Monday, March 10, 2008

THE TRAGIC LOSS OF SOUL IN AMERICA

"He who has lost his soul will be finding God anywhere, up above and down below, in here and out there, he will cling to every straw of love blown past his doorway as he stands waiting for a sign." ~James Hillman

THE MODERN LOSS OF SOUL

Humankind has lost soul, at least the western world. I don’t mean soul in the Catholic sense – as some ethereal essence which comes wrapped in a body of sin to be released at death to reside in Heaven, Purgatory or Hell. I don’t mean soul in the materialist sense – as some neural site located in human brain.

I mean soul in a sense that has been so lost that we don’t even understand it when it is being described, let alone active in us each day. Soul is so lost that it may take a miracle or the end of western civilization to rediscover it. If there is an apocalypse of the conservative or liberal variety, it will be Soul forcing the human race to see its forms and necessity.

We are so devoid of soul that we don’t even recognize that it is missing. We have substituted matter and spirit for soul, and neither of those works. Matter works well for the material part of us, and spirit fills the spiritual part of us, but neither fills the role or work of soul. Modern medicine offers us an array of pharmaceuticals and statistical manuals, and modern religion offers us an array of old and new gods and goddesses. That is why James Hillman says, “He who has lost his soul will be finding God anywhere, up above and down below, in here and out there, he will cling to every straw of love blown past his doorway as he stands waiting for a sign.”

To rediscover soul is to rediscover our darkness and depths. Soul is what leads us into the unavoidable void, tricks us into conflict, startles us through unplanned infatuations, snares us by resentments, haunts us by unsolicited thoughts of illness and death, sweeps over us with irrational jealousies, and surprises us by a hundred forms of fear, anxiety and self obsession.

Soul most often shows up when life is good and clam, whispering that something is missing or quietly asking ‘what if?’ Souls causes us to wonder and wander down paths into fantasies which sometimes shock us. Soul shows up in what we call symptoms, problems and other annoying irritants which get in the way of ‘living’. These irritants of soul remind us of Gandalf’s request to Bilbo Baggins to accompany him on an adventure. Bilbo replied, “Adventure? Nasty, uncomfortable things, make you late for dinner.” Soul makes us late for dinner, and almost every other appointment we think life owes us. A major role of soul is to disrupt, annoy, confuse and bring dis-ease. This notion of soul is antithetical to the whole western attitude toward existence which seeks to create a life free of all problems and deny suffering. Like the aggravating grain of sand in the oyster, soul inserts itself into the shell of our everyday lives in order to make pearls.

If oysters were modern Americans, and could write diagnostic manuals to assess abnormal psychological conditions for all of oyster-kind, I am sure you’d find P.T.S.I.D. listed on page one, Post Traumatic Sand Irritant Disorder. Never mind the damn pearls, oyster life would be better without the particle of sand. Similarly, we humans are largely ignorant of the necessary and normal grains of sand which will inevitably show up in our little shells called human existence. No matter how hard we try, soul will never cease doing what it does. Humans are here to make pearls, soul is here to bring the irritants.

SOUL IS NOT THOUGHT OR FEELING

Many have mistaken eternal soul for our thoughts and emotions. Soul is neither human thinking nor human feelings. Soul does incarnate in human thoughts and feelings, but it is neither of these. Soul existed before there were human bodies with brains and nerve endings - and soul will continue to exist long after the human species is extinct. Soul does not depend on human organs or emotions. A smile may incarnate on human lips, but that does not mean Joy depends on human lips for its existence. What we call ‘thoughts’ and ‘emotions’ are archetypal energy patterns that show up in many forms, thoughts and feelings being only a finite manifestation which we have turned into soul. One might as well exalt the Mona Lisa over Leonadro da Vinci. The form is not the source. The reason humans have turned soul into thoughts and feelings is to give us the illusion that we can control it. If I am the source of all my ideas and emotions, then I can control them. But I am not the source.

THE TURBULENT NATURE OF REALITY

Soul cannot be controlled, but it can sometimes be placated as long as it is recognized and heeded. As long as I think I am controlling ‘my’ thoughts and feelings, I will continue to be estranged from soul. Soul will not disappear. Soul will always master my thoughts and feelings until it is done with me. Soul will not be overcome by human programs to make life free of suffering. These programs can be extremely beneficial, but they will never trump soul. We should not ignore or acquiesce to suffering, but our best programs and pharmaceuticals will never end painful thoughts and feelings. Suffering is soul expanding human consciousness – perhaps we can use the metaphor of psychological growing pains. When we solve a particular kind of suffering, something else will replace it. Suffering, like bacteria, will always morph into new forms in order to move humans into deeper experiences of soul. Soul operates the same way in the animated material Cosmos, as a tumbling universe of tumultuous galaxies and swirling debris fields forming elaborate designs and subsequently disassembling into chaos. Recognition of this cosmic and psychic phenomenon provides an ironic relief of some sort to the turbulent nature of reality.

