Tag Archive for james hillman

Spirit, Soul, and the Secular: An Interview with Thomas Moore

Depth Psychology is often associated with “soul.” Many great thinkers in the field have shared some important thoughts on the topic, and perhaps none more so than psychologist and author, Thomas Moore, whose best-selling book, Care of the Soul, is one of the most recognized and appreciated works on the topic. Thomas Moore is speaking at the upcoming Climates of Change conference in celebration of Pacifica’s 40th anniversary in April 2016.

soul.jpgWhen I sat down recently with Thomas to discuss the topic of soul and spirituality, my first request was that he elaborate on the difference between spirit and soul. Moore’s understanding of the topic is rooted firmly in the past, going back to some of the earliest teachers of soul. While he explained his perception of the difference between spirit and soul in some detail, what struck me is that soul thrives on the “holy” and that there is a “non-human” dimension to it.

Most of the work Tom does is rooted in the spiritual traditions or in the depth psychology of both C. G. Jung and James Hillman. Both of these fields generally accept that there’s more going on within us and in the world around us that we can know, understand, or control. As an example, Tom points out that he did not “design” the life he has led, but rather has “discovered” it as he went along, trusting and having faith in life itself, even when he had no idea what was going to happen next. That for him is “not human,” because it is more than any human being can possibly understand.

While you may call one’s unfolding “destiny,” or “fate,” the language or metaphor or poetic language we engage to express the Mysterious is primarily about our feeling of its value and our great reverence toward it is what Thomas calls the “holy.” This describes Moore’s own sense of reverence for the Mysterious which has shaped his life.

In his most recent book, A Religion of One’s Own, Thomas shares some ways to tap back into a sense of spirituality. When the topic arose, I asked Thomas his opinion about the role of formal religion, which seems to be waning in our modern world.

Tom surmises that existing institutions, including religions, need to be re-imagined to suit our times. His definition of religion is a “creative and concrete response to the Mysteries.” Religion is not just an idea or belief, he insists, nor is it about perfecting ourselves. It’s about our relationship to the Mysterious “other.”

path_beach.jpgMoore cites Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, nineteenth-century authors, poets and philosophers whose grasp of religion was, in the sense that Moore describes it, a “personal experience of the holy.” They designed their lives to be more contemplative, Moore suggests, in order to be in relationship to nature and to the mysterious things in life. Thomas also insists secular literature is holy, confirming that he gets religious and spiritual guidance there. Traditional religions have changed in contemporary culture and are now “losing favor” because we are moving into a new world, he says.

Upon hearing this, I think of the alchemical adage that the the “old king” must die in order for alchemical transmutation to begin and so something new can take its place. We are seeing dynamic change on the planet, and so much is in decline— not just religion, but also in the natural world and in social systems around the globe. Allowing ourselves to be open, to be touched by wonder and awe of otherly forces is a critical process. If we don’t surrender, transformation will be forced on us, because it will happen whether we like it or not, I suggest to Thomas.

Moore agrees, invoking a Latin term he utilized as a monk, contemptus mundi, which means not contempt for the world, but rather resistance to the world. To develop a sense of the holy, he says, we have to resist the secular culture and resist the science-based culture of today, as it doesn’t make room for the holy and the “other.” The secular world is not enough for us. In order to have a soulful life, we need to have a sense of the holy. In a paradoxical way, the more we can be in touch with the transcendent and the mysterious, the more human we are, Thomas contends. It touches and opens and feeds our soul in a way that can only happen when we have a connection to a bigger reality, so a “soulful life” corresponds to the life of the holy.

James-Hillman2010.jpgI felt a growing realization as Thomas talked about being human, a reminder that the root of the word human is related to humus which is related to the earth itself. There is no “inside” and “outside,” just as Thomas said. Everything is connected. When I mentioned this to him, he reminded me that James Hillman, with whom Moore was friends for 38 years, believed that soul is in everything. Hillman was greatly interested in the anima mundi, or soul of the world, Moore told me, remembering how Hillman decided to stop his private therapy practice because he wanted to turn his therapeutic attention to the world. For his part, Thomas tells me, he chose to do both—to continue his private practice in order to help the individual, and to write books to help bring an awareness of soul in the world outside of us.

