I often find myself whining during this time of the year as winter’s dormant colors…its various hues of yellows and browns…stir up a visual yearning for the greens of spring.
This impatience with Mother Earth’s slumber…this “gaikan“…this outward judgmental direction upon the external world that feeds a delusional belief, “life would be better only if you change…” has been silenced with an acceptance that it is not Mother Earth’s nature to bend to my will and an intention to open myself to the various elements of photo composition she offers to my wandering eye.
My eyes first were attracted to the repeating patterns of the building and then to the repeating patterns of the yellow strips within the curve of the trail. Then a gift…a runner whose figure completed the image. Her greeting and smile were icing on the cake.
To join in the fun of learning and applying various elements of photography hop on over to Travel’s Words and “Shoot from a different perspective. Look up, look down or shoot from a distance.”
Cupid’s desire to remain unseen by his beloved tells us that, while romantic love eases separateness and loneliness, it also aggravates fears of exposure, rejection, and vulnerability. To limit the expression of love to physical passion suggests that romantic love cannot exist in a light that exposes the true, less-than-perfect self to the other. The wish to shield or keep the “true” self hidden from the other instead leads to a loss of self and a relationship tainted by mistrust and anxiety. Ultimately, the feeling of ecstatic love fades and there is an awakening to the reality that the lovers are, once again, separate people.
In concrete terms, he wants to have sex; she doesn’t. She wants to spend Christmas with her family, he doesn’t. He wants a new car; she wants a house. She wants to talk about her feelings; he wants to watch the football game. She doesn’t like his friends; he doesn’t like hers. So both of them, in the privacy of their own hearts, realize that their beloved has and will continue to have individual opinions, tastes, prejudices, and shortcomings. Gradually or suddenly, they fall out of love and either find a way to end the relationship, remain with the other with a secret hope that ecstatic love will return, or begin taking steps to build a new relationship defined by mature love.
Attaining Mature Love
It is through the interactions between Venus and Psyche that we identify the tasks that lead to mature love. Venus knew that Psyche began her search for Cupid because she was in love, not with Cupid, but with idealized romantic love. Growth for Psyche was the awakening to all of life — from the gods and goddesses of the heavens to the smallest creatures on earth — and the consciousness of an interdependence among all of these elements. Maturity requires the ability and will to sort through the seeds of family beliefs, values, and principles so that childhood myths and illusions about relationships can be discarded.
To love is to extend ourselves beyond our fear of being vulnerable to seek the good we each desire within ourselves and in the other. To have our love endure, there is a need to develop the strength and resources to survive times of famine. To love another is to relinquish the hope that the other will be our idealized beloved; therefore, mature love rises like a Phoenix from the ashes of lost illusions.
Mature love began for Cupid when he resolved his ambivalence about leaving his childhood home. Legend also tells us that when Venus tired of Cupid’s immaturity, she released him from his only-child status through the birth of his brother, Anteros, the god of reciprocal love. Therefore, love that lasts requires an acknowledgement that adult relationships are independent of those we have with parents, children, and friends. Mature love does not grow from a posture of dependency and physical appearances; it builds upon the growing autonomy of each so that one will survive the death of the other. To love another is to relinquish the intention to change the beloved. Mature love arises from the death of belief in one’s own god-like powers as it flies towards the future on autonomous wings.
What can the story of Cupid and Psyche tell us about how to live “happily ever after”? Their story demonstrates that romantic love begins with idealized passions and physical attraction. And yet, it is only through the commitment of each lover to a process of integrating the internal awareness of love and soul individually that a mature union can emerge between them. It is mature love that provides children with a model by which to develop future relationships. Therefore, it is mature love that lives happily ever after — in the generations yet to come
Psyche, with the assistance of ants, a reed, and an eagle, completed three of the four tasks: sorting out a huge pile of seeds, filling a flask from the river Styx, and retrieving the Golden Fleece. The final task, returning from the Land of the Dead with a box containing some of Proserpine’s beauty, was accomplished with the help of Cupid himself after he left his mother’s home. And thus, this love story ends with Cupid and Psyche being officially married and living happily ever after among the gods and goddesses of Olympus.
