Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Where is the Soul 4?

St Stephen's Green, July, 2004
What's in a Story?

As a teacher I have always believed in the power of a story to teach a lesson.  In this I follow the late great Irish short story writer Bryan MacMahon who believed strongly in its efficacy.  I remember listening to the wonderful inaugural speech of Mary Robinson as Uachtarán na hÉireann on Monday, December 3rd, 1990.  It was a moving experience to hear the profound words of an academic, a practical and pragmatic politician - in short, a doer - speaking as the first woman President of Ireland.  She alluded to many images, metaphors and symbols in her speech, and I distinctly remember her alluding to the power of stories in our lives.  I wish to quote those particular lines about the power of story from her inaugural speech:

"I want this Presidency to promote the telling of stories — stories of celebration through the arts and stories of conscience and of social justice. As a woman, I want women who have felt themselves outside history to be written back into history, in the words of Eavan Boland, “finding a voice where they found a vision.”  (See this link for the full speech: Robspeech
On the subject of stories and the philosophy behind them I have already written some posts a few years back when I commented in length on Professor Richard Kearney's wonderful short book entitled On Stories (Routledge, 2002).  (See the following link and subsequent posts for this commentary: RKOnStories )

Finding the Soul: Other Critical Points:

  • We don't know we are telling stories.  And that's part of the trouble in the training of psychotherapy, that psychotherapists don't learn enough literature, enough drama, , or enough biography.  The trainee learns cases and diagnostics - things that do not necessarily open the imagination. (See Hillman and Ventura, p. 28)
  • Hillman's and Ventura's comments on child abuse are interesting to say the least.  The former stresses the difference in severity (psychological) and quality between sexual abuse perpetrated on a wee child to that perpetrated on an adolescent or young adult.  Hillman maintains that "early abuse tends to literalize the imagination.  It either literalizes the imagination or dissociates it into multiple personality, so that its split off.  And that is the damage."  (Ibid., p.28)
  • They both underscore the fact (sad though it is!) that often the recall of these traumatic events tends to forge connections with the soul's mysteries.  (See ibid., p. 29)
    Waiting on the Luas, Dublin, July, 2004
  • On processing our emotions: Hillman lists many authors who "processed" their negative emotions in their written works, e.g., Jonathan Swift (wrote satires), the authors of Elizabethan and Jacobean vengeance plays, James Joyce (his relationship with Ireland) and William Faulkner (his feelings about the southern states of America) etc.  Personally, I remember hearing an interview with the great Irish surgeon, writer and sportsman Oliver St John Gogarty who told his interviewer (sometime in the late forties or early fifties of the last century) that Joyce had refused to go to Jungian therapy in case his inspiration or giftedness as a writer would be damaged, if not destroyed.  Hillman then goes on to mention how Rainer Maria Rilke, whom I have also discussed in these pages as being a great soul explorer as saying that he did not want "the demons taken away because they are going to take away my angels too."  (Quoted ibid., p. 29)
  • They go on to underscore that the wounds and scars are really what help to build up character in the long run.  In fact the very meaning of the word character is "marked or etched with sharp lines."
  • Here both our conversationalists (authors) are highlighting the native power of our imagination in helping us to "heal" our soul, in helping us to deal with crises.  At school we have found art therapy a wonderful vehicle for very hurt and vulnerable youngsters to express their emotions. 
  • The stuff that life throws at us is the "ore" we have too mine and to process.  Our souls have their blemishes just as our bodies have their scars.
  • However, we often have an obsession with processing everything, with smoothing the bumps out.  Maybe such kinks and bumps and lumps should be there in our bodies as well as in our souls:  "The obsession that prevents it (suffering in its various shapes and sizes or ore) from being valued as ore is the obsession with processing, the obsession with smoothing it out.  It doesn't become as damaging unless you think it shouldn't be there..  That's what I mean about the therapeutic attitude hurting the actual potential of people.  Because as Ivan Illich would say, therapy wants to ameliorate the suffering in the ore.  And our culture accepts the proposition that it must be ameliorated."  (Ibid., pp 30-31)
  • Hillman goes on to state that the role of therapy should be: MAKE THOSE THINGS BE FELT!!! (Ibid., p. 30)  Or as Freud has put it:  MAKE THE UNCONSCIOUS CONSCIOUS.  Therapies should not seek to be FIXERS because FIXERS or FIXING actually represses the ore.  So processing can be a repression of sorts, a denial of sorts, if it seeks to iron out all the kinks.
  • Hillman says that a good therapist will teach the client to explore the hurt, not to process it or iron it out! He calls himself a Jungian therapist and emphasizes that the goal of his kind of therapy is "eccentricity, which grows out of the Jungian notion of individuation.  Jung says 'You become who you are."  And nobody is square.  We all have, as the Swiss say, a corner knocked off."  (Ibid., p. 35)
  • Hillman yet again is a fount of wonderful quotations like this one from Rousseau which is particularly ad rem: "The man amongst you is the most educated who can carry the joys and sorrows of life." (Ibid., p. 35)

To be continued

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