Tag Archive for coping

Confronting Signs of a Society in Decline: An Interview with Journalist Chris Hedges

When I met Chris Hedges online for our recent interview together, I could see why Pacifica Graduate Institute invited him to speak at their milestone 40th anniversary celebration conference, Climates of Change and the Therapy of Ideas, which takes place April 21-24, 2016, in Santa Barbara, CA.

As a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Hedges carries with him nearly two decades of experience reporting from war-torn countries like Yugoslavia, El Salvador, and also Gaza and South Sudan. In this capacity, he has witnessed the decline and disintegration of multiple societies, a perspective which has surely influenced his capacity regard the decline and potential destruction of our own modern culture that seems severely out of order.

He has been described, more than once, as being “dark,” which, from a depth psychological perspective, I’m quick to assure him, is actually a compliment. Depth psychology insists we look under the surface and in the margins of things in order to better understand them, and then requires that we witness and hold what we find in spite of the darkness from which we might easily prefer to flee. Chris appears to take this in stride: recognizing and carrying the knowledge that contemporary society is facing its own morbidity, in some ways, has fallen squarely on his shoulders.

decay.jpgHedges notes that, as both individuals and civilizations, we encounter cycles of growth, maturation, decadence, and decay, and death. In contemporary society—especially modern society—we can see the signs of morbidity around us, in our boundless use of harmful fossil fuels, in much sought-after expansion beyond the capacity to sustain ourselves, and in the physical decay of the environment and in the places we inhabit.

There are common patterns and common responses to decline and collapse across eras and cultures. While our culture is more technologically advanced in comparison with that of Easter Island, for example, it is arguable that human nature has not really changed. Who was it that cut down the last tree on Easter Island, for example? He wasn’t thinking, Hedges asserts, and neither are we today! Since the Jungian viewpoint is that we are each on our own journey of individuation, increasing consciousness and moving toward wholeness, for me, Chris’s point raises the question as to whether our culture should actually be individuating as well—but is somehow stuck in its process.

How is it that most of us, myself included, are able to go about our daily lives engaging in habits and participating in systems that are destroying the planet, harming each other, and generally contributing to the detriment of society? There is a psychological mechanism by which people seek to blind themselves, Hedges insists. We tend to cling to a belief system that essentially shuts us off, disconnects us from what’s actually happening around us. Those individuals that dare to name the reality often become outcasts in the society. The seers are condemned and vilified.

We carry with us a sort of “sick mania for hope,” says Hedges. If news isn’t positive or hopeful, we dismiss it or deny it. The majority of the population of a civilization in decline simply don’t want to hear the truth about the situation because the future seems too bleak. If you take just the issue of climate change, Chris explains, you can see that we live with two illusions: One, that it doesn’t exist; or two, that we can adapt. While most of us are hiding out in denial, according to Nietzsche, Chris reminds me, it is the role of intellectuals and artists, to see and confront the reality through their work.

“When you don’t confront the perils around you; when you build psychological mechanisms or walls—which we have done with the aid of technology and the aid of culture, then you’re almost guaranteed to commit collective suicide, Hedges tells me, adding, “The consequences …for my children and for future generations is catastrophic because if we don’t radically reconfigure our relationship to each other and to the earth, we are going to have to begin to confront the extinction of the human species.”

Yes, for so many reasons, one can see why some people have described Chris Hedges as “dark.” Having written my own dissertation at Pacifica on a phenomenon I termed “culture collapse disorder,” I spent many long hours contemplating the darkness of some of these same ideas. I remember Buddhist eco-scholar Joanna Macy writing that we, as humans, collectively live in fear of confronting the despair that we all carry—a despair that derives from dread of realizing for the first time that the human species may not pull through.[1]

denial_blog.jpg“There is a kind of subterranean understanding the the ground is shifting in incredibly dramatic ways,” Chris agrees, but we certainly have our ways of coping and shoring up our denial. Our society has built mechanisms of indoctrination around consumerism and entertainment. Technology, he suggests, rather than being a boon for consciousness, has instead served to shut down the most basic understanding of who we are as individuals and as a society.

