29 July 2006

Care of the Soul: excerpts

Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life. New York: HarperPerennial, 1992, ISBN: 0060165979, pp.xi-20.

From Introduction

The great malady of the twentieth century, implicated in all of our troubles and affecting us individually and socially, is "loss of soul." When soul is neglected, it doesn't just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning. Our temptation is to isolate these symptoms or to try to eradicate them one by one; but the root problem is that we have lost our wisdom about the soul, even our interest in it. We have today few specialists of the soul to advise us when we succumb to moods and emotional pain, or when as a nation we find ourselves confronting a host of threatening evils. But within our history we do have remarkable sources of insight from people who wrote explicitly about the nature and needs of the soul, and so we can look to the past for guidance in restoring this wisdom. In this book I will draw on that past wisdom, taking into account how we live now, to show that by caring for the soul we can find relief from our distress and discover deep satisfaction and pleasure.

It is impossible to define precisely what the soul is. Definition is an intellectual enterprise anyway; the soul prefers to imagine. We know intuitively that soul has to do with genuineness and depth, as when we say certain music has soul or a remarkable person is soulful. When you look closely at the image of soulfulness, you see that it is tied to life in all its particulars - good food, satisfying conversation, genuine friends, and experiences that stay in the memory and touch the heart. Soul is revealed in attachment, love, and com-...
...munity, as well as in retreat on behalf of inner communing and intimacy.

Modern psychologies and therapies often contain an unspoken but clear salvational tone. If you could only learn to be assertive, loving, angry, expressive, contemplative, or thin, they imply, your troubles would be over. The self-help book of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, which in some fashion I'm taking as a model, was cherished and revered, but was never great art and didn't promise the sky. It gave recipes for good living and offered suggestions for a practical, down-to-earth philosophy of life. I'm interested in this humbler approach, one that is more accepting of human foibles, and indeed sees dignity and peace as emerging more from that acceptance than from any method of transcending the human condition. Therefore, this book, my own imagination of what a self-help manual could be, is a guide offering a philosophy of soulful living and techniques for dealing with everyday problems without striving for perfection or salvation.
Jung, one of our most recent doctors of the soul, said that every psychological problem is ultimately a matter of religion. Thus, this book contains both psychological advice and spiritual guidance. A spiritual life of some kind is absolutely necessary for psychological "health"; at the same time, excessive or ungrounded spirituality can also be dangerous, leading to all...
...kinds of compulsive and even violent behavior.
Tradition teaches that soul lies midway between understanding and unconsciousness, and that its instrument is neither the mind nor the body, but imagination. I understand therapy as nothing more than bringing imagination to areas that are devoid of it, which then must express themselves by becoming symptomatic.

You can see already that care of the soul is quite different in scope from most modern notions of psychology and psychotherapy. It isn't about curing, fixing, changing, adjusting or making healthy, and it isn't about some idea of perfection or even improvement. It doesn't look to the future for an ideal, trouble-free existence. Rather, it remains patiently in the present, close to life as it presents itself day by day, and yet at the same time mindful of religion and spirituality.
In the modern world we separate religion and psychology, spiritual practice and therapy. There is considerable interest in healing this split, but if it is going to be bridged, our very idea of what we are doing in our psychology has to be radically re-imagined. Psychology and spirituality need to be seen as one. In my view, this new paradigm suggests the end of psychology as we have known it altogether because it is essentially modern, secular, and ego-centered. A new idea, a new language, and new traditions must be developed on which to base our theory and practice.

Care of the soul speaks to the longings we feel and to the symptoms that drive us crazy, but it is not a path away from shadow or death. A soulful personality is complicated, multifaceted, and...
...shaped by both pain and pleasure, success and failure. Life lived soulfully is not without its moments of darkness and periods of foolishness. Dropping the salvational fantasy frees us up to the possibility of self-knowledge and self-acceptance, which are the very foundation of soul.

Soul is nothing like ego. Soul is closely connected to fate, and the turns of fate almost always go counter to the expectations and often to the desires of the ego. Even the Jungian idea of Self, carefully defined as a blend of conscious understanding and unconscious influences, is still very personal and too human in contrast to the idea of soul. Soul is the font of who we are, and yet it is far beyond our capacity to devise and to control. We can cultivate, tend, enjoy, and participate in the things of the soul, but we can't outwit it or manage it or shape it to the designs of a willful ego.

The act of entering into the mysteries of the soul, without sentimentality or pessimism, encourages life to blossom forth according to its own designs and with its own unpredictable beauty. Care of the soul is not solving the puzzle of life; quite the opposite, it is an appreciation of the paradoxical mysteries that blend light and darkness into the grandeur of what human life and culture can be.
As you read this book, it might be a good idea to abandon any ideas you may have about living successfully and properly, and about understanding yourself. The human soul is not meant to be understood. Rather, you might take a more relaxed position and reflect on the way your life has taken shape.
Let us imagine care of the soul, then, as an application of poetics to everyday life.

From Chapter 1: Honoring Symptoms as a Voice of the Soul

A major difference between care and cure is that cure implies the end of trouble. If you are cured, you don't have...
...to worry about whatever was bothering you any longer. But care has a sense of ongoing attention. There is no end. Conflicts may never be fully resolved. Your character will never change radically, although it may go through some interesting transformations. Awareness can change, of course, but problems may persist and never go away.
Ancient psychology, rooted in a very different ground from modern therapeutic thinking, held that the fate and character of each of us is born in mystery, that our individuality is so profound and so hidden that it takes more than a lifetime for identity to emerge. Renaissance doctors said that the essence of each person originates as a star in the heavens. How different this is from the modern view that a person is what he makes himself to be.

Care of the soul, looking back with special regard to ancient psychologies for insight and guidance, goes beyond the secular mythology of the self and recovers a sense of the sacredness of each individual life. This sacred quality is not just value - all lives are important. It is the unfathomable mystery that is the very seed and heart of each individual. Shallow therapeutic manipulations aimed at restoring normality or tuning a life according to stan-...
...dards reduces - shrinks - that profound mystery to the pale dimensions of a social common denominator referred to as the adjusted personality. Care of the soul sees another reality altogether. It appreciates the mystery of human suffering and does not offer the illusion of a problem-free life. It sees every fall into ignorance and confusion as an opportunity to discover that the beast residing at the center of the labyrinth is also an angel. The uniqueness of a person is made up of the insane and the twisted as much as it is of the rational and normal. To approach this paradoxical point of tension where adjustment and abnormality meet is to move closer to the realization of our mystery-filled, star-born nature.

Copyright 1992 by Thomas Moore. I apologise for so blatantly messing with Mr Moore's copyright; I'm doing it because I think these ideas are important and interesting, and you should be able to read them whether or not you can buy/borrow the book.