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Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Another glimpse into imagining the myths...with thanks to Hillman

In the last post in this space, myth was the focus of our meanderings. Considered perspectives, rather than ‘objective things,’ by Hillman, tending to ‘shift the experience of events’ as he puts it (p. 101, Revisioning Psychology). By expanding on his theme, Hillman continues to elucidate some of the possibilities in his approach to the gods and goddesses.

 We can refer the manifestations of depression together with styles of paranoid thought to Saturn and the archetypal psychology of senex. Saturn in mythology and lore presents the slowness, dryness, darkness, and impotence of depression, the defensive feelings of the outcast, the angle of vision that sees everything askew and yet deeply, the repetitious ruminations, the fixed focus on money and poverty, on fate, and of fecal and anal matters….Eros in relation with Psyche, a myth which has been depicted in carvings and painting and tales for more than two thousand years, offers a background to the divine torture of erotic neuroses—the pathological phenomena of a soul in need of love and of love in search of psychic understanding. This story is particularly relevant for what goes on in the soul-making relationships which have been technically named ‘transference.’ In addition to these examples, it is also possible to insight the ego and ego psychology by reverting it to the heroic myths of Hercules, with whose strength and mission we have become to caught that the pattern of Hercules—clubbing animals, refusing the feminine, fighting old age and death, being plagues by Mom but marrying her young edition—are only now beginning to be recognized as pathology…..(Revisioning Psychology, p. 102)

And yet….. Hillman interjects:

(These) first entr(ies) into myth need an important correction. (They) commit the ego fallacy by taking each archetypal theme into the ego. We fall into an identity with one of the figures in the tale: I become Zeus deceiving my wife, or Saturn devouring my children, or Hermes thieving from my brother. But this neglects that the whole myth is pertinent and all its mythical figures relevant: by de3ceiving I am also being deceived, and being devoured, and stolen from, as well as all the other complications in each of these tales. It is egoistic to recognize oneself in only one portion of a tale, cast in only one role. Far more important than oversimplified and blatant self-recognitions by means of myth is the experiencing of their working intrapsychically within our fantasies, and then through them into our ideas, systems of ideas, feeling-values, moralities, and basic styles of consciousness. There they are at least apparent, for they characterize the notion of consciousness itself according to archetypal perspectives; it is virtually impossible to see the instrument by which we are seeing.  (Op Cit, p 103) …No longer is ego able to cope by will power with tough problems in a real world of hard facts. Our falling apart is an imaginal process, like the collapse of cities and the fall of heroes in mythical tales—like the dismemberment of Dionysian loosening which releases from overtight constraint, like the dissolution and decay in alchemy. The soul moves, via the pathologized fantasy of disintegration, our of too-centralized and muscle-bound structures which have become ordinary and normal, and so normative that they no longer correspond with the psyche’s needs for nonego imaginal realities which ‘perturb to excess.’….Falling apart makes possible a new style of reflection within the psyche, less a centred contemplation of feeling collected around a still point, thoughts rising on a tall stalk, than insights bouncing one off the other. The movements of Mercury among the multiple parts, fragmentation as moments of light. Truth is the mirror, not what’s in it or behind it, but the very mirroring process itself: psychological reflections. An awareness of fantasy that cracks the normative cement of our daily realities into new shapes …..Ego consciousness as we used to know it no longer reflects reality. Ego has become a delusional system. ‘Heightened’ consciousness today no longer tells it from the mountain of Nietzsche’s superman, an overview. Now it is the underview, for we are down in the multitudinous entanglements of the marshland, in anima country, the ‘vale of Soul-making. So heightened consciousness now refers to moments of intense uncertainty, moments of ambivalence. Hence the task of depth psychology now is the careful exploration of the parts into which we fall, releasing the Gods in the complexes, bringing home the realization that all our knowing is in part only, because we know only through the archetypal parts playing in us, now in this complex and myth, and now in that; our life a dream, our complexes our daimones. (Op. cit. p 109-110)

Perhaps high-sounding and intensely challenging, especially from the perspective of our highly reputed, highly references, and highly fragile Herculean ego. At one point, Hillman blurts words to the effect, it is highly justified to be depressed living as we do in this western world dominated by such features a literalism, nominalism, fundamentalism and greedy capitalism. Taking the ‘moment’ (writing from the 1970’s until his death in 2011) Hillman is attempting to turn the psychological ‘ship’ around from the high-minded, highly sophisticated highly constraining and constricting ‘ego’ (now disintegrating) to the opportunity this disintegration offers. Challenging is the shift from a perspective that takes and reflects on metaphors (in poetry, for example) as compares their effectiveness within the poem dependent on the theme, tone, colour and intent of the poet, to a more fluid and non-literal, non-definite and non-limited flow of mythic images themselves swimming together in a river of both consciousness and unconsciousness, in a moment in time, begging our imagination to mine the various voices that have joined the chorus in our psyche….opens each of us to a reservoir of imaginal experience, beyond our feelings, beyond our genetics, beyond our environment, beyond our historical time period, beyond our culture into a shared, universal, timeless and far more nuanced and complex abundance that most of the contemporary therapies and mental constructs with which we have been working for decades, if not centuries.

