Saturday, July 03, 2004

as the year turns

We mark the turn of the year we have in common, and the turn of the year that is ours especially, because it marks our birth, our inauguration day. Remembering my birthday this year was almost unavoidable, since it was portentously mentioned many times a day on television for weeks, even months. Countdown to June 30 even had its own banner, though not yet its own theme music on cable news.

Then on June 28 the surprise backroom transfer of Iraqi sovereignty was accomplished---no big deal, just harried-looking men huddling around a piece of paper that could have been a cartoon somebody copied off the Internet, and suddenly the countdown was dropped, and June 30 not mentioned again. So my birthday went by as quietly as usual after all.

There will be important birthdays marked soon-George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were both born the same summer I was. We're all of the age that birthday fuss becomes reserved for the turn of decades. But probably more for me than for them, this coming year assumes a more defining importance. G.W. will either be president or an ex-president next year, but there's not that much difference in identity once you've been one. Bill Clinton is being pretty smart about his authorial authority---he understands the effects, large and small, with the power of celebrity creating real contact of his words with millions of readers and non-readers of his book, so he's written things that others have written better, but without the audience and the power to reach them. I do wince when I hear of him bragging that he had no writer's block. He also apparently had no editor block, internal or external. He may have written a fine book, there are no rules about that, but writing is not his trade. Still, could you even imagine G.W. writing a thousand pages---or even reading them?

But where was I? Oh yes, my birthday. In late June I picked up a book--a gift Margaret gave me on some earlier occasion, Christmas or birthday:Original Self by soul man Thomas Moore. It's comprised of short thematic chapters, similar to his book of meditations some years ago (which Margaret also gave me.) At least that's how I had been reading it, a chapter now and then, perhaps before bed.

But in late June one passage I read struck me, with a certain birthday appropriateness. I read a few more chapters then, and realized that although each chapter was self-contained, the chapters could also be read sequentially, as a kind of organic exploration. So I made that my birthday project, reading this book front to back.

As usual I found passages and thoughts that pertained to various simmering writing projects (even a Star Trek reference) but I also placed little checkmarks here and there where a thought jumped out at me. So just for fun, and to mark the occasion, I've typed up those line, and offer them to you.

I'll begin with the passage that first got my attention, and then proceed sequentially in terms of the pages where the quotes appear, repeating that passage in its proper place. Of course, the quotations take on more power with the surrounding contexts.

Thomas Moore has a genial face, a soft manner in his writing and speaking, which helped attract a following for his first best-seller, Care of the Soul. He achieved the popular success that his mentor James Hillman hasn't. Partly because he's younger, more media-friendly, with the spiritual aura of a former Christian monk, but the casual manner of a suburban American family man who has good things to say about sex; partly because his writing is more personal, and Care of the Soul in particular deals more specifically with finding meaning through appreciating and honoring the textures of daily life.

But Moore's message is no less complex and even heretical than Hillman's. It can even be considered harsh. They agree on the limitations of the current dogma of human potential as constant growth, and spiritual growth as something to pursue because it's healthy. Moore and Hillman don't minimize the difficulties and the darknesses, and their conception of soul bears this out. Spirit is airy and pure, the body is earthy and prone to troubles. Soul includes them both; it is the mediator, the harmonizer, the active synthesis that defines identity and is the center of vitality, the blue fire.

I don't go for any dogma, and striving for spiritual growth and complete health seems pretty okay and healthy to me, as long as you realize that it's the process and not the attainment you'd better concentrate on, or else you're just setting yourself up for failure and guilt. But I agree completely that these limitations and complexities exist and we must resist the temptation to be scandalized by them. Soul is pretty important.

But I should let Moore---Thomas, not Michael this time---have the stage.

"It may be more important to be awake than to be successful, balanced, or healthy. What does it mean to be awake? Perhaps to be living with a lively imagination, responding honestly and courageously to opportunity and avoiding the temptation to follow mere habit or collective values. It means to be an individual, in every instance manifesting the originality of who we are. This is the ultimate form of creativity---following the lead of the deep soul as we make a life." (126)

"The secret of a soul-based life is to allow someone or something other than the usual self to be in charge.

Anxiety is nothing but fear inspired by an imagined future collapse. It is the failure of trust.

But an established habit of defensiveness is not the same as defending oneself in the presence of a threat. The former is a neurotic habit, while the latter is a way of keeping sane.

Puer [Latin for child, a term used by Jung to describe the spirit of youth] is not simply literal young age, but an attitude of youthfulness that may be full of spirit, high destiny, and a forgetfulness of mortality. It is a spirit that brings new life....As Jung says, dreams of children may signal some new beginning, a fresh turning of the cycle. [29]

The best response [to depression] might be to respond courageously to the world's suffering. The attachment to sadness one sometimes senses in people diagnosed as depressed may simply be the odd presence of ego in what is the world's malady. If we could let go of the need to make it personal by clutching it close as a symptom, we might find some relief by finding its proper mileu. (35)

Each artist seems to have access to a special chink in the opacity of the cosmos, a crack through which they can perceive the whole and make a philosophy and a life out of it.(40)

The impetus for dealing only with what is may be rooted in a spirit imagination of pristine clarity. If only life were simple, separated from the haunting past, the underworld of emotions and desires, and connections with the rest of the world! It may be equally important to deal with what was and what appears to be beneath the surface of things. (42)

Our criticisms have obscured the archetype [of patriarchy], and in all areas of life we are left without the leadership and procreativity we need. Procreativity differs from plain creativity in that specifically it seeds a future, offering confidence and hope. (51)