Hedges introduces the term “atomization,” utilized by twentieth century political philosopher Hannah Arendt to describe how communal organizations (including bowling leagues and stamp clubs) have been obliterated in our culture, and how people have retreated into their own narrow circles and cut themselves off from establishments that made participatory democracy possible. Fewer and fewer people are showing up to churches and historical societies these days, he points out. With atomization comes a dangerous “cult of the self” which seeps into every aspect of our lives—including spirituality.

In the course of our conversation, I am reminded of something James Hillman once penned, writing:

Soul-making must be reimagined. We have to go back before Romanticism, back to medieval alchemy and Renaissance Neoplatonism, back to Plato, back to Egypt, and also especially out of Western history to tribal animistic psychologies that are always mainly concerned, not with individualities, but with the soul of things (“environmental concerns,” “deep ecology,” as it’s now called) and propitiatory acts that keep the world on its course.[2]

It’s a question of a society that honors the sacred—as pre-moderns did, Chris responds when I read Hillman’s words. Nothing has an intrinsic value in a corporate-capitalistic society. Everything has an exclusively monetary value, including human beings and the natural world, which we exploit until exhaustion or collapse. Chris cites Karl Polanyi’s work, The Great Transformation, in which Polanyi states that these societies have built within them their own self-annihilation, and points out that Polanyi, although he is an economist, actually uses the term “sacred” in his writings. In Hedges’ opinion, we have lost both the capacity to understand the sacred and the capacity for reverence for the sacred, resulting in the destruction of the very forces that sustain the earth and the community.

So, I wonder aloud: How do we reconnect with the sacred?

back_to_nature.jpgChris doesn’t hesitate. Severance with natural world is a big part of the problem, he contends, and intrusions like television and Internet have fed the decay, disintegration, desensitivity and numbness of the wider culture. We have to find ways to unplug and find our way back to nature. Nature is what allows us to realize we are not the center of the universe. We’ve also lost connection with the voices of our ancestors, who can free us from the trap of modernity. We need to be able to reflect on what it means to have a life of meaning and to participate within a society. When we’re cut of from those voices, then in many ways we’re cut of from what it means to be human.

I can’t agree more with this diagnosis. It is at the heart of what I understand from my own studies in depth psychology. Our best hope to weather the coming storm and stay centered through the disintegration of society as we know it is to reconnect with those powerful forces that give us context and meaning, and to continually contemplate what Jung himself once wrote: “The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life.”[3]

Listen to the full interview with Chris Hedges here (Approx. 33 mins.)

Learn more / Register for Pacifica’s upcoming 40th Anniversary Conference, Climates of Change and the Therapy of Ideas

[1] Joanna Macy, “How to Deal with Despair.” Originally published in New Age magazine, June 1979

[2] James Hillman and Michael Ventura, We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy—and the World’s Getting Worse, p. 51

[3] C. G. Jung,  Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pp. 356-7

 


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Chris Hedges, M.Div., whose column is published weekly on Truthdig.com.com, has written 11 books, including the New York Times best seller Days of Destruction, Days of RevoltDeath of the Liberal ClassEmpire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle; I Don’t Believe in Atheists; and the best selling American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. Hedges previously spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans and was part of the team of reporters at The New York Times awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism. Hedges is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute in New York City. He has taught at Columbia University, New York University, Princeton University and The University of Toronto. He currently teaches prisoners at a maximum-security prison in New Jersey.


bonnie_bright.jpgBonnie Bright, Ph.D., graduated from Pacifica’s Depth Psychology program after defending her dissertation in December 2014. She is the founder of Depth Psychology Alliance, a free online community for everyone interested in depth psychologies, and of DepthList.com, a free-to-search database of Jungian and depth psychology-oriented practitioners. She is also the creator and executive editor of Depth Insights, a semi-annual scholarly journal, and regularly produces audio and video interviews on depth psychological topics. Bonnie has completed 2-year certifications in Archetypal Pattern Analysis via the Assisi Institute; in Technologies of the Sacred with West African elder Malidoma Somé, and has been extensively involved in Holotropic Breathwork™ and the Enneagram.

