The Twistedness of Soul

Night Flight, by Daniel Valcarce, 1998

One characteristic of psychological truth…it follows the way of the psychological mind, that twisting which allows the soul to make its fantasy images. Psychological truth is therefore a twisted truth, what the Renaissance called twofold truth. Psychological beauty is twisted beauty, where, as Plotinus and the Art of Memory recognized, the ugly has more immediate and memorable effect on the soul than does the harmonious (James Hillman, Back to Beyond On Cosmology).

Think about what convention views as “straight.” Experiences which display and build soul always deviate from conventional straightness. Soul, by nature is a bit twisted. This is why the soul loves mazes, labyrinths, windings and spiralings.The twistedness of soul shows up in myriad areas of human culture and experience.

Hillman refers to the Art of Memory. One of the best mnemonic devices is to associate whatever one is learning about with an unusual, grotesque, or absurd image. These types of images are very difficult to forget.

I am very fond of surrealist paintings, especially those of Salvador Dali. These images are filled with amazing imagery dredged up from the depths of the soul. Of course, these are not conventionally straight, to say the least. They speak to deep, archetypal truths that the conventionally straight cannot convey, and that the psychologically straight person cannot understand.

What is it that makes someone “psychologically straight,” while others enjoy a bit of the twisted? One of the most important reasons is the tendency toward literalism in all things. You can find these kind of people, for instance, in fundamentalist churches all over the world. They believe the Bible is literal and no one can tell them otherwise. This kind of belief completely nullifies the benefits of soul to those adhering to such ideas. They may be experiencing soul, at times in their everyday lives, but some experiences might be attributed to the Devil, while others are repressed for fear of other dangers, such as sin. It is not only fundamentalist Christians that literalize everything; our general culture has much difficulty with understanding symbols, metaphors, and images. Most areas of education in this country attempt to fit all things into the logical box of the scientific method. They do not allow imagination to play into the facts of the “hard sciences.” It’s a good thing Einstein didn’t fall into that trap. Through his “thought-experiments,” his vivid imaginings, we know much more about the nature of reality than we once did. Yes, Einstein was a bit twisted. He allowed soul into his life and look what he accomplished.

The ability to think imaginally is not taught in public schools. Usually, people stumble upon it in music, art, or other areas of the popular culture. It’s usually people who like to deviate from the norm who are best at thinking imaginally. Many times, teenagers, who are bored with school, who feel the school does not sufficiently challenge them, go on to accomplish amazing things using their imaginations. At some point, sometimes years after their school days are over, they wander into a maze of the soul, usually through some kind of hardship, and discover their true self, and afterwards they make their mark on the world. Many are high school dropouts. If only the schools could realize the need to add a bit of twisted soul to the curriculum.

I remember when I was in high school. I hated most of the classes, but loved English Literature. It was there I first read Edgar Allan Poe, a twisted soul if ever there was one. His stories fired my imagination to seething white-hot. A Descent Into the Maelstrom still reverberates in my being. I think it was there that I first read Shakespeare. Words cannot describe the impact such stories, such as Hamlet, have had on my life. The best ones are always the twisted ones, like Macbeth. I also have a great love for film-noir, which examines the twisted side of human nature.

This is precisely why Jung leaped headfirst into alchemy. He realized early, probably from his work at the Burgholzi Psychiatric Clinic, that the way of soul, the via regia, if you will, is the twisted path into the unconscious mind. To the rational mind, alchemy is nonsense, an absurd attempt to transmute base metals into gold. It is filled with bizarre images and recipes that science cannot relate to. But to the soul spelunker, it a twisted and labyrinthine journey filled with adventure.

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A Way For Thinking

Inner Voices, by James Tissot

Jesus said to them, “When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female; and when you fashion eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness; then will you enter the kingdom (Gospel of Thomas, 22).

I was watching something a few days ago on television and noticed someone saying, “The thought came into my head,” meaning, of course, “The thought came into my brain.” Is the brain the point of origin for thoughts and ideas? I am of the opinion that every part of the body thinks. Through imagination, the animaterial soul is the bringer of thoughts and ideas. Since soul permeates every atom of the animaterial body, thoughts and ideas can have their origin in any bodily element. It’s more likely that the body/soul is a Gestalt, where the holistic animaterial body is greater than the sum of its parts. Remember, when I mention “soul,” or “body,” I mean the intertwined soul-body (henceforth abbreviated as ISB). This is similar to what Heidegger called Dasein, but with an emphasis on the ensouled nature of Being. It is akin to what Jung called psychoid reality, or his idea of the unus mundus.

