I previously wrote a blog article on the difference between merging, as it is expressed within the sexual instinct, and the dissipating blending (in)action that average Nines, in particular, are famous for engaging in when they don’t want to stand out or assert themselves. Lately, I’ve witnessed debates on much the same topic, but sometimes with the concept of merging love thrown into the mix. That sort of brought the confusion full circle, so I felt called to revisit the question.
In the previous article mentioned above, my aim was to distinguish between two things — one, an instinctual response (which can in itself be expressed in a healthy or less healthy manner) and two, an average-level escape hatch of a personality in fixation. In some of these later discussions, the element of love was added. And since love is so often confused with merging in the sexual instinct — which in turn leads people to believe that the sexual instinct covers things like romantic relationships and long-term bonds (which it does not) — in a way it seemed like the missing piece of the puzzle. So here, I will try to further clarify how these things are entirely separate phenomena, although ones that often get tangled and confused.
Words, and the meaning we ascribe to them
First though, we need to agree on some language. This is important, as I suspect that failure to do so is the basis for somewhere around 98% of all heated online discussions about these topics 😉. So I’ll start with a list of words and their definitions, as I’m using them. Of course, someone else might define them differently; it’s not so much about right and wrong as it is about clarifying what we are talking about.
By essence I mean the ineffable energy that constitutes what might be called our “basic spiritual substance”. Essence comes in flavours or facets — of which love, joy, life-force and wisdom are a few — but at the deepest level, it is one. Essence is our ultimate reality and identity.
By love I mean an essential (see Essence) quality and/or an aspect of the heart centre; a feeling. Possible “in contrast to” terms could be infatuation, long-term affection, appreciation, obsession, or dependence. As essential qualities in themselves are notoriously hard to define in words, I’ll leave it at that and trust we all have a sense of what it means.
By instinct I mean hard-coded, biological drives and their various expressions. One “in contrast to” term is personality; expressions of emotional and/or mental energy.
By merging I mean the aspect of the sexual instinct (see Instinct). This merging is an active, expansive experience that extends “me” to include that which I’m merging with. One important “in contrast to” is what, for the sake of clarity, we might call blending (see below). Another is when psychologists talk about merging as identifying with another person to the point of losing your own sense of self (which in a way is what blending tries to accomplish, but which is more active and can be more actively destructive).
By personality I mean our ego-expression, primarily through a particular filter (i e “type”). This expression includes aspects from the head centre, the heart centre, and the gut/instinctual centre, as well as influences from our parents, childhood and later experiences, culture and inherited personal traits. The personality (sometimes called ego-personality) is part of our vehicle as human beings living on earth. The clearest “in contrast to” here would be “one’s essential nature”.
By (ego-)fixation I mean a state of awareness where we identify primarily with the ego/personality/body. This is most people’s everyday state, which might then be more or less frequently punctuated by experiences of oneness, essential energy, higher awareness etc — which would also be examples of “in contrast to” terms here.
By blending (in) I mean the practice of diffusing my person into a group or other outside-of-me energy in an act of avoidance. In contrast to merging, blending is passive and nihilistic and serves to spare me the bother of standing out, being personally held accountable, or in any other way asserting myself as a separate being with my own needs, opinions or longings.
I realise that after writing these attempts at definitions, I’ve already said a lot of what I wanted to say with this article 😊. Although, probably, not quite. Btw, please understand that this list is not meant to offer a comprehensive explanation of each term, and it is most certainly not meant to constitute a teaching to follow. It is just an initial orientation, and for referring back to if anything gets confusing later.
So now, let’s go back to the phenomena that often tend to be confused and/or confusing.
Starting with love, then — it is a feeling, surely?
Well. It is definitely expressed as a feeling, but the trouble is that our western culture (at least) tends also to use it as a synonym for infatuation, habitual dependency with some affection mixed in, and other half-measures (including downright control and manipulation) which all happen in the personality as a result of us going through life without a felt connection to our essential nature. So what is love actually?
As I understand and experience it, love is absolutely an essential quality. It might even be the basis of essence itself, but I’ll save that level of the discussion for later. But, so, when we feel what we experience genuine love, it is a feeling — and as such, generated in the heart — which is informed by true essence. However, when we are “looking for love” on the level of ego-fixation, we are usually on the lookout for a substitute that we have come to interpret as love. We might be looking for certain specific signs, feelings, experiences or other things that, to us, would prove that love is around. These are usually strongly connected to a specific person or object, which is a clue that what we are sniffing around for is not the real thing.
“Kinda sorta love” — settling for the substitute
The challenging bit is that as humans, even if we are aware of and can recognise the essential quality of love, we might prefer to feel it in relation to a particular person that we also like, and whose attitudes we sympathise with. We are not tempted by the concept of sitting around by ourselves and experiencing essential love. Mostly this is because most of us are tragically incapable of doing so, which is totally normal and not our fault — but anyway, it has us settle for experiencing this in glimpses through a relationship that offers a lot of things we feel drawn to and/or comfortable with.
And by now, we have swept a ton of other psychological phenomena into the mix that we happily keep referring to as love. And from here, we might veer off into an entirely different topic, so let’s leave it there. Love, the real kind, is at least a feeling (happening in our psychology, specifically in the heart centre) and might be informed by the essential quality itself.
As I talked at length about this in the article mentioned above, I will only emphasise the most important points here: instinctual merging is the impulse to want to dissolve into or even ingest something — an experience of sound, taste or scenery, an emotion, another being. (If it sounds weird to ingest a loved one, just consider the expression “you are so cute I could just eat you up”, which captures it exactly.)
