The Hero Goddess Path          


Creating our Sacred Space as Hero and Goddess
by Ray Bergen

(read another Article: The Journey )

Every relationship ceremony is a call to connect as lovers. In order to understand its importance in modern relationships, let's look at the challenge to present day relationships.

After the Revolution
The Sexual Revolution is over--but who won? Women seemed to win, because they became liberated from confining stereotypes like the Madonna-whore syndrome. Men also appeared to win, because they got to have sex more often with more women--who were themselves sexually liberated. And yet today, after nearly 40 years of "liberation," relationships are in greater upheaval than ever. What's the problem? And why is the divorce rate still climbing?

The real goal of the Sexual Revolution has been to recreate a balance whereby both men and women are fully empowered to be themselves--not only sexually, but also emotionally, psychologically, and financially. In relationships, despite the lofty language expressing equality, most men still react as if women's empowerment will somehow make THEM less. The paradox is that when men actively work to empower their women's feminine nature, they become more fully liberated themselves. Alas, few men are brave enough to approach relationship with this lofty goal. Those courageous enough to try, and then succeed, attain a state where they feel more masculine than any iron-pumping ever accomplished. They become someone every woman would die to have as a mate.

The Hero-Goddess approach to relationships offers couples a model by which to reach this enviable state both sexes covet. To understand how, we first have to understand that the big winner of the Sexual Revolution was feminine or "Goddess" energy. This feminine energy, which broke onto our consciousness in the 1960s as "make love, not war," now dominates the social landscape. Equality of the sexes is the law of the land (Title IX). Feminine values, such as pregnancy leave, maternal and paternal leave, co-parenting, and especially conflict resolution, have become familiar and accepted features of Western culture. This resurgence of Goddess energy has benefited men immeasurably. For starters, they have been relieved of much of the debilitating stress of always being in charge, always being the one responsible for earning money and making decisions.

The mutual gains that have flowed from the push for financial and other forms of equality for women, however, have yet to be fully experienced in the relationship realm. Most of these gains were made because women adapted themselves to men's ways. But in relationships the direction is reversed. To sustain love, men have to adapt to women's ways. Relationships represent the final major campaign of the sexual revolution, the theater where male and female energies most intimately encounter each other's entrenched attitudes and where male energy is making its last stand. Men are afraid of giving up their power while women are afraid to claim theirs.

Although relationship rules are changing dramatically--as are the rules of dating--couples have only a dim awareness of the sweeping significance of these changes. After all, a few thousand years of patriarchal power and perks do not easily dissolve. The field is littered with the casualties of marriage who have failed to adjust to the new realities. In dating, men who are unable successfully to enter the Goddess world are increasingly being rejected as poor marriage prospects. The spate of recent TV dating shows that offer a throwback to the bachelor-bimbo rules of engagement represent a desperate longing for a return to those supposedly simpler times. No such luck. It's just another indication that both men and women today are often unaware of the dilemma they are in. That dilemma I call the "new relationship paradox."

The Paradox
The new relationship paradox states that some aspects of the old gender roles are more relevant than ever, but their context is entirely different. After all, many of these gender roles predate the rise of patriarchy, and so continue to be valid. On the sexual plane, for instance, women still seek a strong, confident man to surrender to physically and emotionally. But their understanding of what constitutes a strong, confident man has drastically altered. What's more, as an individual relationship evolves, a woman's definition of what constitutes a man also evolves. In the beginning, the woman may have been happy when her man opened up to talk about himself; and having him simply listen to her felt like enough. But over time the roles have shifted, and now she wants more: she wants him to participate in their conversation in a way that honors her emotional realities. Men have been slow to catch on to these subtleties. They often feel confused that what their partner once responded to in them now makes her edgy or angry. The same male humor that used to make his woman laugh, for instance, now enrages her. Men experience this natural evolution as a kind of betrayal, however: Just as he learned the rules, the rules changed. But the truth is as simple as it is hard to grasp: The qualities needed to win a woman are generally inadequate for long-term relating.

What turns on most women is: a man who wholeheartedly surrenders to her desires while simultaneously taking the initiative--no simple task, and for most men, entirely counterintuitive. Like it or not, he needs to be strong and protective while knowing when to be vulnerable and let her take the emotional lead. She insists on this not only in the bedroom, but around the rest of the house as well. Failing this little tightrope walk causes relationships to crash.

But how is a man supposed to figure all this out? And how is a woman going to get him to understand that he HAS to figure it out or passion will slip away, replaced by the nag? The first step is to understand that we do not struggle alone.