The Characters and What They Represent
Venus, goddess of love and beauty, symbolizes the attributes of romantic love. Mortal men worship her at a distance by creating families, homes, and communities. She tells us that to love is to feel and that her presence is much like the ebb and flow of the earth’s tides. She teaches us that love believes she is entitled to admiration, commitment, and nourishment. Therefore, love is both vulnerable to and powerless over her perceptions of disloyalty, loneliness, and abandonment. Love is not immune to feelings of jealousy and rage. Love empowered by anger strives to correct a wrong; love intensified by jealousy seeks to reestablish her honored position. She alone is unable to control, define, or foresee the destiny of mortals. Thus, Venus’ powerlessness to change Psyche and mortal men within the first love triangle of this story gave birth to a second — Venus, Cupid, and Psyche.
Cupid, symbol of love, often is depicted as a beautiful winged and blindfolded adolescent. Mortals know there is no defense, either in heaven or on earth, against the ecstatic feeling of falling in love. Falling in love releases one from the haunting emptiness of being alone. Cupid’s arrow releases the expression of one’s deepest feelings and secret thoughts while suspending any concern about the less-than-perfect qualities of the beloved. There is an illusion that the newness of love and the desired attributes of the other will remain the same forever and ever.
When Cupid’s arrow pierces an adolescent’s heart, it also punctures the bindings of the childhood family. The arrow within this story tells us that young love creates an awareness of and focus upon life outside the family home, with a consequent emotional emptiness within that home. Parental reactivity to this familial emptiness delineates love as an attack upon and rebellion against family unity and togetherness. Thus, as Apollo’s oracle foretold, what emerges is a fearful beast, characterized by Venus as the “vilest and most despicable creature in the world.”
Psyche, symbol of the soul, gives form to idealized love. Idealized love awakens the human awareness of a life apart from self and family. She conveys the hope that somewhere on Mother Earth walks each person’s destined soul mate. Therefore, idealized love only needs to sit in wait for fate to deliver the experience of being passionately admired. She creates the myth that, without effort, one will have a life of perfect harmony. Idealized love foretells the birth of a union in which each will both live for and meet the other’s deepest desires. She illustrates how humans seek knowledge that serves to enlighten us about life’s meaning, purpose, and direction. She tells us that this awakening oftentimes is like a death when it defies a family’s spoken and unspoken myths, themes, and beliefs.
Foreseeing the intensity of Psyche’s loneliness, her unseen husband knew the day would come when she would wish to have contact with her family. He reminded Psyche of his gift to her of their home and eased her mind regarding questions and doubts she had about him and their marriage. He spoke of his fear that her family would persuade her to violate his one request that she not set eyes upon him and implored that she be content with this arrangement. He warned her that their relationship would be destroyed if she were to be unfaithful to his request and perceive his being.
A Tearful Homecoming
When Psyche saw her two sisters, with tears of grief in their eyes, standing at the summit where she had been carried away by the wind, she went to them with joy in her heart. To comfort their sorrow and uncertainty, she described her beautiful home and told them of her marriage. Yet, feelings of anxiety and mistrust arose within her as she heard her sisters tell of how the oracle described her husband as a winged serpent whose appearance was appalling to the human eye. Doubts began to overshadow her husband’s declarations of love as her sisters questioned why she had never seen her husband and asked why she had only been with him in darkness. Eventually, terror filled her heart with the belief that she was to be devoured by her husband in the dark of night. Psyche’s sisters persuaded her to see her husband for the monster they thought him to be and to kill him so that she might live.
Betrayal, Regret, and Recompense
Soon afterward, within the darkness of her home, Psyche stood beside her sleeping husband with a lighted candle in one hand and a knife in another. As she held the candle high above him, rapture filled her heart as she saw that her husband was not a hideous serpent, but rather the strikingly beautiful god of love, Cupid. As she bent to be closer to her husband, a drop of hot wax fell upon Cupid’s shoulder and wakened him. When he saw his wife standing above him, his belief that she had been unfaithful caused him to flee their home, crying, “Love cannot live where there is no trust.”
