Thursday, April 21, 2011

Where is the Soul 22?

It's All About Emptiness, no Less

Pope's Cross, April, 2011
I have said in these posts time and time again that what I love about reading James Hillman is that he always manages to deepen the questions for me, even ask new questions, turn things sideways, upside down and inside out.  In the meaning of "conversation" which we outlined in the last post here, one feels one is deeply in dialogue or in conversation with Hillman.  As I continue to read his and Michael Ventura's provocative classic We've had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World's Getting Worse (Harper, S.F., 1993) I am continually inspired to ask new questions and deepen older ones.  In his next letter to Ventura, Hillman mentions the theological concept of "kenosis."  As an erstwhile theologian, a subject in which I have lost most of my interest in favour of philosophy and psychology because they do not start from such "givens,"  I am indeed familiar with this notion.  In Christian theology kenosis refers to Christ's emptying himself of his divine power, of his unity with almighty God, in order to enter the world of man.  Hence, he could be crucified, and his total or complete emptiness was summed up in the pathos of his cry from the stark geometry of his lonely wooden cross on Mount Calvary over 2000 years ago: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"

When we simply have No or Poor Practical Answers?

Once again I am at one with Hillman.  Like him we "thinkers, feelers, intuitionists, theorists, idealists" but not "real doers or pragmatists" like the politicians (at least that's what many of them say about our ilk) can have much to say, but very little by the way of practical answers to practical questions.  Politicians all have programmes and policies and more often than not they are sincerely convinced that theirs are the correct and right ones; the ones which should really be followed because they are so much better than those of their opponents.  However, writing these lines in the wake of the demise of The Celtic Tiger (dead now, but its carcass is still stinking to high heaven!) where greed was at the heart of all such policies, one can surely question as to why these politicians almost to a man (and indeed at least 90% if not more of them are men), with their cronies in the Banks and in the world of entrepreneurial speculation which amounted to nothing more than mere gambling could have got their certainties so wrong!  I am one with Hillman here:

Politically, I am pretty empty.  My state Connecticut, has a huge deficit.  What should we do?  If we raise corporate taxes, we drive business out of the state and lose the tax base.  If we cut the budget, we drop the level of our educational and social survives... I used to get stopped cold in political arguments.  I would be going on about something and the other guy would say, "All right, if you're so smart, what would you do about it?  And I had no positive idea of what to do, no program, nothing.  It wasn't that I was impractical.  I was empty.  My protests were suddenly emptied out because I had nothing positive to offer.  They say that the '68 revolutions in Berkeley and in Europe among the students were so easily crushed or petered out because the revolutionaries had no positive programs.  (Op. cit. pp. 103-104)
I am also reminded at this juncture by the insightful advice of Dr Eugene Gendlin who states in the introduction to his wonderful little classic called Focusing that it is a truism of all forms of therapy that it is those patients who are sure and certain about what is wrong with them that are least likely to make progress.  In other words, those who are most rigid will stick to their rigidity as long as they can.  Unfortunately, it is these poor souls, who are as rigid as trees, unlike those who are flexible like the grass, who will snap and crack when the storm winds blow!

Empty Protest

Rugged seascape, Portran, April 2011
And so this is what Hillman means by empty protest - I suppose we could call it kenotic protest.  Here, the protester is empty of all certainties and fixities and all types of rigidity.  He or she is slow to jump to conclusions or to take rigid and firm stances in terms of: "This is the only answer," "This is the only way out of our problems," "I'm right and that's it," "It's our decision," or "This is the only policy or programme to follow."  Now, this does not mean that we thinkers, feelers, intuitionists, idealists are bereft of any pragmatism or practicality.  No, indeed!  By empty protest or kenotic protest (my words) Hillman means the type of protest made by the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.  I would like to add the protests of the likes of Nelson Mandela, Bishop Tutu and Mother Teresa to Hillman's heroes listed in his book.  And so, once again I fall in love with these words, with the sheer idealism and beauty and truth of them.  Therefore, let us listen once again to the hypnotic words from Hillman's lips:

Kenosis puts the emptiness in a new light.  It values the emptiness.  It says "empty protest" is a via negativa, a non-positivist way of entering the political arena.  You take your outrage seriously, but you don't force yourself to have answers...  The answers will come, if they come, when they come, to you, to others, but don't fill in the emptiness of the protest with positive suggestions before their time... (Ibid., p. 104)
Hillman lists a long string of American certainties which ended up as distorted truths or lies - which eventually led to evil acts from Viet Nam to the First Gulf War.  That list of certainties undid thousands of human beings by extinguishing them in war.  I shan't rehash Hillman's long list here.  I merely admire his courage and his insightful views.  What I want to come to here is the role of therapy in all this.  What should therapy be about in the midst of these destructive - both of soul and body - lies?  Well, therapy values the expression of our real feelings, is never quick to jump to conclusions.  It listens, listens, listens and lets the soul sing its sorrows in all truth and openness.  Therapy leads us always into deeper meaning, into deeper questions and shuns shallow and immediate answers to difficult problems.  Our therapy must have a clarion call like: "Think before you act!", "Know yourself!", or "Always question your motives and motivation!"  Know what you are doing before you really understand in full the issue at stake.  Know the meaning of an action before you act spontaneously!

And so Hillman's letter to Ventura is a call to protest, a call to protest against all the false truths parading themselves as real truths; about the lies politicians tell us again and again; about how most of us swallow whole those lies; about how easily we can get lost in the clap trap of group politics; about how we can be easily carried along with the herd; about how easily we can all be taken in by the hypnotic words of smart orators; about how, if we had been among the German populace at the time of the rise to power of Hitler, that we too would have acted no differently.  Hillman's letter is stirring and questions us at a very deep level.  I feel at one with him in being a lonely soul or a lonely protester somewhere on the periphery or fringe of society.  We are crying out that this or that is wrong; that politics, that business, the financial world, that the banks, even the Churches are all stinking to high heaven; that something is rotten even in the state of therapy; that there is much rotten in the state of our own modern soul.  And with Hillman, I really do not know what to do about that by way of a political movement.  We are left only with the emptiness of our protest!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Where is the Soul 21?

It's all about Consciousness

Two Augustinian Friars, Mullingar
In a post-script to one of his letters to Michael Ventura, James Hillman says that the whole business of therapy may be boiled down to consciousness.  Now, that is hardly a new insight at all in psychotherapy of any type.  After all the great founder of psychoanalysis (the first psychotherapy), Dr Sigmund Freud, had said that the task of his type of analysis could be summed up in the formula: "making the unconscious conscious."  This has remained one of the primary goals, among many others of course, of all types of psychotherapy - awareness or consciousness is all.  So it is hardly revolutionary for James Hillman to say that what he and Michael Ventura are about in their joint book is consciousness.  However, I always wait for Hillman to put a deeper or more peculiar spin on things.  Once again I am not disappointed.

He begins by over-viewing what goes on in any session of therapy - no matter what kind it is.  If we were to tape any such session we would find that it is a conversation, a deep conversation about such things as dreams, relationships, one's fears, hopes and desires, one's frustrations and disappointments, one's joys and one's sorrows and one's needs.

All of this is involved in conversation, because real conversation is about making things conscious.  Then Hillman introduces the topic of repression - another Freudian gem.  He reminds Ventura, should he need such reminding, how hard real conversation is, even at home around the family dinner table.  How much is really left unsaid at that table?  To what extent are hidden agendas not really that apparent - after all, they are hidden.  The person who is more accustomed to making things conscious will be more aware of such undercurrents (my words and thoughts in this last paragraph, not Hillman's - so, I hope I am doing the tenor of his thoughts justice with my interpretation of them).

Stream (of Consciousness) Spire, Mullingar Town
Real conversations are never a monologue.  They are always a dialogue of souls.  It is never an exchange of superficial opinions, complaints or even information.  Good conversation has an edge to it because it opens our eyes and ears to hear something deeper, even to hearing what's behind and underneath the words.  Once again Hillman startles me by coming up with something new.  Here I will turn to his own words because they are so exciting:

Here we need to look again at what conversation is.  The word means turning around with, going back, like reversing, and it comes supposedly from walking back and forth with someone or something, turning and going over the same ground from the reverse direction. A conversation turns things around.  And there is a verso to every conversation, a reverse, back side.