It’s about expanding “me” to include something that we perceive as yummy, ecstasy-inducing, beautiful or otherwise attractive (in the most literal sense of the word). It can happen with another person, but the quality of experience is exactly the same when the object of our urge to merge is a piece of music, a ride on a roller-coaster, the taste of certain foods or experience of particular scents, a sunrise or other visual image, or whatever else we can feel drawn to merge with. For clarity, it is not about love, bonding, or long-term relationships, and neither is it to be confused with what I’ll here refer to as blending. Merging as I talk about it here is instinctual, visceral, and active — it’s not a psychological strategy, and it has no other objective than the fusing of energies.
So, a comment on the phrase “merging love”
As we’ve established, when we experience love it will almost certainly be a feeling — but, if it’s genuine, one that will be informed by the essential quality of love. This is almost certainly the case with the merging love sometimes referred to between a mother and her infant. The baby does not yet have any of the barriers or defences that we develop growing up, and as it starts out its brand-new life in a human body, its awareness of itself as a separate entity is virtually non-existent. So given the opportunity, it merges completely with the mother in a state of blissful union.
Yes, this merging capacity is part of the sexual instinct — but likely as yet quite undifferentiated, as the baby does not necessarily have any choice in the matter (given its inability to say “no, thank you, I want to be my own person”). And no, of course this does not mean that the mother and child have a sexual relationship — much like the a spiritual devotee in rapture does not have a sexual relationship with God, Merging is not sex; its impulse is just sourced from the same energy.
Anyway, if the mother is present to the situation, neither mentally nor emotionally absent, she might be lucky enough to feel both the genuine, unconditional love and the expansive, ecstatic merging of energies. That is what “merging love” refers to — a quite blissful melting into the state of essential love.
Signing up for prolonged baby-hood?
Whether it’s because we did not get enough of this as children or because we failed to completely grow up, many of us consciously or subconsciously long to experience this union again in adulthood. We then tend to project the unconditional, all-conquering, complete-salvation style love onto people or things, and proceed to expect our possessions or lover other to take us back to that state of being completely cared for with zero asked in return. (Needless to say, this does not usually work very well, or if we manage to conjure up the illusion, not for very long.)
When we attempt to get this experience as adults, we might do this from a tendency to merge (sx instinct), from a personality fixation that has us seek refuge in others’ shadow, or from unhealthy psychological tendencies that attempts to feed off someone else’s energy. These are very different things, but they often exist in tandem and they invariably get mixed up. And, more importantly, neither of them is actual love.
Often, more than one thing is going on at the same time
Anyway. Worth noting for this discussion is that there are (at least) two things going on with the mother and the baby: one which is a feeling, likely informed by an essential state, and another which is an instinctual expression. Just like the name of the concept, merging love is two things, not one, and the instinctual expression does not in itself include the feeling/essential quality. So if you want to explore the sx instinct through the aspect of merging, this is not going to include love, necessarily — and if it does, it’s because you added it, not because is is a part of the sexual instinct.
When we do experience merging together with a lover, we are so often bringing in and confusing it with other aspects: heart qualities like love and mirroring, and perhaps qualities of the social instinct, like bonding, empathy and belonging. This is totally fine, of course. As I have said on more occasions than I care to count, in humans, these various aspects almost never present themselves in isolation. We just need to understand that at that point, we are dealing with much more than “instinct”. The same way, the mother/child concept of merging love is not an instinctual expression alone, but something more complex.
The challenge with instincts in particular and self-awareness in general
Since the topic of “instincts” (under various names) exploded in the Enneagram world, there is a lot of interpretation floating around (and being used in teachings at various levels). A lot of these interpretations are of instinct in connection with personality — but once intermingled with personality, instinct is enmeshed with fears, habits, opinions, wishes, feelings and theories. This makes it really hard to truly understand, and we really need to understand instinct (and personality) first, before putting them together. Our instinctual aspects controls bits of us that are not accessible to our mind or heart, and a lot of the instinctual proceedings take place below the radar of our conscious awareness. This is not to say that we cannot become aware of (many of) them — but to get there, we have to explore them with curiosity, gentleness, and a hands-on, experiential way to go about it. Words and reasoning alone will not take us where we need to go.
The vital step from theory to experience
And this goes for self-awareness overall, of course. We can study this material in theory to our heart’s content, but it can only take us so far. At some point, we will need to go inside and anchor our understanding in our own experience. What good is love, anyway, if we only read about it? How would we really get to know this vast well of inner treasure if we don’t ever open the door and explore it directly? For actual inner growth and for our practical life, theory is only ever an invitation at best — an invitation to stop, wonder, explore and find within ourselves that of which it speaks.
- Aspects of you — an exploration of the centres of intelligence and our instinctual drives | This book covers the centres and instinctual drives, including the zones of each drive as first described by Russ Hudson. It contains plenty of exercises to help you explore experientially what the book describes.
- “Ecstatic merging or self-effacing diffusion? Insights on what’s what in type Nine” | the previous blog entry on the concept of merging
- Understanding the instincts | an online course found on this site
- Going deeper — inner work with the centres | | an online course found on this site
- Understanding the instinctual drives | 57 min video explaining the instincts, originally as an infomercial for my instincts course
- The 5 Keys to Understanding the Instincts | 30 min video clearing up much of the confusing entanglement between instinctual impulses and the larger concept of personality
- “Cheat-sheet” for the 5 keys to understanding the instincts | Free, down-loadable pdf