NOTE: This post was originally published on Pacifica Post, the official blog post for Pacifica Graduate Institute, on March 7, 2016

Depth Psychological Approaches to Suffering—Audio Interview & Blog post with Dr. Lionel Corbett

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ― Kahlil Gibran

We are all intimately familiar with suffering. And, while we might wish it away when it is painfully present, it is a normal part of human life, Dr. Lionel Corbett, M.D., Jungian analyst and professor at Pacifica Graduate Institute reminded me when I recently sat down for a depth discussion with him on the topic.

Corbett-WebImage.jpgEtymologically, the word “suffering” comes from two Latin roots: sub—meaning “under”—and ferre, meaning “to carry or bear,” as in “to bear a burden.” But suffering is not necessarily pathological, Lionel insists. The root of the word “suffer” is also the root of the English word “fertile,” so it is also related to the idea of bearing fruit. Psychologically, then, suffering can produce something; it’s not random or meaningless, nor merely something to get rid of. In reality, it can act as either a fertilizer or a poison. It can be harmful or it can be helpful, but we need a framework by which we can understand it.

Dr. Corbett, whose recent book, The Soul in Anguish: Psychotherapeutic Approaches to Suffering serves as a foundation for his public workshop (February 12-14, 2016) at Pacifica Graduate Institute, asserts that suffering can be developmentally useful, enabling wisdom and understanding we might not otherwise have had. Suffering can change our worldview, our values, and even reveal aspects of a person’s character that were previously not known. It may also make us more empathic and compassionate, or more appreciative of everyday life.

We might take depression, which is one kind of suffering or “burden,” as an example, Lionel noted. It is common to look at it through a clinical lens as a disorder, but if we engage a spiritual lens, depression may be regarded as a “dark night of the soul” which will eventually enhance our spiritual development. Depending on which lens one uses to regard it, we hold an attitude that will either tend to re-enforce and solidify our usual habits and patterns of thinking and doing, or else open us to change and transformation. Suffering (of any kind) may reveal great capacity for courage and resilience in an individual—or it can result in resentment and bitterness. When we consider it using a depth psychological lens, it seems clear it is not a random process, but rather a critically important aspect in the development of the personality and of what C. G. Jung called “individuation.”

Dr. Corbett offers multiple frameworks for considering suffering; among them, the idea that suffering is a period of liminality—a term anthropologists use to describe a rite of passage. Rites of passage in tribal cultures used to occur in three phases. The middle phase was the liminal on, or the phase of being “betwixt and between,” a period of tremendous uncertainty. Considering that while we are suffering, we are simply between phases, may provide an archetypal context that can help situate us and provide meaning, giving us strength to go on.

Suffering brings up fundamental and often painful questions about individual destiny and about the meaning of life, at times resulting in identity crises or “spiritual emergencies” that arouse questions like, “Why is this happening to me?” or “What have I done to deserve this?” Jung suggested that searching for meaning in suffering ultimately makes bearable what would otherwise be unbearable, and pointed out the need to locate ourselves in a larger relationship to “what is.” “The decisive question for man is,” wrote Jung (1961), “Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life. Only if we know that the thing which truly matters is the infinite can we avoid fixing our interests upon futilities, and upon all kinds of goals which are not of real importance. … If we understand and feel that here in this life we already have a link with the infinite, desires and attitudes change.” (pp. 356-7)

In mid-life, Lionel points out, many of us find ourselves living out the stereotypical scenario where we struggle to climb the ladder, only to find as we get to the top that the ladder has been leaning against the wrong wall. In times of intense suffering, our established lifelong spiritual traditions may fail to help. Questioning one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs can be one of the functions of suffering, further amplifying the viewpoint that the way one has been living may suddenly seem rather pointless or hollow. This can cause tremendous regret or bitterness, but if one can have a direct experience of the transpersonal unconscious, what Jung refers to as “the numinous,” it can open the door to a new personal form of spirituality.