It is this verso, this exposition of the reverse version that is, I think, the work of our talk.  Whatever keeps us walking together with something and turns things around, upside down, converts what we already feel and think into something unexpected - this is the unconscious becoming conscious, which means doing therapy. (Op. cit., p. 100)
The real object of conversation, then, is literally not to take a stand or a fixed or rigid point, the idea then is to press ahead and turn around, upside down, over, under, inside out and so on and again repeat the journey.  In real conversation there can be no fixed points or rigid stands.  Our job is is to loosen the over-tightened nuts of rigidity.  And so real conversation like real therapy can be and is very upsetting.  It's job is to "upset the apple cart" as the old cliché has it.  We even have to shock others as well as ourselves because consciousness is born through a series of little sharp shocks.  This keeps us awake, on the edge, or if you like more aware and more conscious of what's going on for us in our lives.  Once again Hillman gives us a marvellous word for good therapy, namely psychoshock, rather than electroshock!  Then he stands language on its head, or in keeping with his idea of good conversation it might be more correct to say that he turns language around when he says that we should bother ourselves more with "curing our talk" rather than "talking of cures" (for this or that problem!).  Now isn't that a wonderfully rich thought?  As you see, dear reader, one can never ever be disappointed with anything James Hillman writes as he forces us to dig deeper into the psyche.

Let's begin to converse with those close to us, and even those not too close - say in our work places - if we are to make any headway in making the unconscious conscious.  We owe it to ourselves and to each other.  Sigmund Freud must be smiling somewhere out there or in there - use whatever prepositional phrase or metaphor you wish - in the ether!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Where is the Soul 20?

Galileo, Queen's University, March, 2011
Telephone Versus Letters

We live in a world of instantaneity -a wonderful word indeed.  Not alone do we have instant coffee - with us for many many years indeed - but we can be in instant contact with one another at the touch of a button, given the universality of the mobile phone and Internet connections.  How many of us say: "I don't know what I would do without my mobile phone?"  Some fifteen years ago most of us here in Ireland did not have one, and yet we survived.  What was common then were those phone cards with the computer chips.  At that time we did still write letters.  One thing I have found about having a cell phone (as the Americans and Italians call it - il cellulare!) is that one is always contactable.  In other words each of us can always be found.  We cannot wander off into a tranquil land of retreat from the world.  In other words, what I am getting at here is that the world with all its worries and concerns as well as all its consolations and excitement is always too much with us; always impinging on our being; always entering into our soul; always intruding, intruding, intruding.  There is simply no escape...

It is in a similar vein that James Hillman continues with his letters to Michael Ventura.  Instantaneity like its first cousin spontaneity, is much to be lauded.  Both connect us with the inner self or even with an outer power which flows through us (at least some writers and artists maintain that this latter is so) in what's called inspiration, that is, as if there is some wisdom or power literally breathing through us.  Whether you believe this or not, at least it is a wonderful image or metaphor.  And yet instantaneity and spontaneity can weary the soul sometimes if one has no access to moments of solitude where one can reflect upon those experiences.

And so letter writing belongs to the category of more reflective communication.  In being reflective, meditative and contemplative, it offers the soul inspiration from another quarter - from another, perhaps more profound, space in the soul.  The French philosophers talk about the paper trail or trace which they call the écrit, and letter writing is such a visible trace!

Letters possess the rhythms of the human voice, but they are deeper rhythms that those we have in conversation because they are thought over, mulled over, reflected upon, shaped more carefully, moulded from a deeper space in the soul than the spoken word.  Then Hillman makes the comment, with which I profoundly agree, being an erstwhile writer of letters myself, that we may be actually closer and more truly communicating in letters than when talking.  There is a more profound communication shaped in solitude, a solitude which nurses the imagination to forge deeper truths or at least gain access to deeper truths than cannot be accessed through mere verbal conversation.


