Thursday, April 14, 2011

Where is the Soul 18?

Letter Writing

Tulip at Ballintubber Abbey, April, 2011
I learnt to write letters from a young age as my father loved writing them.  In fact there was a great ceremony about writing letters in our house.  As the head of a poor working class family my father certainly had no study and he used often write his letters (mostly to his brother and cousin who lived in New Zealand and the USA respectively) on the kitchen table while we youngsters were doing our homework.  From then on I became a committed letter writer.  However, with the advent of the computer or word processor I abandoned the hand-written letter, though I miss its intimacy and simple personal appeal.

James Hillman writes a wonderful letter to Michael Ventura on this exact subject - namely letter writing.

The Talking Cure

Psychotherapy has long been called the "talking cure" ever since the great founding father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud used this very phrase to describe his therapy where the patient was invited to lie down and freely associate, speaking out loud whatever ideas came into his/her mind.  Eventually with Carl Gustave Jung therapy developed into a dialogue.  Hillman makes a very interesting assessment of the transcripts of such dialogues: "They are universally the same and utterly boring.  Not that the hours themselves were boring, but the written records certainly are... the language contains dead words, clichés, rhythmless repetitions, generalized conventional terms without the luster or the lilt of the souls songs of itself." (Op. cit., p. 89)  I would tend to agree with Hillman here now that I recall the sort of conversations I have had many a time with a counsellor.

Hillman goes on to state that while the soul seems reluctant to speak eloquently of itself, it does so very well indeed in written form.  Somehow the hand, with its marvellous flourishes, lends depth to the soul by giving it structure, shape and form.  Once again our archetype psychologist is himself very lyrical in praise of the art of writing:  "As if the soul needs to find a way out of its own inarticulate morass by means of the hand's deft linear skill.  Writing as the thread out of the labyrinth." (Ibid, p. 90)

Blurted (Spontaneous) Truth versus Written (Composed) Truth:

Ballintubber Abbey, Mayo, April 2011
Once again Hillman never ceases to surprise me by putting things simply yet brilliantly by stating that we in the West somehow prefer the spontaneous or blurted type of truth that goes with contemporary talk therapy.  We assume that the blurted truth is the real thing, the real essence of the truth as it were.  We in the West prefer the truth of immediacy while those in the East (Japan is the country quoted by Hillman) prefer their clients to write a written confession which the therapist will read carefully. Let us finish this post by listening once again to this archetype psychologist's magic words:

You need to see here a BIG contrast with most usual Western therapeutic methods, which do not truth reflection as much as immediacy.  Blurted truth is more true, we believe than burnished truth.  In fact, we believe, that burnishing tends to cover up so that the raw is better than the cooked.  This distrust of the articulate form betrays the Romantic roots of therapy and its distance from the carefulness of classicism.  Therapy might find its literary antecedents in Rousseau, Whitman, and garrulous Eugene O'Neill, whose characters go on and on as if they were at an AA meeting.  (Ibid., p. 90)

To be continued

Where is the Soul 17?

The Noise of the World


Sea at Portrane, April, 2011
Any reader of these posts will know I value very much what I call "soul work" which is my term for what experts from the various fields of psychology, psychotherapy and psychiatry call the search for "the real self" (Carl Ransom Rogers: the gap between the real self and the ideal self, the “I am” and the “I should” Rogers calls incongruity. The greater the gap, the more incongruity there is in a person), the actualized self  (this concept of self-actualization, while first used by Kurt Goldstein and even by Carl Rogers, was brought most fully and essentially to prominence in Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory as the final level of psychological development that can be achieved when all basic and mental needs are fulfilled and the "actualization" of the full personal potential takes place), the concept of "individuation" (Carl Gustave Jung), the concept of "self-integration" (Dr Anthony Storr) and also that of self-realization (Eastern Religions).  Psychosis, of course, is where all of this drive to wholeness and unity of the psyche breaks down, where the self dis-integrates (Storr), where the self splits or divides (Ronald Laing and many others).

Soul work, then, is all about the journey to the centre or the still point of self; the journey to one's own unique inner truth or identity; the journey to real congruity; to developing one's full potential as a human being; to becoming who you really are and in so doing actualizing your real and true self in the most profound way.  Now anything and everything that helps in this journey which I have described in different terms is essentially soul work.

Couple walking their dogs, Portrane Beach, April 2011
However, the noise of the world does get in the way of soul-making (John Keats' wonderful term).  The frustrations we meet everyday, the crises we encounter whether they be the illness of loved ones, the loss of a job, the frustration of our goals, the feeling of being a failure or the various mood swings we are heir to when we are over-worked seem to dehydrate the soul and leave it parched and weak and gasping for breath.  That is the way I have feslt for the past week or so.  One contributing factor was my not having time to write anything soul-ful here in these pages.  The concerns of my working day life took over, and I noticed that I was beginning to be pulled down.  Luckily, there is part of me which now shouts: "Stop!  Get off the threadmill! You are getting things out of all perspective and all proportion! It's only a job after all!  There is much more to life!  Cop on!  Meditate!  Relax!  Don't forget to breathe, Tim! Take things in your stride!  Go for a walk!  Write a poem!  Rest! Go to the gym!  Don't eat too much junk food!"  I am herewith heeding these comments from my "inner man," from my inner self, from my soul!  You see, none of us can let our soul drown!  If we do so, it is at the very peril of the life of our body! 

The Watcher:

Now the part of me that called stop and still calls stop as I have elucidated above seems to be a voice of a more objective watcher within me.  This is exactly the word or term that Michael Ventura uses in his next letter to Dr. James Hillman:

For don't you sometimes feel accompanied, especially when alone, in a way that you usually take for granted?  I do.  The people I compare notes with do also.  I am thinking of something I now call "the Watcher."  "The Companion Eye," my friend george Howard calls it - thats ense of a constant companion, who is you and yet more than you, and who seems always with you, watching from a slight distance. (Op. cit., p 84)
I believe the great contemporary self-taught psychologist Ken Wilber using the term Witness which approximates to Ventura's Watcher in his beautiful book on the slow death by cancer of his wife Treya - True Grit (1991)

Beyond the Noise

Inevitably the call of the soul is not so much to go beyond the noise of the world but to learn to hear the call of the soul in and through that noise.  Meditation and the journey to the Still Point, the journey to equilibrium and balance of mind and heart can never deny the world and its inevitable tragedies.  Going beyond the noise can never be a denial of that noise.  It is rather a transformation of that very noise, a heeding of the call of the soul in and through that same noise.  In listening to the voice of the soul in and through all the vicissitudes of life, while be may be somewhat broken we can never be crushed to use a metaphor from St Paul.