Where does suffering come from? Believing it is something that is “happening to” us is an egoic perspective, Lionel reminded me. Because the process of suffering comes out of the unconscious, we have no control over it. Jung would say that it comes from what he termed the “Self,” sending signals from the unconscious that something needs attention. While suffering can result from a complex that has taken hold of us, we can consciously and purposefully engage in the process by inquiring into aspects of or own psyche that we have to grapple with. Lionel offered a compelling metaphor, that is to look at this situation as a boat where the sailor cannot change the wind, but he can adjust the sails. The wind is like the wind of the spirit, he notes: things happen that you can’t control. The way you adjust the sails is your reaction to it.

Is suffering optional? Can we avoid suffering altogether, or at least diminish it? Are some people more sensitive to suffering? Is there such a thing as secondhand suffering, where certain individuals suffer more themselves because of what they’re witnessing? These are all questions I posed in our conversation, and some of Lionel’s answers surprised me, but this final question truly brought me back to the implications of working with suffering in a depth psychological way. “How do therapists and helping professionals sustain their work with those who are suffering?”, I wondered aloud to Dr. Corbett, who is a seasoned analyst and clinician.

There is a shamanic way of working with clients, he was quick to suggest, wherein the therapist takes on the suffering of the client, transmutes it, and then “gives it back to them in a more digestible way.”

This, to me, is the blessing of depth psychology. Knowing it is paramount in our individuation process and having support from depth-oriented thinkers and therapists who can help us hold the suffering so it can transmute and transform us.

“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching,” famously wrote Charles Dickens in Great Expectations, “and has taught me to understand what [the] heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but—I hope—into a better shape.”

Listen to the full audio interview with Dr. Lionel Corbett here (27:12 mins)

Learn more about Dr. Lionel Corbett’s upcoming public workshop, “Depth Psychological Approaches to Suffering,” February 12-14, 2016 at Pacifica Graduate Institute.


Sources

Merriam-Webster online dictionary: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/suffer

Corbett, Lionel. (2015). The Soul in Anguish: Psychotherapeutic Approaches to SufferingAsheville, NC: Chiron.

Dickens, Charles. (2003). Great Expectations. New York, NY: Barnes & Noble Classics.

Jung, C.G. (1961). Memories, Dreams, ReflectionsNew York, NY. Pantheonpp. 356-7.


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Lionel Corbett, M.D., trained in medicine and psychiatry in England, and as a Jungian Analyst at the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago. His primary interests are the religious function of the psyche, especially the way in which personal religious experience is relevant to individual psychology; the development of psychotherapy as a spiritual practice; and the interface of Jungian psychology and contemporary psychoanalytic thought. Dr. Corbett is a professor of depth psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. He is the author of numerous professional papers and four books: Psyche and the Sacred, The Religious Function of the Psyche; The Sacred Cauldron: Psychotherapy as a Spiritual Practice; and most recently The Soul in Anguish: Psychotherapeutic Approaches to SufferingHe is the co-editor of Jung and Aging; Depth Psychology, Meditations in the Field; and Psychology at the Threshold.

Regarding Change: Holding the Tension Even When it Hurts

When challenges arise for each of us, it is easier to turn to denial or distraction rather than holding the tension of what’s arising long enough to allow the self-regulating function of the psyche to take over. C.G. Jung suggested that the opposing attitudes of the ego (which gets us through some tight spots, usually by choosing the path of least resistance) and the unconscious or greater “Self” (which has our personal growth and spiritual awakening at heart) can be mitigated and even transcended if we are willing to regard the reality of our struggle and hold the tension long enough for some kind of insight and movement–a transition–to occur.
Employing or maintaining a state of “disregard” in daily life is quick, easy, and painless: almost a default mode of survival in our western consumer-based culture where everything moves faster and faster with each passing moment. In a world where we are focused on meeting deadlines, following timelines, achieving goals, and taking action, we are often are unwilling to make the time to find value in things, people, or ideas that arise around us.
In our haste, we often disregard our health, our emotions, our memories, and our loved ones. We dismiss the natural world, the earth, the landscape around us. We ignore famine, violence, and disease if it’s not in our own backyard. And we judge and disregard “others”: other races, other cultures, the “other” gender, and other beliefs.

