Tag Archive for thomas moore

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

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