Healing the Heartless Giant
Today I might just spin your thinking 180˚ around with the next ingredient in my recipe for a good marriage.
And it is;
Go on a quest to find your heart
I wonder if you have heard the story of The Heartless Giant?
It goes something like this …
Once upon a time there was a giant who lived locked in the dungeon of the king’s castle. Day after day, through the bars of his cell, the giant whispered to the king’s youngest son, eventually tricking the boy into letting him out. Once released, the giant went on a wild killing spree throughout the land, creating a trail of destruction and leaving the young boy feeling guilty and betrayed.
One by one the king and his older sons left the castle to do battle with the giant, but none of them ever returned. Eventually only the king’s youngest son was left. His mother pleaded with the boy not to leave her – but wracked with guilt the boy set out on what appeared to be a hopeless journey.
On his journey the boy met and helped an injured bird, a fish that had been landed out of water, and finally a starving wolf. Arriving at the giant’s house on the wolf’s back the boy discovered his father and brothers, all turned to stone around the perimeter of the gloomy house. Courageously the boy knocked on the door and reminded the giant of their former friendship and secured a job as a servant in his house.
Night after night the boy cared for the giant and worked to earn his trust by cleaning his house and feeding him. Day after day while the giant was out – the boy searched the house for the giant’s heart, which the giant had hidden. Eventually the giant softened to the boys requests and told him his heart’s true hiding place: down the well inside a church on an island an impossibly long way away. The creatures from earlier in the boy’s journey (the bird, fish and wolf) then assist him in what would otherwise have been an impossible journey. And at the break of day the boy returned with the giant’s heart. On having his heart returned to his chest – the stone victims all returned to life and the family was reunited.
I love Jim Henson’s movie of this story and after watching it again the other night, I got to thinking about the characters from a psychological point of view. When Steve and my marriage was at its worst I remember seeing that movie and thinking “If only I could find where Steve has hidden his heart!”
But now I know that to truly understand this story we need to stop asking, “Where is that key that will unlock my husband or wife’s heart” and instead start looking for the heartless giant in ourselves.
Because I do not believe we begin our life with a heart that is naturally empathetic towards others. Instead, just as this tale describes, this ‘heart’ is something we need to search long and hard to find.
But that is the end of our tale today; first let’s start with the King and his son who, from here on, we will call Leo …
In my version of the tale, the giant represents Leo’s instinctive emotional nature and – just like all good parents – the king is wise to restrain this nature in his son. What good parent allows their child’s emotional nature to develop unchecked? As children we all feel like lashing out and hitting other people when we are angry, sulking when we are upset, and over indulging our senses in every pleasurable activity we come across. It is our parents and teachers role to subdue and restrain these impulses and teach us to regulate our emotions in a healthy way.
But as Leo grows his instinctive emotional nature continues whispering to him, “Why do my emotions and desires need restraining? I am certain that what I desire so passionately MUST BE GOOD AND RIGHT!” Eventually seduced in this way by his instinctive emotional nature, Leo leaves the castle and releases himself from the restraints imposed on him by his father’s influence, unleashing his unbridled emotional nature on the world.
The result – as often is the case – is as predictable and destructive to ‘Leo the giant’ as it is to the people he hurts. One by one his family members try and reach out to him — but ‘Leo the giant’ cannot see that his feelings are wrong and destructive. It feels right to indulge his senses when his natural desires run so deep. It feels necessary to scream and cry when he is hurting and justifiable to hit and even destroy anyone who angers him.
So instead of listening to the people who try to help him conquer this nature in himself, ‘Leo the giant’ symbolically turns them to stone.
Let’s stop for a moment and see if we can see a bit of ‘Leo the giant’ in ourselves?
Do you know what it is to turn someone to stone?
We do this as soon as we objectify people by calling them a bad name.
When anyone tries to come between us and what the heartless giant inside of us is craving – instead of hearing them – we simply call them selfish, controlling, or any name we can think of that means we do not have to consider that maybe what we are wanting is not good for us or anyone else.
And this might include people in our life who do not love us in a way that soothes our anxiety and fears. Even when we have no idea how to handle those emotions our self.
