Friday, April 28, 2023

Hillman and Blake, centuries apart, walking together

 In the last entry in this space, we touched on the link between Hillman and Blake. As if that were  a teaser, let’s dig a little deeper into the more intimate, profound and foundational links between William Blake, the seeker of spiritual concerns but not the joiner in religious institutions.

Hillman’s expressed agenda is boldly stated in Revisioning Psychology (p. xi):

To restore the mythical perspective to depth psychology by recognizing the soul’s intrinsic affinity with, nay, love for, the Gods. Or as the Greeks may have said, to reaffirm the tragic connection between the mortal and the immortal, that natural plight of the soul that lies at the base of any psychology claiming to speak of psyche.

With such a broad scope and purpose, it is inevitable that Hillman cuts through some of the linguistic and epistemological and philosophic concepts that have already been rooted in Western and especially in American culture. One of those first differences focuses on the concepts of personalization and allegory.

When eighteenth century poetry personified, as it was inordinately fond of doing, it confined its persons to the rational realm of allegory. The goal of such enlightened personifying was ultimately instruction: by means of personification ‘fictions of mind’ because ‘objects of sight,’ so that the reader could also become a spectator. \Personified images with capital letters were employed to reinforce abstract universal ideas; Justice, Harmony, Nature. But this allegorical use of such images vitiates (spoil or impair the value of) even as it seems to reinforce. Like any system that explains mythological imagery, its mythic persons were depotentiated (robbed of their power and influence) by the allegorism that was brought forward to account for them. There are two reasons for this. First, allegory keeps the autonomy and reality of the Gods at bay. By being ‘used’ for moral examples or educational homilies, they are no longer powers but rather technical tricks, categories, conceits. They become instruments of reason rather than the very forms that organize reason….That the Gods cannot be held by reason, by the allegorical attempt to make them emblems of concepts, is amply demonstrated by eighteenth century poetry: it became Romanticism, Blake, Keats, Shelley, the Gods rampant again, Prometheus Unbound, allegories no longer. (Revisioning Psychology, p. 7)

Personifying, however, is not totally rejected by Hillman. Rather than deploying the gods as allegory for concepts, Hillman’s perspective is mythopoetic. Rather than reason, or specific concepts, Hillman espouses a ‘mythic consciousness’ for which ‘personifying’ is considered appropriate. Hillman writes:

Mythic consciousness (says) ‘There is nowhere an it as a dead object, a mere thing. Subject and object, man and Gods, I and Thou, are not apart and isolated each with a different sort of being, one living or real, the other dead or imaginary. The world and the Gods are dead or alive according to the conditions of our souls. A world view that perceives a dead world or declares the Gods to be symbolic projections derives from a perceiving subject who no longer experiences in a personified way, who has lost his immagine del cuor. To rekindle this life we start with soul, reimagining its internal processes anthropomorphically. This leads to the ultimate conclusion that we do not actually personify at all. Mythical consciousness is a mode of being in the world that brings with it imaginal persons. They are given with the imagination and are its data. Where imagination reigns, personifying happens. We experience it nightly, spontaneously, in dreams. Just as we do not create our dreams, but they happen to us, so we do not invent the persons of myth and religion; they too happen to us. The persons present themselves as existing prior to any effort of ours to personify. To mythic consciousness, the persons of the imagination are real. (Revisioning Psychology, pps. 16-17)

And here one of Hillman’s prime differences with contemporary, academic and professional psychology:

The present cult of person in psychology in every one of its manifestations-personality development, personality inventory, personal psychodynamics, research into personal difference and opinions, their fascination as subjects for research—is based upon an ideological literalism: personalism. Psychology has taken the metaphor of personifying and literalized it into an ontology of persons. We have personalized the soul, pressing it all into the human being. Psychology itself is a part of this steady withdrawal of soul into the narrow confines of the human skin. The last stage of this process is shrinking soul to its single and narrowest space, the ego, and thereby swelling this ‘I’ into the inflation called ‘ego psychology.’ For ego psychology is what our souls today are left with; whether body-ego, feeling ego, or individuating-ego, psychology is engaged in ego-making and not soul-making. The field dedicated by its very name to psyche expends its resources in strengthening and developing a phantom which may at any moment fall prey to depersonalization. By identifying the soul and psychological work with the subjective ego and its aims, psychology becomes satanic. For precisely this identification of soul or of personality with the experiencing subject is, according to the visionary psychology William Blake, the way of Satan. (Revisioning Psychology, p. 48)

Sitting on this desk, at this moment, is a book entitled, “The Psychology of Religion,” An Empirical Approach.. the actual textbook for those studying to be certified for the practice of ministry at Huron College, in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Throughout, the book references research into such subjects as:

·        The psychological nature and function of religion

·        The operational definition of religion

·        Childhood stages in religious development

·        Impact of family and schools on religious development

·        Religion in adult life

·        Religion and death

·        Religious experience

·        Mysticism

·        Conversion

·        The social psychology of religious organizations

·        Religion and morality

·        Religion and mental disorder

·        Psychology, psychologists, and religion, present realities and future trends

From Hillman’s perspective, just as the research and theory about suicide is sociological, so too is this text not about psychology of religion (of the soul) but of the various pieces of research that have attempted to ‘describe’ in extrinsic terms, various issues in the intersection between people and their religious lives. A primer in the language and perceptions of those who operate the churches, perhaps. And yet, embodying a blind-spot to the matter of the soul, except as with a conversion or a moral judgement might be perceived and judged.

Here is a quote from this psychology text book, that focuses on the degree of commitment of those attending church:

Perhaps one of the most widely utilized theories to explain church commitment is deprivation theory. Largely associated with the empirical work of Glock and Stark, such theories generally assume that church commitment compensates in some sense for deprivation. Hence religion is a substitute compensator for the otherwise distraught. However,…numerous empirical studies have failed to find that church attenders are more deprived on either objective or subjective criteria of deprivation. (Campbell, Converse and Rogers, 1976, Hood, 1983) (The Psychology of Religion, Spilka, Hood, Gorsuch, p.242)

Now let’s dip into some thoughts from Hillman, entitled, “Psychological Faith”…

Imagination and its development is perhaps a religious problem because imagination becomes real only through belief. As theology tells us, belief is an act of faith, or it is faith itself as a primary investment of energy in something which makes that something ‘real’. Inner life is pale and ephemeral (just as is the outer world in depressed states) when the ego does not turn to it, believe in it, and endow it with reality. This investment, this commitment to inner life, increases its importance and gives it substance. The interest one pays soon pays interest. The frightening forces become gentler and more manageable, the inner woman more human and reliable. She no longer only seduces and demands; she begins to reveal the world into which she draws one and even gives an account of herself, her function and purpose. As this ‘she’ becomes more human, the moods one is subject to become less difficult and personal and are replace by a steadier emotional undertone, a feeling-tone, a chord….This faithful attention to the imaginal world, this love which transforms mere images into presences, giving them living being, or rather reveals the living being which they do naturally contain, is nothing other than remythologizing. Psychic contents become powers, spirits, gods….There is a further consequent of the credit one pays to the images of the soul. A new feeling of self-forgiveness and self-acceptance begins to spread and circulate….Shadow aspects of the personality continue to play their burdensome roles but now within a larger tale, the myth of oneself, just what one is which begins to feel as if that is how one is meant to be. My myth becomes my truth; my life symbolic and allegorical. Self-forgiveness, self-acceptance, self-love; more, one finds oneself sinful but not guilty, grateful for the sins one has and not another’s, loving one’s lot even to the point of desire to have and to be always in this vivid inner connection with one own individual portion. Such strong experiences of religious emotion seem to be the gift again of the anima. This time she has a special quality that might best be called Christian and which only begins to reveal itself-this anima naturaliter christiana- after long attentive care has been given to much of the psyche that might not be Christian. (Hillman, A Blue Fire, p.84-5)

I once inquired of a popular bishop, about the ‘spiritual life’ of one of his most favoured church wardens, also a highly valued and reputed political consultant: What is his spiritual life about?

