed the crippling binary neurosis of Western modernity whereby in matters of body and mind we are either intellecting or having sex.” — Kapka Kassabova
“Mental or physical symptoms appear when we have forgotten something essential. They arise from the underworld — or the body — where they have been exiled by the mind,” says Barry Spector, in ‘Madness at the Gates of the City.’ “We convert neurosis into authentic suffering through active participation, or soul-making. Stress, depression, anxiety, or obsessive behavior indicate the need to establish a relationship with a particular deity.”
The cure for my obsessive behavior was to establish a relationship with ‘Hedone,’ goddess of sensual pleasure, enjoyment, and delight.
Daughter of Psyche (spirit or soul) and Eros (god of love and sexual attraction), Hedone points to sensual pleasure, enjoyment, and delight as a product of the union and proper balance between spirituality and sexuality; between mind and body.
“Full humanity,” says Kearney, “requires the ability to sense and be sensed in turn: the power, as Shakespeare said, to ‘feel what wretches feel’ — or what artists, cooks, musicians, and lovers feel. We need to find our way in a tactile world again. We need to return from head to foot, from brain to fingertip, from iCloud to earth, to close the distance, so that Eros is more about proximity than proxy. So that soul becomes flesh, where it belongs. Such a move would radically alter our sense of sex in our digital civilization. It would enhance the role of empathy, vulnerability and sensitivity in the art of carnal love, and ideally, in all of human relations. Because to love or be loved truly, is to be able to say, ‘I have been touched.’”
“Much too often we take the intensity of an infatuation for proof of the intensity of our love, while it may only prove the degree of our preceding loneliness.” — Erich Fromm
Dancing, as a metaphor for sensuality, opens the space where soul becomes flesh. “There is nothing so necessary to man as the dance,” said French playwright Moliere. “Without dancing a man can do nothing. All the disasters of men, all the fatal misfortunes of which history is full, comes from not knowing how to dance.”
Centuries before, Confucius cautioned we should never give a sword to a man who cannot dance. You’ll catch his drift when considering the rise to power of ultra-nationalist, misogynist, and xenophobic “men” across the world today.
Relationships, politics, and human suffering are not the only areas which would begin to heal by men becoming reacquainted with their body through sensuous experiences. Earth, too, is in urgent need of fierce men able to viscerally feel her pain to wake up their warrior selves and come to her defense. For how can one protect what one does not love? And how can we love unless we first establish an intimate relationship with our beloved? Such relationship is only possible if we close the distance, as Kearney suggested, “by returning from head to foot, from brain to fingertip, from iCloud to earth.”
One of the principal deities of Hinduism is ‘Shiva,’ supreme destroyer of evil and the one who creates, transforms, and protects the Universe. The only manifestation of Shiva worshipped in human form is Nataraaja — The Dancing Shiva.
So long as Shiva is dancing can the world continue to transform. Otherwise it collapses back into nothingness or chaos. Pulling him away from consciousness — the mind — to bring him into the dance, is Shakti, the primordial cosmic energy and the embodiment of the active feminine energy of Shiva.
I say it is time for men, the Lord Shivas of the world, to wake up and dance!
As soon as I did, I realized Nelinha was the woman of my dreams which is precisely why she was not the “one.”
Mysteriously, the “one,” showed up in my life the moment I accepted the invitation to dance. No ravenblack hair, no black roguish eyes, no olive skin… just the most delightful female companion I could ever dream of.
As José Ortega y Gasset said, “the kind of beauty which attracts one is seldom the kind of beauty which makes one fall in love.”
Read about the “one,” here.
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