Lyn Cowan's book, a quarter century old, yet remarkable fresh and current, is one of the very best expliques of a much misunderstood and therefore mailigned topic. True to her Jungian orientation, Ms. Cowan champions-- often in the most poetic and elloquent ways -- Carl Jung's position that mental (and thus spiritual) health comes NOT from avoiding or denying the role of the shadow side of the human psyche, but rather from acknowledging its exixtence, if not actually learning to embrace it. Jung posited that neuroses (psychosomatic ailments)occur as the natural result of denial of the self, leaving the Whole unexplored, often because of the rigors of mainstream religion that favor only the bright side of the soul. By not acknowledging and/or accepting the shadow side of the psyche, we become stilted, less than whole, and therefore emotionally crippled as we try to limp through life on one 'good' leg, as it were. Jung once said, in essence, that "... the trouble with churches is that they stress being holy instead of being whole." Just as there is no stick that has but one end, so too must the soul recognize, in its totality, the equal and opposite potential to do harm as well as good; to experience pain as well as pleasure, for every light source casts a shadow, and the brighter the light, the darker the shadow. One cannot exist without the other, as up cannot exist without down, nor convex without concave.
But Cowan goes much deeper than a superficial philosophical recognition that the two opposing-- or rather, completing-- halves do exist within us. She, in fact, encourages acceptance of this totality as necessary to balance and heal the crippled soul. But even from a philosophical or logical point of view, the masochist 'receives' while the sadist gives, thus forming the yin/yang relationship of give-and-take, up-and-down, which once again completes the whole. Without the sadist, the masochist remains sadly un-fulfilled, and vice versa.
Unfortunately, however, the word 'masochism' is rarely used without some sense of judgment, condenmation or rejection implicit within the seemingly paradoxical context of the pain vs pleasure paradigm. The truth, however, is that masochism does connote the experience of pleasure, however vastly different from mainstream enjoyment that pleasure might be. Ask any masochist to describe what they experience while in their throes of passion, and-- perhaps surprisingly-- the response will contain the same words normally paired with religious experiences: intensity, ecstacy, soaring, out-of-body, transcendant, etc. Yet strangely enough, the masochistic experience is enjoyable beyond the realm of orgasm; aptly described by some as a spiritual high induced by physical endurance. Physically explained, the increased production of endorphins, the body's own natural opiates, may be responsible for this perception. But also to be considered is the admittedly rare person whose nervous system is physically hard-wired to perceive pain as pleasure, which most people would find mystifying. But however one chooses to explain or conceptualize this, it is indeed an emotional, mental, psycho-spiritual experience par excellance.
From yet another perspective, Cowan compares the state of religious ecstacy with what is experienced by the masochist while in the throes of passion, and even beyond. The word "pain" no longer seems appropriate, because the gestalt of the true masochistic experience greatly transcends the perception of pain, bordering on pure bliss, which any religious supplicant knows all too well.
Also to be considered in the world of sado-masochism is the overall interpersonal or sacramental nature of the experience of performing penance; "inflicted" by the giver as necessary for atonement for ones transgressions, while willingly endured by the recipient to comply with those directives. The reward or pleasure is further described as experiencing the satisfaction of having been pleasing to the giver, compounded by a feeling of deliverance or peace, as might be described by some practitioners of these arts, as well as a profound and psychologically blissful exhaustion from the intensity of the exchange of power between sadist and masochist.
Lyn Cowan masterfully examines all aspects of these phenomena from a clinical yet spiritual perspective, removing much of the onus of shame and/or embarrassment, while allowing her readers to openmindedly explore them, sans guilt, shame or awkwardness so that a truer understanding and acceptance of its validity may emerge. Each paragraph is indeed worthy of deep reflection or meditation as new vistas, previously not conceived, open before the reader. I heartily recommend this book to all psychic travelers as a roadmap for their journey. Be prepared for a possible change of heart, and... Bon Voyage !