“I think it would be ‘red’ book’, he replied.

End of discussion. The point of including such a seemingly innocuous and inappropriate conversation here is that, if a spiritual life is tied to, loyal to, and embedded in a particular liturgical, traditional book of prayer, as opposed to another also deployed book of prayer, which shifts the theology from “emotional poverty” to hope and aspiration, one has to wonder several questions.

How much conversation about theology, God and the spiritual/disciplined life had been part of the relationship between those two men? That same warden, at a breakfast in the King Edward Hotel in Toronto, reflected on a conversation with this scribe, then a student intern, when speaking with that same bishop, “That guy saw right through me when he got me talking about my ‘fatalism;’ I have never had that conversation with anyone before; I felt exposed!”

Clearly, this scribe is disappointed in both the manner and content of the seminary curricula, in two different schools of theology. However, that pales in light of the empirical obsessions of what is conceived of and perceived of and considered ‘religion’ in mainline churches, at least from the limited experience of this neophyte. Men, women and children, while skimming over the surface of multiple ‘biblical stories,’ without so much as even a minimal shift in the lens deployed, from history, to genealogy, to poetry, to prophecy, to myth, and to reporting….are deprived of the multiple layers not only of the text itself, but also of the full import of the various textual excerpts on their own ‘myth’.

The church, while attempting to be a communal, perhaps social service agency, purportedly offering and confirming some connection with a long-standing religious tradition, fails in the deepest darkest and most significant moments of each of our lives. And of course, we will instantly hear the argument, ‘What about the privacy, confidentiality of each person’s life?

It is the very provision of a way of seeing, and not the community’s role to expose individuals private lives to public scrutiny, especially in the church confines where moral judgement is the ruling gestalt, that archetypal psychology has the potential to offer. And, if we were able to appreciate our own lives from a variety of mythical perspectives, as opposed to the ‘rules of morality’ that have supplanted our personalities, we might be both willing and even eager to enter into conversations of a much less ideological, inflamed, and ‘personal’ language and tone….Seems both Blake and Hillman might be mentors for such a ‘vision’.

IMAGINE! What a concept!

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Hillman echoes Blake...

There is really no final definition of soul, as one reads Hillman. In A Blue Fire, edited by Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, in a note and section entitled,

“The Salt of Soul, The Sulfur of Spirit”, writes:

The modern world assumes a two-tiered reality: body and mind, or matter and spirit. Hillman reinstates the Neoplatonic view that soul is the ‘in-between’ factor keeping mind in touch with body and matter with spirit. Fantasy and image make spirituality and material endeavors soulful. Soul, Hillman says with his metaphor of peaks and vales, resides in the valleys of experience. Soul is always tethered to life in the world. It can’t be separated form the body, from family, from the immediate context, from mortality. Spiritual efforts, important in their own right, tend to transcend these limitations of the valley….Soul..enters Hillman’s writing as shadow. He allows contradictions and ambiguities to rise to the surface. He gives al most perverse, loving attention to abused expressions of the psyche: panic, masturbation, paranoia, superficiality and gossip. …the soul finds its enduring  fixity in its salt, in the blood, sweat, and tears of ordinary life. Life with soul is filled with felt experience. (A Blue Fire, pps. 112-3),

From Hillman’s talk entitled, ‘Peaks and Vales,’ we read:

Vales do indeed need more exposition, just as everything to do with soul needs to be careful imagined as accurately as we ca., Vales comes from the Romantics: Keats uses the term in a letter and I have taken this passage from Keats as a psychological motto: ‘Call the world, if you please, the vale of soul-making.’ Then you will find out the use of the world. Vale in the usual religious language of our culture is a depressed emotional place—the vale of tears; Jesus walked this lonesome valley, the valley of the shadow of death….

 This highly sensitive and sensible, exalted and humbled recognition of not something, but rather a way of perceiving, seeing, considering and even reflecting upon the contradictions, the ambiguities, the absurdities, and the ‘blood-sweat-and-tears’ of ordinary life as integral to human psychology, and not only the ‘way of the Cross’ or the way of Satan that warrants much further attention, reflection, prayer and openness, especially from the Christian church. While there is a profound and often liturgical place of commemoration for pivotal moments in the human life, (baptism, confirmation, marriage, funerals and the penitential) by the church, the first three of those moments are ceremonials of hope, and promise and occasions for celebrating ‘spirit’ and light.

The latter two, funerals and the penitential, embrace those moments of mortality and accountability, respectively, often in deep sadness and darkness. However, it is the ‘business’ culture of operational language, thought, relationships and evangelism that are the Achilles heel of the theology, in the view of this scribe. Ascribing ‘sins’ and the regular discipline of a confessional to aspects of human life that constrict, repress and then find both immoral and ultimately unethical, in the eyes of the church, as if those acts, attitudes, and beliefs were counter to the will of God, that reverses the theology of the deus absconditus (the unknown God) with dogmatics of faith that have been enmeshed into the secular culture, in a manner that sanctifies the abuse of power.

The obvious argument, 'who is this scribe to declare what is or is not the will of God? warrants attention. For some time, the equation of God’s will and intentions have been seen to be paramount within the various ecclesial institutions. The spectre of a set of rules, dogmatically theologized, promulgated as elevated and surrounded and ensconced by centuries of preservation, observance and liturgical and intellectual justification, and enforced through various institutional agents and structures, as a way of preserving the moral and spiritual purity of the institution, provide a veneer of social and political and cultural and perhaps even intellectual respectability, stature and history, on which to offer guidance and gravitas to those seeking God. Those very highly inculcated ‘rules-and -regs’, however, have resulted in the justifications of exclusions and even wars and killings in the name and service of God.

To seek God, however that impulse might appear to an individual, is to recognize that such a step and process will neither be easy or smooth. And the notion of some ‘road-to-Damascus’ conversion as a threshold into that pilgrimage as a magnetic and reverential and sanctified ‘right of passage’ in that process, and then to elevate that ‘step’ as a model for new aspirants, while useful and appropriate for some, clearly relegates other paths as less than sanctified. And, that is only one of the many benchmarks and judgements considered holy and God-given, that have come to us through the writings, the homilies, the lectures and the minds and hearts of those whose reputations have become foundational for the various church ‘theologies’.

It is the narrow, constricted and ultimately self-righteous, sanctimonious and self-edifying pathways, perhaps unique to each ecclesial denomination, that defy a life that is fully conscious of the complexities of the human being, in search of God. And any overt or unconscious avoidance, denial and cover-up of what are legitimate human needs and aspirations, in the name of God, is a reduction of both humans and God. Let’s start with the search for the truth, a noble and honourable pursuit, in any and all human endeavours. Not only are we living in a culture in which the truth has no ‘standing’ to borrow a legal term; ‘alternative facts’ has become a new epithet depicting our own intellectual, cultural and moral and ethical failure, in the secular world. And the obsession with the literal as definitions of the dogmatic, as the definition and the circumference of human experience, exemplifies our shared blindness. In swimming willingly and deliberately and perhaps co-dependently in the rivers of linguistic and imaginative literalisms, the church has abandoned its place and purpose in honouring and celebrating not only God but also the people in its pews.

And, there seems to be incontrovertible evidence of links between Hillman and Frye, as well as between Hillman and William Blake. These lines describe his vision of his own task, from Blake’s poem, Jerusalem:

To open the immortal Eyes

Of man inwards into the worlds of

Thought; into Eternity

Ever expanding in the Bosom of

God, the human imagination…..

And also from the same poem:

I will not cease from Mental Fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my


Till we have built Jerusalem,

In England’s green & pleasant land.

