Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 15





Ways to Grow Down

Hillman rather briefly - the final paragraph in fact - at the end of chapter two of this book outlines the four ways that the Myth of Er suggests that we might learn to grow down.  Perhaps, he could have spent more time going into each of these via examples.  However, that's a small criticism.

First Way

The soul descends from "above" through the medium of the body.  This involves getting to know and trust the body, but more than that to learn to accept the body as it is and as it can be, giving it as much care as we can realistically and practically.  That means looking after it (excuse the us of the impersonal direct objective pronoun rather than the personal one here - I fully realise that my body is in fact me!) through exercise and proper diet.  It also means accepting what growing up and ageing means.  It means coming to terms with the body's vicissitudes, its strengths and weaknesses, and indeed with its very mortality.  On the way, it most likely will mean the coming to terms with illness, and fighting that illness by co-operating with it, rather like a judo expert stops his attacker by using the attacker's own strength and force against him/her.

Second Way

The second way the soul descends from "above" is through the parents.  Of the many millions of spermatazoa only one manages to make it through and fertilize the egg - so each human being, rather like an individual salmon, is very unique.  The soul, according to the myth, is a unique compatriot for each new life.  The parents are charged with caring for the new little life.

Third Way

The third way of descent is through the place that the soul is "born" in.  Think of all the countries in the world and all the corresponding cultures.  Ponder on the fact that even in the same country so many different regional customs and even dialects exist.  The late great John O'Donohue (1956-2008, see this link JOD) the wonderful expert on Gaelic and Celtic sprirituaity, always maintained that the very landscape makes the people of any particular area.  I remember well attending a few of his wise and erudite lectures, and in one of them he adverted to Liam O'Flaherty's (1896-1984) connection with the very stones of the Arann Islands.

Fourth Way

The last way is through circumstances.  Circumstances can make or break us.  We have to deal with many ups and downs, happenings and chances as we progress through life.  For many poor souls of the twentieth century which witnessed two great World Wars it was either death or suffering on the battlefields or death and suffering through what is now euphemistically called "collateral damage" that comprised such circumstances.  Years ago I remember meeting survivors of the North Strand Bombing (31st May, 1941 - see some photos here - N.S. Bombing) which happened during the second World War.  There were and are many other "soul making" (John Keats: "The vale of Soul-making." See this link Soul Keats 1795 - 1821) events through which we must live as we traverse the course of our individual lives on this earth.  The great Carl Gustave Jung referred to such chances as more often than not being more than mere chances, that there were more graced happenstances which he called synchronous, that is he proposed a rather elaborate theory of synchronicity which is, I think, really a spiritual or at least a parapsychological take on the law of cause and effect.



Above, the great John Keats on his deathbed.

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