Thursday, July 07, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 19

Metaphors and the language of the Soul

Musician, Fleá Ceoil, Cavan town, August 2010
When one is dealing with highly abstract matters in the areas of the Liberal Arts and Humanities one must reach for metaphor because language strains to the point of breaking to express what the mind apprehends and comprehends.  I suppose in the areas of mathematics, logic and the natural sciences metaphoric language is somewhat redundant.  Be that as it may, I have long been enchanted with the ways we use metaphor to reach after what is practically undefinable in literal terms.   The word metaphor as far as I recollect comes from two Greek words "meta" meaning beyond and "phorein" to point to or beyond, hence metaphor is some sign that points beyond the physical thing, and the Internet gives me this etymology: Origin:

1525–35; < Latin metaphora < Greek metaphorá a transfer, akin to metaphérein to transfer at this link here: etymology.   Anyway, to make this a practical exercise, rather than an abstract discussion of the topic let me give a few examples of metaphor in use:

Examples of metaphor:

  • "The heart of the matter."  Hear we have a literally physical thing, "the heart" used symbolically and figuratively because the physical object or organ is centre of the body and we transfer than meaning of centrality to the matter being discussed.  Hence it is a metaphor, a physical thing carried over or transferred to something abstract.
  • "The head of the school is Dr. Smith."
  • "I've broken the back of the job cleaning the kitchen."
  • "I've no time for John because he has burnt all his bridges with me!"
  • I'm never coming back to this place again because that insult was the final straw for me!"
  • That was the straw that broke the camel's back.
  • John was envious of James, who was appointed head of the department , and all his actions were from then on done out of "sour grapes".
  • "I always keep the best wine till last," said Dr Tom as he produced a 50 year old single malt for an aperitif.
  • John is so awkward he always upsets the applecart.
  • Jane is seated at the foot of the class.
  • That is the core of the problem or the nub of the problem.
  • Even Homer nods.
  • He'll meet his Waterloo someday too!
  • His heart was broken when Jane left him.
  • That man is a Brier.
  • Well he certainly isn't smelling of roses after hurting Tom and Angela.
One could go on at length, but it would be a puerile and tedious exercise at this stage as I have more the emphasized now the fact that metaphor-making is central to language and communication all the time almost.

Metaphor and the Soul/Personality/Mind

A Pint of Plain is your only man!  Cavan Town, Aug 2010
I remember many years ago a friend of mine describing his recovery from alcoholism as being a long fight with his demons.  This is sheer metaphor because to talk about those deep down things, those deep psychological and often repressed drives and fears we have to resort to metaphor as a means of carrying our meaning across (metaphorein) to our listener.  I've even heard one or two people say that in their personal lives they have "been to hell and back."  We instinctively pick up what they mean, without saying something stupid like: "Really?  Where is it Tom?  Where is hell at all."  Some people might even discuss their partners in terms of metaphor, viz.., "she is the apple of my eye, the very centre of my world/universe."  Or again if we hear a good singer we might say:  "He/she sung their heart out or sung their soul out," etc.  Again we speak in metaphor terms when we discuss the mind.  We often speaks of layers of the mind, an idea or metaphor that goes back to Dr Sigmund Freud who gave us as one of his two models of the mind the topographical model which he got from archaeology, namely the conscious mind on the surface and the unconscious which is a layer below that again.  Indeed one could speak about this particular model and the psychoanalytical practice based on it as being essentially archaeological (another metaphor.) (Incidentally, the other model of the mind proposed by Freud was of course his famous structural one of Ego, Id and Super-ego which I have dealt with at length in these pages  previously.)
 
Back to the Myth of Orpheus
 
This myth provides a container, albeit a metaphorical container, for the struggles towards selfhood and personal identity engaged upon by the individual soul.  Any addict of any kind will readily associate his or her struggles with those of Orpheus as described in my last several posts.  He is the mythological figure who can contain for us and bind together, unite or integrate praise and lament, good and evil, living and dying.  Our hero has descended into hell/Hades, into the realm of the shadows (another metaphor and Jung used this term with a capital letter to denote one of our major archetypes, namely The Shadow) and was able, albeit with terrible consequences to emerge changed and transformed into the light of day.  Indeed, I have often heard some friends from the A.A. tell me that "Religion is for those who fear hell, while spirituality is for those who have been there!"
 
Orpheus' lyre, from which word we get the cognates lyric and lyrical are also examples of the metaphorical thrust of language.  For Levine, for Rilke and for many scholars of literature and psychology, Orpheus is the poet of the two worlds, of the living and of the dead.  He dwells simultaneously in both worlds, and we have to learn from his example if we can at all. (There's a lot of work in self-development and even in psychotherapy needed here!)  Returning to Professor Levine's words, we read:
 
Although we cannot think their unity [the worlds of the living and the dead], cannot conceptually comprehend how such opposites can be conjoined, Orpheus brings them together in his song.  The "singing god is "a herald who is with us always,/ holding far into the doors of the dead/a bowl with a ripe fruit worthy of praise." [Last stanza of the seventh Sonnet of the Sonnets of Orpheus]  (Poiesis, p. 100)
Link to Buddhist Practice and Meditation

Rilke, according to Levine, and I agree strongly with him, though he does not make the connection I make with Buddhism here, seems to be suggesting  that only if we give up everything, let go of all attachment (a central Buddhist tenet), can we live in that place (again a metaphor) of pure presence where all life is precious and all can be praised, even loss itself!  Levine's passion for his subject here is calling me back to re-read Rilke's sonnets and about time, too.  Our learned author is suggesting, in the light of his studies and clinical experience, and I as a poet and writer agree with him, that the goal of all therapeutic work is to take the deepest loss that we have suffered, to learn to live in our own immeasurable darkness (for me my experience of depression), and to continue right on with life, to go with its ebbs and flows.  In other words, it is then and only then that we will have learnt to say a resounding "Yes" to all of life, even to loss and death.  We will only be able to do that when we have have learnt to sing our soul beautiful in our very own individual soul song, whatever that may be for us!  Our task, should we choose to accept it is to not alone find our song but sing it loud and clear, and in so doing we not alone have done something wonderful for ourselves and for others, but also something beautiful to honour all live and and death.

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