And from his poem, The Everlasting Gospel (1818):

The vision of Christ that thou dost


Is my Visions Greatest Enemy

Both read the Bible day & night

But thou readst black where I read


The theological implications of Hillman’s archetypal psychology, while his precepts are not dedicated to, or even honouring a specific faith, point to something inherent in all faiths.

One such example, is the ‘literal’ definition that our culture ascribes to the word ‘myth’ as if such tales were unworthy of our attention, and even worse they ares incompatible with a religion worthy of the name. In the practice of ministry, having referenced the story of the Garden of Eden as an important myth, I was instantly, and unceremoniously and publicly harangued as a heretic, an apostate, for even venturing into that evil notion. Just introducing the possible process of unpacking the story first as literature, and then as theology, I was castigated for my lack of faith. ‘How could such an important and defining story, as the opening chapters in the most holy book in the world, be considered a myth?’ was the underlying assumption. And that thought and feeling and cognition and metaphysic of the literal has been a constant companion since the day I faced its judgement.

Christian theology has, for centuries, debated, not always modestly or moderately, the assignment of responsibility for the ‘fall’ as a way of, for example, providing the roots to the arguments that pit men and women as historic and eternal competitors. Whose fault was it that Adam and Eve ‘ate the apple’ (pomegranate?)?

She prompted him so she is more culpable. And yet he ate first, so he is more culpable.

And herein lies a fundamental blindness both of God and of human beings. Judgement, as a matter of apparent need, justified as a cornerstone of the Christian faith, follows this kind of ‘either-or’ binary, Manichean perspective. And that ‘methodology’ and perspective continues into so many of the discernments (judgements?) we ascribe to ourselves and to others, in circumstances that ought to be considered from a wholly different perspective.

Humans live in a state between, and require a lens through which to view, envision, imagine and discern not only the acts and attitudes they hold and express, but also the world in which we/they live. And, both of those universes, the individual human psyche and the ‘anima mundi’ (cultural consciousness), from Hillman’s perspective, are neither static nor developmentally programmed for improvement, enhancement and ‘individuation’ as a process of being and becoming ‘whole’. It is this very truth, that such empirically theorized and researched academic psychologies uphold, reinforce, and pedagogically disperse, either deny or refuse to acknowledge. There is a kind of detachment, not only from the traditional theory and practice of psychology, according to Hillman, but it says here, among Christian theologians and ecclesial leadership, that subscribes to this denial and/or refusal. Succumbing to the prevalent, exhortatory and too often affirmed ‘triumphal’ and some metaphoric psychological hard drive to ‘holiness’ and ‘sanctification’ and more and ethical purity among disciples of God, has installed blinders on the Christian faith.

Hillman’s invitation to a far more open, honest and courageous lens that views our many deep and dark absurdities and inconsistencies and incongruities, from a perspective of the various voices of gods, goddesses and myths that together form an unconscious chorus within, neither negates a religion, a God, or a worship of that deity. Rather, it offers an intermediate step of psychic perception that relies on the human imagination, as the first ‘lens’ through which to view any and all of our personal crises. Myths and the gods and goddesses in their ‘objective correlatives’ of story, do not comply with a superficial and glib moral judgement. And, as Hillman would have us begin to envision, neither do we. And the razor-edge of such a potential judgement on each and every act, with that sky-hanging golden ‘ring’ of the hero hanging over each of us, from the perspective of our culture, renders each of us victim to our own concepts of who we are, and how we relate to the universe, including whatever deity is our preferred deity.

Of course, the Neoplatonic perspective suffers obliteration from the perceptions of an empirical, literal, nominal cultural and religious, legal and medical lens. And, Hillman’s valiant efforts to restore it, along with those like Blake upon whose shoulders Hillman walks, warrant serious consideration and reflection by those whose lives are dedicated to illuminating their own and others’ journey in search of God.

Not only was a castigating voice dumped into the conversation at the word ‘myth,’ an even more suspicious and condescending voice erupted when the word God was associated with the pronoun ‘she’ as if masculinity were the only form fitting for a deity. Imprisoned  a lens that seeks and permits only ‘literal’ words, literal concepts, and diagnostic nominalisms, faith and culture are robbed of their inherent life and imagination, fitting perhaps to those who seek complete control, but reprehensible for those of us still trying to breathe with our whole beings.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Myths govern our lives...

 Everything we have read and reflected on from Hillman points to an unmistakable and for some of us, irrefutable premise:

Myths govern our lives. They steer a case history from below through the soul history. The irrationality, absurdity, and horror of nature’s experiments, which we try to live, are taken up by the images and motives of myth and in some way made understandable. Some people must live life wrongly and then leave it wrongly. How else can we account for crime, perversity and evil. The fascinating intensity of such lives and deaths shows things at work beyond the human. Myth, which gives full place to every sort of atrocity, offers more objectivity to the study of such lives and deaths than any examination of personal motivation….The rational morality of life itself has always been open to question; is it any different for death?...(T)he soul seems to have elements of premonition and transcendence. For the soul, it is as if death and even the manner and moment of entering it can be irrelevant, as if it did not matter, as if almost there were no death for the soul history at all….(T)he soul needs the death experience. This can come about through various modes. Some of the inner images and emotions of the experience…(include) suicide, depression collapse, trance, isolation, intoxication and exaltation, failure, psychosis,  dissociation, amnesia, denial, pain and torture. These states can be experienced symbolically or concretely. They can be present in case history or soul history. The mode to psychological experience seems not to matter to the soul providing it has the experience. (Hillman, Suicide and the Soul, pps. 65-6-7)

For many, these words will read as black, depressing and therefore highly toxic and justifiably avoidable. However, if we pause for a moment to think and to recall some of those mythic figures, and their stories we read, or had read to us, in childhood, we cannot help but recall ‘the little engine that could’…(a humble an contrite Hercules?), or  the ‘big bad wolf’ (symbol of Ares?), confronting the innocent young girl (Astraea, star-maiden, virgin goddess of innocence, purity?) In was not so unsettling to read, as students in high school, words of Northrop Frye in The Educated Imagination to the effect that anything is possible in literature, in the language of the imagination, different from the language of practical sense. Stories of family, social, cultural, familial and political alienation abound in both literature and in the annals of social and cultural ‘case histories’….whose background soul histories remain hidden, even to the individuals being documented.

Stories from the New Testament, too, exemplify stories of the life of Jesus, from different perspectives, in four gospels: in Mark as the lonely figure abandoned by his followers and abandoned by God; in Matthew as Messiah, King, Lord, new Moses to free his people from bondage; in Luke as the compassionate care-giver for the poor, oppressed and marginalized; in John, as the source of eternal life, and  the more ‘spiritual, ethereal and uplifting’ for many. These various images, were included in Hopewell’s work, Congregation, in which he attempts to identify the ‘God’ image that is more relevant to people sitting in church pews: as King, Teacher, Care-giver, Saviour…and the attitudes, perceptions, and theological leanings of each. Of course, it is not only a single image of Jesus, and God that dances in our imagination, given that God is the ultimately unknowable (absconditus).

Similarly, we have had teachers and supervisors who exhibited a variety of interactions, each of which, if we were given the opportunity to examine them, would reflect/mirror images that have become active in their imaginations. And each behaviour is not and cannot be, like a 1:1 ration, attached to a single god or goddess, in that there are invariably more than a single god/goddess/myth that is engaged in each of our deepest sufferings.

Here is one of the more significant points of nexus, between theology and archetypal psychology: and that is belief….and the different purposes of belief in each case. In the case of theology, we believe as an act of worship. We envisage the various chapters and encounters in the life and death of Jesus, (for Christians) and then attempt to enact their theological significance in our lives in liturgical dates and events, through prayer, through sacraments, through Mass/Eucharist, and through seasonal readings.

