Love is a Life-or-Death Matter

Who has not felt at times that love is a deadly passion? Therefore "Love is a Life or Death Matter" is a very adequate title of the first part of Valerie Harms' book "The Inner Lover", subtitled: "Using passion as a way to self-empowerment".

Love is a Life-or-Death Matter

- A review of Valerie Harms' The Inner Lover by Doris Norrgaard

ImageWhat the world needs now
is love sweet love,
that's the only thing
that there's just too little of...
--Hal David

Why has Psyche to perform so many difficult tasks to regain her Eros? Why do we, if the gods want us to find love, have to suffer so much in search of love, as Papageno wonders in The Magic Flute? Why is it so hard to tune in with the love that there actually is, resounding through the world, in spite of all?

Who has not felt at times that love is a deadly passion? Therefore "Love is a Life or Death Matter" is a very adequate title of the first part of Valerie Harms' book "The Inner Lover", subtitled: "Using passion as a way to self-empowerment". These captions already contain the gist of this treasure of a book.

The Inner Lover surely would have been a beacon in the darkness of my twenties. I would have gained immensely from it in my thirties. Now, in my fifties, when I at long last have found both love, and eventually this book, too, I can recommend it to lovers of any age and kind - it will give insights, comfort, support, and new perspectives on life, love and creativity. Many of my more painful memories have now been beautifully framed in by the thoughts of Valerie Harms. In the light of her positive message much shame and guilt caused by wrongs and shortcomings bleached away. Her candid approach also greatly helped me to sort out what I have been through and to accept that as my experience. Without moralizing she discusses the problems of our love life as they occur in reality and shows the value of our commitments, whether they are approved of or not.

Valerie Harms has based her concept of "The Inner Lover" on the notion that falling in love is at least partly a projection. Our projections bring by a great deal of trouble, because the objects of our love often do not correspond to our fantasies about them. It is equally painful the other way around, if we do not live up to the fantasies of our lovers. In that way tugs-of-war within relationships and within individuals can get started, giving rise not just to painful doubts and agonies about the feelings of the beloved one, but also a tearing back and forth movement within the loving subject. On the one hand there can be an inner longing to give love free reins, and on the other, the opposite tendency to quench love, when perceived as a dangerous feeling. The word passion matches this, as it already in itself contains both loving and suffering. That is what we might learn, too: to contain both love and suffering.

Instead, we naturally tend to fight or fly in the face of suffering. But there is a third way. A vital point of Valerie Harms' The Inner Lover is that a person in love does not have to give up passions that seem to make him or her a fool attached to impossible objects - whether these are non-responding, bound in other relationships, improper, distant or even no longer alive. "We need to stop fighting the feelings that desire brings and surrender to them. When we become attentive to our fantasies and dreams, loving and not condemning our deepest wishes, we give them a chance to direct and empower our lives". And by not denying our passions we are better able to guide our acts in directions that are not destructive. What we can always do is to stay in contact with The Inner Lover.

So Valerie Harms herself lovingly points out that there is much to gain in leaving petty moralizing attitudes behind. In this connection she shares her own experience with warmth and frankness. We are not responsible for falling in love, even less for being able to feel love at all, these are gifts of divine making, in whatever manner we picture that divine force. The ancient Greeks, she reminds us, thought that we when falling in love are hit by one of Eros' arrows. The suddenness and even pain of this are accurately expressed in that myth, as well as the insight that the power of love does not stem from our egos willing it into being. But then again, what we actually can take responsibility for (if we happen to be mature enough, which naturally we are probably not from the start), is how we handle our own feelings, impulses, fantasies. This is Valerie Harms' great and relieving point. Her liberating point! She leads the reader to such a great shift in perception that I would like to call it a shift of paradigm, since her radically taken starting-point is that all love, precisely as a divine force, has its origin rather within the one who is loving, the one who is hit by the arrow, rather than starting from within the object of our love, quite contrarily to how we usually see the cause of love in our culture, expressed for example in the tune "You made me love you, I didn't want to", which is deceptively wrong. Couldn't someone write a tune to "Love made me love you, something in me just wants me to, so now I wonder why I do..."?

As a Jungian psychologist Valerie Harms sees loves and passions within the context of the individuation process, as meaningful tasks our Selves urges us to take on, and which we neglect at the peril of our health. There is a constant call from the Self of each one of us, for us to become what we potentially already are, or we will suffer for not heeding it. In this way she gives a positive frame even to the most unheroic and allegedly contemptible forms of infatuation by insisting that we always should ask questions about their meaning for our development as humans and partakers of global processes. To facilitate this work she suggests using methods developed by Ira Progroff and CG Jung, and she gives practical advice on how to get started and keep it up. In this light there actually does not seem to exist any unheroic or contemptible forms of love at all. Instead Valerie Harms underlines that love is a gift in any of its forms, and I can only confirm that this way of looking at love functions like a magic key. She wants to bring the energy and the inspirational side of infatuations to the fore and reminds us of their potential: "The fusion of Inner Lovers within our psyches brings gifts of new ideas not only to ourselves but also to the world". And so we are encouraged not to dismiss "unhappy" or "improper" love as so much folly, but to get in touch with the message in it, because in our projections a calling might be hidden: "Since our consciousness is shaped so extensively by /.../ Eros, let us look more closely at how the energy of love flows from us to impact the world".