Thoughts are not just “in the head.” The ISB is a continuum for thought. The brain is obviously a processing center for the body, but that doesn’t mean that thinking is necessarily a product of the brain. In our age, we view the brain as a computer, a calculative thinking machine. Thinking is not necessarily calculative. Western culture has overemphasized many things, especially calculative, analytical thinking. We have limited our definition of thinking to one type. Yes, this has brought our civilization many wonderful advancements, but at what expense? We have also unleashed many evils on the world, such as atomic weaponry. Most of all, we have forgotten other, more essential, types of thinking.

We don’t “have” a body and a soul. This idea of possession is a product of the Cartesian dualist fallacy. In reality, we are Animatter. Contained in this word are all the amazing attributes that characterize humans, as well as the idea of the ISB. Jettison the idea that we are thinking only with our brains. The animaterial human thinks, feels, emotes, intuits, and becomes healthy and ill holistically. There are certainly different aspects of animaterial being that can be spoken of, but, in essence, we function in this world integratively.

It is strange to think like this, since we are so accustomed to analyzing so-called objects. That’s the story of Western science, to analyze and dissect Nature. Read what Giordano Bruno says:

…the soul of the world is in the whole world, and is everywhere so adapted to matter that, at each place, it produces the proper subject and causes the proper actions…the whole soul is in the whole body, in the bones and in the veins and in the heart; it is no more present in one part than in another, and it is no less present in one part than in the whole, nor in the whole less than in one part. Rather, it causes a nerve to be a nerve in one place, a vein to be a vein elsewhere, blood to be blood, and the heart to be the heart elsewhere.

This is the most important and most fundamental of all the principles which provide an explanation of the marvels found in nature; namely, that because of the active principle and spirit or universal soul, nothing is so incomplete, defective or imperfect, or, according to common opinion, so completely insignificant that it could not become the source of great events (Cause, Principle, and Unity, p. 111).

What is thinking? It depends on what mode of consciousness the question refers to. The World Soul reveals itself in various ways, according to whatever mode of unfolding is needed at a particular moment. The two predominant modes of thinking are 1) the strictly rational, discursive type of thinking; and 2) the intuitive, immediate, and mythopoetic type of thinking.

Strictly rational thinking most likely involves the brain, since it really is a computer. Rational thinking is, of course, the most predominant type of thinking in Western society. It objectifies and attempts to dominate all things. It believes that all things are within its purview and under its control. This is because it is driven by an overinflated Ego. A mind ruled by analytical ratiocination is always in danger of becoming a mind that desires more power and more control over Nature, which includes the minds of others. I daresay that extreme attempts at ratiocination are at the root of all totalitarian ideology. That being said, rational thinking also is beneficial if used at the appropriate time.

Imaginal thinking is something we in the West are sorely lacking and are much in need of. The entire ISB is capable of this mode of thought. This is what is romantically known as “thought of the heart.” In our tendency to focus on separate parts of things, we immediately think of “heart” as the organ that pumps blood throughout our bodies. I think “heart” refers to the core of our being, that which makes us human. According to Henry Corbin, writing of Ibn Arabi’s teachings,

This power of the heart is what is specifically designated by the word himma, a word whose content is best suggested by the Greek word, enthymesis, which signifies the act of meditating, conceiving, imagining, projecting, ardently desiring–in other words, of having (something) present in the thymos, which is vital force, soul, heart, intention, thought, desire…(Henry Corbin, qtd. in The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World, by James Hillman, p. 5).

It is himma, this mythopoetic thinking, that is in reverential awe of Nature, and it capable of going beyond ratiocination to a better, more superior kind of thinking. It is this mode of thought that brings forth wondrous symphonies, poetry, art, and literature that deepens our awareness of soul; and it is this mode of thought that will save our world.

Souls think because souls are bodies and bodies are souls. Soul is not located in any separate part of the body, as Descartes believed (the pineal gland). Soul and body are one undifferentiated Being (ISB).

It seems to me that, if we are interested in redefining our world, we must change the manner in which we think. We must learn to think. In essence, we must unlearn thinking. Calculative thinking is fine, in the proper context, but it is not the only kind of thinking we humans need to utilize. When we read a poem for instance, we most certainly do not use calculative thinking. As Martin Heidegger said, “…we can learn thinking only if we radically unlearn what thinking has been traditionally” (What Calls For Thinking?).

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