Somewhere in our not-too-distant past we, as a society, began to lose our capacity to love. I believe we began losing it in the very place and atmosphere where it is meant to begin. There is no other closeness in human life like the closeness of the mother and baby. We see it clearly reflected in its best sense in the images of the Madonna and child. This image of the mother and child is the archetypal image of the bond where love is meant to begin. Physically and spiritually mother and baby are only a heartbeat away from each other. When the mother’s heart is serene the baby’s heart is untroubled. And they are joined in the powerful nature of the bonding hormone oxytocin through skin-to-skin contact. Within this bond we are meant to learn we are lovable, and how to begin loving. When the mother’s heart beats in stress, fear, or is otherwise troubled, the baby’s heart picks up her restlessness or fear. When her heart is serene the baby feels safe and comfortable. These heartbeats, or the absence of them, become the foundation of who we are and our struggle to become our future selves.
But what happens when our mothers don’t or aren’t able to fully respond to our needs? How does it affect us that in our society the feminine principle, love in general, is so wounded that being what we call in psychology a “good enough” mother, not perfect but confident and secure, is almost impossible. This wound in our beginning is a basic wound to the very nature of who we are, personally and collectively. What can it mean that we now have generations of mothers and fathers that may have been well cared for materially but never experienced the true nature of the early love they needed to feel safe and valued? Deep fears, self-doubts, self-criticism, desire for hidden control, power drives, and depression are sure to follow early shortages of love. The destructive power of this wound is amplified because it initially comes from the very person whose positive image and influence is fundamentally and vitally important to us at the beginning of our lives. This person is the one we were born to expect to love us and whose love lays the foundation for our capacity to love, to feel secure in life, and to trust its experiences.
We all know that life is complex and the mother-infant relationship can be disturbed for any number of reasons, such as early deaths, illness, separations, or deprivations due to many kinds of crises. This compels me to point out the importance of fathers in this picture. Fathers, familial and cultural—what should be the real patriarchy—play a crucial role in fostering this important human relationship, the foundation of love in the lives of our children. In older times the cultural fathers took responsibility for their roles. The positive side of the patriarchy should uphold life and security, protecting women and children and encouraging health, education, the development of character, and art. Today’s patriarchy is a negative, destructive force that has lost its heart and integrity. As love warriors, men must fight to regain the heart and spirit of true fatherhood.
As love warriors, we all need to learn how to protect our families from fear. In a society where our identity, and therefore our self-worth, is based on achievements and accomplishments, anxiety—which is fear—accompanies us daily. All too often this is a fear of being shamed as we feel we are failing to live up to expectations that will help us feel approved of and valued. Our culture’s wounding and belittling of the feminine and its values has led many mothers to mistrust the world and men to a greater extent than ever before, and this mistrust inevitably becomes part of the emotional fear heritage of our children. To make things even worse, our media amplifies terrible events to the extent that fear permeates the atmosphere we live in every day. Within the last fifty years we have created a society with an economic system that essentially requires both parents to work, almost guaranteeing stress for younger families and an overly demanding burden on single parents. In the long run, as human beings, our primary sense of security through life comes from love, caring, trust, and emotional closeness, but our sense of family, our original school of love, is seriously threatened more than ever.
Society didn’t take the importance of love as a foundation for life into consideration when I had my children decades ago. The experts in that era thought that babies were to be controlled and shaped. They were to be trained to eat and be nurtured on schedules. We were advised not to pick them up every time they cried because they were supposed to learn to fit into the regimen of their parents’ work and busy lives. Of course, this approach didn’t work well in my experience and our attempts left us tense, frustrated and feeling like failures as parents. Training babies in such a way actually indoctrinated them on a very primal level into believing they can’t trust their needs will be met, they can’t trust their own ability to get what they need, and they learn not to trust love and life. The image of the Madonna and child shows us something else. It is so profoundly moving because it represents the archetypal image in all of us that shows that new life and the mother need to live in a space of safety, love, and security. But it rarely seems to occur to us that this love, safety, and security need to be created by us.
I know that it is easy for me to say as an analyst that as a society we are too individualistic, competitive, power driven, achievement oriented, and materialistic. While all of these things are true there is another side to these statements. It is the side of personally living in this landscape. I’ve lived in this society, worked in it in many areas, and raised a family in it. I know what it feels like to have jobs become more insecure, to have retirement prospects become uncertain, healthcare costs to be a hovering threat, hope for your children’s futures to be shaken, college costs to seem beyond your fingertips, and more. Plus, I am not even poor. I know what it is like to be indifferent to larger issues because you already feel overwhelmed, are facing too many demands, and are working your life away. Indifference in this case is a symptom of facing too much, trying as hard as you can, and having political knowledge slip through the cracks. We are burning ourselves up and out and that is another reason we, as love warriors, need to transform the heart of our society and our lives before the growing collective rage in our midst damages our culture beyond repair.
Yes, our children are living in fear and our inner unity and security are split, even fragmented in many cases. Almost all of us are over-involved in the demands of our outer lives at the expense of our inner lives. Without realizing it the demands of our daily lives, as we see them, have caused us to become so alienated from our own natures that we have practically forgotten they exist. Or we may be caught in a cycle of frustration because we realize we are split from our authentic selves but cannot figure out how to cultivate and nourish our relationship with ourselves. These problems started in the beginnings of our lives. Mother and child as symbol, metaphor, or in concrete reality, are simply no longer safe in our world.
As I think about my history, the reality we raise our children in, and the knowledge that we as a society ignore, the words written by the modern brain researchers Lewis, Amini, and Lannon in their book on attachment theory and brain research, A General Theory of Love, come to mind: “From birth to death, love is not just the focus of human experience but also the life force of the mind, determining our moods, stabilizing our body rhythms, and changing the structures of our brains…Love makes us who we are and who we can become.”
To become a love warrior, we must first learn to face, heal, and love ourselves where love has been wounded in us. If we do not do this first, we will find it hard to imagine that love really has the power to change things. That is why I write so carefully about cultivating self-love in Facing the Apocalypse. If we fail to heal ourselves and rebuild the foundation of our self-love and trust, fear will always lurk deep inside us and fuel our anger and compulsions for power and control. To become a love warrior, we must learn that the presence of pain in our lives isn’t a sign of failure or a reason for shame. It is a call for healing and growth, a call to use our best human powers for mindful reflection and change.
Love does heal and it must begin within ourselves. To face the wounds to love within ourselves takes courage to even admit they exist. We must become wounded healers in the culture we live in, with the knowledge of what has caused our wounds and how to heal them. Our inner experience is the foundation we need to know that love really has the power to change everything. On this road as love warriors, we soon learn that choosing self-examination and growth is embracing the love that heals.
I need your help getting the word out. I cannot do enough alone to revitalize the heart of our society. As always, I want to thank you for your readership and support. Just thinking of you humbles and moves me. If my words on love challenge and inspire you please share them with others you value with my warmest best wishes.
image above by ractapopulous
Articles by Drs. Bud and Massimilla Harris
, America, archetypal feminine, being human, citizenship, Elder Wisdom, fear, hope, Inspirational, life of meaning, love, responsibility, struggles, suffering
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