Psyche, torn by her failure to trust the god of love, set out alone on a journey to find him. She was determined to make herself so lovely that he would fall in love with her once more. After a long futile search, she reasoned that Cupid had gone to his mother’s home and so she arranged to meet with Venus, the goddess of love. She stood before the goddess and pleaded with her to help her reunite with her husband. To demonstrate her worthiness to reunite with Cupid, an immortal being, the scheming Venus set out four tasks for Psyche to accomplish, tasks so challenging that no mortal could accomplish them alone.
Once upon a time when the world was young, mortals believed that all elements in the heavens and on the earth were connected. Humans saw that while a breeze silently and gently guided a leaf in its autumn journey, their dance — silently and gently — also altered the sojourn of the breeze. They saw gods and goddesses in the heavens, in the seasons’ passing, in the forests’ life and sounds, and in the seas’ thunderous waves. They understood these supreme beings as powerful presences, each defined by unique attributes and limited by human-like frailties. Gradually, shared stories told of how life’s challenges and triumphs were affected by and affecting the moods of, squabbles between, and relationships among the gods and goddesses.
It is during this time that we first hear the love story of Cupid and Psyche, a young god and a mortal female. This story begins when Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, learns that her temples were in a state of neglect, the fires in her altars had turned to cold ashes, and her favorite towns had been abandoned. She heard that mortal men were journeying from everywhere to the childhood home of Psyche, a mere maiden, to gaze upon and admire her beauty and grace. In a jealous rage, Venus ordered her son, Cupid, to use his powers to make Psyche fall madly in love with the vilest and most despicable creature in the world.
Marriage and Mourning
Thus it came to be that when Cupid looked upon the beautiful Psyche, he fell passionately in love. It was as though he had pierced his own heart with one of his arrows. The intensity of his infatuation left him so stunned that he was unable to comply with his mother’s request. He instead sought the advice and comfort of Apollo, the god of truth, for his heart was heavy with the knowledge that his love for Psyche was an act of silent disobedience and disloyalty to his mother.
Through the years, mortal men continued to pay homage to the exquisite beauty and grace of Psyche. Yet, she did not fall in love and was not loved by any mortal man. Her father’s distress about Psyche’s unmarried state and questionable future led to his seeking an audience with Apollo’s oracle. With great despair, he heard that his daughter was destined to marry a fearful winged serpent. With feelings of sadness and helplessness, the family arranged for Psyche to be dressed in deep mourning, took her to the summit of a rocky hill, and ordered her to wait for the being that was to make her his wife.
Psyche stood alone at the top of the hill, unable to do other than what her family had bidden. She was frozen with terror and convinced that her death was imminent. Sobs of anguish and despair echoed through the silence of the valley as a sweet and gentle wind wrapped itself around her and lifted her up to the heavens. It is said that she regained consciousness in a magical place of abundance and beauty.
Abiding with an Unseen Lover
Each morning as the sun roused the morning pastels of dawn, Psyche would awakened to find herself alone in her new home. She would smile enchantingly, knowing that this day would bestow upon her all her earthly desires. Yet, if you were to enter her dressing room unnoticed, you would soon see her smile tightening with resignation and self-reproach. Feelings of loneliness filled the emptiness within her, for she knew that, from this day forward, she would find her companionship not with a family member or friend, but rather with a shadowy being.
Psyche set out each day committed to be grateful that her family was no longer embarrassed that no man had asked for her hand in marriage. As she was only a mortal woman, she saw no choice other than what had been preordained by Apollo’s oracle. She came to realize that when the sun’s light no longer touched the western sky, her feelings of turmoil and loneliness would be soothed. For it was during the darkness of the night when an unseen presence that she believed to be her husband would lay alongside her, only to be gone by morning.