Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Resistance is futile

My ideas about relationships have evolved from personal experience and from books. The kind of relationships that stayed with me as the epitome of perfection were the relationships I found in Andre Norton's books and it wasn't until many years later that I understood what she described was frightening to most people because of the initial feeling of falling into an abyss and losing all sense of identity and individuality at the outset.

In all of her adventures the one major theme was based on submission and submergence in order to find wholeness. In simplest terms, it is the story about the king who asked his twelve sons to each break a stick and then had twelve sticks bound together and asked his sons to break the combined sticks. It's easy to break a single stick and not so easy when the sticks are combined. It is the same with relationships, but first you give up being a single stick.

In the Witch World series, there were communities ruled solely by women and by men, both of them separating the genders to achieve a goal. In Estcarp, the witches were the central power reigning over the rest of the populace, picking the brightest and best and binding them to the community of witches to increase their power and control over the land and their enemies. There were also the Falconers, men who lived with their falcons in aeries, segregating their women in all female villages, similar to the Amazons who kept male children only until they were old enough to be sent to their fathers. With the Falconers, male children were allowed to live in the female villages where select males visited once a year to take away boys who had reached the age of five and to procreate. In Estcarp, when a witch had sex she lost her power and power was jealously guarded.

As the centuries continued, each segregated nation suffered from their practices. Fewer children were born to the people of Estcarp or to the Falconers' villages. When you skim off the cream, there's little vitality left. Things remained the same until one witch gave up her jewel of power and married an outlander. Instead of losing her power when she surrendered her jewel, she gained a new kind of power and set the stage for anarchy. The same theme of surrendering solitary power to love and gaining a different and more potent power recurs throughout Norton's work, and the surrender is seldom easy. It's the same in human relationships, although few reach that greater power because they fear surrendering and falling into the abyss.

The sense of being completely one with another person is frightening at first and few get past the initial vertigo. It's so much easier to choose short term lust and long term misery than to lose yourself in someone else. Such overwhelming passion is like walking boldly into a raging fire naked and unprotected, never realizing that the fire won't devour you. It's an adjustment to give up one's power even for a little while and it takes a strong will and stronger commitment than most people ever get near or understand. The result is convenient arrangements or emotional time shares that require little more than being present, which makes day to day life manageable only by compartmentalizing every facet of existence, and the walls are high and get stronger every year, isolating people emotionally and mentally as much as physically. Never give up and never give in. And people wonder why they live lives of quiet desperation.

Although it is a radical concept, the dominant and submissive lifestyle comes closest to a powerful and lasting relationship. I know how shocking that sounds because I was shocked when I was first approached. The idea that I would voluntarily allow another person to control me physically, emotionally and sexually was ludicrous and I'd never submit. Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to take a closer look. What I found was powerful and based on complete and utter trust. It's not the kind of trust that people exhibit when they close their eyes, fold their arms over their chests, and fall backward believing someone will catch them; that's a pale shadow of what really happens, but it does begin with falling.

For whatever reason, the world is arranged in pairs. Chromosomes are paired. DNA is a two-stranded chain surrounding a central core, a double helix. Noah filled the ark with animals of every kind, one male and one female. In the garden of Eden, humanity was created from Adam and Eve, the primordial pair. Coupling is the natural state. Even alternative relationships combine in pairs. That is not to say people are incomplete if they never pair off, just that we are more complete in pairs -- a bundle of sticks as opposed to a single stick. The earth is even paired with opposing poles and magnets wouldn't not work without an equal and opposite force combined to create a strong and resilient energy field. Neutron and proton. Good and evil. Light and shadow. Pairs, but the right pairs, and so comes the fall, submitting the self to become something more, stronger, better, happier, and we know when it happens.

It's not the initial blush of lust or a feeling of liking someone, but something more intense, an overwhelming feeling that at first feels like vertigo and drowning and happy beyond words to drown. Then the survival instinct kicks in and fear takes over, sending adrenalin through the blood and us thrashing for the surface. We aren't prepared to give up that much. We will not be devoured whole. And so we run and hide, still drawn to the fire, back to the edge of the abyss, teetering on the edge and yearning for what's waiting but not willing to fall. Falling is bad, our minds tell us, so we step back and bargain, pacing around the edge, taking tentative steps forward and rushing backward whenever the feelings are too intense, building walls to hide behind and driving anchors into the rock to hold us safely in place, in stasis, never going too far backward or too far forward.

It's the unknown that gets us every time, the feeling that we can submit a little, risk a little and still be happy, but it doesn't work that way. There is no strength in sticks that barely touch each other; too much is still left dangling. It must be full contact or nothing, complete submission and commitment or a taste that leaves us always hungry for more.

The witch gave up her jewel of power and found that by submitting herself to a man she was more powerful and a more formidable foe than when she carried the jewel for which she gave up living, loving and laughing. She gave up sterility and found fertility in power, in love and in life. She leapt into the abyss, embraced the fear and fell and landed safely. It's not the fall that kills us or the sudden stop, it's fear, mind numbing, overwhelming fear that kills us, draining away life and passion and power like a slow leak in a tire that eventually leaves us stranded and alone, isolated and shivering in the cold, resisting the warmth and power that lies on the other side of fear.

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