* * *

When we encounter changes or new phases of life we often experience some turmoil in our love lives. What happens to the energy flow of love in mid-life and onwards? Is the question already a sign of not being properly resigned and mature? When I was 40-45, I looked everywhere for a book that might be a positive introduction to the next phase in life, the challenging fifties that I was rapidly approaching. I read a great amount of books but all of them disappointed me. I think their messages were just variations on the depressing theme of "in mid-life a woman will lose a lot of her attraction and that will naturally be very painful, but beyond that crisis there will be so many things left to enjoy, you just have to learn to appreciate them." My stomach turned on the prospect of my future "passions" consisting of something like the examples that used to follow, pets, a good read, small talk, geraniums, and so on. Oh, my! Small, smaller, smallest... Can there possibly exist anything like a small passion? Could you feel alive at all without passion in the real sense of the word? How revolting the prospect of that sheer smallish life seemed to me! Had no one found out anything better than that pure acquiescence and accepting of down-right shrinking after fifty? I was reading book after book meant for guidance but the question always returned to my mind: is that really all? I saw how passion and enthusiasm diminished into mere crumbs in these prudent writers' minds and words. And in the mirror of these books I saw my future self sitting on a park bench feeding the crumbs of my life to the ducks, desperately trying to talk myself into being happily old and wise and content. No, I'd rather be dead, I simply knew I could never con me into that role, it would demand too great a self-deception. And so I embarked on what I thought was a rather lonely journey, without too many beacons of warm feminine glow.

In Valerie Harms' The Inner Lover-concept however I recognize a totally different perspective, even if it is not specifically about mid-life crises and what waits beyond. But what she says applies to anything in life we care for. The main tenet of her out-look on life, and it really is an out-look with a view, is the ever more opening and enriching life. I here recall a stock phrase that in derision was used about me when young: "Love is constant but the object changes!" But Valerie Harms erases that derision and transforms it into a much more profound, optimistic, and life-enhancing philosophy. Actually she shows what an immense asset this constant love is, in spite of life's flux. She invites us to take in that this is what the Self asks us to realize and live it out fully. Love is always there for us to feel, for us to get our abundant share of, and so we deserve to say yes to the changes in what and whom and for how long we love, or are loved. The Inner Lover is a great book to accompany you through any phase in life because it is so accepting of, and open to, both the pain and bliss of changes, which are as we all know a basic and inevitable trait of life, even though we mostly fear the changes. However, the one continuity we can count on in spite of the changes, is Love in ever widening circles, because our capacity to love is not inevitably shrinking with age. Seamus Heaney, for example, has written about the relief of at last opening the heart in mid-life:

"Heaviness of being. And poetry
Sluggish in the doldrums of what happens.
Me waiting until I was nearly fifty
To credit marvels. Like the tree-clock of tin cans
The tinkers made. So long for air to brighten,
Time to be dazzled and the heart to lighten."

Eros, love, is always there to fuel our Psyches with enthusiasm, with passion, that is what we may count on if we learn to accept it in the forms it will come. This is the inspiring message of The Inner Lover, the concept and the book!

* * *

Wherever one finds oneself right now The Inner Lover is an encouragingly deep story of personal growth and a perfect start for following Valerie Harms into the next step on one's path of individuation. She for her part is, according to her homepage, giving out a new book on animal guides in dreams and life. On her homepage you can find out more of what is on its way. And as she is also an ecopsychologist it seems she is going to lead us on to the question how we can use our energy flow of love and take on inner and outer tasks that our Selves are challenging us to undertake in the world today, with its dangers and possibilities. After reading and working through The Inner Lover, I do look forward to this next book - eagerly. There are also two compassionate and thought provoking contributions by Valerie Harms on the CGJungPage to relish, in addition to the possibility to get a glimpse of her future book on her homepage. Don't miss these opportunities. I can't resist citing from her homepage:

"Feelings foster the best ideas and most inspired acts. /.../ . The true enemy of love is indifference, the absence of feeling. Science and engineering, if indifferent, can destroy the world; only feelings for this blessed realm can save it from that fate.

When we follow our desires for what we really want, we will create a life based on the integrity of our being. We will nurture the friendships we feel most strongly about and have the perseverance to carry out the works that mean the most. Our passionate feelings are a sure guide to a life of quality."

The Inner Lover wants to support our capacity for connecting with love to others, our environment, the world - it desires to connect micro-cosmos and macro-cosmos - and encourages us to bring our gifts to the world, as Valerie Harms so beautifully puts it. She concludes: "The world needs people who are operating on all their cylinders to save it from destruction." As human beings we are from the very beginning dependent on loving care to survive, whether we like the idea of that dependency or not, whether we deny it or accept it. Likewise, as a species, as humanity, we do depend on a loving care of the world we live in, and it is more important than ever that we now affirm that every individual's caring contribution is welcome and longed for, in spite of what you might have been made to believe about your insignificance to others or the whole. Rather as WH Auden said on September 1, 1939: "We must love one another or die".

Valerie Harms underlines the value of our individual contributions. As she says, working with The Inner Lovers and bringing about a union with them in our psyches will enhance our capacity to present ourselves and the world with our gifts, and she adds: "Another gift we can give to the world /.../ is greater harmony. When you are not blaming another but allowing yourself to burn creatively and passionately, you create a climate of openness with others that promotes respect and truth." If these are not beacons bright aglow! And towards the end of the book she comes back to a thought by Teilhard de Chardin: "if we could harness the energy of love, we could change the world." The premise Valerie Harms discloses is the need for a coniunctio, a fusion: "To harness this energy requires bringing Psyche and Eros together." She herself is working passionately and impressively in that spirit. - And I find my Self triumphantly confirmed and agreeing: why should we ever shrink ourselves to anything less?

© Doris Norrgaard

Harms, Valerie: The Inner Lover: Using Passion as a Way to Self-empowerment, Second edition 1999 by Aslan Publishing, Fairfield Connecticut

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