What names do we reserve for those people?
Can you see how labelling them cuts off all compassion for their point of view and in this way is just like turning them to stone?
How many people that you once loved have you objectified by labelling them with a bad name?
So alas, the giant has been freed, but Leo’s conscience remains with his parents in the castle. This other side of Leo is desperate to reason with ‘Leo the giant’ – but the odds of him winning such an uneven match seem hopeless indeed.
And this is the plight of the human condition.
Because when faced with the tempest of our own emotional nature, listening to our conscience and truly considering our own needs — and the feelings and needs of others — is a terribly hard thing to do.
But if you really want a great marriage, it is a quest you have no choice but take on.
And this is where the gold in this story begins …
Because rather than his conscience storming in and taking on his own worst nature (in a battle he would ultimately lose), Leo does something very interesting instead.
He begins by practicing empathy towards small helpless creatures that he comes across throughout his day.
It’s interesting that in ancient Chinese philosophy – this practice is known as the only way to change a person’s fate.
Because even the vilest bully amongst us, can in private show tenderness to a small creature, without publicly admitting any vulnerable feelings or weakness or having to come face to face with their own false pride.
So step by step on Leo’s journey – he begins practicing empathy and compassion where he can.
Then once in the giant’s house, Leo begins studying ‘the giant’ that is his own instinctive emotional nature.
The giant’s likes and dislikes become apparent to Leo and more importantly, he learns how to soothe him and build trust. And in this way, day after day, Leo’s confidence and self knowledge grow.
And then finally one day Leo begins learning how to not to let the giant trick him any longer.
This is a process we describe in detail in our books. Watching and studying our actions and emotional reactions (instead of acting on them) while slowly we come to trust and understand ourselves.
And where at first the giant was able to trick Leo – eventually Leo learns how to trick the giant instead.
Do you have any idea what it means to trick yourself? Everyday when I don’t feel like working. I say, “I will just answer a couple of emails … ” when I know that really I will get caught up in it and work for at least half a day.
Because if I tell myself in the morning that I have to sit and work at my desk all day, it brings up resistance in myself that makes me want to do other things instead.
Or when I don’t feel like exercising … instead of saying I have to do this next exercise ten times (and deciding I can’t) – I just say “I’ll just do one and see how I go”, and then when I am finished I say the same thing again!
But back to our story where Leo’s conscience is finally ready to bring ‘Leo the giant’ his heart!
For this he has to go the distance and dive deep within a sacred place in himself. And he could not do this without the help of the small creatures he has practiced empathy with along the way.
Because truly learning to love other people is not something you will learn overnight.
It takes discipline and commitment and humility and patience – and focusing on our own heartless giant and not the heartless giant in somebody else.
Knowing this now – will you begin noticing what brands of chocolate you buy and rejecting offers of slave made chocolate even when you are just longing to put that chocolate in your mouth?
Because the heartless giant who by nature puts our own emotional drives before the feelings and needs of others is definately in us all.
So what is the ending to our tale? We know the stone people come back to life – but doesn’t the giant finding his heart make him vulnerable to being hurt? Maybe … but I am not so sure this is right. Because in my life learning to love has been one of the greatest antidotes I have ever found to feelings of rejection and hurt.
Are there people in your life that you have ‘turned to stone’?
And do you ever objectify the people you love in your life right now?
It is all very well to blame other people, but are you prepared to go the distance and dive deep within that sacred place in yourself and find your ability to see and feel things from someone else’s point of view?
And if you think that the heartless giant only represents a person’s selfish anger and lust — please read more on this site on the subject of codependence. Because a person who cannot restrain their own infantile and unrestrained desire for attention and soothing or take the time to understand others rather than objectify them can be as destructive a force as any angry liar or cheat.
In my case I had to finally see that no matter how badly Steve was behaving, the expectations I had of him were completely unrealistic. I was asking him to love me and fix our lives, when I wasn’t loving or taking care of myself.
Because ultimately the best we can do is give our own giant a heart. Because if we haven’t done this for ourselves – what hope will we have in taming the heartless giant in anyone else?