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

Monday, March 07, 2011

Where is the Soul 3?


Not a pint of Guinness - it's Smithwick's actually
Toxic.  Now, there is a word that is used quite often these days, and, my goodness, it is all too appropriate, given the damage wrought on the Irish nation by reckless bankers, speculators, and dare I say it, equally reckless politicians.  I heard a young former student of mine, who is (and perhaps "was" could now be a more appropriate verb) a member of Ógra Fianna Fáil - the Youth Organization attached to the Fianna Fáil party, remarking that the brand had become toxic.  Indeed, it seems that everything Fianna Fáil touched and touches is turned into something vile and repulsive.  That toxic brand now has a Reverse Midas Touch that transforms absolutely everything it comes in contact with into the basest of metals.

In this interesting book, We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World's getting Worse (Harper San Francisco,1992), Hillman and Ventura argue that the world around us is toxic, and, indeed, it is so from the mess we have made of it.

Finding the Soul: other Critical Points:

  • While acknowledging the importance of nurturing or parenting one's inner child, Hillman argues strongly that we have overdone this particular archetype as we need support from the many other archetypes, too, as well as from outside forces like those of others and indeed nature itself.  He believes that contemporary culture has emphasized this archetype so much that it has made it into a myth.  In other words, this is a direct criticism of Freud and his followers.
  • The myths we believe in or are in the middle of, Hillman argues, we call them "fact," "reality" and "science." (Op. cit., p. 18)
  • At this stage, Hillman refers to his theory of the acorn or daimon or whatever native genius or destiny is naturally in a person.  See the following link for my account of his theory of the acorn.  In this theory everyone has an inner power or destiny, written in one's very genes.
  • Adlerian psychology argues, among many other things, that one takes one's deficiency, one's inferiority and one converts it into superiority.  (That's what Hitler did!)
  • Hillman's theory is very Platonic, arguing that destiny or "some great thing is inside" one (Ibid., p. 18).  I like his strong language in the following quotation (Remember that the first chapter of this book is a direct transcript of a conversation!):  "Instead of reading your life today as the result of fuck-ups as a child, you read your childhood as a miniature example of your life - and recognize that you don't really know your whole life until you're about eighty - and then you're too old to get it in focus, or even care to!"
  • It's hard to change some of our myths or theories into which we are locked, quite simply because we have built up a veritable industry around them! (Passim)
  • There are many people in us, many characters - me as child, boy, teenager, adult, middle-aged man, older man and old man and these all inhabit my soul!  Michelangelo called these the images in our heart.
  • Hillman on illnesses: "Your illnesses are partly ways of developing the older people.  They're the ways of developing the knowledge of your own body.  The illnesses tell you tremendous things about what you can eat and when you can eat it, what goes on with your bowels, what goes on with your balls, what goes on woith your skin.  The illnesses are your teachers, especially about aging.  devaluing the illnesses and suppressing them removes you from these figures.  We insult the inner people by what we do with our weaknesses."  (Ibid., p. 23)
  • Hillman sees developmental psychology with its over-emphasis on the child in us as being a myth of development - a one-sided one at that.  (see ibid., p. 25).
  • Over-emphasizing abuse: "The fact that everyone is upset about the child is exactly the point I made before, that the archetype of the child dominates our culture's therapeutic thinking.  Maintaining that abuse ids the most important thing in our culture, that our nation is going to the dogs because of abuse, or that it's the root of why we exploit and victimize the earth, as some are saying, that is the viewpoint of the child."  (Ibid., p. 25)
  • One can too easily become a victim to our past bad memories.  (See ibid., p. 26)
  • Therapy confuses the importance of the event with the importance of me!  (See ibid., p. 27)
  • On memory:  Hillman argues that we are not conscious most of the time that we are telling stories.  (Christ, think of all the horrible stories people told and still tell from the testimonies against the Salem witches to the lies the Nazis promulgated about the Jews and so on and so forth!).  He then quotes Freud to back him up here.  The founder of psychoanalysis said that "It's how you remember, not what actually happened."  In other words that is to say that the memory actually creates the trauma! (Again, see ibid., p. 27)
  • Hillman goes on to discuss the importance and power of stories, a topic with which I shall begin my next post.
To be continued

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Where is the Soul 2?

Introductory Comments

Giant's Causeway, August, 2008
Anytime I read the archetypal psychologist Dr. James Hillman my thoughts are always stretched.  Hillman is erudite, well-read and he argues with a guru's ease and wisdom.  I love reading anything from his pen as I always leave the book down in awe and wonder, nodding my head in assent at this man's insight into the mystery that is life.  Enough encomiums poured on the good man's head now!  Let's return to looking at some of the insights I have gleaned from the book We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World's getting Worse (Harper San Francisco,1992).