We are enamored by modern physical science just as our forefathers were enamored by metaphysical spirit. Quantum physics is all the rage, being used even by spiritual teachers everywhere to ‘reveal the true nature of the universe,’ or to demonstrate that their New Age deities have superseded the old traditional religious gods. We have tried to turn science into religion, buying into the fantasy that science is better than religion. Science and religion, and religious science, all serve a function – but none of them is soul. The old age and new age have both neglected soul – focusing instead on spiritual or physical wholeness as the aim of existence. The old priests believed they could save our spirits, the new priests believe they can save the globe. Neither seems to recognize that these temporal vessels are just that, temporal vessels for soul making.

This may come as a shock to the religious conservatives and secular liberals, but nothing around us will be saved – prolonged possibly, but never saved. Soul is using these vessels.
Soul is in our symptoms and pathologies, in our irritations and insanities, in our addictions and dysfunctions – in the nuisances we are trying to solve and get rid of with medicinal physics and metaphysical spirit. Neither allopathic nor homeopathic medicines will stop the affects of soul. Soul will assail us no matter what we try to avoid it. These daily irritants which we dismiss with labels like fear, projection, dysfunction, death, disease, problems, etc. will never go away.

Books and seminars proliferate promising to solve our myriad problems, never stopping to look at these problems as the critical and wondrous vehicles of soul. Psyche is the ignored invisible realm in our culture. Soul has been relegated to some spiritual substance which gets released at death if you are a good Christian, or transmigrates back into another physical body to work out that horrible old karma accrued from our bad and selfish past deeds. Soul is neither spirit nor matter in any form.

People are frantic to get rid of their problems through spiritual and material solutions, frantic to relieve stress and banish all painful thoughts and feelings – and I understand it completely. Part of being human is to avoid pain and pursue pleasure. The tragic irony is that without the awareness of the role of soul, no matter what programs we use to relieve pain, the pain will not go away. Soul will not be pushed aside. If I use alcohol or enroll in meditation school, I may experience some temporary relief from my painful thoughts and feelings, but what I have really done is sublimate soul’s work. The symptoms may disappear for a time, but they will resurface, usually even more severe. Roiling molten lava can be held under the surface for only so long.

The AIDs virus is soul telling us we will never develop an ‘immune system’ at the physical or spiritual levels to fight off psychological disease. The depression and suicide epidemics reveal soul shouting to pay attention! The proliferation of eye and hearing problems in our culture are directly related to our inability to see and hear soul. Soul’s work will not be eradicated no matter how clever we get with our spiritual and so called psychological solutions. I constantly hear New Age adherents talking about the illusions of fear, or saying that Fear is false evidence appearing real (FEAR). Fear is no more an illusion than love or peace. For the human to think he can banish death, fear, resentment, illness and other unpleasant experiences to the metaphysical category of illusion is the puny ego trying to build a modern tower of Babel to reach and control the gods. We will always fail and be scattered like a ripped bag of marbles. Often, those who cry most loudly against the illusion of fear enter into the most palpable experiences of fear to see that it is no illusion, but a symptom of soul utilized to bring deeper awareness.

Some will hear me saying that we should not try to overcome pain, but that is not the point. I am saying that pain is most easily overcome when we see the normalcy and necessity of suffering. Just monitor your own life and watch soul. You will notice that when you have gotten a handle on one problem, two more pop up like the Hydra-headed serpent of Hercules. And often, the old problem which we thought we had ‘overcome’ returns twice as ugly.

There appear to be two really beneficial ways of approaching soul suffering:

1. First, we must realize that the problem or symptom will run its course, taking us as far into the rabbit hole as we need to go, and will not let go of us until it is done with us. In this case, yes, we are victims of soul. As hard as it may seem for modern Americans to see, we are not the ultimate masters of the universe. I do not completely create my reality. I may have some say in my response to what soul brings to me, but I do not control soul. We are the block of unformed marble at the mercy of the sculptor. This option does not bode well for those of us who have been taught that we create our own reality. Soul will have its way with us. Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl realized this as his new wife was wrenched from his arms and marched off to a Nazi death camp. Frankl waited in a line of Jewish males to be stripped of his jewelry, wallet, briefcase filled with important papers, clothing, eventuating in a shaved head and eyebrows. Lastly, he received his new identity, a number tattooed into his arm. Naked, branded, humiliated, socially and personally bankrupt, Frankl had a flash of insight that – that in order to survive, his old life had to be completely forgotten. He was now entering into a new way of living and was at the mercy of his captors. If he clung to the past and dwelt on what once was, he would lie down and die and as so many others would eventually do. To survive, he would submit to the necessity of the horrific ordeal. Soul would have its way.