In archetypal psychology, on the other hand, the gods and goddesses are not believed in in order to be worshipped. The belief is, rather, attached to the imagination, and to their relative influence, and energy and ambiguity and mystical aura in those moments in our lives when we seem most vulnerable. They are conceptualized, envisaged, imagined and sketched in light pencil marks, or today, perhaps in holograms that dance in our imagination. Like the figures that ‘have us’ in our dreams over which we have no control, these mythical figures continue to accompany us on our journey, most of the time seemingly untouchable, unreachable, innocuous, and irretrievable, given our strong attachment to our senses.

And when we were writing about the differences between a case history and a soul history, we did not mention the fact that skills, while never excluded from a soul history, are not necessary for a soul history. In fact, the acquisition of skills, in and through which we are expected to deliver ‘value’ for some organization, and in and through which we are judged as employable in the first place, offers another of those literal, empirical, and highly comparative and even more highly competitive stages on which we are expected to compete, to establish our value and worth in the ‘eyes’ of the system, the culture and the economy. And it is in regard to the economy, and the political decisions that first envisage the purpose of a public decision-making process in both philosophy and political theory, and then enact in public policy that we are envisaged, indeed incapsulated…as digits in that economy.

Even within our churches we are numbers of bodies, enrollees, attendees, communicants, choir members, Sunday school attendees and of course, numbers of dollars in those proverbial collection plates. And, of course, the “political and psychological” grafting of ideas, images and narratives, that comprise the various theological positions that are articulated from the pulpit, as well as the various theological views extended in Christian education classes, Bible classes, prayer meeting reflections, cannot be underestimated. And one of the more obvious, as well as more counter-intuitive to the whole mission of the faith, is the corporate model of organization that concentrates, indeed, obsesses, over the literal numbers on its balance sheet, to assess, reward, punish, and even evict its leaders.

“I am happy to have been very instrumental in removing the last priest because he was not spiritual enough, and you’re not either!” are the words of a direct quote from a corporate executive in an urban church. His ‘conception’ of ‘spiritual enough’ was tied directly to his notion that contemporary rock/pop instruments and vocalists performing contemporary religious music would be the necessary magnet to attract and to retain young people to their community. Another quote from another parishioner in a small-town church is part of the suffocation of the corporate-balance-sheet-profit-loss business mentality for and in the church:  “Jesus was history’s best salesman!” And just to add to the ideological and political and cultural enmeshment of the church in the relationship of the ecclesial institution with the political culture, after hearing, in a homily, a direct criticism of a recently elected provincial premier and his right-wing government which had announced serious cuts to the budget of WheelTrans, the public transportation vehicle on which disadvantaged men and women relied for their movements about the city, immediately rushed to the presiding rector with these words: “We can’t have any clergy criticizing from the pulpit the premier we just elected!”

Indeed, the theology of moral perfection, linked with the sexual lives and identities of those who in any way and at any level seek community within the church, as the path of and to discipleship, is itself another of the many self-sabotaging bases of the authenticity and integrity of both the theology and the praxis of the faith. And the exercise of power, from a position of top-down authority, itself, endemic to the military and the corporate organizational theory and practice, is also a reduction of the notion of any authentic faith relationship. The self-righteousness, moral superiority, sanctification and all of the many liturgical and reflective and hymnal rubrics and poetry and genuflections, in themselves, represent a dangerous risk to the pursuit of and relationship with God, for many.

One has to wonder, indeed, if the mythology embodied in the crucifixion itself, and the deeply embedded ‘excommunication’ as well as the formal and informal decisions within the church to ‘exclude’ those it considers apostates, heretics, non-conformists, is not so deeply seeded into the ecclesial tradition, that the notion of engaging in an act of association within a faith community is itself a risk predicated on the crux of that faith community. A Russian professor once told his class in comparative education about the Russian method of solving problems: eliminate them. And when we hear about Alexi Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza having been ‘excommunicated’ from the Russian public life, and imprisoned, and poisoned, without adequate advocacy and human rights, without a robust universal (not exclusively within Russia) protest, we are witnessing what happens in the corporate, the political and the ecclesial domains every day.

Self-adopted and declared impunity from errors in judgement, and in all manner of conduct in the exercise of power, for the sake of the institution, as if such conduct would enhance the life and success of that institution, is itself counter-intuitive to the spiritual and ethical and relational lives of those both in power and under that power. Authority vested in a ‘critical parent’ over ‘children’ whose behaviour and beliefs and attitudes are neither sought nor explored, but, in crisis, are only deployed as evidence that those in power and authority have not ‘protected’ the church’s reputation on a high moral ground from which it can only topple. Indeed, the very notion of the celibate clergy, itself, sets up an unsustainable model for clergy attempting to serve. The soul, in a word, is not amenable to dogma, nor is it amenable to institutional, calendar, pecuniary nor even academic regulation.

And all of the many and varied attempts, including both the dogma and the institutional mores and traditions and pomp and circumstances that surround and encompass all of even the tone of the conversations within the sanctuary, are analogous to the reprehensible conversations in hospital rooms when the bed-ridden patient is considered to be in a coma, a ‘reverential’ and ‘respectful’ whisper, as if the patient must not be disturbed, when really it is as much a kind of fear of the visitor about his own proximity to death and mortality.

There are so many stories, actually myths, within each faith community that offer models of both thought and praxis to pathways of deeper relationship with God, without compromising either the integrity nor the authenticity of either the institution or the penitent. Telling the truth, as opposed to running along tracks of obvious, overt and covert hypocrisy, holds far more promise than regulating behaviour, attitudes and beliefs from the top. Power over, in a pyramidal structure, with embedded instructions and protocols of enforcement, infantalizes and colonizes those in the pews, and, also those in the pulpit as well. And the maintenance of power and authority, by officialdom, known by whatever name, is an endemic corrosion of living life to the full, for both those in power and those over whom they discharge their responsibilities.

Is it the presumption of the right to ‘trash’(remove, dismiss, discharge, imprison, excommunicate) another both literally and metaphorically, without a full, deep and intimate search for the soul of that/those persons, that rusts the very liturgical vessels of the eucharist and those engaged in the ceremony. And this presumption, assumption, and normalization of practice is both enhanced and enabled in and through a literal, nominal, empirical, academic, scientific obsession of the culture in which the churches function.

Neither God nor any full expression of theology can be reduced to a rational, literal, empirical, scientific language or image. And, so far the optimum lens for beginning the process of a relationship with a deity, seems to be in and through an active imagination that recognizes and respects and indeed relies on a manner of ‘seeing’ in and through the soul. And, institutionally, the most appropriate locus for such a premise to be practiced is within the ecclesial communities. While each liturgy and tradition will differ somewhat, there is a common unifying thread of perspective that the care of the soul is dominant, and the institution can adjust not only its liturgical and dogmatic words but also its practice and attitudes and perceptions to that end. And the potential ripples from that starting place in psychology are only faintly visible in the mythic mists. 

Friday, April 21, 2023

Case history AND soul history....really!

 Given that our culture has become familiar with and at least partially comfortable with the concept of the ‘case history’ as it applies to medical work-up’s and social workers’ documentation of the presenting issues in analysing the needs of their clients, it seems appropriate, and perhaps even timely (from the perspective of this scribe and blog, as we attempt to embrace, digest, reflect upon and share some of the more significant differences between what Hillman is talking, writing, theorizing and positing as ‘archetypal psychology’.

Even psychologists and psychiatrists write up case histories, each from their own perspective. In earlier posts, we found that suicide has attracted multiple observations, interpretations, and strategies and tactics for therapists to intervene with a view and purpose of prevention. These observations have, as Hillman underlines, come from the outside and applied various depicters to explain, and to attempt to comprehend this most tragic of human choices. We know that the DSM, in whatever iteration and edition, outlines, describes and denotes various psychiatric ‘conditions’ based on the compendium and interpretation of data from schooled psychiatrists over many years. Many of these criteria of illness are determined in a manner similar to the diagnostic methodology of medicine, given that psychiatry has been a child of that academic discipline.

