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The Lover's Journey

An Interview with Michael Gurian

Copyright © 1993, 1997 by Bert H. Hoff

This article appeared in the October 1993 issue of M.E.N. Magazine

Michael Gurian is author of The Prince and the King and facilitator of the Inland Men’s Evolvement Network in Spokane. He will be in Seattle to give his Lover’s Journey seminar the weekend of October 23rd and 24th. Bert took the opportunity to have a streamside chat with him among the towering redwoods of Mendocino.




Michael Gurian




Love's Journey
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The Wonder of Boys
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Other books and tapes by Michael Gurian
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Bert: You're coming to town to do your Lover's Journey seminar. Before we get into that, tell us what has been happening with your work with The Prince and the King?

Michael: What I am finding is a lot of men getting involved in making the journey from being the Prince to being a King, making the journey from adult adolescence to true mature masculinity. This seems to be going on all around the country. I'm very happy to have been able make my own modest contribution.

Specifically, I'm finding men are keying in on how the King now needs to start relating to the woman, the Queen, the Goddess. How the King, as he develops, can mirror and get mirrored by what the Goddess is doing as she develops.

I find especially women who have looked at Clarissa Estés’ book, Women Who Run with the Wolves, and men who have looked at The Prince and the King say, "Wow, what a great connection between being a King and being a wild woman!" It works really, really well.

Bert: As soon as we say "King", people say, "Patriarch", or "Male Dominance", or that we are going to find new ways to have power to continue our old patriarchal ways. What do we do when people say "Patriarch"?

Michael: We have to understand that the male and female bodies are built differently. This is a large part of the early material in the Lover's Journey Seminar.

Our hormones are different. Our brains are built in a different way. Most of the socialization that has gone on over the ages has created gender differences that have been set up to support and nurture the positive differences, and to help us work together. What we call "patriarchy" should really be called "The pre-modern human survival system". It started out because life was very difficult and because males and females were built differently and had different responsibilities in order to ensure human survival. Females had to have kids every year in order for the culture to survive. They were losing six, eight, nine kids out of twelve. They took control of a community's inner circle; the men took control of the community's connection with outer environment, other tribes, intertribal commerce, and so on. The males dominated the social system, the females dominated the family system.

What we now call "male dominance" or, with negative intonation, "patriarchy," has gone on for millions of years. It is something that was created, with all the best intentions, by both men and women. It was meant to nurture everyone and give everyone what they needed.

Starting about 2500 years ago, and accelerating after the middle ages, that pre-modern human survival system became overwhelmingly repressive of Goddess culture and Goddess energy. It got profoundly out of balance. Cultural historians had to name this archetypal crisis and, because of a number of circumstances, the whole crisis got dubbed "patriarchy."

I find many people these days live in a myth that there was once a time when we had gender equality, which our workplace-oriented culture defines as: a time when men and women equally ruled economics, politics and social interaction. People who hold this view have co-opted what we know about real Goddess cultures and projected their own political aims onto that information, arguing that Goddess cultures were "gender equal," and therefore, we have a model, in the past, for the kind of gender-equality we want now. That model would be more female led than male, they say, and it would throw out the "patriarchy."

The fact is, there's never been a monolithic culture like ours that wanted the kind of gender equality we want. There has not been a high population, high density culture whose intertribal interaction was ruled by the feminine or ruled in gender equality. Some smaller tribal cultures were matriarchal and matrilineal, but they were nothing like the monolithic cultures we have now. Once population grew, even cultures that were matriarchal became patriarchal or male led, because it was the males who were needed to protect and defend as the population incursions were threatening community survival. "Male domination" of outer circles, of inter-tribal law and commerce, of military and of society-building through rock, mortar, and brick construction--this has always been.

Over the last few hundred years especially, that male domination has become destructive to women and to men. It has taught women they are worthless because they have no inter-tribal or workplace power. It has taught men they are worthless when they seek something other than inter-tribal or workplace power. We all agree it is no longer a functional system.

