Love and Awakening: Discovering the Sacred Path of Relationship by John Welwood, 1996, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 240 pp., $23.95 (Author of JOURNEY OF THE HEART: The Path of Conscious Love )
   


Book Review by Evelyn Challis, Ph.D.


"Love and Awakening" reads like a beautifully rendered advanced spiritual seminar and offers us guidance on our path towards more deeply connecting with ourselves, our partners and all those whom we dearly love. Welwood's acknowledgments tell of his having been greatly influenced by his Eastern (mostly Tibetan) teachers: Chogyam Trungpa, Tsokui Rinpoche, Ramana Raharshi, Hameed Ali. As well, he speaks of an American psychologist familiar to most of us as a major influence: Eugene Gendlin, whose pioneering body/mind work (which introduces us to his [Gendlin's] concept of a 'felt sense') is described in "Focusing." These influences are quite evident in Welwood's evocative writing style. He writes in an inspiring and intuitive fashion which will appeal to any audience with an affinity for the transpersonal. He combines the psychological with the spiritual and gives actual session examples from his couples' workshops of how he guides this work. As in the Chinese aphorism "danger equals opportunity," Welwood shows us that each difficulty in our intimate relationships has the potential to provide us with a special spiritual opportunity by which we can be guided on a very sacred and powerful path: the recovery of our essential nature and the expansion of our sense of who we are.

The parallels between Welwood's and Hendrix's work are many: he shares many of Harville's theoretical stances (as do Freud, Adler, Jung, Berne and others): childhood wounds, primal pain, the loss of our essential selves, carrying the fear (as grown-ups) that we will be abandoned, neglected or swallowed up, acknowledging our unmet needs to be seen, heard and valued, and our growing awareness that we can become each other's teacher: "We inflict upon ourselves, the core wound that will haunt us for the rest of our lives: We start to separate from our own being."

Central to Welwood's theory, as is true in Hendrix's, is the belief that we search out a partner (a soul connection) who will help us crack open our long-held defenses in order to call up capacities, such as generosity, tenderness and trust, that we have lost in childhood; i.e., we are drawn to those who demand from us the very qualities we have buried. Another fascinating parallel with Hendrix is that Welwood wrote his first book, "Journey of the Heart," in order to work through the breakup of his first marriage and as a way of "revisioning intimate relationships from the ground up. No friend, therapist, or spiritual teacher could EVER feel the impact of my negative tendencies as vividly as my partner does."

I believe he becomes most eloquent when he explores the whole area of male/female intimacy and especially in the area of men's relationship to women. He joins the ranks of many female authors such as Margaret Mead, Mary Jane Sherfey, Karen Horney and Elaine Morgan when he speaks of "The Dialectic of Male Development." Welwood discusses at length the young boy's difficult and painful developmental task of separating and differentiating himself from the feminine by renouncing his connection with his mother. He believes that many men remain stuck in one of the first two reactive stages of development: they are either psychically tied to their mother, as is a child; or else they harden into a defensive (macho) stance, out of their fears of being engulfed by the feminine, as is an adolescent. Welwood makes it quite clear that for a man simply to find his own masculine ground to stand upon is not enough. If a man wants to further his unfolding and form healthy intimate relationships, Welwood says that he must become receptive again to what women can teach him. It is in THIS way and this way only, Welwood insists, that a man can become a true adult: rather than clinging to the second developmental stage (amply demonstrated by the heroics upon which our society is fixated: man as conqueror and/or ascender) a man who wants to become a true adult must face up to and overcome some of his deepest fears: those of coming down to earth, coming into his body, relating with his feelings and committing himself fully to a passionate engagement with the world. This is a very different and much more challenging brand of heroism for men to explore.

This brings me to the most minor of quibbles I have of Welwood: I would've loved to have had his keen intellect and his fine-tuned sensibilities applied to the subject of women's developmental tasks and the dialectic with which they must struggle: that of remaining identified with the mother while simultaneously embarking upon the struggle of differentiating from the mother. I would've liked to have learned what criteria Welwood might have insisted upon, which, in his opinion, would be essential to the female's becoming a 'true adult.'

Welwood IS unique among male authors that I've read in his acknowledgment of one of the male gender's great secrets: that of being afraid of women. In his section on "A Different Brand of Heroism," he very beautifully describes what can happen when a man allows himself to be receptive to a woman's influence returning to his life:

"This is what can happen when a woman's influence starts to work on us--it calls us to vast things--first of all by bringing us to an edge where we fear to tread. The kind of heroism required here calls for hand-to-hand combat with the demons of fear we encounter on the threshold of the unknown, when we approach the dark continent of the feminine, which we usually regard as alien and Other. In order to rise to this challenge, we need to re-vision relationship as a great transformative work that requires and calls forth our wisdom and courage."

By holding this larger vision of relationship, Welwood claims that we can rise to the challenge by reminding ourselves, when our partner starts to rattle our cage, that his/her purpose is to help us unfold. Welwood points out that when we see our conflicts as part of our soulwork, we can recognize the sacred rather than the destructive nature of these struggles. The purpose of this struggle (to soften you) can help you discover that you are something deeper, richer and more fluid than any ego identity which you are holding onto. Thus softening and bravery go hand in hand. As with Chogyam Trungpa's words, "Discovering fearlessness comes from working with the softness of the human heart," (1984, p.66)1 Welwood agrees that this combination of courage and tenderness is essential for a conscious relationship. It allows us to hear the difficult things those we love have to tell us and to learn the soul lessons that will help us liberate ourselves to become the person we were always meant to be.

This fine book belongs in the personal libraries of every marriage and family therapist and will serve as an excellent adjunct to Hendrix' and those books of other authors who write on conscious relationships.

 

1"Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior," by Chogyam Trungpa. Boston: Shambhala, 1984.

 

Reprinted from:
The Journal of Imago Relationship Therapy, Vol. II, #1, 1997, Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. Editor-in-Chief. Winter Park, Florida.