Eros is both a constructive and destructive force.
She appears both as the “terrible mother” or “destroying goddess,” as well as the “nurturing mother” and “radiant lover.”
Shekhinah in Kabbalah and Kali in Hinduism are two synonyms for Eros. Shekhinah in Kabbalistic text appears as both a constructive and destructive force, and Eros always has these two faces of destroyer and mother. The constructive face reaches toward prior union. But sometimes Eros appears as tough love. This is the Eros of destruction, which is really de-construction. The destructive face tears down old structures, obsolete preconceptions, and the illusions of the separate self. This de-constructive expression has often been termed Thanatos.
There is, however, a second more terrifying form of Thanatos that is not animated by Eros. It is rather suffused with the desperation and brutality of the ego’s mad craving for eternal power and existence. This is the face of pseudo-Eros.
Let me explain.
The refusal to die to the separate self, the ego’s insistence that it exists a-part from the whole, is the cancer that eats away at all of existence. For what else is cancer but cells that ignore their own part-ness, and claim to be the whole? They multiply uncontrollably, forgetting that they are parts of a larger organism.
When Eros is not realized, pseudo-Eros always comes in its place. When Eros is denied, pseudo-Eros demands its pound of flesh.
If the separate self will not die, there remains a deep knowing that some sort of death is still required. No longer will the death be that of our own ego, but the death of the other. And so we bear witness to some of the world’s most horrible atrocities, all in the name of a higher power to which we refuse to surrender our own lives.
The problem begins only when the ego usurps its role and refuses to die at the appropriate time. In the language of the Sufi mystics, “The servant refuses to serve and pretends to be king.” The part pretends to be a whole.
But here is the critical distinction that is all too often lost in both old and contemporary enlightenment teachings: The wholeness of Eros does not require the death of your experience as a separate self. Eros requires only the death of your exclusive identification with your separate self. You are not less than your separate self. You are more than your separate self. The separate-self ego’s fear of death stems only from the ego’s belief that its death leads to nonexistence. The ego correctly senses the infinite dignity of its unique divine expression. But it identifies the eternal nature of its unique God-spark with the separate egoic self. It does not realize that it can die to separate self, and yet be fully alive as a uniquely gorgeous strand in the seamless coat of the Uni-verse. The separate self dies only to reveal True Self, which having fully realized its uniqueness, turns out to be Unique Self.
In ego death you move from being isolated and a-part to being part of a larger whole, part of the infinitely loving spaciousness of God rising through and as every moment. You enter the orgasmic process of divine penetration and purification. This is the stage of disillusionment, in which the shadowy specter of being merely a separate self dies into the love and bliss of participating in the original evolving wholeness.
In virtually all the great traditions, the circle is a symbol of Eros. In pseudo-Eros, you create the illusion of being in the circle by placing someone else outside of it. The realization that ego death is required is not understood. So death becomes displaced—the death of the other guy. Since he is outside the circle of Eros, which is life, he deserves to die. True Eros means the deep knowing that everyone is inside the circle, that everyone holds a unique and irreplaceable place in the great wholeness of All-That-Is.
The first part of the Great Story of the evolution of consciousness requires the emergence of the separate self from the prior embeddedness in the all-absorbing womb of the Great Mother, in all of her guises, from mother nature to pre-rational magic to mother church. This is the movement from the pre-personal to the first stage of the personal—the separate-self ego with all of the rights, responsibilities, and self-worth that being a separate self implies. It is this trajectory of the evolution of consciousness that culminates in the Western enlightenment conception, with its affirmation of the human rights and dignity of the separate individual. Without the birth of ego, the evolution of human consciousness beyond the pre-personal indignity cannot take place. The second part of the great evolution of consciousness requires dying to the separate self in the realization of True Self, which when refracted through the Unique Perspective of the individual, is revealed to be Unique Self. Without ego death, the evolution of human consciousness beyond brutality and terror cannot take place.
For the first time in human history, with the emergence of the separate-self ego, murder and large-scale warfare purely for the sake of conquest was born. The skull grins, but the skull now belongs to the other guy.
Ernest Becker, Norman O. Brown, and others have documented the precise connection between the emergence of the separate self and murder. Murder expresses itself in both religious ritual and the political ritual of war.
Kings begin to list their conquests with special emphasis on the number of victims brutally butchered on the other side. One ruler recorded this through his scribe: “As we wound and kill our enemies in the field, our love for each other deepens.” This is the classic horrifying distortion of pseudo-Eros. Pseudo-Eros is only necessary when true Eros cannot be found. Pseudo-Eros is the desperate grasping of the separate self for immortality.
Eros is the graceful, wondrous infinity of Unique Self.
So many of the great teachers of spirit demand that humans give up their sense of being a unique part in order to realize the Eros of union and even absorption into the whole. But despite their best attempts, most of the world refuses to heed this perennial teaching. This is not because we are bad or weak. Rather, it is because there is something in the teaching, or the way it is taught, that seems to contradict our basic intuition. The result is that many seekers end up feeling that they are fundamentally failures. And this in turn causes the horrific pain of inadequacy. People who feel inadequate may become vengeful, capable of inflicting untold suffering on themselves and those around them.
Here we find the double bind of every human being, and of humanity as a whole: You want pure existence, value, and transcendence. You want Eros. You are taught that full Eros is achieved by dying to your separate self—and that to die to your separate self you must reject your Uniqueness. Uniqueness is explicitly and implicitly conflated—wrongly—with separateness. Yet your most profound intuition tells you that this is wrong, a violation of a higher truth. So you are left stuck in your egoic separate self with only pseudo-Eros to comfort you.
Here is the key point: Once you realize that by giving up your separate self you do not give up your Uniqueness—both the source and substance of your existence—the contraction of your ego is released, and the door to the next stage of the evolution of consciousness is opened. You can realize the fullness of your Eros through the realization of your Uniqueness, which is the puzzle-piece nature of your part-ness, through which you merge with the larger whole.