I’m reminded then how Jung talks about how the work must begin with the individual, and as we each do our own work, it can ripple out into the world. It makes me think of how hard it can be at times to actually do the work and how precious and poignant it is when we get overwhelmed by the world and experience dark nights of the soul. I ask Tom if he has insights on how we can deal with these valleys we encounter.

Among other suggestions, one important practice is to express ourselves in poetic language, to find an artistic way, even a beautiful way, to depict how you’re feeling. It’s the beauty that brings soul forward, Thomas maintains.

I think of a lecture not long ago where I heard Thomas talk about a Japanese art form, wabi-sabi, the Japanese art of imperfection, where cracks in pottery are repaired with gold to enhance them and make them beautiful. All of us could benefit from the idea of wabi-sabi when we are in the valleys, or dark nights, Moore expounds, because we are wabi-sabi in that moment. “What if we had the idea of ourselves as essentially and beautifully imperfect?” he asks. That would help us get through those dark moments.

In response, I contemplate how each of us has a different way of dealing with challenges that arise for us, and different ways of tapping into that sense of soul or holy or sacred. How can we introduce the holy more fully into the collective, I wonder.

We are suffering from our secularism, Thomas says. The church and the secular world are split into opposites. That kind of split is an indication of neurosis. Something is wrong. It would help if we didn’t separate what we do on one day of the week from the rest of the week.

Another positive move is to find the holy manifested in the natural world. By doing this, we can make every effort to move against the degradation of the natural world we’re experiencing. Spiritual life requires nature. It also requires time and work—a lifelong process of going through passages and initiations in order to become a mature person, and a psychology that is deeper than what is currently taught in most schools, Thomas suggests.

For Moore, connecting psychology with religions is very valuable. Religions teach a lot about initiation, values, and seeing a vision of the world. Secular psychology doesn’t provide the depth of thought, or “deep culture,” or a connection with the wisdom of the past, all aspects of soul which are so greatly needed for tending the soul of the world. Engaging with depth psychology and finding the holy in our own experience, though, is a beginning. May each one of us make that move toward consciousness in whatever small, precious way we can.

Listen to the full interview with Thomas Moore here (Approx. 33 mins.)

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

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Thomas Moore, Ph.D., received his degree in religion from Syracuse University. Before that he was a monk for thirteen years. He is the author of Care of the Soul and nineteen other books, with four new publications coming out in 2016. He has been a psychotherapist for forty years and lectures widely on depth psychology, religion/spirituality and the arts. He was a close friend of James Hillman for 38 years. He is also a musician, translator and writer of fiction. For more information, visit www.careofthesoul.net

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.

*This blogpost was originally posted on Pacifica Post, an official blog site for Pacifica Graduate Institute, on March 17, 2016

Working with Dreams: Depth Psychology Techniques of Carl Gustav Jung and James Hillman

Working with Dreams: Depth Psychology Techniques of Carl Gustav Jung and James Hillman

Dream work is ancient, it’s long tradition evidenced in the temples of Asclepius in Greece where individuals went to be healed through their dreams. Dreams have been an important aspect of many spiritual traditions, and even Freud considered the study of dreams to be his most important work. There are many methods of dream analysis. When working with dreams, it can be helpful to intentionally assess them from various aspects, including mythical, archetypal, alchemical, and collective, and to pay attention to which resonate most strongly emotionally and elicit even a physical response in order to begin to understand what insights are being gifted through your unconscious.

In The Dream and the Underworld, archetypal psychologist and post-Jungian James Hillman prefers to allow the dream and dream symbols to remain what they are, and not to analyze and interpret them but to simply interact with them and see what comes about. However, Hillman’s method of seeing focuses far more on an artistic view than from a therapeutic or results-oriented standpoint. As such, when it comes to dreams and symbols, he stays with the process and activity itself instead of seeking an outcome or solution. He values the description over interpretation, the animating and making a thing come alive rather than suffocating it with a contrived explanation from outside the dream. He thrives on visiting the dream in its own realm of power, the underworld, and in honoring it by allowing it to be its own entity there instead of trying to make it come alive in our ordinary world of thinking.

