Interview With Polly Young-Eisendrath, Ph.D.
“Gather Up Your Brokenness: Love, Imperfection and Human Ideal”
“The Present Heart: Love, Loss and Discovery”
November 11th and 12th, 2016
The Center for Jungian Studies of South Florida (CJSSF) offers a special two-day event, “Gather Up You’re Brokenness: Love, Imperfection and Human Ideal,” taking place on Friday, November 11th, 2016 from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., and “The Present Heart: Love, Loss and Discovery,” occurring on Saturday, November 12th from 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. These events will take place on and at the Duncan Center in Delray Beach, Florida.
Polly Young-Eisendrath, Ph.D., who will be our featured presenter during the 2016-2017 season, is a well-known Jungian Analyst, psychologist, writer, and mindfulness speaker who has published 15 books including The Self-Esteem Trap, The Cambridge Companion to Jung, and Women and Desire. Her most recent book,The Present Heart: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Discovery, is a meditation on the healing power of love that attempts to answer the question “What is love, anyway?” She is optimistic about the gradual emergence of a fresh view of the human mind from the dialogue between psychoanalysis and Buddhism.
CJSSF: In your memoir The Present Heart you cite Bob Dylan as an inspiration in difficult times. Dylan has just won the Nobel Prize in literature. What does he say to you about love? Any favorite lines or songs to share with us?
YOUNG-EISENDRATH: I am pleased that Dylan won the Nobel prize for literature because this opens the prize to the bards and poets who speak to the public at large. Many Nobel prizes have been awarded to those whose work is for the more “refined” audiences. This is a Nobel for the People.
It’s Dylan’s worldview or attitude that I like the most: many of his themes are archetypal. Take, for example, Red River Shore. He sings about a love that might never have actually existed (she was an archetypal image), someone whom he could love fully and whom he has lost. He also sings about loss itself in a way that touched my heart. When I was in the depth of my own misery and loss, I wanted to “see in the dark” and here’s what Dylan said about that:
Some of us turn off the lights and we live
With the moonlight shooting by
Some of us scare ourselves to death in the dark
To be where the angels fly
CJSSF: You cared for two husbands during their declines. What did that devotion mean to you? Is personal love a spiritual path for you?
YOUNG-EISENDRATH: There is too much to say in a few lines about caring for my two husbands — one being the true love of my life and the other one, the father of my children – but I will say a few words here. The “devotion” to your Beloved is definitely a spiritual path, but it should not be mistaken for a path of misery, resentment, alienation, or pure sacrifice. When you can relate to your Beloved as Whole Self to Whole Self, it means that you recognize your own needs and desires, as well as the needs and desires of the person you love. You check with yourself that you do not become filled with resentment in order to be an “excellent care-giver.”
The path of true love is NOT about appearances. It is the opposite: it is where the rubber hits the road. When unwelcome change enters into your life, as it will for all of us, the entire context of your life turns inside out. Nothing will be the same again (of course, the stability idea is an illusion anyway). When this happens in a love relationship, there is a tremendous amount to learn and develop in yourself and your relationship. Instead of end, sometimes it is the beginning of equanimity and acceptance. If you previously thought you accepted your Beloved, you will be tested and tested again.
To me, true love is true and deep acceptance of another – not needing to change even a hair on his/her head. That is definitely a spiritual path. I will have a lot to say about this when I am with your group in Florida. We may chatter on about spirituality and embracing change in life, but Love will make that real.
CJSSF: You write of romantic love and dream lovers, of personal love and true love and cherishment. Would you say a bit about what you call particularity to help us sort out what love is?
YOUNG-EISENDRATH: As I mentioned above, each of us is a Whole Self (I don’t want to get into the archetype of Self here because it is a different topic) with our talents, complexes, strengths, and limitations. When we fall in love with someone (lover or new baby, even a new pet), we idealize the other. We believe the other is going to bring us something special – insight, desire, pleasure, wealth, support, help, companionship. Falling into an unconscious idealizing projection, we do not see or know the limitations and short-comings the other will bring into our life. Any human being is a combination of light and dark, strengths and weakness, and wisdom and foolishness. Personal love or true love eventually demands that ALL of this be embraced in loving the other person. That does not mean that we approve or endorse what we disagreed with, but it does mean that we recognize that we cannot control the other person, even in those areas where the other person might be wrong or doing something self-harming (e.g. smoking).
This kind of deep acceptance and witnessing of another, while being vulnerable in one’s own needs, guarantees that love is a spiritual path and requires psychological development, as well.
As I will say in my presentation, many people prefer to cherish others (love on a one-way street) and not to step deeply into true love (love on a two-way street) because of the vulnerability and demands that true love makes. In return, however, true love brings us something that we cannot otherwise find on earth: the feeling of being at home with another who is an equal – someone in whose eyes we can see ourselves from a different view.
CJSSF: You have done groundbreaking work to bridge Feminism, Buddhism and Jungian psychology. Which came first in your life, among these influences? And could you possibly say, just briefly, how each discipline has affected your work or life?
YOUNG-EISENDRATH: Buddhism came first: I took formal Zen vows in 1971. I went into Jungian analysis in 1973 or 1974 and I discovered feminism in the early 70’s, too, when I met Shirley Chisholm who was running for President of the United States. After my personal therapy, I decided to become a therapist, and then I became a psychologist (graduated in 1980 with my Ph.D.) and a Jungian analyst (finished in 1986).
Buddhism has been the biggest, longest and deepest influence on the way I live and think and work. Nothing has been stronger because as you practice over the years and decades, the perspectives and insights and skills deepen and expand. Buddhism is a way of life.
When I first saw the world through a feminist lens, when I read Of Woman Born by Adrienne Rich, it was a kind of awakening or enlightenment: everything shifted. Everything that had seemed unique about my own complaints, feelings of inferiority, and sexist habits of mind (being a girl and then a woman), I saw as cultural and social constructs.
And so, I came to Jungian ideas and psychology with these two other systems already locked into gear. That made me a little different as a training candidate (bolder in my questions?) and an analyst. Jung’s psychology and Jungian psychoanalysis now provide an over-arching view of development and meaning in my work as an analyst, and Buddhism and feminism go with me in every activity: They are frames of reference that I apply to living.
CJSSF: What person would you pick if you had to choose a favorite in each of these disciplines: Feminism; Buddhism; psychotherapy; and the Arts?
YOUNG-EISENDRATH: I do have favorites, but I cannot pick a certain person as “the one.” At the moment, I am loving a new woman author, Nadja Spiegelman, who has written an amazing memoir about mothers and daughters entitled I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This. She’s my favorite feminist of the moment.
CJSSF: In your memoir you describe some difficult scenes from your life with humor. What role has humor played on your path?
YOUNG-EISENDRATH: A sense of humor is as important as air. You cannot breathe without it.
CJSSF: You’ve written or edited 14 books! Most of them are about love and desire from a female perspective. You have two new books coming. Do they continue your explorations of love and loving?
YOUNG-EISENDRATH: One book is called True Love Ways: Relationship as Psycho-Spiritual Development and it expands the exploration of true love that I began in my memoir – putting it into historical perspective and psychological context. The other book is about enlightenment and idealization: What is awakening? Is it real or is it idealized?
I seem to need to write in order to development my own thinking and I am grateful that publishers are willing to give me contracts so that I can fully commit myself to finding out what I think!
Interview by Teresa Oster, MSW, MS, CJSSF board member