Worst, we disregard the profound feelings of loss and longing that run like deep currents beneath our intensity and our frenzied pace, relegating them to the dark shadowy realms of the unconscious where we are not willing to look. In fact, we have ignored so much and so many of our true deep needs and emotions, we individually and as a whole, feel like something is missing. And indeed it is: pieces of ourselves and our collective humanity have become atrophied and dropped away like lost pieces of our souls, leaving us wounded and fragmented. Both universally and personally, this soul loss is a byproduct of the tremendous capacity we have developed to disregard.

Disregard drains the life force of every living thing, and those who do, in fact, make an effort to regard the liminal, the elements that are not front and center, the “non-mainstream” if you will, know that everything is alive. By judging something to have no value (or only monetary value), we dishonor it, kill it, objectify it: turn it into an dead, inanimate object which we feel justified to use, control, manipulate, or destroy. We have done this collectively with Mother Nature, Mother Earth and all of her natural resources. We have done this with animals we raise for consumption in unnatural ways pumping them full of steroids or genetically modifying supplements along with genetically modified fruits, grains, and vegetables.

In fact, in many cultures and a multitude of ways over the past few millennia, we have disregarded the sacred power of the feminine itself from whom all life comes, and a feminine “way of being” which is more receptive and creative rather than forceful, attached, and driven. This sacred feminine aspect is the force that allows us to tenderly hold and sustain the fallout during a difficult situation, patiently nurturing a creative space in which the difficulty can be transmuted and refined.

Evidence from ancient cultures indicates sublime reverence of the Divine Feminine, a life-giving mother who created all things. Goddess-imaged figurines with ripe breasts and bellies said to represent her fertile presence and power have been found from as far back as 30,000 years ago. Cave drawings, art, and pottery from as recently as 6000 to 3000 BCE depict her enlivening force.

As the Great Mother of nature, life, and indeed, all creation, she oversaw the transition from birth to life, then to the realm of death. Our ancestors were embedded in the web she wove. They understood that all things are born into life and light; then fade into the dark of a new phase of being. The goddess has long been associated with the moon. Our indigenous predecessors, who lived in a more profound state of regard for the world around them, traced the infinite circle of life, death, and rebirth through the cycles of nature. Just as the moon died to the sun each night, or faded each month to three days of darkness of the new moon, then was born again, the “people” understood the infinite rhythms of being. We are all born, and we will all die, returning to the earth from whence we came. Systems–sometimes cultures–will eventually collapse and new shoots will arise from the deadwood and debris. Our ability to regard the inevitable, and to surrender to and even embrace the change, will free some of the psychic energy around transition that often makes the transition itself difficult for us as humans.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell suggested that when a deity (or nature or the process of our own individuation and becoming–whatever that “something bigger” is to you) wants to open us up and we are too ego-centered, too attached to let go of our fixed beliefs and desires, we perceive the deity as wrathful and the experience as painful. If we are able to let go and open, we perceive the same deity, the same process, as compassionate and kind. If we are NOT able to surrender to the coming death in what ever form it presents itself–the loss of a job, the decline of health, the passing of a loved one–to dance with it, grieve with it, open to it, then we will suffer, interpreting the process as wrath coming from God or from nature, or from somewhere outside ourselves.

If you are in transition, there are many depth perspectives and techniques that can help you hold the reality of what is happening, and to regard the coming change with compassion and self-love, with awe, respect and hope. Be sure to check for depth-oriented therapists, Jungian analysts, art therapists, shamanic practitioners, dreamworkers, somatic therapists and other practicing individuals on DepthPsychologyList.com to help you regard and to hold the very human process of change until something new can emerge. In this way, you risk less the act of disregarding the beauty and value of the insights to be gained with all change in life, large or small, and the joy of becoming to which they lead.