I know that this approach flies in the face of our American positive thinking and can-do optimism, but it is the only solution to such situations. Let me emphasize: IF YOU CAN CHANGE THE SITUATION, FOR GODSAKE CHANGE IT! I am speaking here of those situations in life which keep bringing the same symptoms back again and again. Most of us continue to encounter the same kinds of jobs, friends and partners because soul has work to do through them. No matter what we try to do to solve this, these people and situations will arise again and again until the ‘awareness’ occurs. Once the awareness occurs, we may kick ourselves at how simple the lesson was and how we should have learned it years ago – but we didn’t. Soul does not relent.

2. The second approach is to learn to shut up, quit fighting and to listen to soul. Every addict is likely sitting face to face with soul and not stopping to listen, or even realizing that there is that option. Soul comes disguised as heroin, alcohol, Vicodin, work, food or relationships. Soul begins by whispering to us through some substance, and then shouting as the substance becomes a symptom and ends up killing us as the unheeded symptom becomes lethal. We will listen or die. Soul is not concerned about the mortal body or about social prestige or morality. Instead of listening, we often fight, hate, work against, seek solutions, ask for God to deliver us and live in anguish over our ‘unfortunate’ dilemma. We do not realize that what Jesus said to Simon Peter was soulfully insightful, “Simon, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat that you may return and be of help to the brethren.” This metaphor, Satan, is soul coming as a hellish onslaught into the routine of daily life to sift the chaff away in order to make a larger soul. To honor soul is to set the rational mind aside and simply ask, “What are you telling me?” To honor soul is to quit staring into the pond of narcicisstic feelings and ask, “What is the new myth?”

That is why Freud called his therapy a ‘talking cure’. Freud was recovering what many ancient cultures knew and we moderns lost, namely that soul has a voice and wants to make us conscious of deeply creative psychic material. The Hebrew prophets did this in their writings, but we moderns have negated the therapeutic value of soul-expression by calling it prophecy and raising it to the level of revelation from a God. When soul is turned into spirit, it ceases to be a source of consciousness raising metaphor and becomes a set of dogmatic laws to be believed. Jung called this approach ‘active listening,’ watching hundreds of clients experience psychic shifts by paying attention to soul speaking through the symptoms.


AN EPILOGUE ON SPIRIT


This essay has been about the modern neglect of soul. This soul-focus does not negate the orderly, beautiful, wholistic nature of Spirit. Spirit is what many call ‘God the Good’. Spirit calls us to health, abundance, life, hope, happiness, success, victory, peace and bliss. Spirit works in conjunction with soul as we live in a material body and world. Body, soul and spirit all work together to make the complete Human.

I include this little concluding caveat because our monotheistic culture is plagued with mono-vision. We are monogamists and monopolists. Duality drives us a little nuts and we have to integrate everything - seeking the number one football team, the number one candidate, the number one beauty contestant, the unifying principle in physics, the top song or movie of the year, etc. We usually feel there is only one interior power. We usually conflate soul into spirit because we see only one side to the interior life and it must be spiritual. Consequently we turn soul into an empirical science and label it Cognitive psychology, Behavioral psychology or handily place the psyche into some other medical category.

The Renaissance writers often called themselves spiritual monotheists and psychological polytheists, recognizing the diverse roles of soul and spirit in the complexity of the so called interior life. Making a full human includes soul and spirit, pathologies and salvations. The Roman Catholics called it the Via Negativa and the Via Positiva; the Chinese call it the Yin/Yang; the Hindu’s call it Brhama the Creator and Shiva the Destroyer.

Some will read this essay and think that I am saying life ought to be painful and problematic. I am NOT saying that it SHOULD. I am saying that it IS. I don’t care who you are or how enlightened you may be, soul will knock on your door and introduce another symptom of insanity when you least expect it. It is normal. In fact, if this essay has troubled you at all, look behind you right now - you just may see Psyche disappearing out the door with a little grin on her face.

2 comments:

Lainie Petersen said...

This is a stunning essay, and exactly what I needed to read today.

Thank you.

MandyArwen said...

This is a fabulous essay Michael. I really liked what you said about the soul having a voice and coming back with the same lessons relentlessly until...
Thanks for sharing your wisdom.