Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Where is the Soul 21?

It's all about Consciousness

Two Augustinian Friars, Mullingar
In a post-script to one of his letters to Michael Ventura, James Hillman says that the whole business of therapy may be boiled down to consciousness.  Now, that is hardly a new insight at all in psychotherapy of any type.  After all the great founder of psychoanalysis (the first psychotherapy), Dr Sigmund Freud, had said that the task of his type of analysis could be summed up in the formula: "making the unconscious conscious."  This has remained one of the primary goals, among many others of course, of all types of psychotherapy - awareness or consciousness is all.  So it is hardly revolutionary for James Hillman to say that what he and Michael Ventura are about in their joint book is consciousness.  However, I always wait for Hillman to put a deeper or more peculiar spin on things.  Once again I am not disappointed.

He begins by over-viewing what goes on in any session of therapy - no matter what kind it is.  If we were to tape any such session we would find that it is a conversation, a deep conversation about such things as dreams, relationships, one's fears, hopes and desires, one's frustrations and disappointments, one's joys and one's sorrows and one's needs.

All of this is involved in conversation, because real conversation is about making things conscious.  Then Hillman introduces the topic of repression - another Freudian gem.  He reminds Ventura, should he need such reminding, how hard real conversation is, even at home around the family dinner table.  How much is really left unsaid at that table?  To what extent are hidden agendas not really that apparent - after all, they are hidden.  The person who is more accustomed to making things conscious will be more aware of such undercurrents (my words and thoughts in this last paragraph, not Hillman's - so, I hope I am doing the tenor of his thoughts justice with my interpretation of them).

Stream (of Consciousness) Spire, Mullingar Town
Real conversations are never a monologue.  They are always a dialogue of souls.  It is never an exchange of superficial opinions, complaints or even information.  Good conversation has an edge to it because it opens our eyes and ears to hear something deeper, even to hearing what's behind and underneath the words.  Once again Hillman startles me by coming up with something new.  Here I will turn to his own words because they are so exciting:

Here we need to look again at what conversation is.  The word means turning around with, going back, like reversing, and it comes supposedly from walking back and forth with someone or something, turning and going over the same ground from the reverse direction. A conversation turns things around.  And there is a verso to every conversation, a reverse, back side.

It is this verso, this exposition of the reverse version that is, I think, the work of our talk.  Whatever keeps us walking together with something and turns things around, upside down, converts what we already feel and think into something unexpected - this is the unconscious becoming conscious, which means doing therapy. (Op. cit., p. 100)
The real object of conversation, then, is literally not to take a stand or a fixed or rigid point, the idea then is to press ahead and turn around, upside down, over, under, inside out and so on and again repeat the journey.  In real conversation there can be no fixed points or rigid stands.  Our job is is to loosen the over-tightened nuts of rigidity.  And so real conversation like real therapy can be and is very upsetting.  It's job is to "upset the apple cart" as the old cliché has it.  We even have to shock others as well as ourselves because consciousness is born through a series of little sharp shocks.  This keeps us awake, on the edge, or if you like more aware and more conscious of what's going on for us in our lives.  Once again Hillman gives us a marvellous word for good therapy, namely psychoshock, rather than electroshock!  Then he stands language on its head, or in keeping with his idea of good conversation it might be more correct to say that he turns language around when he says that we should bother ourselves more with "curing our talk" rather than "talking of cures" (for this or that problem!).  Now isn't that a wonderfully rich thought?  As you see, dear reader, one can never ever be disappointed with anything James Hillman writes as he forces us to dig deeper into the psyche.

Let's begin to converse with those close to us, and even those not too close - say in our work places - if we are to make any headway in making the unconscious conscious.  We owe it to ourselves and to each other.  Sigmund Freud must be smiling somewhere out there or in there - use whatever prepositional phrase or metaphor you wish - in the ether!

No comments: