It probably isn’t quite fair to give a book four stars rather than five simply because I couldn’t understand all of it, but that’s what I’m doing. I think if I read it again, I would absorb more of it, partly because there’s so much there and it takes a while to percolate and make sense to me, and partly because I had very little exposure to Jungian psychology before reading this book, so the language was a little inaccessible to me at first.
Some of the take-home messages I got from Addiction to Perfection:
-We are each, man and woman, made up of masculine and feminine sides of our psyche. The masculine side is the intellectual side, and it’s also the side that strives for order and control. The feminine side is based in the body and the earth, and it’s more intuitive. Neither is better or worse than the other, but if they get out of balance in our selves and/or in society, weird, off-kilter things happen (neuroses, if I’m understanding the vocabulary correctly).
-The impulse toward perfection is the result of an imbalance toward the masculine side. The “cure” is to awaken the feminine side, build trust with it, and bring it out to help integrate the psyche.
-Perfection is static, unlike life which is constantly changing and moving. Therefore, perfection is more closely related to death than it is to life, and the pursuit of perfection can be seen as the unconscious pursuit of death.
-When we begin the transition from an overly masculine psyche to a more integrated and balanced psyche, we can expect to pass through turmoil and fear before we attain the balance and peace on the other side.
This book was very well-timed for me. The practice of shifting my focus from my mind and the intellectual, with which I am most comfortable, to my body and my intuition dovetails nicely with the mindfulness practices I’ve already begun.
One passage in particular resonated with me, as it echoes an impression I got about modern birth practices as I compared the hospital birth of my first child with the home birth of my second. It’s actually a quote from R.D Laing’s The Voices of Experience in which Laing describes the reaction of an obstetrician to a woman’s description of her home birth. The obstetrician didn’t understand why the woman would want to go through all of that when she could have experienced no pain at all in the hospital. The birthing woman explained that she wanted to have a home birth because she wanted to have the full birth experience.
“He [the obstetrician] could not see how such a sentiment could have any value. He evidently sniffed some hysterical-masochistic heresy. Birth: abolished as an active personal experience. Experience: dissolved into oblivion. She is translated from feeling subject to anaesthetic object.
The physiological process is taken over by a chemico-surgical programme. End result: the act, the event and the coherent experience of birth has disappeared.
Instead of the birth of a baby, we have surgical extraction.
This domination and obliteration of the feminine by the masculine in modern obstetrics could go some ways to explaining why women who receive pain medication during labor report lower satisfaction with their birth experiences than women who receive no pain medication. The problem isn’t one of location (home birth vs hospital birth) or whether a woman receives pain medication or not. Rather, it’s based in the marginalization of the experience and the removal of a woman’s participation in her own birth process. For many women, this marginalization is decreased or eliminated with unmedicated and/or home births. That certainly was my experience.
At any rate, I really liked the book.
(By the way, my NaNoWriMo word count for Day 16 is 28,456)