Piece of sculpture, Ulster Museum, March 2011
Then Hillman makes what I consider an interesting, ever so slightly sarcastic comment - that we are because we are accessible.  I have alluded to our sheer accessibility in the modern world in my opening paragraph; to that state of sometimes fraught accessibility where we can be intruded upon at the sound of a phone ring tone.  Again I like these words from our archetype psychologist here:

If I must be networked in order to be, then on my own I am out of the loop, out of communication, null and void, nowhere.  I can't be reached.  If to be means to be reachable, then in order to be I must stay networked.  Result: the contemporary syndrome, communication addiction.  (Op. cit., p. 95)
Writing is much different to this constantly being in connection with others, constantly being "in-the-loop" as it were.  When we sit down to write, we actually step out of this connection loop.  We are no longer in an  addictive pattern or in a frenzied state of communication.  In this slower more pensive way when we write we are entering an imaginal space.  Because our letter is a work of the imagination we are forging a deeper communication of one soul to another soul, from writer to recipient.  To be connected by means of the imagination with another human being is to be more deeply communicating.  Let me here return once again to the magical, if not mystical, words of Dr Hillman:

Detail from Celtic sculpture, Mullingar

We are connected by means of imagination.  Imagination spins a web, its network, to ensnare your fantasies.  This is less a communication than a cosmic enterprise that is really not bound by time and space.  Isn't that precisely what the great letters of the past reveal and why they still appeal beyond space and time?  Just think of the web of imaginative writing, written from ships after months away at sea, by explorers lost in wastelands, by those locked in prisons, written from trenches with sudden death imminent, written to lovers one has met but once or shortly - connections of imagination that are meetings of souls, in which there is no "relationship" going on at all. (Ibid., p.97)
Indeed, it is important to add here that we don't have to verbalize our thoughts to communicate with another human being.  Look at lovers or even any couple - young or old - who communicate at times in a calm and touching silence. 

Those Wonderful Old Gods Again - Yippee!! (I'm delighted, not sarcastic here, good reader!)

(a) Hermes:
Hillman, so very erudite in Greek and Roman mythology, adverts to the ancient Greek God Hermes who was the messenger of the Gods as well as being the guide to the Underworld.  However, here we are concerned only with his role as a messenger or communicator.  Hillman argues, and I am sure he is right, that Hermes is both the God of Communication and the Patron of Liars.  However, once again, its a question of interpretation.  For us moderns we are prone to interpreting things one way or another but always in a superficial manner.  Hence, our interpretation may be so far from the truth.  It is also interesting to see that the word "hermeneutics"  which means the study and theory of interpretation per se takes its provenance from the word "Hermes."

Hillman argues that belief in Hermes is our new monotheism - a sort of hermetic hypermania (my phrase).  Under this new God Hermes everything is reduced to sound bites, smart phrases like "Get plugged in!" or "Keep networking!"

(b) Hestia
In Greek mythology Hestia (Roman Vesta), first daughter of Cronus and Rhea (Ancient Greek Ἑστία, "hearth" or "fireside"), is the virgin goddess of the hearth, architecture, and of the right ordering of domesticity and the family. Hermes in antiquity was paired with Hestia, she who sat still and was focused.  Now we will recall that the Latin word "focus" means fireplace or hearth.  Hillman reminds us that letter writing requires focus - even prolonged focus.  It's as if the imagination is the hearth or fireside that warms and inspires the soul.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Where is the Soul 19?

The Importance of Honouring the Soul in Writing

TCD, March, 2011
In the nineties of the last century I used attend a Summer school on adult education run by a priest/guru/psychologist of a Jungian bent.  This man trained us to be sensitive to the soul and to engage on what he called "soul work."  From the first conference, which was handled on a group-encounter footing, I was hooked.  By soul work, the facilitator, Fr. T. Hamill, meant anything creative like dream-work, journalling, meditating, role-playing, acting in plays, musical and artistic expression as well as ritualistic expression.  Our wonderful sessions encompassed all these possibilities.  One session I remember for its effectiveness and power was where we each had to write down an animal that we felt most represented us as we were then.  When we had done this, he asked each one of us to become that animal in the group and to express it in movement and sound in the conference room.  What a liberation of the soul that session was, and how well I dreamed that night as that dramatic role-playing allowed my unconscious to reveal itself in a veritable wealth of dream images!  Then another favourite phrase of our guru was "honour the dream" or some aspect of it by writing it down, composing a poem, doing something ritualistic or drawing or painting or even singing it. 

