Friday, November 29, 2013

Soul as My own Personal Photographer: Family Gatherings as Soul-making Events

http://www.vetlocator.com/dailypaws/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Funny-animals-human-selfies-07.jpg      The 2013 Oxford English Dictionary just declared "selfie" the word of the year. A "selfie" is a type of self-portrait often taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone in order to be displayed on social media. Humans love images. The ancients had divine idols, we have digital media.
 
            Yet picture-taking preceded both ancient idols and modern "selfies". In fact, in its structure and action, the human eyeball is similar to a camera and is controlled by similar rules. Like a camera, the eye has a shutter called the iris to control the light. Like a camera the eye works automatically and has a film which covers the retina for forming images. The eyeball darts about all day long like a nervous photographer, scanning a vast array of images, occasionally snapping a photo of a few images that become fixed in memory. For example, have you ever left a family holiday gathering with a variety of images and emotionally charged impressions? The aunt who drinks too much, the cousin who has put on a lot of weight, the parent who suddenly looks old, or the sibling with a new partner that you judge to be a disaster waiting to happen? But why does "my" eye capture certain images and not others--after all, how many thousands of images do we see each day? Each person will leave that same family get-together with different mental photos and their accompanying judgments and emotions.

            I want to suggest that the Soul, not the ego, is the Wise photographer (Psychographer) Who captures those striking images that are needed for our personal soul-making. My memories are photos downloaded onto my mental and emotional facebook page, taken all day long by my roaming eye-camera, most often snapped without my conscious ego-consent. If we admit the existence of a purposeful Self beyond our ego--a Self Who knows what we need for further development, fuller joy and emotional healing--then we will choose to explore more deeply those images that "impress" our consciousness. I think this is what James Hillman is talking about when he says that one role of Soul is "...the deepening of events into experiences." I am not suggesting self-obsessed navel gazing, but rather a time of reflectively exploring the numerous and varied implications of an embedded affective memory-image. Ask the Soul (Divine Source), "What is it in this arresting image that you want me to see regarding my current personality?" Remember--that particular image actually chose you to make it a subject for later reflection. Images do no stick in ones mental album randomly. I suspect that unexamined images turn into semi-conscious obsessions, resentments or worse. It might do us well to conclude each day with a few moments of remembering and reflecting on the "image of the day". It might even keep us from having a bad dream.

 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Why Do Humans Assume Life Should Be Good and Fair?

The human being automatically seeks joy, peace and stability. That is such an assumed given that only a very few unusual sadists would disagree. It is "natural". We have yet to hear of someone who won the lottery and cry out in grieved anguish, "Why!? Why me? Life is not fair!" The human psyche expects the good and requires fairness, at least for itself. This is the basis of "Natural Law". 

But this compulsion toward joy, pleasure, abundance, etc. is such a "given" that most of us never seriously ask, "Why then is there so much suffering, and why do we have that "reptilian" limbic system that hijacks our desire for peace and contentment? Why does even the organic "brain" automatically compel us to a variety of personally and socially conflicting ideas and positions? Why do I look at a darkening mole on my arm and wonder if it might be cancer? Why are my nights punctuated by nightmares? Why do I feel compelled to worry, resent, depress and rage at the most inopportune times? Why do I look at the hungry or abused child and want to weep? Why is a person saddled with a particular lifelong compulsion or addiction? Why are some so damned beautiful and talented and rich and powerful, while so many others are not?" These pathological situations and emotions are not simply always personal choices, although maturity and techniques may help us choose to avoid them with practice. The fact is, we humans are born to pathologize, disagree, worry and separate from the herd in various acts of rebellious conflict--hence the "terrible twos". But this does not stop at "two"--it is the "terrible truth" of human existence from birth--perhaps from conception as millions of speeding sperm cells storm the fortress of the heavily protected ovum, forcefully penetrate the peaceful egg which initiates a violent explosion of division and expansion. Life begins with conflict--the collision of objects. Why? Why this human existence of so damn much conflict and misery when our hearts long for peace, happiness and the happily ever after Utopian fantasy?

The Dalai Lama answers, "Suffering stems from ignorance?" And I ask, "Is there a creative and purposeful genius behind this ignorance?" Many Christians answer, "Suffering comes from original sin." I ask, "Is this "original" tendency to miss the mark purposeful?" Hindus say, "Suffering arises from Karma." I ask, "What prompted the very first act of Karma and might it not be purposeful?" The New Age devotees say, "Suffering is the result of your selfish ego, or caused by your limited consciousness." I answer, "You are just repackaging the old doctrine of original sin by blaming me instead of Adam and Eve; nice try. Why is my ego so selfish and my consciousness so limited; does that selfishness and limitation serve a larger purpose?" Modern Science says, "Suffering is a natural mechanism for evolution toward higher degrees of existence." I ask, "Wouldn't the highest degree of existence be one without so much suffering, and in that case shouldn't evolution have stopped with the rocks and clouds? Perhaps suffering is part of a purposeful evolvement toward a new race of beings heretofore unknown--a feat that would be impossible without chronic internal and external resistance and war."

People assume that negative and troubling emotions and situations result from fear and pain as if that explains it, but seldom ask, "Why is there fear and pain? Is there a creative and purposeful genius in fear and pain?" We must not stop looking once we find the pain--but look under the pain and find the Genius. As I see it, fear and pain act in the same fashion that gravity and solid surfaces serve for the developing nascent infant. Without those annoyingly hard "objects" to come up against (relate to and with), they would remain flaccid little blobs without skeletal structure or muscle tone. Psychological and spiritual growth, like physical growth, requires resistance.

Do not stop expecting the good and fair. We are made to know that is our eventual outcome. But take time to consider the possibility that the problematic and horrific are as every bit as necessary for making us into beings beyond what we currently see. Perhaps we are moving from human beings to Human Beings.



Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Why Addicts Often Make Good Depth Psychologists

A close friend of mine who is in recovery recently got me to thinking about my distant past experiences as a completely lost alcoholic/addict. This friend wrote me a very honest email expressing skepticism his about "God,"about  Depth Psychology and about life in general when the crap hits the fan. The friend expressed feelings of misery and despair over his current circumstances. Some of us would have given this person a pep talk--I did not. Here is my response:
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Dear "Friend" (who shall remain anonymous:
 
When I was at the end of my drinking, Alcohol had become my friend, my lover, confidante, distraction, holy spirit, doorway into alternative realities, poetic inspiration, romance booster, gateway to self esteem, and courage to fight; my escape from pain and my entrance into pleasure; my reason for waking up and my aid in going to sleep. It became my reason for and means of living. I remember those days toward the end of my drinking when I would pick up the phone to call a treatment center for help, but when someone would answer, a force stronger than my desire to stop made me slam the phone down in sheer panic. I could not give up my sole purpose for existence. I literally referred to Alcohol as "my Lord and Savior". No wonder Jung said: "spiritus contra spiritum". If the Mount Lake Terrace police had not placed me in the back of their squad car one October afternoon, I would have likely died. The cop actually said, "We're not really arresting you, we're rescuing you." I was a sorry sight. 


You admitted in your email that you are sober and miserable, that life is not working as you'd like it to. I understand--I have had those experiences and will undoubtedly have many more. Sometimes we go through experiences, loooooooonnnng experiences of just plain Hell. I also have the very same thoughts and feelings you described, especially at times when the shit hits the fan. I also am seized, occasionally, by the the though that "a drink" would really take the edge off. I get it.






Let me say initially that your honesty is refreshing in an age where people chant like Zombies: "It's all good." Such an attitude of thoughtless positivity, while commendable at some level, trivilizes what is actually Good! If it's "all good," then when things are actually good, there is no word for it. And, let's face it, it's not "all" good--sometimes things are just bad. Admit it. And you have.


Honesty--that is the key--and I appreciate your honesty. You think Carl Jung is a quack and that "accessing the depths of the invisible unconscious" for insights is B.S. Good for you for saying what you are actually thinking at this moment. Even as a student of Depth Psychology, I have that thought at least once a week--usually when things are going the way I want them to.
 
But generally speaking, Depth Psychology is the closest thing I have found for making some sense of this non-sense called life. For example, I woke up this morning from a very vivid dream, then tried for a minute to find "insights" and finally thought, "Fuck it. Dreams are nothing more than neurological flatulence," and I forgot it. That was my honest emotional experience, but I didn't conclude that that single thought ought to be my new dogmatic mantra for all of eternity. Tomorrow I may gain deep insights from a dream. When we are in the throes of our own consciousness no two moments are ever exactly the same. The human psyche is the equivalent of atmospheric weather patterns--chronically changing every moment. In fact, the word "atmosphere" is derived from the Sanskrit word "atman/wind/breath" or the "sphere of divine atman," so comparing psyche and weather isn't so far off. Both the cosmos and soul are in a state of blustering flux. Mitchell's translation of the Tao Te Ching, poem 23, says: "Express yourself completely, then keep quiet. Be like the forces of nature: when it blows, there is only wind; when it rains, there is only rain; when the clouds pass, the sun shines through." Our emotions are always in the seizure of some divine influx that is interacting with our soul-making process. Sometimes we need to fight it, other times we need to submit and listen. Discernment is crucial.
 
More and more I think anything, including depth psychology, can be taken far too seriously. I think the heart of depth psychology is simply to be more or less conscious than the average duck--which means to actually have some sense of what is occurring in the psyche: am I pissed?, am I happy?, am I in a "don't give a damn" mood (mode of consciousness)?, am I suddenly seeing "God" working in my life?, etc. Depth Psych., like anything for the addict (or humans in general I suppose) can all too easily turn into a control issue, like using alcohol, religion, sex, or anything--we begin to ritualize and structure life by the "system", setting up a "way" it works and the "way" it ought to bring results and reasons it won't work and how it is alternatively fascinating or bullshit. The wonderful and nefarious human ego can take anything good thing and hijack it, fit it into a straight jacket. The real significance of Depth Psychology is that is defies human systematizing or ultimate explanations. The moment we hook a live fish from the sea of psychological depths, pull it into the rarefied air of consciousness, gut it and cook it up as a "profound" insight, it is not the same living entity. 

Depth Psychology is being practiced when one is just simply aware of hating or loving something--at the moment of encounter, especially when those encounters are prolonged and raw. Some would equate such experiences as divine, and while I am not disagreeing, I think radical atheists can be more in touch with the "divine" than most theists. True atheists are obsessed mentally and emotionally with the divine. I have a feeling that if there is a "Day of Reckoning" that many atheists will find themselves closer to the divine than many perfunctory believers. Knowing the depths is not restricted to the religious folks. In fact Jung once suggested that religion is often the most effective defense against actual psychological experiences.

I also think that the addict is something of an automatic Depth Psychologist, if one sees Depth Psych. for what the phrase really connotes, "being aware of the deeper stuff in the human mind and heart". Most "normal" content humans simply water ski across the surface of life and their own internal consciousness, while most addicts like to put on the aqua lung and plunge into the unseen depths of reality. Most stable humans prefer the calm surface because they are lazy when it comes to seeing the various sides of existence--not bad, not evil--just lazy. This is not a disparaging judgment--when I was drinking I frequently envied those people I saw who could believe and do the same things year after year without questioning.  

The addict, however, loves the depths. For the addict, drugs and alcohol can help him/her go up or down, become shallow or go deep, depending on what he/she wants at the moment--but one thing addicts seem to despise, and that is normal. That is why sobriety can be such a challenge for many in recovery. When the sober addict finds him/herself living a stable, productive yet sometimes boring life, he/she longs for that old drug to get him/her back into the interesting depths. The trick, when choosing to remain sober, is to learn to see the rewards for being shallow and boring, and then to discover different ways to go deep and experience those alternative states of creative and bizarre consciousness we addicts so adore. Alcohol and drugs are just means or methods for going deep, and there are literally countless other ways to achieve the same effects. 

Bottom line: your honest emails disdaining attempts to "become conscious" are ironically conscious--often more conscious than others I know who are "trying" to become conscious. Depth Psychology is not some formulaic technique for consciousness or some method to achieve some perceived and intended "psychological" outcome. Reflective and engaging honesty is what counts. Not mere brute "honesty," but reflective and engaged honesty--probing both sides of a thing without censorship. The most profound statement I have ever gained from James Hillman is this: "Soul knows neither morality nor mortality." That is a loaded and potentially dangerous comment. I take it to mean that morality and mortality count in this life when living within human society and with other people--but in one's personal soul work, there are no rules except honest, reflective engagement with the feelings and attitudes scampering about inside of us--hand to hand combat with the inner demons and angels. Feel your contempt and hate consciously, but then question it. Doubt without mercy or regret, but question your doubts. When you think you have gotten behind an issue or feeling, go deeper, then deeper yet. No conclusion is ever final. Depth Psychology regresses until there is no conceivable place to move to...yet. Be miserable, and explore the experience of Misery. Get a dictionary and study the word, ask her/him out on a second and third date. Remember that Alcohol initially took you deeper and deeper, and then like Jonah's whale, spit you out on a foreign beach--abandoning you. The journey into the depths is not over--just different--if you allow the experiences you are currently undergoing to be the new whale.

That's it from me. Have a long miserable weekend! It will blow over.



Thursday, September 5, 2013

Caring Prayer versus Curing Prayer: Slow Down When You Pray

    Our English word "prayer" is derived from the Sanskrit word "prashna" which means "to question". The Prashna Upanishad is one of the "primary" sacred teachings in Hinduism. In the Prashna Upanishad six students bring questions about things like the nature of the life force (soul), the meaning of dreams and the goal of meditation. Their teacher tells them to be patient, and to spend the next year in solitude and contemplative study before their questions can be addressed. There is a lesson here for what we call "prayer" or bringing questions to the deity, or psychologically addressing the archetypal realm of the unconscious: the surest way to find an "answer" to a prayer (prashna) is to slow down and approach the issue consciously and carefully. Sometimes I view prayer as a method to find quick answers from a higher authority--instant cures and snappy remedies.

   Caring prayer focuses on recognizing and sitting with the indispensable existence of the problematic people, emotional concerns and external situations that move one to prayer or sacred intercession. Caring prayer begins with an assumption that I am incompletely whole right now. This means that my current state of inquisitive fragmentation is wholly divine in the sense that there is no place where the numinous Presence is not active. Stephen Mitchell's translation of Tao Te Ching 22 captures this perspective:
"If you want to become whole, let yourself be partial. If you want to become straight, let yourself be crooked. If you want to become full, let yourself be empty."
    Caring prayer recognizes that there is something holy occurring in every life situation--even the crooked and empty experiences. Caring prayer sits with the awful experiences in prayer as a parent does with their sick child. Before I make what will likely sound like insane suggestions in the next paragraph, consider a story from the Hebrew Bible found in Numbers 21. In this story the Hebrews had just escaped Egypt and were traveling through a hot desert. There was little food and the going was rough--so they screamed at Moses and God. The story says that the LORD sent toxic snakes to bite them. Don't get caught up in the literal, pay attention to the symbols. The poisoned and dying people asked Moses to get them help. Moses asked God what to do and this is what it says:
The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

     How odd is that? The very thing that was killing them contained the antidote. The solution to the life threatening problem was in looking at the thing itself--considering it, taking care of what was right in front of them. Even more fascinating is that Jesus used this illustration to describe how his toxic crucifixion would bring salvation (wholeness) to those who pondered its significance: John 3 Caring prayer realizes that the answer is in the question, just like the Hindu students who spent a year with their questions (prashna) before the answers could arrive.

     To practice caring prayer, begin by creating a five-minute prayer time each day. Make a list of the top five most problematic or toxic issues or questions (prashna) in your life. Spend five minutes with this list each day for the next month--looking up at it. Pray for each problem--yes, for the problem. Pray for the person who is ruining your life; pray for that person to find the joy and peace he/she is seeking. To pray for them is to pray for your evolving self. Pray for the money that is missing or the health issue that is assailing you--not to have it "fixed" but to see how it is "fixing" you as you pay attention to it. Ruminate on the words and ideas: the name and face of the person you despise, the emotions you are feeling, the item you don't have enough of or want more of. Write the words down. Look them up in a dictionary. Care for them as a sculptor forming clay, because these words and their images contain the solutions to your questions and the answers to your prayers. They have come to you to be attended, just like dreams. Jot down insights. Draw images. Write poems. Put it to music. Engage with the problem. Get acquainted with these profane and ordinary annoyances as "imperfectly perfect" manifestations of the numinous. Each life event is a container of soul-making activity. This does not, however, mean passive acquiescence to intolerable circumstances, nor does it mean surrendering to the will of some bully Supreme Being, but rather conscientious and contemplative engagement with those things we often hastily pray to have removed. Caring prayer requires us to set aside cures, and focus on gathering what is right in front of us for careful attention until it answers the question, and leaves when it is done. In its own time, not ours. 

It's All Good, But Some Good is Gooder

     There is a popular trend in the modern new age movement that is inclined to label some things as "spiritual", implying of course that other things are not "spiritual". Many seem to think that the word "spiritual" ought to be understood--believing that things like meditation, yoga, Depak Chopra and an assortment of trendy new age books, gurus and ancient secrets are "spiritual". I haven't really heard anyone clearly define what is not spiritual, but the general unspoken consensus seems to be that the erratic and prickly ego is not spiritual, and obviously all of those annoying and negative emotions are not "spiritual". And of course those dogmatic fundamentalists, greedy capitalists and obstructionist politicians (pick your party) are not spiritual.
 
    I want to challenge this assumption about what is and is not "spiritual". I will argue that spirituality is a matter of degree rather than an exclusive category. I get this idea from the Hebrew Bible, paying special attention to a statement found in one of Paul's epistles where he writes: "There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one degree, and the glory of the earthly is of another degree" (I Cor. 15:40). The word "glory" serves as a kind of synonym for divine or spiritual. Paul goes on to say that the visible material world and the invisible heavenly realm both have a "measure" of glory, indicating that all things material and non-material have their own style of glory or spirituality. In another place he puts it like this: And we all...beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another" (II Cor. 3:18). In this passage Paul is comparing the glory of the earlier Mosaic ritual law to the glory of freedom from perfunctory religion by being in Christ. Neither is bad--and each has its own "spiritual" place and function. Yet he is making a clear distinction--one has more glory than the other. Psychologically this optimistic attitude implies that we grow in consciousness, that we mature into a more solid kind of glory. I believe this is what Jung's individuation is about, as well as Hillman's notion of soul-making. Former phases of life and "less satisfying" modes of consciousness are parts of the process as we mature and deepen. In this view, the idea of a holistic approach means drawing a circle around all of life, including times of dis-ease and disintegration. The new age movement, on the other hand, often seems to suggest that wholeness arrives when I am peaceful and healthy in body and mind.
    Perhaps it is time for a "newer age" movement that sees all of life as part of a spiritualizing process rather than moments we label spiritual or unspiritual. Perhaps we ought to write books about spiritualizing rather than spirituality, or name our growth communities Centers for Spiritualizing Life, indicating that we are always moving from one kind of glory to another. That would give our much maligned ego and all of those annoying people and negative emotions that "get in the way" of my spiritual life their degree of glory for the soul-making process as we pursue the transformation "from glory to glory". Then we could change our slogan to: "It's all good, but some is gooder."

Friday, August 23, 2013

James Hillman: Postmodern Romantic Reductionist, and Trickster

       
James Hillman
          For more than a decade James Hillman has been my favorite writer and most influential teacher. I discovered him in 1996 when The Soul's Code was published, which I devoured, or perhaps more rightly stated, which devoured me. My ideational world was turned inside out. From The Soul's Code I went on to read Hillman's opus, Re-Visioning Psychology. It is no exaggeration to say that the Ideas from this Pulitzer Prize nominated book changed practically everything about the way I viewed psyche, religion, myself, others and the larger world--specifically through the four main chapters titled Personifying, Pathologizing, Psychologizing, and Dehumanizing, which the author describes as "four ideas necessary for the soul-making process" (ix). His view of pathologizing was especially revolutionary, helping me to make room for emotional suffering and psychic fragmentation in a culture obsessed with chronic emotional well being and wholeness. In short, I am a devotee of Hillman's work. However, over time I have become troubled by some of Hillman's postmodernist and Romantic predispositions and their implications for psychology and socio-cultural ethics. I want to stress the word "some" when I say I am troubled by Hillman's work since I also feel that his radical correctives are extraordinarily necessary. That being acknowledged, James Hillman's methodological approach is heavily slanted in a modernist/postmodernist direction, which Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker describes
Steven Pinker
Beginning in the 1970s, the mission of modernism to afflict the culturally secure and comfortable] was extended by the set of styles and philosophies called postmodernism. Postmodernism was even more aggressively relativistic, insisting that there are many perspectives on the world, none of them privileged. It denied even more vehemently the possibility of meaning, knowledge, progress, and shared cultural values. It was more Marxist and far more paranoid, asserting that claims to truth and progress were tactics of political dominion which privileged the interests of straight white males. According to the doctrine, mass-produced commodities and media-disseminated images and stories were designed to make authentic experience impossible. (Blank 411)
Hillman clearly sets out to afflict the culturally comfortable and psychologically secure, approaching the soul by utilizing the postmodern procedures of relativistic fantasies and labyrinthine meanderings--minimizing psychological universals, fixed meanings and any kind of preordained psycho-social linear development.
            Hillman is also a self-confessed purveyor of Romantic assumptions. Romanticism is an 18th century philosophical movement affecting literature and art, marked by an emphasis on the imagination, emotions and poetry, often very personal and with a penchant for emphasizing suffering. Hillman admits that his adopted term, soul-making,  "...comes from the Romantic poets...William Blake...[and]...John Keats," and that we must return to their way of thinking, allowing "the [Romantic] Gods" of "Blake, Keats, Shelley...to govern our thinking..." (7).
            I will critique Hillman's postmodernist Romantic methodology by looking at what he calls the Enlightenment fallacies of literalizing, moralizing and naturalizing. I will refer primarily to his book Re-Visioning Psychology. Hillman identifies his methodological approach by calling himself a member of the "mafia of the metaphor to protect plain men from literalism," (149 italics mine). Notice that Hillman mentions his concern for the "plain man," which according to the Online Merriam-Webster Dictionary is a distinguishing trait of Romanticism: "an exaltation of the primitive and the common man" (Merriam-Webster). He also approvingly quotes Norman Brown: "The thing to be abolished is literalism...the worship of false images; idolatry...Truth is always in poetic form; not literal but symbolic; hiding, or veiled; light in darkness...the alternative to literalism is mystery" (149). Here we clearly see his mission to protect plain men from literalism--to deliver the emotionally distraught and psychologically maltreated, and misdiagnosed, from classical authoritarian elitist psychological systems which adhere to the doctrinaire letter of the therapeutic law. Hillman lays the responsibility for this literalist fallacy primarily on the Reformation in Northern Europe and the subsequent Catholic Counter-Reformation and Cartesian Enlightenment:
...from a tradition that has progressively depotentiated both images and words in order to maintain a particular vision of man, reason, and reality...The push toward progress has left corpses in its wake...Roundhead minds were more concrete than the stones they smashed...[acting out] the new literalism that was losing touch with metaphorical imagination. (10-11)
Hillman uses the pejorative term "Roundhead" to refer to the supporters of the  Parliament against the Monarchy during the English Civil War. This included many of the Puritans who wore their hair closely clipped round the head, providing an obvious distinction between them and the men of courtly fashion with their long ringlets. These Puritans and other literalizers, in Hillmanian parlance, were those who opposed images, the veneration of the Saints and the mystery of personification via imagination in favor of a strict monotheistic factual adherence to holy Scripture or pure reason.
            This is Hillman's revolution. He wants to restore psyche as imagination--to return to soul as that which provides access to perpetual mysteries which cannot be frozen in facts or systems. He seeks to re-vision Psyche as always shifting with no fixed location or absolute perspective. In fact he describes[i] soul as: 
...a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a   thing itself. This perspective is reflective, it mediates events and makes differences between ourselves and everything that happens. Between us and events, between the doer and the deed, there is a reflective moment—and soul-making means differentiating this middle ground...[soul] refers to that unknown component which makes meaning possible, turns events into experiences...the imaginative possibility in our natures...that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical. ( x, bold italics mine)
From this description of soul/psyche we see Hillman's predilection for the Romantic geist which emphasizes deep personal emotions and autobiographical experiences over that which is traditional and authoritative. Hillman roots psyche in the emotionally charged archetypal realm, the sphere of the vibrant Gods, of the "little people" in the depths Who exist prior to the human's being. This view of a vacillating psyche neither freezes the perspectival frame nor solidly frames an experience since "all realities" are symbolic rather than literal, fluid rather than fixed. This approach is similar to Martin Heidegger who begins his philosophizing methodology with the human as Dasein,[ii] or simply being-in-the-world. Dasein refers to the human not so much as "the thing that thinks," but as the "thing that is thought," and then thinks. In such a view, the horizon is always open and opening--solid facts and systems are dead and stifling.
            Robert Avens book, The New Gnosis: Heidegger, Hillman and Angels, artfully explicates the procedural relationship between James Hillman's archetypal psychology and Heidegger's philosophy of Being, making it clear that neither man supports objective or factual Truth. Rudiger Safransky, arguably Heidegger's best biographer writes of Heidegger's methodology, which captures Hillman's as well:
Near the end of his life, Arthur Schopenhauer once said, 'Mankind has learned a few things from me that it will never forget.' No such statement is known of Heidegger. He did not create any constructive philosophy in the sense of a world picture or moral doctrine. There are no 'results' of Heidegger's thinking, in the sense that there are 'results' of the philosophy of Leibniz, Kant or Schopenhauer. Heidegger's passion was for questioning, not answering. Questions appeared to him as 'piety of thinking,' because it opened up new horizons...where man experiences himself as a location where something gapes open. (429)
Similarly Hillman concludes Re-Visioning Psychology by writing: "Though this has been a groundwork of irreplaceable insights, they are to be taken neither as a foundation for a systematic theory nor even as a prolegomenon for any future archetypal psychology" (229). Both Hillman and Heidegger denied that they were constructing systems, neither philosophical nor psychological. Heidegger never spoke of "a" philosophy, but of philosophizing (What 65), and Hillman never spoke of "a" psychology but of psychologizing (113). Heidegger called his philosophical method a "talking through" (67) while Hillman called his psychological procedure a "seeing through" (113). For Hillman all exercises in literalizing or systematizing are fallacious attempts to freeze the eternal mystery into solid facts--facts which stifle and suffocate soul. For Hillman, even literalisms and facts are reduced to non-factual mysteries:
Literalism is itself one kind of mystery: an idol that forgets it is an image and believes itself a God, taking itself metaphysically, seriously, damned to fulfill its task of coagulating the many into singleness of meaning which we call facts, data, problems, realities. The function of this idol--call it ego or literalism--is to keep        banality before our eyes, so that we remember to see through, so that mystery       becomes possible. Unless things coagulate there is no need for insight. The    metaphorical function of the psyche depends on the ever-present literalist within each of us. (150)
With Hillman there are no literal ideas or solid facts. As a methodological reductionist he shrinks all literalisms to just another part of the psychic mystery and demotes facts to nothing but coagulated ideas perpetrated by the misinformed ego. All ego-generated facts are false Gods--idols which simply serve to remind us that everything is fluid and ever shifting.
            Let me state clearly that I generally agree with Hillman's critique of western literalism and absolutism, however, he goes too far. While his perspective is a welcome corrective to the many reductionist philosophical, religious and psychological systems smugly asserting unassailable ideologies, he tends to reduce everything too simply to "only" mystery and Romantic emotionalism. Without apology Hillman strives to deflate, deconstruct and dethrone the heroic human ego  which he feels has usurped the archetypal dynamism of the Gods. Yet by being so one-sided in his campaign to move away from any form of literalism, morality and facts, he seems at times to literalize deliteralization, to absolutize relativity and to construct a deconstructionist "non-system" of Psychologizing, getting himself into a paradoxical pickle. Novelist Walker Percy quipped, "a deconstructionist is an academic who claims that texts have no referents and then leaves a message on his wife's answering machine asking her to order a pepperoni pizza for dinner" (Blank 209). While it may be true that humans cannot live by bread (or pizza) alone, it is just as true that humans are not able to live on a strictly liquid diet of capricious ideas alone. By moving too quickly and too dogmatically from the possibility of literal facts and ethical rudiments, one runs the risk of becoming practically meaningless--leaving the plain man with neither a compass nor rudder on his psychological boat.
            Hillman tends toward a kind of neo-gnosticism, as Avens' book The New Gnosis: Heidegger, Hillman and Angels suggests, by reducing psyche solely to some sort of mysterious non-physicality--something like the proto-physical prakriti in the Hindu Sankhaya philosophy. Hillman runs the same risk, as do all gnostical systems, of devaluing matter by positing psyche as not only the matrix from which realities emerge, but the amorphous essence as well. His emphasis on psyche as invisible, unstable and relative makes it difficult to function in this solid world where Newton and Descartes still have seats at the methodological table. A reality ultimately comprised of psychic fiction[iii] and ethereal images comes close to elevating the anima over the mundi, diminishing the human capacity to get hold of something solid. Steven Pinker takes on this postmodernist tendency to reduce reality to representation, or to what many postmodernists call a "crisis of representation". Pinker points out that the Concise Glossary of Cultural Theory emphasizes the primacy of images in postmodernism and cultural studies: 
Reality is seen rather as always subject to, or as the product of, modes of representation. In this view we inescapably inhabit a world of images or representations and not a 'real world' and true or false images of it...In a further move...we are thought to exist in a world of HYPERREALITY, in which images are self-generating and entirely detached from any supposed reality. This accords with a common view of contemporary entertainment and politics as being all a matter of  'image,' or appearance, rather than of substantial content. (Blank 213-14)
This pretty much describes Hillman's position on the imaginal realm, a hyperreality that never firmly plants itself in the literal materia mundi. Recall what Hillman said about literalism and reality: "Literalism is...damned to fulfill its task of coagulating the many into singleness of meaning which we call facts, data, problems, realities" (150 bold italics mine). For Hillman there are no literal facts or realities in Psyche. Pinker's critique of imagination as a hyperreality, and even hierarchical reality, appears to be applicable to Hillman:
Actually, the doctrine of hyperreality contradicts the common view of contemporary politics and entertainment as being a matter of image and appearance. The whole point of the common view is that there is a reality separate from images, and that is what allows us to decry the images that are misleading. We can, for example, criticize an old movie that shows slaves leading happy lives, or an ad that shows a corrupt politician pretending to defend the environment. If there was no such thing as substantial content, we would have no basis for preferring an accurate documentary about slavery to an apologia for it, or preferring a good expose' of a politician to a slick campaign ad. (214 second set of italics mine)
I'm not sure whether Pinker intended the phrase "matter of image"  as a play on words, but it is apropos. A methodological attitude that does not place as much ontological significance and value on matter as on image implicitly devalues the world of matter, accurate information and factual truth. This does not mean that facts and matter ought to trump images and become an alternative hyperreality, but that there can be true and false images which correspond with true or false factual manifestations. This is the same debate that went on in the early Christian theological deliberations regarding the nature of Christ as divine fantasy and/or human flesh--what came to be known as the Gnostic vs. Orthodoxy conflict. A similar discussion is currently going on in the world of quantum physics around the question of whether light is comprised of waves or particles or both?[iv] While I am sympathetic with Hillman's methodological emphasis on image, fantasy and imagination, I believe he often devalues the substantiation of the invisibles. It might be argued that he tacitly creates a kind of Cartesian split, which he abhors, between psychic and material (factual) realities.
            An unintended consequence of this postmodern Romantic relativism may be that it actually prepares people to become vulnerable to utopian political and religious fantasies based on an asymmetrical and ungrounded view of human nature and worldly reality. If all is flux and fantasy and there are no solid standards of any kind, then the preacher or politician with the most emotionally appealing fantasy finds easy recruits for his/her great new society of imagination--a virtual reality with no substantial truth.[v] Some of Heidegger's critics point to this methodological and epistemological Romantic relativism as the reason Heidegger was so easily recruited into Hitler's early Nazi socialist utopian vision. John Lennon's song, "Imagine," serves as an example. While it provides an emotionally satisfying image of some utopian future, is it grounded in the actual condition of the current cosmos? This is Pinker's incessant critique of the postmodernist attitude--a propensity to "wish it so" and to make those fantasies the foundation of some magical, even multicultural, future. Is not soul-making better served by facing the hard actualities of the world rather than resorting to an escapist fantasy realm? The path seems to lie somewhere between imaginal fantasy and factual reality.
            Hillman's methodological disdain for anything solid and permanent causes him to exhibit a disdain for the pragmatic and moralistic use of myths:
Despite their graphic description of action and detail, myths resist being interpreted into practical life. They are not allegories of applied psychology, solutions to personal problems. This is the old moralistic fallacy about them, now become the therapeutic fallacy, telling us which step to take and what to do next, where the hero went wrong and had to pay the consequences, as if this practical guidance were what is meant by 'living one's myth'"...to try to use a myth practically keeps us still in the pattern of   the heroic ego, learning how to do his deeds correctly. (158)
Hillman's point that we need to keep the hermeneutical options open is well taken--however, humans are "in fact" limited by and to space, time, matter, culture and their "heroic egos," requiring at least provisionally solid solutions and practical guidance for a given situation. Jung made it clear that he counseled two kinds of people: those who needed solid factual steps to resolve a pressing problem, and those who were in touch with the Collective Unconscious and capable of dialoguing with the imaginal realm. Not everyone is adept at "psychologizing". It would seem that a truly polytheistic methodology could make room for the literalists among us. The fact is that many if not most polytheists view their deities as literally existing in some way.[vi] Hillman places much of the blame for literalism on monotheism. He critiques Kant's "categorical monotheistic mind" (157), but we need to recognize that such a mind is as much a part of the human psyche as are the erratic polytheistic Gods of "Orphic and Neoplatonic mythology" (147).
            And while we are on the topic of Platonist ideas, I find it a bit ironic that Hillman spends so much time touting the procedural ideas of Plato and Plotinus without a discussion of how their polytheistic archetypal forms were based on a kind of actual metaphysical if not factual Absolutism, found in Plato's middle and later writings. Such an argument is seen in the Euthyphro where Socrates and his opponent agree that the eternal Truths, pietas in this case, precede and supersede the wills of the gods. In other words, virtues like Piety, Justice, Beauty, Truth, Love and so forth were not dependent on the fickle gods--Hillman's archetypes--but that even the deities are subservient to some sort of absolute, quasi monotheistic Being called The Good, Beauty, etc.. This Platonic monotheistic realm of Absolutes allowed Philo the Alexandrian Jew, the early Christian theologians (especially Augustine) and later Islamic scholars to sympathize with if not outright borrow so heavily from Plato and Plotinus for their monotheistic notions of absolute virtues, as well as posit a universal basis for an unchanging moral code. Even during Homer's pre-Platonic period, the Goddess Themis was understood to reign not only over the proper relations between all humans, but was viewed as the basis for order upon Mount Olympus as well: "Even Hera addressed her as 'Lady Themis'...The sword [Themis often held] is also believed to represent the ability Themis had [of] cutting fact from fiction, to her there was no middle ground" (Themis).  This idea of a foundational, factual moral base is also found in ancient Hindu and Egyptian cultures which subordinated all of the divine and human rulers to Maat (Egyptian) and Rta (Hindu)--the Goddesses of law and order, truth and justice. These examples point to some sort of absolute notion of "rightness" in the world. These ancients seemed to defend the idea of fixed standards[vii] for the human psyche, for Nature and for political society. So you see, while I appreciate Hillman's postmodernist methodological course correction, I am compelled to call for a balance which allows room for the actual existence of absolutes and standards as more than literalist stooges located in the heroic ego--nothing more than some part of the ethereal mystery.[viii]
            Hillman's post-modernity also brings into question the human attempt to interpret dreams factually and practically. He once again splits nature and imagination by referring to what he calls the "Naturalistic Fallacy":
...nature cannot be the guide for comprehending soul. To understand dreams in terms of their likeness to nature simplifies both nature on the one hand and the spiritual and psychic meaning of dreams on the other, by finding analogies for what is presented in dream images only in the realm of nature...[for example]...a blighted tree in the mind must be compared with...blighted trees in the realms of psyche and spirit...Naturalism soon declines into materialism...[insisting]...that material reality is first and psychic reality must conform with it: psyche must obey the laws of physis and imagination follow perception...the fundamental fact that the events of imagination do not occur in empirical nature. (Re-Vis. 84-85)
Hillman very rigidly declares that "nature cannot be the guide for comprehending soul," and that "the events of imagination do not occur in empirical nature". First, I am very sympathetic with this view, and do believe we are not limited to a naturalistic approach to psyche and dreams. Thus, I am not completely disagreeing with Hillman, but simply stating that he is far too dogmatic in his deconstruction of the relationship of the dreaming psyche to nature and actual daily life. Since the beginning of recorded history humans have interpreted their night dreams as providing clear and natural images that correspond to their day lives. In the Hebrew Bible Joseph interprets his own dreams as well as the dreams of a baker, a cup-bearer and a Pharaoh in a naturalistic fashion--providing help for daily material existence. Catherine Albanese in her work, A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion, speaks of the Algonquians, the Iroquois, the Seneca[ix], the Huron and many other indigenous Native Nations as "dream cultures" guided by "dream logic" whose "dreams provided guidance for daytime matters" (105). Albanese cites Jesuit missionaries and European settlers reporting that the earliest African-Americans frequently consulted their dreams as sources of instruction for guidance in the material world (88, 238). Jung's dreams gave him unceasing instruction through clear symbolic correspondences between psyche and nature. I reject Hillman's reductionist methodology which too strictly separates psychic dreams from any possibility of natural correspondences.
            Let me conclude by qualifying all that I have said--Hillman is a slippery fish. His relationship to Henri Corbin demonstrates that he can allow room for spirit and metaphysics, although at times it feels more like a begrudging acceptance or circus juggling act. He does this by resorting to a kind of sleight of hand Cartesian split between spirit and soul in Re-Visioning Psychology (67-70). Corbin scholar Tom Cheetham underscores Hillman's balancing act in The World Turned Inside Out: Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism, explaining how Hillman's psychological relativity might be reconciled with Corbin's Sufi-based metaphysical spiritual psychology. At one point Hillman resorts to calling his archetypal notion of pathologizing "an operational mode" rather than an ontology with reference to Corbin's pure light realm of the mundus imaginalis (Cheetham 80-81). Hillman clearly creates a nook in his postmodernist approach for Corbin's metaphysical certainty. This, and many other examples, make it clear that Hillman is not a consistent postmodernist.
            So then, in this critique I am not arguing that I find Hillman wrong as much as I find him imbalanced. I am mildly disagreeing with his tendency toward reductionist relativism. In his crusade "to save the phenomena of the imaginal psyche," (3) Hillman sets out to "free the vision of the psyche from the narrow biases of modern psychology, enabling the psyche to perceive itself--its relations, its realities, its pathologies--altogether apart from psychology's modern perspective" (3). He believes that the domains of psychology, psychopathology, science and metaphysics have "fixed the methods in all these fields so that they present a unified front against soul" (3). The phrase "fixed the methods," provides us with a very telling clue from the pen of James Hillman. His methodology wants to unfix the fixed, and he does it well. However, Hillman's methodological relativity does not do justice to the other, more "fixed" realities, of human existence. One may posit a realm of archetypal relativity and a world of facts and truths. The contemporary postmodern perspective forces many in the academic community to shudder at such a prospect, but that shudder may reveal a desire to avoid taking a stance and defending an idea as being true and substantial--unless of course one is conversing in the privacy of his/her ideological clique, or ordering a pizza.
            Biologist Rupert Sheldrake proposes a sort of solution to this conundrum between factual law and total relativity by suggesting that we speak of "habits of nature" (Sheldrake) rather than the laws of nature. This way we can see the ever evolving flux and form of nature (and psyche), recognizing both the metaphorical and poetic as well as the provisional periods of "factual" literalisms needed to have laws and solid forms as we navigate the world of science and the practical events in the "Vale of Soulmaking".
            Hillman knows what he is doing and what his methodology is, but  I don't think he actually cares that he is a postmodern Romantic reductionist--after all he is a proud member of the  "mafia of the metaphor to protect plain men from literalism".  Mafia members know they are breaking the law--they just don't give a damn. Hillman is fully aware that he is a Romantic reductionist and employs his deconstructionist methodology by intentional design. He believes that the past 2,000 years of Western culture and psychology have neglected images and the imagination:
...psychology has been obsessed by one overvalued idea; man...[we have been]   looking at soul in the ego's mirror, never seeing psyche, always seeing man...monotheistic Reformational man, enemy of images. But to move toward a renaissance, psychology would have to abandon one of its most tenacious Reformational convictions. It would have to move from concern with the moral to a concern for the imaginal; the image before the judgment, the imagination before the human, Psyche before Prometheus and Hercules, before Moses, before Christ...We have not yet witnessed a psychology of the depths elaborated from the other side of the mountains, from the imagination of Hellenism, Renaissance Neoplatonism, and polytheism. (Re-Vis. 223)
            In his concluding remarks in Re-Visioning Psychology Hillman writes with a whimsical smirk: "...all that is written in the foregoing pages is confessed to with passionate conviction, to be defended as articles of faith, and at the same time disavowed, broken, and left behind. By holding to nothing, nothing holds back the movement of soul-making from its ongoing process" (229). It seems to me that Hillman is first and foremost a Trickster, and in that regard, postmodernism is neither that "post" nor "modern," but an ancient form of afflicting the culturally secure and comfortable. Bravo Dr. Hillman--just allow me a few facts.
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Postscript: I recently found this comment by Ravi Zacharias which shows the ultimate failure of an exclusively postmodern perspective: "An utterly fascinating illustration of this duping of ourselves is the latest arts building opened at Ohio State University, the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts, another one of our chimerical exploits in the name of intellectual advance. Newsweek branded this building "America's first deconstructionist building." It's white scaffolding, red brick turrets, and Colorado grass pods evoke a double take. But puzzlement only intensifies when you enter the building, for inside you encounter stairways that go nowhere, pillars that hang from the ceiling without purpose, and angled surfaces configured to create a sense of vertigo. The architect, we are duly informed, designed this building to reflect life itself-senseless and incoherent-and the "capriciousness of the rules that organize the built world." When the rationale was explained to me, I had just one question: Did he do the same with the foundation? The laughter in response to my question unmasked the double standard our deconstructionists espouse. And that is precisely the double standard of atheism! It is possible to dress up and romanticize our bizarre experiments in social restructuring while disavowing truth or absolutes. But one dares not play such deadly games with the foundations of good thinking." For citation: Click here




[i] Hillman does not "define" soul, but "describes" it "by set[ting] down a few fence-poles to begin with" (Re-Vis. x).
[ii] For Heidegger, the human subject had to be reconceived in an altogether new way, as “being-in-the-world.” Because this notion represented the very opposite of the Cartesian “thing that thinks,” the idea of consciousness as representing the mind’s internal awareness of its own states had to be dropped.
[iii] Christine Downing said in our Jewish traditions class that she once told Hillman he was a monotheistic polytheist.
[iv] This was also a point of contention between Platonists and Aristotelians. Radical Platonists viewed the realm of Ideas as free from material impurities while those favoring Aristotle advocated a closer relationship between the Forms and Nature.
[v] John Lennon's song, "Imagine," serves as an example. While it provides an emotionally satisfying image of some utopian future, is it grounded in the actual condition of the current cosmos? This is Pinker's incessant critique of the postmodernist attitude--a propensity to "wish it so" and make that the foundation for some magical future--Freud's chimerical neuroses. Is not soul-making better served by facing the hard actualities of the world rather than resorting to an escapist fantasy realm? The path seems to lie somewhere between.
[vi] Religious scholars point out that taking myths and religions as literal and factual are the norm. Clifford Geertz says that religion is "…a system of symbols which acts to establish...moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic" . According to the Encyclopedia Britannica article on myth: “Every myth presents itself as an authoritative, factual account, no matter how much the narrated events are at variance with natural law or ordinary experience"[vi] (Britannica Online). These descriptions recognize that myth and religion require a period of factual and literal psychological identity with a group before one can evolve to the metaphorical.
[vii] Steven Pinker the secular Harvard psychologist also addresses the facticity of fixed psychological norms from a strictly materialist point of view in his critique of modernism and postmodernism, specifically with reference to the existence of a universal standard of beauty: "Once we recognize what modernism and postmodernism have done to the elite arts and humanities, the reasons for their decline and fall become all too obvious. The movements are based on a false theory of human psychology, the Blank Slate...Human nature did not change in 1910,[vii] or in any year thereafter...Art is in our nature--in the blood and the bone, as people used to say; in the brain and in the genes...In all societies people dance, sing, decorate surfaces, and tell and act out            stories...art is deeply rooted in our mental faculties...Regardless of what lies behind our instincts for art, those instincts bestow it with a transcendence of time, place, and culture...Though people can argue about whether the glass is half full or half empty, a universal human aesthetic really can be discerned beneath the variation across cultures" (The Blank Slate 404-411). In chapters 15, "The Sanctimonious Animal,' Pinker addresses the existence of universal moral standards, albeit slippery at times, but nevertheless existent. Pinker cites a growing movement, even a revolution in the arts, against postmodernism. Graduate students are speaking out, critical of Foucault, Derrida, Butler and other postmodernist authors, in spite of the fact that critics are calling these students "a bunch of crypto-Nazi conservative bullshitters" (416-17). Karen Wynn Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale University has recently shaken the worlds of psychology, sociology and ethical studies with her work on 6- and 10-month old infants. Wynn has investigated early social preferences and judgments, demonstrating the ability of babies to distinguish helpful from unhelpful characters in simple interactions enacted by hand puppets. Over 80% of the time, infants  prefer the good helpful characters to the hinderers. On her web site Wynn states as one of her research interests: "We are exploring the origins and development, in infants, toddlers and preschoolers, of moral concepts such as 'good' and 'bad.' What are the conditions that influence infants and young children to judge certain acts and individuals as good or right, others as bad or wrong?" (Wynn). Her husband and collaborator, Paul Bloom says:" What we're finding in the baby lab, is that...there's a universal moral core that all humans share. The seeds of our understanding of justice, our understanding of right and wrong, are part of our biological nature. The results make it clear to Wynn and her colleagues that children have an innate, structural awareness of good and bad" (60 Minutes). Bioethics philosopher Peter Singer wrote that these studies “have upset the previous wisdom, associated with such stellar figures in psychology as Sigmund Freud, Jean Piaget, and Lawrence Kohlberg, that human moral development is the product of our rearing and our culture" (188). Pinker's and Wynn's work support what Levy-Strauss discovered--the human brain is comprised of innate structures or categories which give rise to similar stories cross-culturally. Neuro-scientists like Newberg draw similar conclusions from their S.P.E.C.T. scans of the human brain. If, as Hillman says, the soul has an autonomous ability to pathologize (57), why not an autonomous ability to make beauty and establish facts?
[viii] The Greek word musterion is most often used when referring to something previously hidden but now revealed. In other words, there could be facts or laws, or habits of nature, as well as mysteries.
[ix] Albanese includes an account from a Roman Catholic missionary named Father Fre'men regarding how the Seneca observed their dreams: "The people think only of that, they talk about nothing else, and all their cabins are filled with their dreams. They spare no pains, no industry, to show their attachment thereto, and their folly in this particular goes to such excesses as would be hard to imagine. He who has dreamed during the night that he was bathing, runs immediately, as soon as he rises, all naked, to several cabins, in each of which he has a kettleful of water thrown over his body however cold the weather may be" (105). Father Fre'men's account gives no explanation, but it is likely that the Seneca dreamer took the image to mean that he needed cleansing, or to avert an imminent drowning accident.