In attempting to ‘work with’ a human choice like suicide, categories, premises , phobias, compulsions, the call of love have all been deployed as explanations of the act. And the literature is voluminous and precise in this section of the psychiatric library. Words like ‘nervous breakdown’ have been associated with the event, as have such descriptors as alcoholism, depression, bi-polarity, and schizophrenia. What might be helpful, as an alternative window into our understanding of suicide, and by inference, all other experiences of deep and profound pain and suffering, from a psychological perspective. From disease, crime, psychosis and addiction, all of them well established as ‘causes’, Hillman offers a path that seeks to develop a ‘case history’ of the soul….not merely of the body and mind.

Such extrinsic events, as home life, education, marriage, employment, achievements and failures, losses and victories, while significant in a ‘case history’ all have ‘behind’ them an inner life’ the life of the soul.

Case history reports on the achievements and failures of life with the world of facts. But the soul has neither achieved nor failed in the same way because the would has not worked in the same way.  Its material is experience and its realizations are accomplished not just by efforts of will. The soul imagines and plays—and play is not chronicled by report. What remains of the years of our childhood play that could be set down in a case history? Children, and so-called ‘primitive peoples,’ have no history; they have instead the residue of their play crystallized in myth and symbol, language and art, and in a style of life. Taking the soul history means capturing emotions, fantasies, and images by entering the game and dreaming the myth along with the patient. Taking a soul history means becoming part of the other person’s fate. Where a case history presents a sequence of facts leading to a diagnosis, soul history shows rather a concentric helter-skelter pointing always beyond itself. Its facts are symbols and paradoxes. Taking a soul history calls for the intuitive insight of the old fashioned diagnostician and an imaginative understanding of a lifestyle that cannot be replaced by data accumulation and explanation through case history. We cannot get a soul history through a case history. But we can get a case history by prolonged exploration in soul history, which is nothing other than analysis itself….The rediscovery of soul history shows itself in the reawakening of emotion, fantasy, and dream, in a sense of mythological destiny penetrated by the transpersonal, and by spontaneous acausal time. It reflects the ‘cure’ from a chronic identification of theso9ul with outer events, places and people. As this separation occurs, one is no longer a case but a person. Soul history emerges as one sheds case history, or, in other words, as one dies to the world as an arena of projection. Soul history of a living obituary, recording life from the point of view of death, giving the uniqueness of a person sub specie aeternitatis. As one builds one’s death, so one writes one’s own obituary in one’s soul history….Case history classifies death by car crash differently from death by overdose of sleeping tablets. Death from disease, from accident, and from suicide are called different kinds of death—and so they are, from the outside. Even the more sophisticated classifications (unmeditated, premeditated, submeditated death) fail to give full credit to the involvement of the psyche in every death. These categories do not fully recognize that the soul is always mediating death. In Freud’s sense, Thanatos is ever present: the soul needs death and death resides in the soul permanently. (Hillman, Suicide and the Soul, pps.64-65)

While these words are written and borrowed in the context of suicide, the notion that our inner psychic (soul) existence is different from our ‘external’ life remains for our lives, from the perspective of Hillman’s archetypal psychology. His ideas move away from the observable, the empirical and the literal into the mythical, the imaginal and the much more ambiguous, abstract and perhaps even unconscious.

Two concepts leap out from the above quote: projections and Thanatos.

We have noted projections in previous pieces, in this space. The concept of projections of what each of us considers difficult feelings or personal features (and thereby denied and/or avoided) onto another rather than dealing with them head-on, is a deeply established notion in modern psychology. History has it that at least one man, deeply engrossed in suicidal ideation, only hours before his death, expressed to his secretary, “Beware of the projections!” Hillman uses the phrase to describe the ‘outside world’ as a ‘world of projections.’ Considered to be unconscious, projections are therefore highly secretive and deceptive both to the one uttering them and clearly to the target. In my own life, although I have been engaged in several business operations, from the marketing and public relations perspective, and have written sell-lines, and advertising copy and generated leads through guerilla marketing techniques, I have a deep-seated angst about the whole mind-bending, propaganda, political-correctness mind-set and the practitioners in that profession. My disdain for the dynamic of mind-bending can be nothing less than a projection…and it has been noted with contempt by those whose lives have been immersed in that profession, rendering me and my attitudes, heretical, and even untrustworthy.

Hillman has even more to say about projections, that might be of interest to readers, as it is to this scribe. In A Blue Fire, from a section entitled, Therapy: Fictions and Epiphanies, he writes:

Projections occur between parts of the psyche, not only outside into the world. They occur between internal persons and not only onto external people. The alchemical idea of projection referred to interior events. Ruland’s alchemical dictionary describes projection as a ‘violent interpenetration’ of substances; there is a ‘sudden egression’ which is projected over a matter by another matter therewith transforming it. Projection too can be psychologized; we can take back projection itself, interiorizing It as an activity going on blindly between anima and animus within.

From, we read, in a piece entitled, The Archetypes of the Anima and Animus, by Stephen Farah:

The Anima/Animus related to our inner or soul life. Not soul as understood in metaphysical terms as something which lives on beyond our phnysi8cal existence but rather soul as in the inner force that animates us…..In a woman her contra sexuality is masculine and governs her rational thinking function and we call this the Anima. In a man his contra sexuality is feminine and governs his irrational feeling function and we call this the Anima….When we talk about the  role of the Anima and Animus we are talking about:

relatedness-our ability to relate a whole human beings to the world and other people. In order for the relatedness to have an equal measure of heart and mind the psyche relies on the contra sexuality to compensate for the natural one sidedness of the personality.

Animation or Spirit, the anima/animus plays a significant role in determining how we thing and feel about our lives in the innermost chamber of our hearts. It is not what we say but the spirit we bring to the world that we feel inside ourselves and that others become aware of  when they interact with us.

The archetype of the Anima/Animus forms a bridge between our personal unconscious and what Jung refers to as the Collective Unconscious (Hillman might dub this the anima mundi..) The anima/animus is the image making capacity which we use to draw inspirational, creative and intuitive images from the inner world (strictly speaking transpersonal inner world).

 For Freud, there are two driving forces in the human psyche: Thanatos and Eros.

(From Thanatos is the drive of aggressions, sadism, destruction, violence and death. Eros is the drive of life, love creativity, and sexuality, self-satisfaction and species preservation. …Freud notes that human beings, following Thanatos, have invented the tools to completely exterminate themselves; in turn Eros is expected to ‘make an effort to assert himself in the struggle with an equally immortal adversary.

For Hillman, the human soul is concerned with death: the soul needs death and death resides in the soul permanently, as we read above. His view seems to be different from both Freud and Jung, however, in that for Hillman, while Thanatos is essential and permanent as a partner of the soul, there are also many other mythic voices playing out in the psychic dramas of our lives. And these dramas, for Hillman, have meaning for our death. The notion of two competing archetypes, (Thanatos and Eros, for example, or for Jung, puer and senex), is stretched into a constant tension, in Hillman’s thought, in that these two, and other voices are engaged simultaneously, and unpredictably and only discernible in and through reflection.

Interior projections, as well as exterior projections, along with a chorus of mythic voices especially in the deepest and darkest moments of our suffering, in a world culture (society) that is also characterized as anima mundi, and all things in that world with their own animism is at least a beginning approach to how Hillman sees the world from the perspective of archetypal psychology. As compared with Jung who sought to enhance the Christian religion, Hillman is positing a psychology that, while closely connected to religion in that a belief in the mythic voices are credible, is neither speaking in favour of or in opposition to any specific faith.

Indeed, it is not a stretch to ‘see’ Hillman’s archetypal psychology, akin to Joseph Campbell’s study in mythic heroes, embracing each culture that is and has been alive, given that all have their own respective names for the various mythic gods, goddesses, and mythic names for various, sometimes even animal voices that they (we) imagine to be present in our psyche.