One of the worst things the Modern Human Survival System has done is underestimate female power to build community. It was the women, with all the evidence we have, who probably brought the men in from the hunt, and taught the men agriculture ten thousand to eight thousand years ago. It was the women who were much of the reason that we are monogamous. Women have an incredible power around monogamy. It is the sexual strategy of the female to be monogamous. That strategy has a deep and wonderful control over our culture. Any culture, like ours, which creates a survival system that denigrates one sex's way of doing community is set for a grave crisis. Ours is in it now. And once again, women are the forefront of pushing for change.

But we must be clear on what we are all doing, and what our cultural birthright really is. To move into the next millenium hating all things male because we hate "patriarchy" and loving all things female because we love "the Goddess" is counter-productive. Realistic political empowerment comes from recognizing that the gender equality we want has never existed. We are about to create an evolutionary mutation in social functions as significant as Monogamy was thousands of years ago.

Bert: There's a book, Gregory Max Vogt's Like Father, Like Son, that identifies, breaks out, and honors the positive aspects of patriarchy.

Michael: It's a valuable book. We're going to throw the baby out with the bathwater if we don't pay attention to books like that.

Bert: There's a lot of talk recently about the Royal Marriage, the coming-together of the Sacred King and the Sacred Queen. Is this a part of the work you're doing with couples?

Michael: Definitely. In the Lover's Journey paradigm, what is called royal marriage, or the Divine Coupleship, in archetypal terms, occupies stages 7 through 9. It's something we get to after we get through six other stages of growth.

Bert: How would King and Queen come together into Royal Marriage.

Michael: Well, let's look at two models: the tribal and the poly-cultural (our own).

In the tribal model, young males and females, before they come to the royal marriage, are brought to know who they are, through a communal effort of wisdom-teaching and modeling. They learn what their role is going to be. And these roles are hopefully not deeply limiting roles, these are nurturing roles, for both men and women. In this model, when we reach adolescence and get initiated into mature manhood, mature womanhood, we know who we are, how we're built, and what our role will be. Think of "role" in an expansive way. We're initiated into the whole life journey of becoming a King and Queen.

We're also initiated into a mature phase of deep respect for the other. Among the Shavanti in Brazil, for instance, when the boys and girls are separated one of their primary lessons is respect for the other. If they say anything disrespectful of the other during a four year period, they are ritually humiliated before the community.

After years of initiation, young male and female marry, under the watchful eye of all. By the time there is marriage, it is usually not based on the romantic ideal, but on how the community will be served by the marriage. The understanding is that the royal marriage aspect, the King and Queen, is not going to completely come into fruition for another ten or twenty years. But the couple has enough sense of Self and Role to bring up their future kids to feel safe.

You'll notice I'm putting emphasis on the kids. I'm taking the emphasis off of a man and a woman spending sixty years of their lives searching for the right soul-mate to mirror them and make them feel narcissistically good. In most cultures we came together to make kids. If, ten to twenty years later, the man and woman say, "You know, I really love you. In the beginning I didn't, but now we have become one," that is wonderful. But it's not necessary.

In the tribal model, all of the first stages, the infatuation, the disappointments, the power struggle, the awakening to selfhood, how to resolve conflict, a lot of the stuff that precedes the royal marriage, is substantially processed before you're 18 or 19 years old. By the time you have kids, you have a certain ability to do interdependent partnership based on roles. That's a tribal vision of it. In some ways, it is better than ours, mainly because it acknowledges that the spiritual work of being human is not based in romance but in ritual structure.

The reality of our culture is that we do not grow up in safe families, with the extended family around. We do not have a lot of models of what a man or woman should be. We grow up into very limited roles which disempower each other. We do not get initiated. We get to be 15 or 20 years old and start experimenting. We are given the romantic ideal without the foundation of initiation into adulthood. We're given the romantic ideal that we should become one with another person during our Puer (Jungian term for adolescent) time, between 15 and 25 years old. We're supposed to find a life dream and a life journey, of who we should be, and we should fall in love with a woman or man to mirror that.