Hillman’s goal, as was Jung’s, is to get ever closer to the characters and activity in the dream realm, but as opposed to Jung who then turned to amplification in order to find meaning and interpretation at the level of the waking ego, Hillman chooses not to bring the dream element back into waking life and force it to match up with symbols or meanings we already hold. In fact, Hillman claims that to bring the dream out of the underworld actually betrays the dream. Hillman advocates finding wordplays, asking questions of the objects themselves, and then allowing them to live out their own soul-like existence without comparison or contrast to external references. He chides us in our desire to analyze, our wish to know, and speaks of “letting our desire die away into its images (p. 201).

I find Hillman’s technique enjoyable and rewarding as an activity, like reading a good book or watching a movie with a plot and characters that take place in front of your eyes. It is mentally stimulating, interesting, creative, and even insightful on its own terms. However, as a thinking/intuitive type, analysis and interpretation come as naturally as breathing to me, and I simply can’t conceive of doing dream work without some aspect of interpretation. If I truly believe that the unconscious is trying to communicate through dreams, and that there is a message in store that can help lead to my individuation, I must also adopt some of Jung’s (and many others) methods, in order to draw some conclusions. Otherwise, I simply recognize events or aspects of my life much later and don’t benefit from the learning aspect of my dreams as Jung purported.

Jung stresses the value of compensation in dreams, describing it as a means of “balancing and comparing different data or points of view so as to produce an adjustment or a rectification” (1960, p. 75). Robert Sardello (1995) sums up Hillman’s approach as metaphorical as contrasted to Jung’s approach, which is symbolic. However, he reminds us, “dreams are not metaphors for something else, but a different reality, a metaphorical reality” (p. 110). Robert Hoss (2005) claims compensation appears “in order to reveal misconceptions and inappropriate myths that have bound us in conflict, to provide an alternative path or reversal in our thinking about the dream, and to lead us in the direction of transformation and release” (p. 115).

Though Jung believed virtually every dream was compensatory, Hillman dismisses the compensation theory because, according to him, dreams are made partial, one-sided and imbalanced and therefore require the dreamer to turn to the dayworld aspects of ego to find the missing elements in order to find meaning (1979).

Jung asserts, “A dream…is a product of the total psyche. Hence, we may expect to find in dreams everything that has ever been of significance in the life of humanity” (1960, p. 65). Here, Jung refers to the archetypal quality of dreams, the idea that universal patterns, which are the building blocks of the collective unconscious, also make up our dreams. Robert Johnson insists “we incarnate the archetypes with our physical lives” (p. 62) and that we must research mythology and seek to understand the characteristics of the archetype, once identified, in order to understand its role in our lives. The archetypal aspect must be connected to a personal perspective or it is pointless, Johnson goes on, because “every symbol in your dream has a special, individual connotation that belongs to you alone…even when a symbol has a collective or universal meaning, it still has a personal coloration for you and can be fully explained only from within you” (p. 63).

Regardless of which dream method you adopt, there is usually not one “right” translation. Dreams hold knowledge and insight for us on many levels—often at the same time. If you’re interested in dreams, be sure to check out a free upcoming teleseminar on dreams by Jungian analyst Dr. Michael Conforti, whose methods adhere closely to Jung’s and who has been working with dreams for more than three decades. Details for the archived teleseminar can be found here –and don’t hesitate to look for depth practitioners on DepthPsychologyList.com who offer dreamwork as well.

Some References

Hillman, J. (1979). The dream and the underworld. New York: Harper & Row.

Hoss, R. J. (2005). Dream language: Self-understanding through image and color. Ashland, OR: Innersource.net.

Johnson, R. A. (1986). Inner work: Using dreams & active imagination for personal growth. San Francisco: HarperCollins.

Jung, C. G. (1960). Dreams (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). New York: Routledge.

Sardello, R. (1995). Love and the soul: Creating a future for earth. New York: HarperCollins.

Ecopsychopathy and Sustainability: The End of Life as We Know It

What is Ecopsychopathy and What are the Implications to our Culture?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a recent blogpost, I wrote some introductory thoughts about what I’m calling “Culture Collapse Disorder,” an eco-psycho-pathological disorder in which human-made stressors stemming from culture and development (and their correlating underlying connected psychological issues) are causing a drastic systemic imbalance, manifest by a critical rise in adverse conditions for earth and its inhabitants.

In short, the way of life most of us are living in modern consumer culture is simply not sustainable and the symptoms and resulting suffering are mounting. These days, while many of us choose to distract ourselves through compulsive consumption of goods, services, technology, peak experiences, entertainment, celebrity and even psychotherapy, the unconscious knowledge that we are in a time of transition is beginning to bleed through into our everyday understanding.

