Thursday, April 21, 2011

Where is the Soul 22?

It's All About Emptiness, no Less

Pope's Cross, April, 2011
I have said in these posts time and time again that what I love about reading James Hillman is that he always manages to deepen the questions for me, even ask new questions, turn things sideways, upside down and inside out.  In the meaning of "conversation" which we outlined in the last post here, one feels one is deeply in dialogue or in conversation with Hillman.  As I continue to read his and Michael Ventura's provocative classic We've had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World's Getting Worse (Harper, S.F., 1993) I am continually inspired to ask new questions and deepen older ones.  In his next letter to Ventura, Hillman mentions the theological concept of "kenosis."  As an erstwhile theologian, a subject in which I have lost most of my interest in favour of philosophy and psychology because they do not start from such "givens,"  I am indeed familiar with this notion.  In Christian theology kenosis refers to Christ's emptying himself of his divine power, of his unity with almighty God, in order to enter the world of man.  Hence, he could be crucified, and his total or complete emptiness was summed up in the pathos of his cry from the stark geometry of his lonely wooden cross on Mount Calvary over 2000 years ago: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"

When we simply have No or Poor Practical Answers?

Once again I am at one with Hillman.  Like him we "thinkers, feelers, intuitionists, theorists, idealists" but not "real doers or pragmatists" like the politicians (at least that's what many of them say about our ilk) can have much to say, but very little by the way of practical answers to practical questions.  Politicians all have programmes and policies and more often than not they are sincerely convinced that theirs are the correct and right ones; the ones which should really be followed because they are so much better than those of their opponents.  However, writing these lines in the wake of the demise of The Celtic Tiger (dead now, but its carcass is still stinking to high heaven!) where greed was at the heart of all such policies, one can surely question as to why these politicians almost to a man (and indeed at least 90% if not more of them are men), with their cronies in the Banks and in the world of entrepreneurial speculation which amounted to nothing more than mere gambling could have got their certainties so wrong!  I am one with Hillman here:

Politically, I am pretty empty.  My state Connecticut, has a huge deficit.  What should we do?  If we raise corporate taxes, we drive business out of the state and lose the tax base.  If we cut the budget, we drop the level of our educational and social survives... I used to get stopped cold in political arguments.  I would be going on about something and the other guy would say, "All right, if you're so smart, what would you do about it?  And I had no positive idea of what to do, no program, nothing.  It wasn't that I was impractical.  I was empty.  My protests were suddenly emptied out because I had nothing positive to offer.  They say that the '68 revolutions in Berkeley and in Europe among the students were so easily crushed or petered out because the revolutionaries had no positive programs.  (Op. cit. pp. 103-104)
I am also reminded at this juncture by the insightful advice of Dr Eugene Gendlin who states in the introduction to his wonderful little classic called Focusing that it is a truism of all forms of therapy that it is those patients who are sure and certain about what is wrong with them that are least likely to make progress.  In other words, those who are most rigid will stick to their rigidity as long as they can.  Unfortunately, it is these poor souls, who are as rigid as trees, unlike those who are flexible like the grass, who will snap and crack when the storm winds blow!

Empty Protest

Rugged seascape, Portran, April 2011
And so this is what Hillman means by empty protest - I suppose we could call it kenotic protest.  Here, the protester is empty of all certainties and fixities and all types of rigidity.  He or she is slow to jump to conclusions or to take rigid and firm stances in terms of: "This is the only answer," "This is the only way out of our problems," "I'm right and that's it," "It's our decision," or "This is the only policy or programme to follow."  Now, this does not mean that we thinkers, feelers, intuitionists, idealists are bereft of any pragmatism or practicality.  No, indeed!  By empty protest or kenotic protest (my words) Hillman means the type of protest made by the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.  I would like to add the protests of the likes of Nelson Mandela, Bishop Tutu and Mother Teresa to Hillman's heroes listed in his book.  And so, once again I fall in love with these words, with the sheer idealism and beauty and truth of them.  Therefore, let us listen once again to the hypnotic words from Hillman's lips:

Kenosis puts the emptiness in a new light.  It values the emptiness.  It says "empty protest" is a via negativa, a non-positivist way of entering the political arena.  You take your outrage seriously, but you don't force yourself to have answers...  The answers will come, if they come, when they come, to you, to others, but don't fill in the emptiness of the protest with positive suggestions before their time... (Ibid., p. 104)
Hillman lists a long string of American certainties which ended up as distorted truths or lies - which eventually led to evil acts from Viet Nam to the First Gulf War.  That list of certainties undid thousands of human beings by extinguishing them in war.  I shan't rehash Hillman's long list here.  I merely admire his courage and his insightful views.  What I want to come to here is the role of therapy in all this.  What should therapy be about in the midst of these destructive - both of soul and body - lies?  Well, therapy values the expression of our real feelings, is never quick to jump to conclusions.  It listens, listens, listens and lets the soul sing its sorrows in all truth and openness.  Therapy leads us always into deeper meaning, into deeper questions and shuns shallow and immediate answers to difficult problems.  Our therapy must have a clarion call like: "Think before you act!", "Know yourself!", or "Always question your motives and motivation!"  Know what you are doing before you really understand in full the issue at stake.  Know the meaning of an action before you act spontaneously!

And so Hillman's letter to Ventura is a call to protest, a call to protest against all the false truths parading themselves as real truths; about the lies politicians tell us again and again; about how most of us swallow whole those lies; about how easily we can get lost in the clap trap of group politics; about how we can be easily carried along with the herd; about how easily we can all be taken in by the hypnotic words of smart orators; about how, if we had been among the German populace at the time of the rise to power of Hitler, that we too would have acted no differently.  Hillman's letter is stirring and questions us at a very deep level.  I feel at one with him in being a lonely soul or a lonely protester somewhere on the periphery or fringe of society.  We are crying out that this or that is wrong; that politics, that business, the financial world, that the banks, even the Churches are all stinking to high heaven; that something is rotten even in the state of therapy; that there is much rotten in the state of our own modern soul.  And with Hillman, I really do not know what to do about that by way of a political movement.  We are left only with the emptiness of our protest!

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