That's a very narcissistic way of doing things! In many of our marriage ceremonies, the priest, minister, or rabbi says, "You've become one". That's a terrible myth! Because we haven't. That's not the royal marriage. We must grow into becoming one.

The wonderful thing we have that tribal culture does not have is a sense of individuality. In tribes, being an individual is a small thing, low on the priority list. In our culture it's number one. We're young. We're just now trying to find ways of recreating family and social systems to accomodate this wonder we have, this individualism.

At the same time, in our romance with individualism, we've got love very confused. We need to figure out the stages of intimacy again. We need to come back and say, number one, let's initiate and teach everyone much better before they're fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen. Number two, let's take the deep romantic ideal that we can become one out of the Puer time. Let's put it where it ought to go, which is the royal marriage time, the divine couple time, which is when you're more mature. Number three, let's find a spiritually based structure of partnership that allows us to develop ourselves and be there for our mates at the same time. Let's bring together the best of the tribal model with the best of the individualism in the polycultural model.

Right now, partners in our marriages and significant-other relationships are acting out the archetypal schism our whole culture is in around the issue of how to redefine human individuation to be a combined, balanced spiritual journey of individualism and family consciousness. We as men and women are locked in relationships that war between independence and dependence. We cannot develop a royal marriage, between a mature Queen and King--we cannot, in other words, develop into interdependent coupleships--unless we find a life-structure through which to meld our personal spiritual journeys with the instinctual call to mate and have children. That kind of life-structure will be one that equally understands and honors our individual quests and our interpersonal, family structures. It will be a spiritual structure that combines, in balance, the tribal and polycultural--if it didn't do that, it wouldn't work in our time. The key to it would be, I believe, a model of the seasons and stages of intimacy, seen as archetypal structure.

Bert: Okay, let's lay the framework for the four seasons and twelve stages of the Lover's Journey, especially as it pertains to intimacy between women and men. You've enticed us. Tell us about this Journey.

Michael: The Lover's Journey is divided into four seasons--Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter--and twelve stages. The four seasons, by the way, are founded very much in the East Indian view of the seasons of life. Stage one of the first season of relationship is, of course, infatuation. Stage two is disappointment. Stage three is power struggle. These comprise the first season, Spring. Most of our relationships right now are locked in these first three stages. Some of us need to be eternally infatuated. Some of us need to be eternally disappointed. Some of us need to be eternally in power struggle. We don't know what else to do, so we get locked into the Spring Season. The "cult of youth" patterns. Puer patterns. Immature patterns. We get locked here especially because our culture, at this time in its development, does an inadequate job of initiating us into a path of intimacy with 12 stages in it. It initiates us into a path with these three stages in it, and leaves us lost in power-struggle.

Bert: I think we need to clarify something here. I need to recognize that some Spring stuff is still going to be coming up in the Fall and Winter of my life.

Michael: Oh definitely. This is not a rigid paradigm. It's just like my attitude toward archetypes. My attitude is that they are deep metaphors and that we don't have to believe that they are a rigid religion. Same thing here. This is a model that I have discovered from studying mythology and tribal cultures around the world for 15 years, living in those cultures, teaching in them, learning in them, both as a boy in India and on the Southern Ute reservation and a man in Turkey. I've discovered the Lover's Journey as a combination of the rules, roles and empowerment parts of which have been lost in our culture because we've forgotten our past, and parts of which are just beginning to form as we form that new mutation in the consciousness of mating and intimacy that we mentioned earlier.

The second season is summer. There is a solstice, something that goes on in the soul, before we move into summer. And we know it. One of us, if we're in a coupled relationship, wakes up. Awakening is stage four, the beginning of the second season. What we awake to is our need to create an independent Self or Identity. Season one is about the many ways to be dependent on others, from mom to dad to mate for our identity. Season two is about independence.

Bert: Power struggle is followed by awakening.

Michael: Exactly. It's usually just one of us who wakes up in stage 4 to the need for spiritual independence. Sometimes, by some freak both go to a lecture or read a book that wakes both up. For a long time it has been women that woke up. Now more men are waking up and finding their wives are asleep in dependency with father. That's the stage four, the beginning of summer, the awakening. It's incredible when it happens.

Bert: There is something fascinating here. As we men get into our Men's Work we double the chances that someone in that couple will wake up.

Michael: Exactly. We double the chance! Since awakening is also, often, followed by divorce, the chances of family crisis are doubled too by so many men awakening. Part of what my seminars teach is that there are other ways. We can awaken without divorce. It's crucial we learn how to.

The summer season is the season of being out there in the heat, and looking at what it's like to be independent. I use summer here because I think it's organic. Something happens to us in the summer. We feel a certain independence coming on.

So, in the summer season, after stage 4 awakening comes your first conscious descent. This is where the hero's journey and heroine's journey comes in. The first conscious descent is your hero's journey or your heroine's journey.

For women, the conscious descent, the heroine's journey, that must be made if the Queen is to become independent of old dependency patterns very often involves a confrontation with father, father who was so distant and so absent. Women bring their projections about Dad to the men in their lives.

One of the things that men do, in stage five, is descend to father, but more and more men are descending to mother. They're making a deep descent under the earth to mother. And they're saying, "I have to deal with my dependency on mother, I must become independent of that, or I project mother out to my wife." And most of us do this mommy projection, at some point! We like to think that we don't because we're these big distant men, but we're projecting mom. When we project mom, we get afraid of women and we pull away. So, we're in this push me - pull me relationship with women. As they ask for more love we say, "Get away, get away, get away!" We're saying, "Every time you ask me for love, you're just like my Mom, clinging to me." We've got to descend into that. And when we do, that's stage five. It's in the middle of the summer season. And as we descend to a confrontation with Mother, the Goddess energy that created us, we do a hell of a lot of important gender work around the female. We make our psychological break from mother not to hate women but to separate ourselves from our dependency on them so we can know how to see them as individuals, and love who they are without our own negative projections.

Bert: I don't want to lose a thread of something that is very important. One of women's criticisms of Men's Work, and one that many men are owning here at this Mendicino conference, is that we're not looking at our relationships with our daughters and what is that going to do for the future women of the world.

Michael: Yes. I have two daughters. So I can speak to that from personal experience. Our relationship with them needs to be a profoundly intimate one. We have our own, Kingly style of intimacy. As much as men can get in there and hug and kiss and hold these little girls, they need to do that.

We need to help them with their initiations. We need to talk honestly with them about sex. We have to protect them against their mother's abuses, against the abuses of others around them as much as we can. And then at some point we need to nurture their independence. The stages of the Lovers Journey are not just for intimate couples. They work between parents and kids too. We have an infatuation with our kids. And then we're disappointed, and then we get in power struggle. Right? And our kid awakens, or we awaken. With daughters, we have to let them awaken, and we must awaken, and we have to be absolutely as nurturing as possible, so that they won't project a bad dad onto their husbands. And so that they can have good relationships later.

Bert: An experience that I'm hearing from a lot of women is that as the daughter blossoms into her sexuality, many fathers just simply withdraw. It is as if it's not appropriate to hug and kiss anymore, to recognize their sensual being coming into existence. So many women seem to pick up a major wound at that point.

Michael: Definitely. Three things are going on. One is that the man is afraid of the feminine, and you know, that's a whole other interview about the Goddess and why we're so afraid of the feminine and try to crush it so. We're especially afraid of feminine sexual energy, because it will consume us--it's cellular, hormonal power over us utterly confuses us.

The second is, we don't know what appropriate male/female boundaries are in our changing polyculture. Remember, we were not initiated into this as males. No one told us how we were supposed to respect the feminine and deal with the feminine. And here comes our daughter moving into the feminine.

Number three, we withdraw simply because part of the King is built to encourage our children's independence and development by giving them a lot of space, space they may not get from the Queen. But we misinterpret how much space they need too often, and we pull too far away. So we have to monitor that. We have to be as involved as our daughter wants us to be. We can ask the child through words, or motions, if she still wants us to hug her. She may not for a year or two. But that's OK. Or maybe she still does. Then, we need to hug her. We need to believe that our own self discipline and her self discipline are trustworthy, and that encouraging her independence will work out fine. And when it doesn't, we communicate with her. "What's going on for you?" And she communicates with us.

Bert: Returning to The Lover's Journey, we were in the middle of the heat of summer.

Michael: Okay. So, the first conscious descent is made, the bulk of the hero's journey or heroine's journey takes place. It probably takes years, sometimes decades in a person's life. Some people never move beyond it.

It is stage five intimacy and again, remember that first conscious descent is made by an initiate in a tribal culture when he is separating from mom, in that early adolescent period. He goes on vision quests, walkabouts. He separates for those four years in the Shavanti tribe. That's a conscious descent that he makes to discover his independence and who he is. In our culture, this doesn't occur often until men hit mid-life crisis, or when a woman's kids are out of the house, or after a divorce, and then we wake up, and make the descent. It lasts a number of years.

We come out of that descent hopefully ready for the Dance of Swords. The Dance of Swords is stage six. We are able to say, "I have discovered who I am." Now we are ready, as two beings who have explored both their dependency and their independence; beings who have worked out their stuff around Mom and Dad; beings who have left behind most of that family pain and dysfunction, and now arrived at the next stage of mature manhood and womanhood--we are ready to do the important skill work of learning how to communicate and conflict. We are, of course, trying to do this all along. But it actually doesn't occur with the most effectiveness until after we have both developed a Self. Because then I have developed a lot of my King, you have developed a lot of your Queen, and now we really know what instructions to give the Warriors within us. Until this point, most of our deepest interactions around conflict are about our needs to control each other, not necessarily to be intimate with each other. There's difference, right? In stage six, we begin to build working intimacy systems, realizing our previous systems of relationship to have been control systems, at base.

As and after we learn the skills by which we can truly make the dance of swords, the dance of intimacy, THEN we start coming to the place of royal marriage, which comprises the third season, and its three stages.

We've gone through being dependent on others to feel safe in the world. We've gone through power struggle, through awakening. We've gone through having to be independent of others to feel safe in the world. We've descended. We've developed a Self. We've done the skill work. We know we will continue that, but we've gotten the basics. Now we're ready to develop a real interdependent partnership.

The royal marriage happens in the Fall, as we're ready to harvest, and to appreciate the beauty of changefulness, non-rigidity, seasonality. We're ready to sit out in that slight breeze in the trees together, man and woman, woman and man, knowing who we are, enjoying each other's presence, and bringing a few young people in to teach them what we've learned. We know it's Fall and there is a certain pulling toward the Winter, which gives us a sense of urgency to teach, as a mentor now, how to do partnership. We must remember that in our culture, we often go into the third season in our second or third marriage. We get a lot of the first two seasons done in our first marriage, for instance, and the few years of painful growth that follow it, then fall in love again, move through the early stages quickly, and get to interdependence within the first year or two of marriage. I sometimes see this.

And we also have to remember that few of us really do get to true interdependence. Our culture doesn't teach us to get here. Most of us repeat control system patterns in all our marriages, never getting beyond the war between our urge to depend and be independent.

Fall, the season of Partnership, has three stages. Stage one is interdependent partnership. Stage two is the second conscious descent. And the couple now, who have been in a royal marriage and developed interdependent partnership, gone through the skill work, at some point in this season go through a descent together. Something happens to them. Parents die, a kid dies, some tragedy occurs. One of them, by some terrible mistake, sleeps with someone else, or does something that is really anomalous. Just because we're in interdependent partnership doesn't mean we don't make mistakes!

You have to go through a descent now, and you go through it together. You're not in that early stage when you didn't know who you were. You know who you are, you made a mistake, and you get into counseling together. You deal with the death of a child. You grieve. Whatever it is you make another descent and this one you make hand in hand.