Culture Collapse Disorder is an idea based on a related aberration that manifested in the natural world beginning in late 2006: Colony Collapse Disorder the mass collapse of honeybee colonies in which the hive—the container—literally breaks down because the worker bees fail to return to the hive, abandoning the queen bee, the unhatched brood, and the stores of honey. Contemporary consumer cultures, which have been the foundation of the western world for decades, are generating lifestyles, behaviors and mindsets that are destroying our home places and our home planet on a mass scale. By consciously or unconsciously refusing to acknowledge the magnitude of the damage we are creating and thus failing to take any action to prevent or repair the damage on the level required for us to survive as a culture, we are on the brink of a major transition in which life as we know it will change forever.

The fundamental issues behind our disorder show up on a spectrum ranging from eco-apathy on one end, and ecopsychopathy on the other. Eco-apathy represents our capacity to bury our heads in the sand and our emotions along with them, unable to surrender to the horror we might feel if we truly allowed ourselves to understand what we’re doing as a culture to the planet. In his incisive book, Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos, psychotherapist Joseph Dodds (2011) outlines reasons for our seeming indifference or incapacity to take action including denial, feelings of powerlessness, scapegoating, splitting, dissociation and the general incapacity to deal with feelings of anxiety and fear. In this state, many of us simply live our lives, unable to question or act on the conundrum we face, incapable of making the necessarily changes that will allow us to enter in a reciprocal relationship with Earth and to find equity again.

Ecopsychopathy speaks to destroying the earth through our conscious or unconscious pathological tendencies—in part due to our consumer lifestyle that we so frequently and overwhelmingly take for granted, and in part due to a deep-rooted sense of entitlement that has evolved along with development and so-called “progress.”

In the arena of mental health, there is no strong consensus between organizations about the symptoms and criteria of psychopathy, and no association has sanctioned a set definition of psychopathy. Frequently, a diagnosis of psychopathy is based on patterns of behavior, while measurements are based on personality traits; thus, definitions range from traits or behaviors of an individual who is cold-blooded and predatory (from “Psychopathy: A Clinical Construct Whose Time Has Come”, Robert D. Hare, in Criminal Justice and Behavior) to one who is “color blind” with respect to normal emotional experience. (See the reference here, in ‘Factors’)

By some, psychopathy has been defined as “the darker side of an individual that may seem ‘normal,’ well-adjusted and well-meaning” (From the Handbook of Psychopathy), while Scientific American magazine featured an excerpt from What Psychopaths Teach Us about How to Succeed (Dutton, 2012), which insinuates psychopathic characteristics are far more common that we might think: “Traits that are common among psychopathic serial killers—a grandiose sense of self-worth, persuasiveness, superficial charm, ruthlessness, lack of remorse and the manipulation of others—are also shared by politicians and world leaders.” At the same time the author insists, psychopath who falls at the other end of the spectrum may exhibit traits our culture teaches us to admire in those we deem successful: “fearlessness, focus, lack of empathy and mental toughness.”

“Eco” comes from the Greek word “oikos” which means “house, dwelling place, habitation” (EtymOnline.com). Thus, “ecopsychopathy” describes a spectrum of disordered behavior toward home, including impulsivity, egocentricity, lack of empathy, callousness, ruthlessness, manipulation, and lack of remorse among others. Regardless of the definition you may choose to adopt, I believe all of us can locate ourselves on the spectrum somewhere when it comes to the way we behave toward nature, even if it stems from simply being part of a culture that is ecopsychopathic at its core.

Lacking a sense of participation in a larger earth community, humans have become anthropocentric, assuming the rest of life is at our command, dominating and taking whatever we feel entitled to. And, it’s critical not to miss how implicated and interconnected we all are. Every human being throws away on average each year seven-and-a-half times his or her body weight. While I may pride myself on recycling as much as possible, large quantities of fossil fuels are still required for the garbage trucks to pick up my recycling, a large amount of which statistically never makes it to being recycled due to the cost of recycling or the lack of appropriate resources to do so. (See a great infographic here about recycling)

And, though I would never condone deforestation of the Amazon, I still purchase products that include palm oil, beef from cattle that graze on large tracts of land, or gold or silver jewelry and other products that are produced by clear cutting the natural flora and fauna of fragile ecosystems in ancient forests. More, I don’t wonder where my next bite of food is going to come from and often totally ignore the fact that in many third world countries they must first find and cut the wood with which they will cook their next meal, before even figuring out where the food will come from.