There Is Only One Relationship
When couples fight they often feel like they're rehashing the same pattern over and over again. The reason is that, although no two relationships are the same on the practical level, on the Spirit level there is only one universal relationship in which we all participate. This explains why each fight echoes our previous fights: the same accusations of "You never" and "You always," the same stomping away or sulking in silence and, with slight variations, the same scripted ending. Our neighbors are doing likewise. We can drive down any street knowing that in most houses a couple is caught up in the same drama we are.

The great American mystic, Ram Dass, called the spiritual path "The Only Dance There Is." In the past, people who wanted to pursue that path went off to monasteries or ashrams or nunneries to meditate and pray--in effect, to dance alone. The major spiritual advance of our current era is the dawning awareness that the real spiritual adventure is to be lived in engagement with other people in the material world. And the ultimate manifestation of that path is the love relationship. We can either be single mystics living alone in the woods, or relationship mystics engaged in incarnating Love onto the planet.

Relationship is itself an archetype, an ancient, universal pattern that we all share, whether we are 20 and embarking on our first commitment, or 80 and settling into our sunset years. We may be a CEO, Ph.D., or LPN; a trucker, a waitress, or a rock star; live in Anchorage, Anaheim, or Apple Valley. At the core of our relationship the same drama drives us all: how to keep love alive. That aspect of relationship involved with being lovers is governed by the Lover's archetype. Just as mystics describe the search for an elusive divinity, the deep feeling of love we call the "Lover's Space" is fickle and fleeting. It appears one nourishing evening, convincing us it will stay forever; the next day it vacates, banished by one cruel word, taunting us with its memory. Yet the search for this "Lover's space is what gives every relationship its meaning.

On the archetypal level every woman struggles with feeling disappointed by her man; and every man carries the burden of knowing he is falling short. This tension underlies every relationship and fuels the cyclical fighting that erupts. It forms the context within which every call to connect through ceremony is made.

"I do," the world's shortest sentence, starts a lifelong journey where each of us joins all the other couples striving to incarnate love onto our particular plot of earth. If we want relationship, we do not get to decide whether to trek or not, only the partner with whom to set out. Saying "I do," literally or figuratively, turns our relationship into our primary spiritual practice, dwarfing all the other religious expressions we may resonate with. I spent 11 years in a Roman Catholic monastery, followed a Buddhist teacher since 1978, studied with a Native American shaman, and am an ordained Interfaith Minister. Yet none of these practices has transformed me the way my relationship has: Trying to keep love alive has forced me to do my most profound inner work. I am not the same man I was when I married 16 years ago. In fact, fully diving into relationship becomes our short path to enlightenment.

In the past, people who sought spiritual realization went off by themselves, joined small communities, or took vows of celibacy—the proverbial 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. But today, isolation from the world may be the antithesis of a spiritual path. Given time alone, most people simply masturbate, watch T.V., or both, whereas striving to keep love alive sets us on a genuine spiritual journey. We connect energetically to all couples, where our individual love story participates in the Divine love story of the planet. Each pair of lovers becomes first-time explorers traveling the uncharted mysterium of love.

Like all journeys, relationships have dos and don'ts, yet its proscriptions are encoded not in rules, but in roles. My wife and I discovered these roles while facing the conflict in our own marriage. We entered marriage with the belief that, with our psychological expertise and spiritual training, we were immune to the struggles we saw around us. When the inevitable disappointments arrived, in shock we initiated an intense two-person process of cross-fertilization. This required balancing my daytime career of counseling couples with our nighttime struggle to heal ourselves. During those late-night 'pillow talks,' we came face to face with the archetypal roles that control relationships: the feminine role of Goddess and the masculine role of Hero--which together form the Lovers. We realized that when we stepped into these roles we created falling in love; when we abandoned them we created disconnection and caused love to die.

"When conflicts arise, most couples finger their own or their mate's character flaws as the culprit. My wife and I got very clear that it was not our character flaws that caused the problem--after all, we managed to fall in love originally with those same flaws intact. Rather, we had exhausted our ability to maintain our Lover's roles of Hero and Goddess.

Hero and Goddess: the Ultimate Lovers
The basic polarity that has been driving evolution, from the cellular level up and from the dawn of time until now, is the energy of attraction and repulsion. As positive-negative electrical and magnetic fields, this energy envelops us, creating storms, weather patterns, and so much more. In plants and animals, this force emerges as gender: male and female. The highest expression of human male-female polarity manifests as lovers, and the supreme expressions of lovers are the archetypes of Hero and Goddess.

At first blush, Hero and Goddess may sound like grandiose terms, or worse, an attempt to return to outmoded stereotypes. But they are in fact ancient, universal patterns that are already encoded in our DNA. You don't have to be endowed with great strength, courage, beauty, or wisdom to access the Hero and Goddess within. Think of them as roles. When two persons want to create love, they learn to step into these roles. Most couples refine these roles enough to get to the altar—but then they stop! Thinking they have crossed the finish line they relax, not realizing that they are merely at the starting gate; their journey has just begun in earnest. As magical as most new lovers find these roles, they are just scratching the surface of the deep and nourishing game they are evoking.