Back to Hillman and Ventura

Two trees at TCD, March, 2011
As I mentioned in my penultimate post, both Hillman and Ventura prize the significance of letters in soul work.  Then Hillman, as a trained Jungian analyst emphasizes that central to Jungian or Analytical therapy/psychology is the primacy of the written script.  The classical Jungian analysis always contained a written and reflective element.  In short Jungians invite reflection by means of WRITING. Classical Jungians asked their patients to, indeed required them, to write down their dreams and make drawings and/or paintings of the figures, feelings and scenes that appeared in their dreams.  They also encouraged their patients/clients to write long interior dialogues called "active imaginations."  (See op. cit., p. 90)  Let me return to Hillman's magic words here:

TCD, again March, 2011
Immediacy was not an issue.  Content Analysis.  Quiet.  Reflection.  Constellation of unexpected emotions through tension and mulling.  Thematics.  Style of expression.  Emotion compacted into words, images, colours, scenes, phrases, diction,, voices.  Attempts at precision, finer and finer.  The personal relation between two people, analyst and patient, was carrier on in most part via the material.  The nebulous, ephemeral psyche and its fluid swinging moods and laconic resistant rocks caught on paper, materialized as traces of the écrit, the mind's marks on paper. (Ibid., p. 91)
Unfortunately, Hillman maintains that the Jungians, too, have yielded to the cult of immediacy or expressionism or expressionist immediacy.  In  this, they, too, have begun to distrust written material.  Instantaneity is now the privileged method preferred.  Dreams are to be recounted on the spot rather than honoured in Fr. T. Hamill's sense to which I alluded in my opening comments.  In short, what Hillman is at here is in a sense a yes/no or both/and answer, that is, something of the soul is gained in talk therapy while something else is also gained in the written form of therapy.  Obviously something is lost in either which is complemented by the other.

Insight into Language: 

Hillman goes on to stress that talk therapy allows for instantaneity, spontaneity and immediacy of emotions and feelings while  written therapy tries to make things more precise, more specific, more thoughful, more conceptual and strangely (my words, not Hillman's) more whole.  He further claims that therapy's talking cure can make language sick.  Then he insightfully informs us, and I believe this is a wonderful insight, that
The reform of society begins in a reform of its language.  I want to reach back to the Egyptians and their God Thoth, the primal baboon, God of written signs; and the Ibis figure, the scribe; and to the sacred importance of the written, like the commandments of Moses cut into clay, like the cuneiform laws of Hammurabi. (Ibid., p. 93)
Hillman's conclusion, or at least one of his conclusions as to why humanity is getting worse despite all the various therapies available to it and availed of by it is partly because of therapy's "linguistic callousness." (Ibid., p. 93)  And, this archetype psychologist last sentiments communicated to Ventura in this letter are in the form of a short eulogy on the demise of the tradition of hand-written letters.  I am certainly one with Dr. Hillman here!

Simplicity comes Amongst Us as the Dalai Lama Visits Us!

One cannot let the occasion pass without referring to the visit of that wonderful human being, the Dalai Lama, to Ireland over the last several days.  I know what it is like to meet such an enlightened person, having been fortunate enough to present at a talk by another, one Lama Sogyal Rinpoche of the Rigpa Movement some five or so years ago here in Dublin in DCU.  I got to admit I was deeply touched by this speaker's wisdom. 