Too, while I am horrified at reports that 80% of the water in the Ganges River in India which so many people use for drinking and bathing is untreated sewage (Get the story here) or that thousands of pig carcasses from animals that died from a mysterious outbreak of disease at a factory farm further up the Shanghai river have been discovered floating downstream where villages are dependent on the water there for drinking (Read the news here), mostly I still take it totally for granted that I can turn on my tap and have clean, fresh water for my own needs any time of the day or night and would be traumatized to have to give it up. (Visit here for more details of why we continue to clear-cut the world’s rainforests). Finally, let’s not forget that if you drive a car like I do, or ride a bus, take a taxi or an airplane, you are contributing to greenhouse gas emissions which are changing conditions on our planet faster than ever, a clear act of mistreating the earth and all its inhabitants.

The phenomenon of Culture Collapse Disorder is terrifying and untreatable as long as we don’t acknowledge the disorder at its core. Our capacity to destroy the only home we know—earth and all its ecosystems, environment, species, and so on—is a fundamental symptom of just how deep the imbalance lies. At this critical juncture in our culture, we must make a fundamental shift back into balance. It’s not a question of sustaining life as we know it: life as we know it is simply not sustainable. And, while we can—and must—make changes on an individual level in our everyday lives and continue to call for larger global initiatives to be supported by governments going forward, these actions are simply touching in at the surface level, the level of symptoms of the disorder. By making the symptoms go away, we have not addressed the core underlying issue.

Jungian and archetypal psychologist James Hillman believed that symptoms are part of the speech of the soul (The Psychopathology of Every Day Life); thus the symptoms we are collectively experiencing may be considered the voice of the anima mundi, the world soul. Taking a curative approach to simply silence the symptoms is a “killing game” that extinguishes part of the soul. As a culture and humanity, we must look more deeply at the issue and come back into relationship with a living earth that needs us as much as we need it. We can do that by starting to listen and engage, paying attention to dreams or spending time in reverie in Nature, turning our attention to the way life and intelligence surrounds us at all times. Ecopsychologist David Abram suggests we have an inherent capacity to communicate with nature in his book, Becoming Animal, and that through conscious intention and perception with our senses, we can engage intimately with earth (See the abstract for my recent review in Jung Journal).

Ecotheologian Thomas Berry states:

The Earth with its layers of land and water and air provides the space within which all living things are nurtured and the context within which humans attain their identity. If in the excitement of a secular technology reverence for the Earth has diminished in the past, especially in the western world, humans now experience a sudden shock at the devastation they have wrought on their own habitation. The ancient human-Earth relationship must be recovered in a new context, in its mystical as well as in its physical functioning.

There is need for awareness that the mountains and rivers and all living things, the sky and its sun and moon and clouds all constitute a healing, sustaining sacred presence for humans which they need as much for their psychic integrity as for their physical nourishment. (From “Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community”)

The notion of Culture Collapse Disorder, a critical and dangerous pathology which affects us all, may be seen as terrifying and it’s unveiling a negative outlook of doom and gloom, but it is critical that we begin to look at it as finding a diagnosis is often the first step to treatment. As environmental attorney and author James Gustave Speth insists, “We need to be reminded of the nightmare ahead…we will never do things that are needed unless we know the full extent of our predicament” (in A Bridge at the End of the World: Capitalism, The Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability, p. 234.

What happens next is up to all of us. If we individually and collectively persist in our tendencies to eco-apathy and our ecopsychopathy, the transition to a new way of being on the planet may be harsh and sudden, leveling the playing field in a massive upheaval. If we are able, as Carolyn Baker suggests in her timely and inspiring Navigating the Coming Chaos to understand we are “married to everyone and everything,” we will be more equipped to make the transition more reflective, intentional, and creative, and to “increasingly glimpse the momentousness of our connection with every person in our world” (p. 50)—and, I would add, to the world itself, gradually finding our way back around to a way of life in which we walk more softly on the earth, ask permission for what we take and give back something in return, and fully enter the community of all nature.