The Hero initiates. Drawing from his primary slogan, he says: "I will step beyond my own preoccupations and concerns and do whatever it takes to reach you." Meanwhile, the Goddess guides, using her primary slogan: "There is more." She means that the further we travel into love the more passion we can celebrate and the more connected we can feel. If a relationship were a car, he would be the engine, and she, the steering wheel. Without the engine, we can still entertain ourselves, push the buttons, listen to the radio, but we won't go anywhere. And without someone steering, even if we start on the journey, we will shortly run into a ditch.

Remember the myth of "Snow White?" That was no ordinary prince. He wasn't just hanging out on a street corner passing time when he came across Snow White. No, he was on a mission—a vision quest--searching for love. He had the Hero's heart. Once he spotted the woman of his dreams and proclaimed "I'm going to do whatever it takes to reach you, even though you're dead, his kiss was so powerful it awakened that goddess vision lying dormant waiting to be activated. This is the story of every new love. Her surrender to him creates the falling in love that initiates their adventure.

From this point on the journey is as much about despair as it is about love. Despair, not anger or hate, is love's opposite. Whenever she feels her inner vision neglected, trampled on, not nourished, she confronts despair. Every woman holds that Goddess essence wisdom deep inside her. Knowing what the two of them can become with her guidance and his courage is the source of her power.

As Joseph Campbell points out, after all the other Hero journeys are played out, the ultimate journey is towards the Goddess, the representative of wisdom. On the Spirit level every relationship is a journey into the feminine. For a man, this means letting go of his conquering mentality by placing those qualities under the guidance of his female partner, as the representative of their shared vision.

As the holder of the relationship vision, she sets their course while he navigates them there. The image is of two people paddling a canoe: she steers and he provides the power. She says, "Let's head towards that island" and he honors her (which is not the same as agreeing blindly). All ancient stories have lovers traveling in the same direction: towards sunset--and sunset is followed by night, where the ebb and flow of the moon hold sway. Night time begs us to set aside surface preoccupations so we can nourish ourselves on the depths below. It is no accident that most relationship encounters happen at night. This is Goddess territory, where every man encounters the deeper meaning of the reality that his Goddess truly is a woman of the night.

Creating a Sacred Bedroom Space
Every ceremony is a call to connect. Just as every man's challenge is to empower the feminine in his woman, every woman's challenge is to guide them to connect. She puts out the call that says, "Its time to drop our preoccupations and come together. Join me; let's step out of practical concerns and touch souls." This is why a ski trip together may be an exhilarating bonding experience, but it's not ceremony.

Ceremony takes place in a sacred space. In relationship the most sacred of spaces is usually the bedroom—a couple's church. Instead of just adding a few candles and soft music, I recommend a more far-reaching ceremony: turning the whole bedroom into a permanent sacred space. This is the challenge to every woman as guide: to make of the bedroom a place that feels nourishing to her most feminine, sensual aspects; where her heart says "I'm home." This means creating a theme, redecorating, starting from the bottom up to design the most intimate room in the house. Don't throw out utility, rather, fit the traces of daily activity, like hampers, dressers and televisions into the intimate scheme. A room where practical or economic needs dominate will look quite different from a room designed for the needs of lovers.

Both persons making the intention to collaborate on externalizing their shared vision of intimacy is what lifts this activity from project to ceremony: one stretching over months involving lengthy discussion accompanied by trial and error. Using as a guide "what feels good to her" couples can produce bold, daring possibilities never before imagined. The room becomes a physical metaphor for the whole relationship, breaking old barriers and opening new doors.

Now the house has a "Lovers center," like the church centered old New England villages, to balance the other centers of kitchen and playroom—a special place where lovers come together. When we nourish this center all other aspects of our relationship also thrive.





    The Journey

A man, who was approaching his twentieth anniversary, was asked how he and his wife had achieved the love so evident between them. Previously, their relationship had been legendary for its fiery storms, betrayals, even time apart.

He smiled: Life changed when, finally, I embraced "make love not war," and discovered the power of surrendering to her desires. After all, I chose her over all women because nothing feels more rewarding than basking in the glow of her happiness. As irrational as she can seem; as controlling as are her fears; as deeply as her rebukes sting; I now recognize in each of these occasions an invitation to closeness. I trust that whatever adventure she guides us into, once I overcome my initial resistance, will carry us to our highest possible love.

The process remains a mystery to me; goes against all the principles I entered the relationship with. Yet, I am eternally grateful and humbled by its discovery.


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