Holding the Opposites, Grounding in Earth to Cope with Difficult Times

When we are not grounded, not connected to our roots, terrible psychic issues occur, which lead to feelings of intense fear and anxiety suggests Jungian analyst Judith Harris, in her book Jung and Yoga: The Psyche Body Connection. She quotes C. G. Jung, who, in his complex work, Mysterium Coniunctionus, establishes that the element of earth holds the exact central point between the tensions of two opposites.


Grounding oneself in the earth results in feeling held by the Great Mother, rendering one nourished, nurtured, and whole. The center is the eternal, Harris states, and all that is contained within it is represented by the archetype of the Self, which contains the totality of the psyche. The center implies stillness, and in the stillness there is space for something new to emerge. When we connect to the sacred center, the earth, “the deep-seated origins that existed thousands of years before us brings healing at a profound mystical level” (Harris, p. 76).

“He who is rooted in the soil endures,” wrote Jung (1927). “Alienation from the unconscious and from its historical conditions spells rootlessness. That is the danger that lies in wait for the conqueror of foreign lands, and for every individual who, through one-sided allegiance to any kind of -ism, loses touch with the dark, maternal, earthy ground of his being. (Jung, 1927, p. 103).

According to Jung, when we go “down” (the direction of earth), we connect with the collective unconscious which includes the past: we go back in time, and in so doing, we touch all the unfulfilled lives that have been lived before us, allowing them to be lived out; redeeming them. This alignment with the center, the earth, the archetype of the Great Mother allows us to discover the miracle of creativity (in Harris, 2001).

Man facing coming night storm

Judith Harris reminds us that when sufficient energy moving in one direction accumulates, it will always ultimately be reversed in order to prevent one-sidedness. When torn between the opposites, chaos results, and we are literally torn in two—unable to stand, to move, to bear the confusion—while still being drawn further into the chaos. The age-old motif of descent, or “dark night of the soul,” carries with it the theme of a quest, an initiation, a purification that will lead to liberation, renewal, and rebirth.

When times seem dark, there is little we can do but to hold the tension, the grief, and the pain. We must be willing to be still and grounded enough in order to witness the fall of night, the darkness that makes its cold nest all around us, cutting us off from home. There can be no regeneration until we can do so. Until we all are willing to reconnect with our roots in Mother Earth, to take on the darkness and embrace it, we will continue to colonize others, to disregard the spirit and inspirited that surrounds us, and to suffer. Sometimes symbolic death can occur in the process, but in dying, new life occurs. When the Gorgon, Medusa, of Greek myth was decapitated by Perseus, it is said that her blood gave birth to the Pegasus, the winged white horse who represents poetry and creativity.

Somewhere within me, as I write these words, I have the sudden felt understanding this underlying eternal tenet: that in holding the tension of the opposites, a miracle occurs. The transcendent solution that arises is tangible; real. If I can just be aware and still myself in that center between the opposites of any seemingly hopeless or stressful situation… If I can just feel my feet on the ground and hold the tension, even in the midst of two end points that don’t appear they can ever be reconciled… If I can ground myself down into the earth, I can actually be present enough to behold the process taking place.

It seems like few of us in our fast-paced (often overwhelming and sometimes frightening) contemporary culture are willing to embrace the dark earth; the deep, devouring feminine that insists we surrender and be purified. Collectively, we tend to mill about our daily lives with their myriad of responsibilities, activities, and worries, disconnected, lost, homeless, fearful, and alone. Where do we begin?

It begins with the individual taking root and making a stand even in the midst of fear, anxiety, and despair. Rather than fleeing into panic, distress, or anger, or trying to distract ourselves, we must each learn take on that dark night, to stop the frantic buzzing of useless wings and allow the night to wash over us, silent and still as we embrace it; as it engulfs us and devours us. We must hold the tension; trusting that something bigger exists, releasing the attachment to the notion that we will ever see the hive again, but knowing that the earth is so much bigger.