For many, the very notion of a ‘soul history’ as compared with a ‘case history’ would be not only narcissistic and self-indulgent, out of the reach of the literal, the empirical and the nominalism of contemporary cultural perceptions and values; it would also be considered a task too ephemeral, and too ethereal and too abstract and too inconclusive even to be worthy of engaging. And, for this scribe, it is only if and when we begin to consider our own ‘soul’ (psyche) with a view to the significance, relevance and imaginal engagement of those emotions, and thoughts and images that have held their respective influence, often without our awareness, that we might begin to ‘see’ and to ‘engage’ in the life of this universe, in a way commensurate not only with science and philosophy but also with the imagination.

Will the deferral from and by the official academic community of science and research to archetypal psychology provide a path to starving archetypal psychology of the oxygen and the investigation and the embrace it warrants, or, conversely and perhaps paradoxically, engender a kind of energy and interest from a cultural public that somehow sees and embraces the complexity and the richness and the darkness and the inscrutability of each and every one of us. And that richness and complexity is accessible for and to each of us, in some measure, without expecting or anticipating a blue-print, like a paint-by-number model, for us to use as a template for how to live.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Suicide and individuality....

 In an earlier piece, we looked at suicide alongside the dogma of the Christian churches, as an act that precludes repentance, and as an act that demonstrates hubris, in that our lives are the creation of God and therefore any decision to terminate a life is NOT OUR’S…

Trouble is, however, that such a dogmatic declaration of the churches’ position that seems to equate God, and all things holy with the LIGHT, while at the same time, denying that darkness in the human soul can be holy and not necessarily sinful. Criminality, perversion and evil, as also legitimate psychological, spiritual, ethical and religious concepts, need not necessarily wrap their arms around the act of suicide. For many that may seem like a division without a difference. However, there are many legitimate observations that warrant consideration from the perspective of “the human soul’s darkness’ as inclusive of, even emblematic of and incarnation the notion of the human being created imago dei, in the image of God.

Is it a stretch too far to contemplate the notion that if and when all hope is/seems/ is perceived to be lost that such a state is by definition evil, not of God’s ordaining, outside the definition of the fullness both of God and of the human being. Would any God, by offering ‘free will’ not be willing and able to include the choice of suicide in that landscape? Indeed, we can read, listen to, and reflect upon the Cri de Coeur on the Cross, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (My God, my God, why has thou  forsaken me?”) as the epic, tragic, and archetypal cry for help that echoes throughout human history.

 As James Hillman writes about this moment:

The cry on the cross is the archetype of every cry for help. It sounds the anguish of betrayal, sacrifice and loneliness. Nothing is left, not even God. My only certainty in my suffering, which I ask to be taken from me by dying. An animal awareness of suffering, and full identification with it, becomes the humiliating ground of transformation. Despair ushers in the death experience and is at the same time the requirement for resurrection. Life as it was before, the status quo ante, died when despair was born. (Hillman, Suicide and the Soul, p. 75)

Hillman’s starting place for entering the experience of one on the brink of taking one’s own life, is that moment when there is no hope, and no God and only nothingness in the darkness of profound suffering. While most of us have not ‘gone there’ or not spoken with one who is at that moment in that blackness, the starting place, for Hillman, is the sine qua non of any psychological relationship with the person in that moment.

And Hillman offers a revealing, even if somewhat upsetting and unsettling paradox about that moment:

As much as worship, as much as love, as much as sex, hunger, self-preservation and dread itself, is the urge toward the fundamental truth of life. If some call this truth God, then the impulse toward death is also toward the meeting with God, which some theologies hold is possible only by death. Suicide, taboo in theology, demands that God reveal Himself. And the God suicide demands, as well as the demon that would seem to prompt the act, is the Deus absconditus (the concept of the fundamentally unknowability of the essence of God) who is unable to be known., yet able to be experienced, who is unrevealed, yet more real and present in the darkness of suicide that the revealed God and all His testimony. Suicide offers immersion in, and possible regeneration through the dark side of God. It would confront the last, or worst, truth in God. His own hidden negativity. (Op. Cit. p. 70)

Is this darkness-of/in/within/inherent to-God compatible with what has come to us as Christians, as a theology of death and resurrection? Clearly, on the surface, “No.” However, is it conceivable that we (collectively, honourably and authentically, as far as we could/would imagine) drew lines around, limits around and circumscribed our picture of the unknowable God? Is the Christian exclusion of suicide as a fundamentally religious, spiritual, disciplined and holy act really justified if God is truly “absconditus”? Is, was our need to put some kind of definition around our discussion, reflection, definition and worship of God instrumental in this exclusion? Has history tried to ‘show’ us how blinkered, with the best of intentions, our theology is and has been?

We know that a vast majority of people, fall into a category of “sensate” as measured by the Myers-Briggs personality assessment instrument. This design holds the view that a sensate personality is someone driven by strong cravings for sensory and sensual satisfaction. (International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, Vol.2, 1992, The Hare Krishna Character Type: A Study of Sensate Personality, (Book) Review: by Christopher Ross, p.65-67) We also know, implicitly, that the world functions at the level of demonstrable actions, words, and sensate experiences. And, it seems reasonable to suggest that, while symbols and images and abstractions and ethereal and ideal notions exist, they belong in a place of religious, spiritual, philosophical and psychological significance and relationship. We employ metaphors to better identify and explain our primary ideas. And, there is a strong theological principle that all “things” are included in what can be considered “ultimate” considerations, in order to bridge the language and epistemological divide between God and man, between the sensate and the intuitive. Nevertheless, there continues to be a deep dark avoidance, and intellectual and emotional antipathy within the churches to the act of suicide.

Life AND Death, however, continue to be regarded as opposites, perhaps even abstract and concrete enemies among conventional thought. Philosophy, however, considers them together.

Hillman again:

To philosophize is partly to enter death: philosophy is death’s rehearsal, as Plato said, It is one of the forms of the death experience. It has been called ‘dying to the world’. The first movement in working through any problem is taking the problem upon oneself as an experience. One enters an experience by joining it. One approaches death by dying. Approaching death requires a dying in soul, daily, as the body dies in tissue. And as the body is renewed, so is the soul regenerated through death experiences. Therefore, working at the death problem is both a dying from the world with its illusory sustaining hope that there is no death, not really, and a dying into life, as a fresh and vital concern with essentials. Because living and dying in this sense imply ach other, any act that holds off death prevents life. ‘How’ to die means nothing less than ‘how’ to live. Spinoza turned the Platonic maxim around saying (Ethics IV,67) that the philosopher thinks of nothing less than death, but this meditation is not of death but of life. Living in terms of life’s only certain end means to live aimed toward death. The end is present here and now as the purpose of life, which means the moment of death-at any moment- is every moment. Death cannot be put off to the future and reserved for old age…..When we refuse the experience of death, we also refuse the essential question of life and leave life unaccomplished. Then organic death prevents our facing the ultimate questions and cuts off our chance for redemption. To avoid this state of soul, traditionally called damnation, we are obliged to go to death before it comes to us. (Op. Cit. p. 51)

Here, redemption, is considered from the perspective of ‘this life’ in the here and now. So, from Hillman, we have already heard the archetypal cry “, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?”) which cries from the heart of the Christian story, and here we have another theological concept, redemption, only this time, not in the afterlife, but in the immediate life. Clearly he is not writing about the eschatological redemption, but rather the redemption from the brink of chosen mortality into a life less impaled, like a ship-wreck on the rocks of despair, into a potential acknowledgment of some raison d’etre that makes sense for the individual. In the previous quote, we read, Living in terms of life’s and only certain end means to live aimed toward death. The end is present here and now as the purpose of life, which means the moment of death at any moment, is every moment.

