Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Comment on Quote from James Hillman - One

“To speak of my anima and my soul expresses the personalistic fallacy.  Although these archetypal experiences of the personal give salt and substance to my personal individuality, making me feel that there is indeed a soul, this “me-ness” is not mine.  To take such experiences literally as mine puts the anima inside me and makes her mine.  The more profoundly archetypal my experiences of soul, the more I recognize how they are beyond me, presented to me, a present, a gift, even while they feel my most personal possession.  Under the dominion of anima our soulfulness makes us feel unique, special, meant – yet paradoxically this is when we are least individual and most collective.  For such experiences derive from the archetype of the personal, making us feel both archetypal and personal at the same instant. “
                                                                        From Revisioning Psychology
James Hillman is one of my favorite thinkers/writers.  I often agree with him, often disagree.  It is in the areas that I disagree that I enjoy him most.  Wrestling with his thought when I disagree is almost always an educational experience, an occasion for a growth of understanding. 

Hillman frequently criticizes spirituality.  His reasons for this are very complex, well thought out, interesting.  Ultimately, though, I think Hillman is in fact the most spiritual of psychologists – it’s just that his spirituality cuts much deeper than most of the tender-minded spirituality of our time.  The above quote (where the emphasis are mine), is one example.  It would be interesting to do a lengthy compare and contrast of this piece with something like Emerson’s The Oversoul, but here a few brief comments will have to do.

In the so-called “Perennial Wisdom”, it is a common place that the spiritual traditions from all over the world have in common a particular experience -- I will term it the experience of non-duality, though the different traditions characterize it under many terms and symbols.  In brief, that experience is a direct experience of the contingency of individuality and the experience of the “otherness” that is the real foundation of our being.  This is sometimes characterized as a unity with God, Nature, the Tao, etc.  “Unity,” however, is understood to be a kind of poor approximate for this experience, which ultimately defies all words – “The Tao that can be spoken is not the real Tao.”

Hillman’s quote above (unintentionally I think) provides a somewhat novel formulation of the perennial wisdom.  The “otherness” in this case is archetypal experiences of the soul.  This otherness, paradoxically, is precisely that which gives "me" my experience of “me-ness”, yet this otherness is common to all – we all get our sense of individual “me-ness” from a collective source.  The self, which to a large extent is created out of words, states “I have the experience of these archetypes,” but in fact it is the archetypes that give rise to the “I”. 

It is this illusion of the “I” that the various forms of perennial wisdom seek to penetrate – “Thou Art That” is the formulation of The Upanishads, which are probably the earliest and most comprehensive source of the perennial wisdom. 

One last note, “the anima” is symbolized as feminine; Hillman’s formulation can be seen as a return to the perennial wisdom as experienced under the aspect of the Goddess, rather than its common later formulation under some form of male personage.  The whole body of Hillman’s writing, in some ways, is a great call for a return to the Goddess – not the sentimentalized Goddess of the New Age, but the all encompassing Goddess, represented by Kali and Hecate, that contains all the horror and ugliness of life, all the beauty and goodness, and finally represents a wisdom that comes of giving honor to all that is encompassed in living deeply.

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