Friday, February 5, 2010

The Women in His Dreams

Although I may have implied it yesterday, anima and animus do not act solely as signposts, indicating where we need to experience growth. They also act as bridges, showing us how to get there. For instance, a woman dreams of a man taking the lead to build consensus in a corporate board meeting and his efforts are rewarded. She awakens and realizes she wants to be a stronger presence in family matters. She could move toward dominance or, as the dream indicates, strive to include everyone in the decision-making process. The animus demonstrates how creating connections within the "board" will likely result in positive outcomes.

In the male psyche, the anima is concerned with meaning and purpose, bridging the gulf between a man and his feeling function. You've heard it said, no man on his deathbed wishes he'd spent more time working. Well, the anima helps direct his energy toward those things that matter most to him. She shows him where he can find fulfillment and what makes life worth living. Such things may not always seem reasonable, but that doesn't render them irrational.

Rational decision-making is a process based on the comparison of criteria. When we make decisions based on feeling, we're comparing values and allowing them to be the deciding factors. Feeling-based decisions are not equivalent to ones based on emotion. Emotion is a biological phenomenon that represents our response to a stimulus. It might be an environmental one, such as a child dashing out into the street or an internal one, such as the awareness of a headache. Feeling, as we're using the word here, refers to our awareness that something truly matters to us. The more strongly we "feel" about something, the stronger are our convictions about it. In values-based decisions, reason follows feeling, not the other way around.

The problem is, we men are so accustomed to living on the basis of logic and common sense (perhaps it would be better to say, we're so accustomed to living "in our heads"), that it's hard to allow ourselves permission to stake a claim based on feeling. Furthermore, we may not recognize feeling when it presents itself. Enter the anima. In dreams, film, books, or through real women, she shows us how to let go of having to control or explain everything. She says, in essence, "This is what you care about, now go after it."

For example, in a very real way, my decision to pursue medical school was derived from the feeling that nothing else would do. Logically, it was far more reasonable to accept the PsyD admission which I had been offered. I'd be done in four years and could begin working as soon as I'd completed my internship. Five years, tops. But it wasn't the right thing and that's what made the difference.

The remake of The Jazz Singer (1980) gives us wonderful images of both positive and negative anima figures. Neil Diamond's character, Jess Rabinovitch aka Jess Robin, is a cantor in a synogogue in New York City who dreams of becoming a popular entertainer. Late at night he sits at the kitchen table with his guitar, writing songs from his heart. His wife, Rivka, doesn't understand and tries to convince him he's happy where he is, telling him he shouldn't waste his life on music that "doesn't mean anything." Both negative anima and animus figures can represent resistance to growth and change. Rivka symbolizes Jess's inner struggle with loyalty to his heritage, a theme that recurs throughout the film.

By a happy set of circumstances, Jess finds himself in California where he gets a break and an opportunity to perform. Molly, a woman he's met who takes on the role of his agent, understands his motivation and believes in his potential. She encourages him to refuse to give up when things look bleak.
She helps Jess bridge the gulf that exists between himself as the bearer of family tradition and the man he wishes to become. She helps him bring both halves of himself together in a way that is creative and satisfying.

Men who possess an affirming relationship with the anima tend to be far happier than those who ignore her urgings. There is a peace between the man within and the one without. They tend to be more stable, less given to moodiness, and more capable of giving generously to those around them. Women are fond of such men because they perceive they have direction, a sense of purpose, and are willing to make sacrifices to achieve their dreams.
While some writers have described the anima as a type of muse or inspiration, in my experience she far more formidable. She is the energy that integrates what we think with what we feel, who we are with what we can be, leading us toward wholeness.

(Creative Commons Image by Tim Yates via Flickr)

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