Light for the Dark Path

I’ve been listening to The Art, Practice, and Philosophy of Psychotherapy, a James Hillman DVD from Depth Video.  Around the middle of this three-day seminar held at Pacifica Institute, Hillman asks the participants what constitutes depth, what builds depth in a person.

The audience full of psychotherapists, marriage and family therapists, psychologists, and social workers answers paying attention, reflection, suffering, attending to dreams, art, relationship, absorption. Hillman says that one of his favorite ways of building depth is slowness, the surmounting of time, or when one stops being a victim of time.

Hillman asks, “What about intensity?” The audience ponders.


Hillman prompts, “What do you look for when you go to therapy?”

A participant answers, “Passion.”

“Passion is one aspect of intensity,” Hillman counters. “But that’s not it. Sometimes people go to therapy because their intensity needs an affirmation, or maybe a focus or an intensification. If therapy is imagined as a problem-solver, as a fixer (this is its business in the medical model), then we’re missing the intensity; we’re missing something that the soul wants.”

“Who you are is not your degrees, your case history, your accomplishments,” Hillman explains, “it is what you’re longing for. The poet Rumi talks about the ‘holy longing,’–what is it you long for?”

What does the soul want?

Tell me what you long for, and I will tell you who you are.

Don’t let your throat tighten
with fear. Take sips of breath
all day and night. Before death
closes your mouth.

There’s no love in me without your being,
no breath without that. I once thought
I could give up this longing, then thought again,
But I couldn’t continue being human.

~ Rumi

To work with oneself is to be a spelunker of the psyche, going down into the damp, cold, and fearsome darkness and continuing to go on faith and determination. I do not believe that hope is a worthy companion, because hope has expectations of safe, constrained, and defined outcomes. The expectant hope says, “I will go here, and do this, and buy that, and all will be well.”

Saint James remonstrates with such blow fishes, writing

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.

Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the  right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. (James 4:13-17)

To carry expectations is to be sure; as Hillman says, “To be sure is to be unconscious.” Or, as Buddhists ask, “Are you sure?” We can rarely answer, “Yes, I’m sure.”

Saint James addresses more than just the failures of pride and arrogance. He is saying, “You don’t even know if you will be alive tomorrow; so live today. This moment is all you have.” If the Divine within me gives life to my project, to my action or work, then it is alive now, today. Otherwise, it is dead, like a cadaver. The animating spirit is gone.

Jesus speaks in mysteries, too, “Greater things than I have done, you will do because I go to the Father.” What does he mean? Will I raise the dead? Heal the blind? Cause the lame to leap with joy? Will Lazarus come forth from the tomb at my command? Perhaps. I don’t disavow miracles. There’s room for astonishment.

But the everyday miracle is what Jesus actually did, which was to demonstrate that the Divine can inhabit the human body, making it accessible to all people. The person can transcend materiality. It’s that simple. “This is the way, walk in it” is what he said and did, demonstrating what God-Man looks like. He could say, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end; before the worlds existed I AM.”

That’s the strength of that isness; it’s timeless.

Timelessness and slowness of experience bring us back to depth. We cannot plumb the psyche with psychology or textbooks, talk therapy or methodologies. No system can help the individual decipher the hieroglyphics and scribblings she finds in her personal catacombs. Hillman said in his seminar that one finds his way through the psyche exactly as one finds his way through a dark wood or through a swamp; he uses the environment and what is at hand, and he goes where he feels he ought to.

In other words, there is no map.

All one can do in service to his own cartography is to deepen his ability to perceive, sticking with the symbols and images that are the language of the unconscious. Looking to textbooks or other people is the wrong place to look.  We need art and music, poetry, literature and film, all that evokes the beauty, terror, dread, doubt and ecstasy of descent. They are light for the dark path.

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