We may each have an idea of who we should be, knowing the seeds of a self for many years. But our idea of who we are and the direction we ought to go may be entirely thwarted by circumstances and fate. We may discover that we are most ourselves when we are furthest from the self we think we ought to be. (57) Our life is then a response, our creativity a surrender. (58)

The ideal is not to become sane and hygienic, but to live creatively by responding positively to the powerful moods, feelings, and ideas that captivate us. If we don't meet these life-shaping expressions of the soul creatively, they will quickly become adversaries, and we will develop the split psyche so characteristic of our times, in which our sane lives are flat and aimless while our passions seem incomprehensible and out of control. (60)

Modern psychology tries to tell us that we are constantly developing creatures, but I prefer to think of us as seasonal beings. We have our summers of sunny pleasure and our winters of discontent, our springtimes of renewal and our autumns of necessary decay. We are essentially rhythmic, musical. As the ancients used to say, our emotions are in orbit, like the planets. Patterns that define us return again and again, and in these returns we find our substance and our continuity, our original nature and our identity. (64)

This loyalty to one's own myth is understandable because our story is the most precious thing we have. Our lives depend on it. (65)

The story within and beneath the familiar story is almost always full of insight and new possibility. It may take courage to go another level down, to abandon clarity, however illusory, for confusion and puzzlement. Our habitual stories usually protect us from the mystery of our lives. But there is always the opportunity to take our storytelling deeper, always the chance to find the intelligence and comfort we have been seeking at a level far beneath the basement of our expectations. (67)

Many want to be somebodies, and that appetite is probably natural and fine, but it can also be a distraction from the rich life available midway between being somebody and nobody.
Maybe it isn't literal celebrity we long for, but the sense that life has meaning, that we belong on this earth, that we are contributing, and that we are appreciated...But the thing for which being a celebrity is only a symptom is the strong sense of self offered by one's passion, one's real substance, and true and heartfelt recognition from the people around us. (70-1)

We may come to know our friends and lovers over years of conversation and experience, but we may eventually realize that it is enough to love them without knowing what they are all about. We may not approve of everything they do, and we may not appreciate their eccentric ways, but still we know and appreciate them. We have faith that in the dimness of our ignorance we have the opportunity to give ourselves more fully to their reality. Unconditional love means that we don't love on the condition that we understand. (74)

We go on living when meaning fails and when we don't get it right. We go on in the presence of mortification, a word that means simply "death-making", and we become who we are destined to be as much through the death-making as the life-making. Success and happiness are impossible without the continuing nudge of death. Living through our mortifications is the coupon for vitality and the ticket home. (80)

Both Shakespeare and archetypal psychology take their power from their capacity to reveal what we all know, if we were only to think openly enough, about the fundamentals of human life. If we could live from that deep place of recognition, we might allow ourselves the beauty of our eccentricity and tolerate in others their efforts to find their souls in the odd collection of emotions, fantasies, and behaviors that form the raw material of a human life. (92)

But it is also the path toward that extreme of desire, that ultimate love that usually feels unrequited, which is the eternal and the infinite. The opening made by desire, that hole in our satisfaction, is the opening to divinity, and only there is our desire brought into the realm of the possible.

....we feel the absence of meaning and are speechless when we learn of atrocities in our society. We don't know how to think about them because we don't know how to think, and we don't know how to think because we don't believe that thinking for its own sake is worthy of our attention. (97)

In the currently accepted view, as long as you do the right thing, it makes little difference what your reason is. But this, says T.S. Eliot, is the greatest treason, a betrayal of our humanity, because the interior life counts. Without it we are indeed machines that can be manipulated genetically and given new mechanical parts. (98)

The key to seeing the world's soul, and in the process wakening our own, is to get over the confusion by which we think that fact is real and imagination is illusion. It is the other way around. Fact is an illusion, because every fact is part of a story and is riddled with imagination. Imagination is real because every perception of the world around us is absolutely colored by the narrative or image-filled lens through which we perceive. We are all poets and artists as we live our daily lives, whether or not we recognize this role and whether or not we believe it. (100)

During the European Renaissance it was thought that the first role of the imagination was to keep old thought fresh through reflection, interpretation, and re-presentation. (102)
I love Monday mornings, the time we wash our clothes and write our books. Yet I sail in imagination and I like to leave nothing I touch uncontaminated by my own fleeting way of thinking. (103)
In the intersection of movement and stasis, life becomes interesting and is worth living. Change ennobles tradition, and honoring the old gives grounding to vitality and movement. The waters of a mountain stream flow constantly and yet it is one stream, a static picture of endless flow. (104)

The wish to be normal conceals a deeper desire: negatively, an attempt to avoid the weight of our individuality, and positively, the idea of being fully ourselves in a community where we can belong and participate. (118)

It may be more important to be awake than to be successful, balanced, or healthy. What does it mean to be awake? Perhaps to be living with a lively imagination, responding honestly and courageously to opportunity and avoiding the temptation to follow mere habit or collective values. It means to be an individual, in every instance manifesting the originality of who we are. This is the ultimate form of creativity---following the lead of the deep soul as we make a life. (126)

A second step might be to shape a life that is more in tune with our perceived nature, or dharma, and stand firm in our originality and eccentricity. This intense level of self-possession comes at a price, of course, for friends and associates will feel the rub of individuality when their concern is to sustain the adaptation to unconsciousness, otherwise known as normalcy. (129)

A third step would be to manifest our originality, not at all for ego rewards, but as a necessary way of giving it life and substance...The simple act of showing one's deeper nature is a form of personal liberation and a generous contribution to community." (130)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you like the work of Thomas Moore, you may enjoy Barque: Thomas Moore at that talks about his current projects.