However, I'm not so naive as to believe that such religious leaders or gurus are either infallible or superhuman.  After all, a small number of such gurus have been caught transgressing the law.  See the post entitled Gurus Behaving Badly at the following excellent blog: The Politics of Well-Being.  However, needless to say the Dalai Lama's standing is unbesmirched by such allegation.  The smiling Lama as I like to call him is a truly wonderful beacon in a world where many political and religious leaders have been found so wanting.  The Dalai Lama's message of Peace, Forgiveness and Compassion rings sound and powerful like a bell calling the faithful to meditate on life, to take stock of their mortality and to embrace the liberating message of peace and well-being.

Even to write these words in honour of such a great and wonderful human being is in itself a call to the Still Point of Being; a call to contemplate the contingency of our existence; to meditate upon our sheer mortality; to become compassionate to self and to others and to treat all other sentient beings with compassion and loving kindness. 

On last Wednesday, April 13th, two thousand people gathered in Dublin’s Citywest Hotel for the sold-out POSSIBILITIES 2011 civic summit. POSSIBILITIES was organised by three Irish non-profit organisations: Afri (See link AFRI), Children in Crossfire (See linkCIC) and SpunOut.ie (See link SO) and aims to inspire people, young and old, to become vocal and active in transforming our country and our planet for the better. How I should have loved to have been in attendance and to have heard the good man speak, if not to have met him in person!  The soon-to-retire Tibetan leader, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama accepted a personal invitation to come to Ireland from his close friend, Derry man Richard MooreRichard was blinded by a rubber bullet at the age of 10, and went on to seek out and befriend the British soldier who shot him. Now the Dalai Lama is patron of that organisation Children in Crossfire, a charity founded by Richard.  That charity tries to help children escape from the trap of early childhood poverty in developing countries.

The Dalai Lama spoke on the subject of ‘Universal Responsibility’ in Dublin and how taking action for change is something we all have a duty to do. Following the Possibilities Summit, the Dalai Lama spoke at events in Kildare and Limerick as part of his third visit to the Republic.

Later, on Wednesday in Kildare town, the Brigideen, Sr. Mary Minehan presented the Lama with a Silver St Brigid's Cross mounted on bog oak. In that town the Tibetan Spiritual Leader spoke about spirituality.





Paddy Duffy in his most interesting column on Irish Central website makes the following profound comments on the Dalai Lama's visit:

The fundamental problem with writing about an experience as profound as seeing and hearing the Dalai Lama speak is that the feeling it gives you is very hard to verbalise. Thankfully, the man himself has no such problem verbalising complicated concepts, and I came to realise that how he says what he says is as important as what he says. His is a wisdom that is more powerful stated than assumed, and it was wonderful to hear...  You could feel the 2,000 strong audience felt the same, as speaker after inspirational speaker was awarded rapturous standing ovations that came from their socks. Richard Moore, the founder of Children In Crossfire and the Dalai Lama’s hero, was a special highlight of the day. Blinded at the age of ten by a rubber bullet in his native Derry, Richard is a truly extraordinary example of forgiveness and compassion. Not only has he not let blindness or bitterness consume him, but he’s dedicated his life to helping other children in conflict zones. He even sought out the soldier that shot him, and the two are now friends. It was hard not to well up listening to him speak. (See this link: Across The Pond )


The grief-stricken families of murdered rugby player Shane Geoghegan and Michaela Harte were among an audience of over 3,000 people who listened to the Dalai Lama deliver a stirring message of compassion and forgiveness in the University of Limerick Sports Arena later on Thursday.  Shane Geoghegan’s mother Mary and brother Anthony, as well as Tyrone GAA manager Mickey Harte and John McAreavey, father and husband of Michaela Harte, who was murdered tragically in Mauritius earlier this year, listened intently as the 76 year-old Tibetan spiritual leader spoke for close to an hour about “infinite compassion” in an address called ‘The Power of Forgiveness’, after which he received a standing ovation.

However, oftentimes pictures speak better and more profoundly than mere words.  We are blessed to have had such a marvellous world Spiritual Leader tread on Irish ground.  He is a living image calling us back to the Still Point as I have said above, inviting us to wake up, become alert, to meditate on the essential meaning of life.  Drink deep from the pictures I have here uploaded!