Then, after going through that, we often find that this partnership has become so strong we get to stage 9, what I call the Reunion of Goddess and God. We often find interdependent partners do incredible work for the Earth now. They work for Habitat for Humanity, as Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter did. They really get into devoting incredible time to the community. They're both doing PTA, not just one of them. Or, they are both involved in whatever is good for the community and the Earth. This often happens here in a different way than it happened ten years ago when, of necessity, one of them was doing Little League, and the other was doing some other thing. They come into a place where they have such common interests, they are doing stuff together. They are really living as Queen and King, as equal partners and others can see it. You've seen it, you know what I mean.

Bert: Yes.

Michael: Then we move into the last season, Winter. The kids are quite grown by now. The Winter season is the season of detachment or, we could say, non-attachment, depending on whether we want to use language from sanskrit, ancient chinese, or another tradition that talks at length about this season.

It's a detachment from the world, in an attempt to get ready for death. That doesn't mean we're dying. We could be eighty years old and just flourishing. I'm talking about the soul starting to look toward death for spiritual work.

The first stage of Winter is the search for solitude. The soul finally learns what solitude is. We think we know it at thirty or forty. We have good solitude, I don't want to diminish it, but when I talk to a Grandfather or Grandmother who has entered that stage of solitude, I have to respect that solitude as very different from what I know at thirty or forty.

The next stage of winter is the Third Conscious Descent. We descend here into pain and grief because a partner dies. Or the death of a child occurs. It could be the death of a great friend. It doesn't have to be death. My own physical decay could send me and my partnership into this descent. Sometimes grandparenting in our culture is a kind of descent, because grandparents have to go back and look at how they parented. They think they are getting a blissful second chance, but we shouldn't fool ourselves. They're descending into a lot of their old pain in how they brought up their own kids.

Then the last stage of winter is Initiation into Cosmic Consciousness. As older people approach death, they are being initiated into a different consciousness. Our culture sees only the shadow side of death, and avoids it as much as possible. If we look at a culture that really integrates death we know that detaching from life and connecting with death is actually life and death together. We use the word detachment because we are detaching from incredible youthful surges of energy, many of them hormonal, that keep us away from solitude. We're detaching from that so we can now concentrate on this mystery, this cosmic consciousness that we're about to enter. That's the last stage.

Bert: Clarissa Estés says in her tape, The Radiant Coat, that death is not a partner that we meet at the end of our lives, but death is a partner who joins us as we begin life.

Michael: Yes. Death holds our hand all the way through life. Our detachment in stage 12, the last stage of Winter, is a detachment from but also an attachment to this invisible life-friend, death. We must understand that the detachment we're talking about here is not detachment from living life to the fullest, playing tennis if we can, taking long hikes, grandparenting. And it's not a detachment that says death is superior to life, or, as many religious traditions believe, that we're going to detach from this life and go to the REAL life. It's all one cycle. But the psyche and soul need to go through the stage of soul-detachment. It's the final stage of human initiation into the Lover's Journey.

Think of why we feel it is so tragic when someone dies in an accident, and we feel it is less tragic when a person who is eighty dies. I think our souls know that the person who has died in an accident was robbed of the full initiation of dying. He or she was robbed of detachment, robbed of going through the process and stages of the lover's journey that bring you to death. Whereas with the older person, we're sad and have a lot of grief, but we say, "OK, go on your journey." The soul knows he or she at least had a chance.

Bert: Thanks for laying out the stages for us. What do you see as the value for the participants and for the world in people doing The Lover's Journey?

Michael: For me the values are that you gain a deepened spiritual, sociological and psychological understanding of who you are, what you want from intimacy, how to get it, and how in turn to use your intimate relationships to nurture the world.

If you are not in an intimate relationship, you discover new relationship paths. If you are in one now, you renew your intimacy, you renew that relationship under new light. Often people who do the Lover's Journey seminar say things like, "This is the first time I've seen the life-journey defined in a way that empowers me for my whole life, and yet empowers my relationships too."

Ultimately, if individuals and couples find a way to commingle their personal and interpersonal needs so that life-long partnerships can form, and hold, and nourish their families, they discover that not only they, but the community, and the world benefit. The more we define ourselves in healthy ways and heal our coupled relationships, the more the society heals, and grows.

More interviews

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