photo ©Julienne Givot
Heartbreak is a term most often associated with the unfortunate end of a romantic relationship. It’s also a pervasive pattern that intersects every single human life everywhere. When we hear a friend say, “My heart is broken,” we can relate in an instant without their details. Heartbreak is an archetype that enters our lives on more than one occasion and under differing circumstances but it is not a pattern that organizes a life in the same way that, for example, the Mother does. We don’t meet someone think they were definitely born to for heartbreak. What drives the broken heart is the inability of our expectations to meet the demands of life.
A few years ago, I had my first great experience of heartbreak. The life I thought I would have and where I thought I would be by that time was unfounded and I admitted it. I couldn’t breathe as one image in sequence crashed into the next. I found it hard to stand. In the rubble of my fantasies I fell into despair.
We are forever building cities to our fantasies. We say to ourselves, “I’ll always be with this person,” “I’ll always work here,” “They’ll never die,” and so on. Then the day comes that person doesn’t love us anymore, or we get fired, or that someone dies. One illusion crumbles into another, falling against each other in a long, dusty sequence. Shocked, alternating in loss and denial, we begin a grieving process. We won’t see that the ruin that is our pain is also the opportunity. Whenever we begin something new we have to start with a clear surface to work.
I wandered through my life in the weeks that passed, through the same rooms and spaces I’d known but I wasn’t in them anymore. Whether I was angry at all the time wasted or in denial that the whole fantasy could be resurrected, I was in mourning for the life that had passed away. “Broken heart” became a mantra that I’d repeat to myself and then a visceral experience in my chest. When others saw that something was wrong and asked after it I couldn’t speak to what I was feeling. By myself, I’d weep a great deal. And then I began to ask, “What did break?” I knew I was alive so it could not be my literal heart. Something was broken but if not my heart, then a heart that was never real to begin with. And then there it was: A thrumming in my chest, a sensation that would become a guide back to the present. No longer was I drifting in the past and projecting towards a mythical future. Every motion a moment proceeding steady. With my attention there on my heart, I wasn’t dwelling on what was gone but I stayed here with was already still.
I call the heart that broke was my thimbled heart; cold, hollow, capable of measuring out loves only as much as what was put in, and hard enough to resist intrusion. It didn’t beat much. I had to lay down the remains of my expectations, and in so doing the thimble heart of who I thought I was in order to see what still stood undisturbed.
photo ©Julienne Givot
The magnitude of suffering that quantifies “heartbreak” constitutes a transformational journey, one of such weight and consequence that the issue(s) which began the process cannot be discarded as a measure of coming through the experience and being healed. In fact that would be irresponsible. We don’t leave these things behind, for living bodies carry the scars of the wounds that have been suffered. Only corpses never heal. And let me say that crying on occasion for the person we have been is not an indication that our wounds haven’t healed, but is a signal that our hearts are alive and engaged. If anything we gain the capacity to see the heartbreak in others and a greater compassion for the condition of loss and expectation that beats in all human beings. Born from the tears cried in the suffering of our undesired experiences, a greater heart moves unrelenting. Then it is that we break upon our hearts and breaking open, bear it blazing for all beings everywhere. When we sit with one who is breaking, maybe the best we can offer is a strong witness to the grief they are bearing and allow them their experience. Of all things the greatest helper is time. Perhaps when the broken heart calls once again to visit, we can remember and bring our attention back to what is left as a practical respite from our unbearable grief of letting go.
“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.”
The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich
Image courtesy of Identity Pursuit
“So much is happening in the world, earthquakes, revolutions and wars and you’re writing about the archetype of the Lover?” My reply: “Heck yeah, with all this chaos how do we approach what needs to be done without the passion of a Lover!?” She gave me a look of kind incredulity. “But the Lover? what could be more dreamy and ungrounded?”. I love my friend (pun intended), and her point is well made, the archetype of the Lover can be fluffy. The Casablanca version of this archetype is ubiquitous and needs little explanation, but to limit the Lover to only romantic endeavors would be carving out but a tiny slice of it’s potential expression.
At the risk of sounding like a tragically optimistic hippie – what the world needs now is love. There I said it. How about this – peace is sexy! Why does peace need to be a meek dove awaiting release from a cage? It doesn’t. It’s a succulent main course not a delicate dessert.
We’ve got war, strife, stress, anxiety and for some reason we fight fire with fire. That or we just tune it out with distractions. Both approaches take a lot of energy. The Lover is marked by passion, devotion and exuberance. All qualities we need to counterbalance the fear and confusion of the world scene today.
There are many forms of love and all can be expressed within the pattern of the Lover archetype. The ancient Greeks spoke of ‘agape’ or brotherly love as well as the erotic love related to the god Eros. It matters not which form, the Lover wants to be in touch with it both literally and figuratively. The Lover is about action and expression. It calls us to move out into the world or to at least take on a fuller more sense related (sensual) experience in our lives.
The 1989 film Dead Poets Society tells the story of the many forms of the Lover archetype. This 5 minute clip sets up the theme for the film which is centered around the ethos of the Lover – to devote oneself to passion and expression, in other words to love life and “Seize the Day”. It also tells of the potential cost of doing so in a society that might not support your efforts. Go ahead, watch the clip.