For this scribe, this concept of living one’s life “aimed toward death” is the book-end to Jurgen Moltmann’s notion of life being aimed also at the eschaton. The psychological perspective on the here and now on the one hand and the theological perspective of some connection to eternity on the other, while obviously both metaphoric and epic, are a stretch for how many of us see ourselves as victims. Victimhood can and often does emerge from a traumatic childhood, from the abuses that others have inflicted and the coldness of the world’s anima mundi. In Hillman’s perspective, such brutality as a run-away capitalism, a consumptive literalism, empiricism and a dogmatic obsession with a rampant morality and judgement are enough to make one deeply depressed. And while he fought, without success, against these behemoths, throughout his life, nevertheless, he persisted. How any moment, and here we are considering that moment in which an individual is poised to terminate his/her life, can be “lived” in the perspective and attitude and choices implicit in the question, ‘how does this moment and decision impact my death,’ is hardly a perspective that many of us have witnessed from our mentors,  teachers, parents and peers.

Smilarly, from the other Moltman perspective of life lived conceptually linked to the eschaton, we are potentially dedicating our lives to another dimension. Without having met, and only read sketchily from both, there seems to be a common note of lifting whatever aspects of ‘repression’ might be impinging one’s life. Here is how Hillman puts it:

We dull our lives by the way we conceive them. We have stopped imagining them with any sort of romance, any fictional flair. ….(T)oday’s main paradigm for  understanding a human life, the interplay of genetics and environment, omits something essential-the particularity you feel to be you. By accepting the idea that I an the effect  of a subtle buffeting and societal forces, I reduce myself to a result. The more my life is accounted for by what already occurred in my chromosomes, by what my parents did or didn’t do, and by my early years now long past, the more my biography in the story of a victim. I am living a plot written by my genetic code, ancestral heredity, traumatic occasions, parental unconsciousness, societal accidents….Victim is flip side of hero. More deeply, however, we are victims of academic, scientistic, and even therapeutic psychology, whose paradigms do not sufficiently account for or engage with, and therefore ignore, the sense of calling, that essential mystery at the heart of each human life….Before it can be lived, raises doubts about another paradigm: time. And time, that takes survey of all the world, must have a stop. It too must be set aside; otherwise the before always determines the after, and you remain chained to past causes upon which you can have no effect….As Picasso said, ‘I don’t develop; I am.’  (The Soul’s Code, chapter 1)

These words are not an attempt to erase the past, nor are they an indictment or contradiction or denial of one’s theology. Indeed, they are compatible with most contemporary theologies, given that they are written and are to be read, from a psychological perspective.

We also ‘dull our lives’ by the fear we have of the archetypal judgement day, emblazoned in the teachings of the church. And, living as a bologna in a time-theological-psychological-moral-ethical sandwich that is defined for many in literal terms, we have lost the lens and perspective of the metaphoric, the imaginal. And the literalists among us will call such a perspective as hypothetical, illusory, delusional, and out of touch with reality. Hillman (and we suggest also Moltmann) are both deploying and exhorting a stretch, in and through the human imagination, that sees “things” from a liberated and liberating perspective, one that accords with any conception of a deity worthy of worship and discipleship.

It was Aristotle who wrote, “The aim of art is not to represent the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” The probe of ‘inward significance’ is applicable, not only to those ‘things’ that appear on canvases in galleries. It is even more relevant to the person on the brink of ending his/her life, and there can be little doubt, that even without plunging into the specific darkness of that person, one can speculate that his/her world has ‘closed in and is suffocating him/her’ in ways that only s/he can ‘see’ and feel and articulate.

Hillman offers a clarion call for that moment:

A main meaning of the choice (to commit suicide) is the importance of death for individuality. As individuality grows so does the possibility of suicide. Sociology and theology recognize this….Where man is law unto himself, responsible to himself for his own actions (as in the culture of cities, in the unloved child, in protestant areas, in creative people), the choice of death becomes a more frequent alternative. In this choice of death, of course, the opposite lies concealed. Until we can choose death, we cannot choose life. Until we can say no to life, we have not really said yes to is, but have only been carried along by its collective stream. The individual standing against this current experiences death as the first of all alternatives, for he who goes against the stream of life is its opponent and has become identified with death. Again, the death experience is needed to separate from the collective flow of life and to discover individuality. Individuality requires courage. And courage has since classic times been linked with suicide arguments: it takes courage to choose the ordeal of life, and it takes courage to enter the unknown by one’s own decision. Some choose life because they are afraid of death and others choose death because they are afraid of life…(T)he suicide issue forces one to find his individual stand on the basic question-to be or not to be. The courage to be….means not just choosing life out there. The real choice is choosing onself, one’s individual truth, including the ugliest man, as Nietzsche called the evil within. To continue life, knowing what a horror one is, takes indeed courage. And not a few suicides may arise from an overwhelming experience of one’s own evil, an insight coming more readily to the creatively gifted, the psychologically sensitive and the schizoid. Then who is the coward who casts the first stone? The rest of us brutish men who go about dulled to our own shadows. (Hillman, Suicide and the Soul, p.52-53)

Here we see clearly the link between individuality and redemption, a pursuit in which we are all engaged, whether consciously or not.

Friday, April 14, 2023

KNOW considered from a different psychological perspective

 In the last post, we considered suicide as an ‘ultimate concern’ if not the most significant dramatic ultimate concern. And while there are a myriad of reasons to support such a contention, one of the primary issues is the meaning of death.

Such a question to be pondered in a post-Easter week, seems incompatible with the bright, warm sunny morning outside the window at my right shoulder. Buds are creeping out from behind their winter coats; birds have spring into song; river are over-flowing with both intense rain and winter run-off; humans have emerged from their winter caves, walking their dogs, and strolling in the warm embrace of the sun and Spring breeze. Evidence of the pulsation of life, the energies that wake up, and in their waking, wake each of us from our winter ‘survival’ mode, into another season brimming with new signs of growth, life, colour, harmony and all of the accompanying ‘outside activities’ that are foreclosed and etherized by winter’s frost.

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare writes:

When he shall die,

Take him and cut him out in

little stars,

And he will make the face

of heaven so fine

That all the world will be in love

with night

And pay no worship to the

garish sun.

Death must exist for life to have meaning, is attributed to Neal Shusterman, American writer of young-adult fiction, winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for his book, Challenger Deep.

Multitudes of men and women, over the centuries, have mused about, prayed about, worried over, fantasized about, become traumatized about, and written, painted, danced and sung arias and lyrics dedicated to death. Every human activity, and each human being is engaged in some way(s) with the reality of death. Whether in league with the preventionists, or the avoiders, or the romantic poets, or the deeply religious, or the pathologists, or the self-declared atheists, or the Al-Quaeda terrorists, in their/our attitudes and convictions about death, death is an intimate, deeply personal and highly ethereal abstract and numinous a notion as known to humans.

In Suicide and the Soul, James Hillman writes:

To philosophize is partly to enter death; philosophy is death’s rehearsal, as Plato said. It is one of the 

forms of the death experience. It has been called ‘dying to the world.’ The first movement in working through any problem is taking the problem upon oneself as an experience. One enters an issue by joining it. One approaches death by dying.

“How” one “sees” this experience of death, as well as how one “sees” oneself, others, and all experiences, is a question that has engaged, bothered, frustrated and challenged thinkers, poets, educators, theologians and scientists forever. And the nexus of this question is manifest in the ‘experiential-imaginal’ lens in and through which one “sees”. The tension between the binary ‘’either-or’, cognitive-or-emotional, poetic-or-scientific, as both a language and a construct is the manner in which this issue has been debated. Rationalists and visionaries have explored their ‘perspectives’ and planted the seeds for their followers, in the archives of the world’s libraries.
To see in and through the imagination-soul-psyche, while, paradoxically eschewing the long-pursued ‘individuation’ of the individual into some coherent package, is to seek a different, and more abstruse, perhaps even abstract linkage, (not unity) with the voices that have been ‘singing’ through the sands, the caves, the towns and the lecture halls from the beginning. If there is to be “meaning” and “energy” and “ideas” and “images” in each of our moments, as well as in each of our encounters with others, and with nature and with buildings, towns, and travel, as Hillman envisions, the rest of us are being challenged not merely intellectually, nor even solely imaginatively, but wholeistically.