References

Harris, J. (2001). Jung and yoga: The psyche-body connection. Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books.

Jung, C. G. (1927). “Mind and Earth” (1927). In Collected Works Vol. 10: Civilization in Transition.


Making a Masterpiece of Your Life: Summary of a Teleseminar by Thomas Moore

“To the soul, the most minute details and the most ordinary activities, carried out with mindfulness and art, have an effect far beyond their apparent insignificance.”

—Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul: Guide for Cultivating Depth
and Sacredness in Everyday Life

 

Recently I had the chance to tune into a free teleseminar with author, religious scholar, professor and lecturer Thomas Moore of the book, Care of the Soul, fame. The teleseminar focused on how to make a masterpiece of your life. According to Moore, the word “masterpiece” harkens back to Renaissance, which he’s been studying for thirty years or so. It offers up beauty like painting, architecture, and is such a rich source of pleasure and psychological and spiritual insight. Moore points out that the word “masterpiece” can be sometimes be overused to mean perfect or refer to something too sentimental. For him, the first thing that occurs is “making an art of your life.”

Beauty is even more important for the soul and spirit than physical health, Moore insisted. When it comes to soul and spirit, we might not think of health, but rather what it takes to make a beautiful life. How might people look at life and find pleasure in it, rather than being so concerned about being right, correct, or even healthy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in the third century, it was Plotinus who said we should “sculpt” our soul and chip away anything that doesn’t quite fit in order to reveal a beautiful life, a beautiful personality. As a therapist, coach, or mentor, Moore suggested, it might be helpful to ask those you’re helping: “What would it take to make your life beautiful?” rather than focusing on any other value.

Moore alluded to the Japanese idea ofwabi-sabi, an art form where imperfection and transiency plays an important role. Truly, we can find beauty in anything, even cracks in the walls. Aphrodite (in Greek mythology) or Venus (in Roman myth) is a goddess of beauty or of the soul. She is a metaphor for living a beautiful life. She restores a sense of value for things that today are not considered so important – like taking a luxurious bath or taking care of our hair. One aspect of our contemporary lives is that we have lost soul, and beauty is an important part of our lives.

A masterpiece originally could have meant a major piece an artist has done, Moore reminded us, but it can also represent work an apprentice has done in order to show the master; it is master work. It is important to align yourself with someone you consider to be a master in order to do your own work. For Moore, archetypal psychologist James Hillman was a great teacher and master as well as a friend for 38 years. A masterpiece is not something you create at working hard at it for a long time. It requires good luck and good timing. It’s not always the quality of work or effort one puts in so much a magic of timing and having good luck come your way. One thing, Moore does is try to bring luck in and make it happen and not just wait for it.

Talking about mastery is talking about “craft.” Moore said as he gets older, more people are asking how they can be a good therapist or a good writer. His suggestion: Learn the basics. Grammar, language, punctuation are critical to good writing. For therapy: it would be helpful to study alchemy, to read the Collected Works of C.G. Jung. For everything, it’s a matter of trying and failing,

We are bombarded right now with information about science and health: but it might be a good idea to tone down expectations in that arena. Health is important, Thomas agreed, but maintained that he allows myself some unhealthy foods and gives time to things he needs in his own life for beauty. Before getting on the call, for example, Moore went to his piano and played some Chopin. He says he’s not a great performer but he still likes to play for the beauty of it. His wife is an artist, so he surrounds himself with her art and others. Someone just sent him an image of St. Francis of Assisi surrounded by animals and nature. It’s wonderful to focus on simple things, and look for aspects of the beautiful. Moore tries to have erotic art around him to invoke the spirit of Eros, the spirit of the beautiful, he said. We have to have it in his environment before we can get it into our hearts, he said.