The film uses the context of a stuffy boarding school in the 1950s as a metaphor for the hemmed-in life of society’s expectations and boundaries. Robin Williams plays Mr. Keating the Teacher/Liberator encouraging the boys to be ignited by their passions, to devote themselves to what their souls call them to do. The many iterations of the Lover are portrayed in the film interlaced with archetypes: hopeful Knox Overtstreet madly in love with the blonde cheerleader, rebellious Charlie Dalton enamored with freedom and expression, Todd the painfully shy Invisible Child who longs to express himself and Neil, the Artist who finds his souls expression in acting. I won’t spoil the end for you but just as in life, requiring approval can be disastrous especially with an archetype such as the Lover. The shadow of the Lover looms large towards the end of the film and evokes tragedy when love leads to obsession, desperation and a loss of faith.
Love is not something that you can save up and put in a bank account. It can’t be bottled, lent or borrowed. By nature it’s fiery and must be expressed in some way. An energy that must move can be channeled into our daily challenges, both personal and social.
How much more connected to purpose can one be than when they are in love? Imagine what it would be like to love a problem. The Lover is able to see the essence of the beloved and can hold that image through thick and thin. I realize this goes against many notions of how to take action or work with something as fractious as the problems we face now, but the old paradigms are crumbling and we are in need of some new patterns.
Archetype Crib Sheet:
This archetype appears not only in those who are romantically inclined, but also in anyone who exhibits great passion and devotion. One can be a Lover of art, music, gardening, Persian carpets, nature, or needlepoint. The key is having a sense of unbridled and exaggerated affection and appreciation of someone or something that influences the organization of your life and environment. The Lover is connected to issues of self-esteem because this archetype is so strongly represented by one’s physical appearance. Even if you have the Lover archetype prominently in your psyche, you may repress this pattern out of a lack of self-esteem, especially regarding your physical attractiveness. The shadow lover manifests as an exaggerated obsessive passion that has a destructive effect on one’s physical or mental health and self-esteem.
Films: Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck; Charles Denner in The Man Who Loved Women (Truffaut version); Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca; Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge, Dead Poets Society, John Hannah in Sliding Doors, Donna Reed in It’s A Wonderful Life, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward in Moonrise Kingdom
Drama: Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare Books:
Fiction – Stealing Heaven by Marion Meade (Abelard and Heloise),
Non-fiction – King, Warrior, Magician, Lover by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette
“The problem, if you love it, is as beautiful as a sunset.”
(With thanks to my client, Val for reminding me of this great quote!)
Here’s a great post on Peace is Sexy.
The term Prostitute doesn’t typically come up in polite conversation. It does however in popular culture, usually in it’s slang form, “ho”. In fact “ho” is used quite liberally and casually in music, movies and by kids talking on the bus.
So what is all this “Ho” business? Do they really mean the Prostitute archetype when referring to someone as a “Ho”? I looked up the definition from the slang website Urban Dictionary (Warning – this site does contain much foul language). Below is the 3rd listed definition:
Ho (noun): Anyone who dehumanizes themselves by selling their soul to others. The term can be applied to either a man or a woman or–as in the case of <Anne Coulter>–both.
Aspersions on Ms Coulter aside (although it did make me giggle), the definition is spot-on for the Prostitute archetype in it’s shadow aspect. So it seems the terms don’t differ in their meaning but I believe that there is a much better, more productive way of looking at this archetype.
The Prostitute is one of the four survival archetypes which we all have. You, Me, the barista at the cafe and yes even Ann Coulter (ok, I’ll leave her alone for a while) – we all have a Prostitute archetypal pattern working somewhere in our lives. The Prostitute archetype is our negotiator. It is also a signpost of our level of faith in ourselves.
We all negotiate ourselves one way or the other – much of the time it comes down to how we feel about ourselves in the situation. Sometimes it’s a case of selling out or selling up. So as with any archetype, we meet it in both it’s light and shadow incarnations.
To find the Prostitute archetype one only needs to look to the moments when we feel our faith in ourselves slipping away. Be it in our job, relationships, finance or shopping for shoes, the Prostitute archetype can go looking for something to trade away to feel safe again. Minor or major, situations like these come upon us again and again:
- We withhold our opinion because we fear being judged. What this does however, is make their opinion more important than ours.
- We stay late at work, neglecting our personal life in order to feel more secure in our job. Is the job important? Of course it is, but when this negotiation is based on fear, we are more likely to sell out which is not an empowered position.
- We stay in a relationship that has gone bad in order to have someone in our life. – OR – We neglect our own needs because we are afraid that it might lead to a break up, a fight or more work than we want to deal with.
We sell our happiness, peace and honesty for what often times is just a flimsy sense of safety. Sadly these things tend to pile up and create an ugly reckoning later on.
So how do we not become a ‘ho’ in these situations? Awareness is the first step – it can be a doozy – but it’s the doorway to better choices.
- Be on the lookout for this pattern in your life.
- Look at when it comes up and why.
- What situations trigger it?
- What are some alternatives to the un-empowered behaviors and choices that it can tempt you with?
The role of the Prostitute is to alert us when we are losing faith in ourselves. Use it as a ‘poke in the arm’ to remind you that you have the ability to shore up faith and confidence in yourself. The empowered Prostitute archetype imbues a sense of worth, faith and confidence.