We too, as humans, are being ‘revisioned’ far from the madding voices of “merely agents of another’s purpose, or ‘merely accomplices in another’s conspiracies, or engineers/doctors/lawyers/priests/accountants as “fixers” of some empirically determined problem. The superstructure of our conventional thought imposes a kind of moral “scaffolding” on each and every incident, person, narrative, that ostensibly provides a kind of comfortable expectation for the smooth running of the culture. However, that scaffolding also ensnares and blinkers and focuses our thought-feeling-imagination into something “given” as if we were all pupils in the same classroom, when we know positively, intuitively, emotionally and theologically, we do not even know the names or the locations or the philosophies of those learning emporia. The prospect of rendering that superstructure as a little less permanent, a little less confining, a little less like an intellectual, moral, cultural, idol…seems to lie at the heart of Hillman’s ‘revisioning’.

 When we have entered the arena of ‘suffering’, including our own death, and problems with our ‘interior lives’ purportedly contained in words like psyche and soul, the scene is not amenable to the conventional linguistic, intellectual, emotional, theological, ethical, legal, medical manner of conceiving, and thereby of searching for and teasing out anything that looks and sounds and feels and sustains itself as “meaning”. Poets and writers have been exhorted to ‘write about whatever it is that you do not know”….as a paradoxical insight into the exploration of the ‘unknown mystery’ into which and from which each of us is earnestly seeking to Know Thyself”…one of the oldest, and least contemplated, yet richest epithet of all time, in the Western world.

Debate continues about its original author; perhaps it was Socrates, perhaps Pythagoras. However, whether interpreted as ‘knowing your limits’ or knowing your motivation,’ both alive and well as conventional applications, both of these imply a “relational” stance, to the outside world. As ‘how far can I go’ based  on my intimate awareness of my capabilities, and ‘confident in reaching my goal’ as a mental image of envisioned ribbons, trophies, championships, promotions, both of these templates have been securely planted in the culture in the West. Not so conversant, or even acceptable is a very different notion: knowing oneself simply for the purpose of knowing oneself. The concept of humans as “agents” for or against, in company with or opposed to, has so drowned our notion of what it is to be a human being, that we have relegated deep and penetrating, profound and imaginative pondering of the deepest recesses of our souls, (even and perhaps especially in the religious communities), to the sidelines of the ‘mystics, the spiritualists, the alchemists and the seers, as our way of dismissing the whole process.

Keeping things ‘understandable’ from a rational perspective, in order to create the illusion that we a “managing everything we need to manage and control,’ is not only a significant degree of self-imposed blindness,  (as it leaves out so much), but also a convenient way of ‘simplifying’ for the sake of avoiding confusion, and the resulting potential of chaos. Such pedagogical aphorisms, in the world of journalism, for example, as “write to a grade six reader” dumbs down the language and the level of nuance permitted to the writer/reporter on each and every story and opinion piece. The adage also protects and sustains the campaign for readers/viewers/listeners, who, themselves, when numbered, provide proof for advertisers to buy ads. Agency, for agency, for agency….and we are all enmeshed in this cultural, psychological, military, corporate, religious, political, fiscal, trap.

Any attempt to set aside, for the purposes intimate to and essential to Knowing Thyself, for its own sake, will be, initially considered rebellious, if not actually dangerous. It will be categorized as narcissistic, in a world and time when the narcissists seem to be taking over. It will be considered a ‘waste of time’ just as the idea/vision/image of becoming an artist was perpetually considered a waste of time for an aspiring college grad, by many if not most parents, who counselled a professional ‘job’ like law, medicine, engineering, accounting…where there is ‘real money’ to be made. It will also be considered by some to be a deviation from the need for a strong legal system to defer potential incipient criminals, and therefore, the superstructure depends on the church to sanctify its version or morality, first for children in the Christian Education program, and then in the school system, and then in the corporate world.

Given that morality, and ethics, are high on the totem pole of values, in Western culture, then those who ‘perform’ acts of criminal or illegal or immoral quality, will be considered first, as ‘outlaws’ in some sense of that word, rather than as human beings first, before consideration of the morality/legality/ethics of their decisions and actions. We have established cultural system dedicated to the pursuit of ‘wrong-doers’ as if that was the ‘best’ and most ‘optimal’ way to maintain social order. We have also established a health care system based on the search for, diagnosis of and treatment of an illness, and not on the premise that the goal of health is the responsibility of each person, for himself/herself. It extends the ‘sickness-intervention’ process which has been so deeply embedded in not only our socio-economic and political system, that, virtually all decisions about the public square are first and foremost diagnosed and decided on a cost-benefit basis, deploying a variety of variables depending on the body making the decisions.

Agency, agency, to-do lists, accountability, transparency, laws, regulations, enforcement, and armies of highly-paid, professional detectives and wardens to administer the system….based on a plethora of numerical, statistical, financial, electoral, medically-necessary, and religiously ‘popular’ data…this system, while having some functionality, and some modest justification, is not a raison d-etre to justify the new vision of psychology proposed by Hillman.

And among the first institutional edifices, including their hierarchy, that might give active consideration of a different way of seeing what is most important and meaningful in the life of an individual, especially in a moment of crisis, would seem to be the churches. We all know that the human soul is not amenable, reliant on, conducive to, or even tolerable of dogma, especially dogma that has been generated by those seeking approval from other church ‘fathers’ who, implicitly were engaged (had to be) in a process of planting, nurturing, growing and triumphing in their own success, as institutions. Numbers of dollars, and numbers of bums in pews, the cliché measure of success in most institutions in the contemporary western world, are not indicative of a successful religious, spiritual, disciplined pursuit of any deity.

God (s) are not desperate for greater numbers, nor greater power, nor greater arsenals, nor more positive reviews in public opinion polls. They are not dependent on sycophants whose religiosity is reduced to a weekly cheque, a weekly Mass/Eucharist, an assignment to teach in the education program, nor a clergy whose success, and value and spiritual growth is measured by the cash-flow and the attendance records each week. God(s) are not desperate for white robes, chasables, mitres, staffs and processions, however impressive, and seemingly sanctified and motivating they may be. God(s) do not need sky-reaching spires, nor bell-towers, to signify the humility, the agape, the prayer life or the mentorship of the disciple.

Indeed, God(s) are not likely to be impressed by ‘the largest military arsenal in history, as a sign that ‘we are protecting the American people in a Christian nation.’

That “Christian nation” appellation, claimed by the Americans, is so obviously unravelling on so many fronts, that, just perhaps, there might be some serious consideration given by significant thought leaders, religious leaders, and their colleagues to a different perspective on the high status and ethical value placed on the empirical attributes of American life.

KNOW THYSELF….is one of, if not the most complex, perhaps even incomprehensible, numinous, ethereal, moving, changing, ephemeral and profound activities, that engages the whole person, along with another “mirror” who might join in the process, as a way of echoing, reverberating, clarifying, questioning and supporting the process.

A first step, in the process, could well be to revision how we “see” and how we “consider” what we see, and expand the field of vision from the ‘outside’ to the ‘inner’ as a path for how we consider others as well as how we might envision our own persons.

And, while the process will not generate the ‘destination’ of perfect clarity and fixity, as a kind of dependable consistence, like a place name of a town or village, nor document a developmental graph of maturity, it might thaw some of the frozen lines of demarcation that neither express who we are, nor convey to others who they think we are. And, in that vortex of new imaginal, poetic, mythic possibilities, there is new psychic energy for all of us. And that process will embrace our atttudes, feelings and thoughts, images, even our theology of death.