When asked how we can talk about things that matter and free people from frustration that occurs when things don’t go as planned, Moore responded that when it comes to creating a masterpiece, you can end up focusing on the rosy part of life, but you have to be able to confront the dark as well. Times when we are beating ourselves up are the times to be stronger rather than to keep doing that same kind of thing. We need to shift out of the masochistic role and be stronger and tougher in the world, he insists. In Renaissance times they said your anger could work for you if you can transmute it into firmness and strength, into having the spirit of the warrior. Moore said when finds himself getting down on himself, he reminds himself to be stronger and firmer and to look and see where he’s being too vulnerable, too soft or easy; where he needs to be tougher, maybe event going so far as to say things people are going to dislike. It’s part of beautiful life, he insists. The beauty is there only because the artist is there and allows it to happen. The artist doesn’t let people mess with them. If you do this regularly, it doesn’t build to explosion. We need both: it’s two sides to the coin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returning to the idea of wabi-sabi, Moore stated that it’s related to Hillman’s idea of polytheism. You don’t have to settle on one or the other. You can dye your air to cover the grey all the while appreciating the moss growing on the wall. It’s about allowing the natural aspect of things. As you get older and feel older, you can reveal your age. You begin to realize the things you can’t do outnumber the things you can do. In nature, for example, you try to create a house and before long you’ve got moss growing where you don’t want it. After awhile, you get cracks but those cracks can look beautiful. Allow your self with all the light and dark and good and bad and see the beauty in the whole picture. If you repress or hide elements that are imperfect then the perfection you personally try to show won’t be complete; it will look suspicious to yourself and others. Part of wabi-sabi is allowing yourself to be seen.

In the conversation, the moderator, Katherine mentioned an article she had seen recently about Stradivarius trees. There is a culture of people who look for the perfect trees to make the violins. These trees grow so slow sometimes they stop growing altogether in order to gather their strength. Our culture is so much about “new” and “do,” she said. But the trees that stop growing produce the most beautiful sound.

James Hillman wrote an essay against the idea of growth, saying human beings shouldn’t try to grow, Moore responded. In Moore’s books, he doesn’t promote growth as he believes there are times when there is no growing taking place at all in the soul. It’s a sentimental idea that we should be growing all the time. There are times of setback and when we seem to be going backward. Those times are important too. When we stop growing, people go to a therapist or coach. That’s often why these periods are good for a psyche or soul, because it forces you to stop and wonder why. A deepening happens. It’s not about being better, but deepening more into who you are; it creates more substance to you. If you’re growing all the time you don’t have the substance necessarily.

Moore took questions from listeners at the end of the teleseminar. I took the opportunity to ask him what he thought about something that is frequently on my mind these days: how to cope with the extreme devastation of the planet we see all around us on a daily basis in media and in nature. Moore’s response was to reinforce the idea that can do or hold many things at once. You can be concerned about the devastation AND you can appreciate the beauty. Every year for twelve years, Moore went to Schumacher College in England with his family, he related. Even though he’s not a scientist, he would talk to the people he met there about philosophy and spirituality and the arts. One reason we are treating nature badly is that we personalize it by thinking hierarchically, that humans are the top of the pile. It takes more of an artistic sense for people to appreciate nature. Maybe it would be helpful for us when we are deeply disturbed to paint or photograph nature. Turning something into art gets it into yourself, gets it into us, he said. Turning more to nature as art might help develop that relationship. We need more art and spirituality. Moore mentioned that his new book has a chapter on natural mysticism. To be mystical you don’t have to go off and be in the ethers, he said. Just stopping to contemplate allows you to meditate and it prepares you for what you need to do. Moore said he learned this from Thoreau, for whom these types of activities were a sacrament. Read Walden closely, Moore suggested. Follow it and learn from it.

Walking in nature or watching bees may more important than you think, he insisted. It’s a form of meditation. The things that seem the least significant may be the most important. To go out in nature, feel like you’re wasting time; the sight of nature is a darshan –it transforms. It gives you the courage to go on and do your work.

Find out more about Thomas Moore and his work at www.careofthesoul.net