It is not, in and through this creative, innovative and challenging imaginal, mythical and poetic lens that we generate a new theology; there is no worshipping Greek or Roman Gods, rather an appreciation of such voices and perspectives we have mysteriously ‘inherited’ without being conscious of the process of ‘osmosis’ which takes place in each time period in each culture. There is no longer a tight and perfectionistic clinging to the question of morality in each and every act, and each and every person, as the primary path to either understanding or appreciating ourselves and each other. And yet, in a courageous and imaginal process of asking ‘what has this event to do with my death?’ Hillman is revisiting the conventional, traditional and often frightening perception of death itself, from something to be feared and worried over, to something profoundly deep, quiet and still.

When, in the process of apprenticing in pastoral counselling, the issue of suicide was treated very delicately. If a client were to express suicide ‘ideation’ or thoughts of committing suicide, the therapist was to ask, matter-of-factly, if the client had a plan in order to flesh out how serious were the thoughts. Often, too, the notion of continuing in therapy with that therapist was to be discouraged, in order to separate the client from the implications of influence from the therapist, as well as to draw attention to the seriousness of the client’s desperation. Although Hillman’s work, Suicide and the Soul, has not arrived in my hands, I have begun to ,read reviews and this one written by Lex in the United Kingdom on November 12, 2020 got my attention:

His (Hillman’s) respect for the soul of the analysand is so great that, in Suicide and the Soul, he forbids the analyst from trying overtly to ‘save’ them from suicidal thoughts. He implores the analysts not to bring the medical mode of thought into the consulting room. He implores the analyst to acknowledge the suicidal person’s willingness to die as the very core of their agency. Denying this agency in the name of ‘commitment to saving life’ simply kills the analysand’s soul. Is Hillman really advising the analyst not to try to save the analysand’s lives? No. He simply proposes that the only way to save their lives is to save their souls first—and to save their souls, you need to acknowledge their willingness to die. You can then proceed to sit beside them in the absolute darkness of their isolation so that they may feel a little less isolated…and in due course, they may come out of the darkness on their own accord.

Not only from reading and reflecting on this review, but also from dog-paddling in Hillman’s thoughts, ideas, and challenges, is one prompted to ask if and whether much of our lives is/has been/ and continues to be focused on avoiding really dark ‘experiences’ when, in truth, we all know that ‘dark’ experiences are both inevitable and potentially dangerous and/or life-giving. The messes, inevitable and complex, dividing and alienating, frightening and potentially freezing, exhausting and inspiring, have commanded the attention of both the medical and legal/law enforcement professional communities, with the support and sanctions of the church, for centuries. We have excommunicated, ostracized, chained, electrified, medicated, and essentially put the persons at the centres of our social and political and religious and moral crises “away” as our way of creating a situation that can be legitimately described as “out-of-sight-out-of-mind”….so that we do not really have to face those who have “failed both themselves and their society” as we like to put it.

There are, and always have been, perhaps undisclosed and undesired, complex energies behind a mother’s beating of a child, or even of taking her child’s life, and behind a person’s desperation to want to end his/her life, and also behind the apparently indelible imprint of the Roman adage, ‘if you want peace, prepare for war’ as an imprint on cultures from the beginning. We are far more complex, interesting, challenging and ‘infinite’ than our literal empiricism either permits or warrants. We are all both capable and easily induced into not seeing what it is we find ‘too difficult’ to see, effectively into denial. Perhaps it is in lifting the mask from our blind denials even to our own most dark thoughts and feelings, those most frequently if not invariably, directly connected to our “messes,” where our access to a new, different, resonant and resilient perspective, not only of our own lives, but of the lives of all of those with whom we are connected, lies.

Personal experience of the chosen or seriously considered with a plan, of men whose lives had become too full of personal, internal and inescapable torment that they wished to terminate their existence, while, in the various moments, was distressing, those experiences have left their mark on a psyche that has been walking beside their stories for decades.

It is not in search of absolute, unequivocal, or even acquitting and excusing explanations for the decisions of those men that this scribe is motivated. The search and the inquiry is more about searching for (and admittedly believing it exists) a far more realistic, even if ironically far more imaginative, perspective on those lost and seriously scarred men’s live, and the lives of their close loved ones, that these readings, reflections and scribblings are directed.

Not to answer, ‘Why did he kill himself?” but rather the proverbial and exhaustive and challenging question, “What did we all miss?” and “Why?” …..Essentially, none of us lives in  a vacuum and how the aggregate of our cultural habits, patterns, perspectives, ideologies and theologies impacts some of our permanently wounded, or deceased by their own hands is a compelling question. And to focus on the demographics, and the sociology, and the neuroscience, and the morality/immorality seem to have proven to be less than adequate to address the questions.

More to come….

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