One of the things I had always assumed was that the soul is essentially internal in line with my former Catholic Christian upbringing, and in line with the philosophical beliefs of a Cartesian dualist.  Culturally we in the West make this simple assumption.  Oh no, says Hillman, it is both inner and outer, both within and without.  So the soul can be found everywhere, even out there in the world, at the very heart of Gaia.  In this fore-named book, neither Hillman nor Michael Ventura mention James Lovelock by name.  Nor do they refer to his Gaia hypothesis.  I am mentioning it here because it blends in nicely with Hillman's and Ventura's arguments and musings. The Gaia hypothesis, Gaia theory is an ecological hypothesis or theory proposing that the biosphere and the physical components of the Earth are closely integrated to form one unit, one whole, or more correctly a single organism.  Then we humans are very much part of this whole organism that Mother Earth or The Blue Planet or Gaia is. Originally proposed by James Lovelock as the earth feedback hypothesis, it was named the Gaia Hypothesis after the Greek primordial goddess of the Earth, at the suggestion of William Golding, Nobel prizewinner in literature and friend and neighbour of Lovelock.

Skerries, May, 2007
Finding the Soul: Some Critical Points:

  • Therapy, by emphasizing the inner soul and ignoring the outer soul, supports the decline of the actual world.  (See op. cit., p. 5)
  • There is an over-emphasis in psychotherapy on nurturing the inner child - focusing too much on the child archetype.  In this way we have arrived at a sort of child cult worship. We are actually disempowering ourselves through therapy - of the inner variety. (See ibid., p. 6)
  • Personal growth must lead outward as well as inward.  It must lead outward into the world!  (See ibid., p. 6)
  • There is too much emphasis on growth.  After all a child will grow into an adult and there will be no more physical growth.  The growth metaphor is overdone. (See ibid., p. 7)
  • Hillman argues that a shrinking may be a more apt metaphor.  We must learn to control our egos, which as we "grow" as individuals actually become smaller.  They shrink.  (See ibid., p. 8)
  • There must be a Loss as well as a Gain as we grow - a loss of inflation, a loss of illusions.  (See ibid., p. 8)
  • The metaphor of the snake shedding its skin.  Often growth is like that, not expansion in size.  In fact Growth is Loss. (See ibid., p. 8)
  • The Fantasy of Growth can be linked, I feel with the myth of linear progress as proposed by the Enlightenment. 
  • Some things in the psyche remain the same.  They don't grow, just as rocks and stones don't grow. Let us learn to accept sameness too! (See ibid., p. 9)
  • Being versus Becoming, Change versus Changelessness (Sameness).  This harks back to Heraclitus and other pre-Socratic philosophers. (See ibid., p. 10)
  • The Self-Help market don't take this changelessness or sameness into account.  (See ibid., p. 10)
  • A vicious thing which therapy does according to Hillman is that "[i]t internalizes emotions." (Ibid., p. 11).
  • Hillman underlines the fact that emotions are mainly social.  "The word comes from the Latin ex movere, to move out.  Emotions connect to the world.  Therapy introverts the emotions, calls fear "anxiety." "  (Ibid., p. 11)
  • Hillman on Descartes: "Put this in italics so that nobody can just pass over it: This is not to deny that you do need to go inside - but we have to see what we're doing when we do that.  By going inside we're maintaining the Cartesian view that the world out there is dead matter and the world inside is living."  (Ibid., p. 12)
  • Therapy has made one great philosophical mistake, and that is, according to Hillman, that "cognition prcedes conation - that knowing precedes doing or action.  I don't think that's the case.  I think reflection has always been after the event." (Ibid., p. 12)  Let's define this word "conation":  The dictionary says that "Conation is a term that stems from the Latin conatus, meaning any natural tendency, impulse or directed effort. It is one of three parts of the mind, along with the affective and cognitive."
  • The importance of relationships is over-emphasized in therapy.  In fact a person's work may be just as important, or even more important.  Then, community and our role in it are also as important.  (Ibid., p. 13).  It is interesting to note here that the psychiatrist, Dr. Anthony Storr, the late English psychiatrist also underscored this point in his book called Solitude.  I have discussed this point already in this blog.  See this link here: Solitude
  • The tribe may be more important than the nuclear family?  Today people are known by their Christian or first names, not by their family names.  This says something about our over-emphasis on the internal versus the external! (See ibid., p. 14)
  • "The ideal of growth makes us feel stunted; the ideal family makes us feel crazy," Hillman (Ibid., p. 16)

To be continued.