In our self-help and successful-image-focused culture, sometimes we lose sight that our weaknesses, failures, and neuroses are dry and thirsty parts of ourselves, hungry for some attentive (and sometimes, tough) love. Instead, we often try to surgically remove them, and when we fail, judge and disown them.
A writer who has always reminded me to listen to these troubling voices of self is Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul:
“Soul is not a thing, but a quality or a dimension of experiencing life and ourselves. It has to do with depth, value, relatedness, heart, and personal substance. I do not use the word here as an object of religious belief or as something to do with immortality. When we say that someone or something has soul, we know what we mean, but it is difficult to specify what that meaning is.
Care of the soul begins with the observance of how the soul manifests itself and how it operates. We can’t care for the soul unless we are familiar with its ways. Observance is a word from ritual and religion. It means to watch out for but also to keep and honor, as in the observance of a holiday. The -serv- in observance originally referred to tending sheep. Observing the soul, we keep an eye on its sheep, or whatever is wandering and grazing–the latest addiction, a striking dream, or a troubling mood.
The definition of caring for the soul is minimalist. It has to do with modest care and not miraculous cure. But my cautious definition has practical implications for the way we deal with ourselves and with one another. For example, if I see my responsibility to myself, to a friend, or to a patient in therapy as observing and respecting what the soul presents, I won’t try to take things away in the name of health. It’s remarkable how often people think they will be better off without the things that bother them…I try not to imagine my role to be that of exterminator. Rather, I try to give what is problematical back to the person in a way that shows its necessity, even its value.
When people observe the ways in which the soul is manifesting itself, they are enriched rather than impoverished. They receive back what is theirs, the very thing they have assumed to be so horrible that it should be cut out and tossed away…
Renaissance philosophers often said that it is the soul that makes us human. We can turn that idea round and note that it is when we are most human that we have greatest access to soul. And yet modern psychology, perhaps because of its links to medicine, is often seen as a way of being saved from the very messes that most deeply mark human life as human.
—Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul, 5-6
“The way through the world is more difficult to find than the way beyond it.”
–James Hillman, archetypal psychologist