Befriending One’s Soul


[3 minute read]


“The ego sees by the eyes of the head, but the soul by the ‘I’ of the heart.
– Neil D 🙂

Facebook – in a tap – makes it easy to share a year-old post on the same day this year. I did that for my prayer below, and my HSP sister challenged me about any differences the year made:

Sistah, your question is a wonderful challenge to my impatience—a reminder that substantive transformations are gradual, like the tempo of the minute-hand: Imperceptible in a moment; clear only by glances at sufficient intervals. That’s echoed in the opening remarks of this highly popular TED Talk “How to Grow as a Person (And Why It Sucks)“:

Personal growth is tricky. The term growth implies millions of tiny thankless steps. Which sucks. And the term personal implies that no one can take them for you. Which also sucks. But…if we resist the urge to judge ourselves for how long this process takes, we won’t waste our lives waiting around for a eureka moment that may never come.

Of your options, Sistah, I choose “grown”— a homophone of “groan.” I like homonym word-play, like describing a “depressed state” as a “deep-rest” state, in My love letter to you. There, also I rejected growth in my darkness as any “deepening” in depression—instead favoring a “widening,” into an expanse. I like the idea of a widening groan, versus a deepening gulp or wail. Larger, not deeper. Horizontal dances, not vertical descents.

A long-winded answer to your question, Sistah, came by inspiration 2 days after your challenge, in which the rest in deep-rest was exp-rest by a favored author:

Enlightened people invariably describe the spiritual experience of God as resting… Peace within…is the only resting place that also allows us to bear the silver lining in the darkest of life’s clouds… (We give and get our energy from dark clouds much more than silver linings… True joy is harder to hold onto than anger or fear…) If our soul is at rest…we can bear the hardness of life…
[snippets from Poetic prose on rest, from Rohr]

Sistah, this is word-wrestling, like your question. I think that’s an epic contest, not trivial at all. I’d say my widening groan has been a story of befriending…

Friends: Ego and Soul

The soul seeks notice by the narrow vision of one’s ego-eyes, so that it can lovingly serve its ego.

The soul’s way is to whisper and coax with mystery, opposing the ego’s loud ways, and its comfort in rational answers.

The soul wants to be chosen volitionally—not by the ego’s way of assertion. It wishes for its ego to turn toward it out of love—the greatest of motives.

The soul can endure a deep-rest dark night and wait patiently in the Shadow, as the inflated ego deflates itself by its own ways.

Once ego befriends its soul,
the Self is re-made whole
and can last by virtue of
its own eternal soul.

– Neil D.

While the Self is following the ego’s way, we fear and repress God— angered by the human condition dealt us.

But our Maker (evolution + society, if you prefer) fashioned our ego with built-in potential to burn itself out, so that out of that despair, the Self would turn to the only light which remains in the darkness: The soft divine spark within.

The soul.

(continued in Abba’s Spark. Alchemy: Ego, Soul, Self)


Poetic prose on rest, from Rohr


Snippets of these excerpts are used in Befriending One’s Soul, because they inspired my response to my Sistah’s wonderful challenge.

Life is hard, and yet Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28).

It is hard to bear God—but it is even harder not to bear God. The pain one brings upon oneself by living outside of evident reality is a greater and longer-lasting pain than the brief pain of facing it head on. Enlightened people invariably describe the spiritual experience of God as resting […]

[…] If our religion is primarily fear of self, the world, and God; if it is primarily focused on meeting religious duties and obligations, then it is indeed a hard yoke and heavy burden.[…] rigid and humorless religion is not his way […]

[…] seek joy in God and peace within; seek to rest in the good, the true, and the beautiful. It is the only resting place that also allows us to bear the darkness. Hard and soft, difficult and easy, pain and ecstasy do not eliminate one another, but actually allow each other. They bow back and forth like dancers, although it is harder to bow to pain and to failure. If you look deeply inside every success, there are already seeds and signs of limits; if you look inside every failure, there are also seeds and signs of opportunity.

Who among us has not been able to eventually recognize the silver lining in the darkest of life’s clouds? You would think the universal pattern of death and life, the lesson of the Gospel and Jesus’ life would be utterly clear to me by now, yet I still fight and repress my would-be resurrections, even if just in my own mind. For some reason, we give and get our energy from dark clouds much more than silver linings. True joy is harder to access and even harder to hold onto than anger or fear. […]

If our soul is at rest in the comforting sweetness and softness of God, we can bear the hardness of life and see through failure. That’s why people in love—and often people at the end of life—have such an excess of energy for others. If our truth does not set us free, it is not truth at all. If God cannot be rested in, God must not be much of a God.[…]

From:
My Yoke Is Easy and My Burden Is Light (Monday,  April 6, 2020) [Richard Rohr]

Snippets of these excerpts are used in Befriending One’s Soul, because they inspired my response to my Sistah’s wonderful challenge.

Soul Therapy, part 3 of 3


[5 minute read]

[Descriptions of the 3 parts, and links to the other 2]

I have a passionate personality. One which psychology labels as “borderline tendencies.” My ego soars to unhealthy heights fueled by my self-perceptions as brilliant:-) Then I “cut” myself (figuratively), and knock myself off my pedestal into depressive lows by self judgment.

I have dys-coped with these overwhelms by multiple addictions. I will resist this vocabulary from now on. And I therefore also resist recommendations for pills and anti-depression therapy. To my mind and soul right now, these are yet-other means of repression, avoidance, and escapism. They have made me even more ill in the past. This is my personal choice, not a judgment meant to extend beyond the boundaries of my own Self.

My soul is passionate, and does not want to be subdued. And of course it also does not want to suffer the consequences of my dysregulation, but it is encouraging me to embrace my passion rather than regulate it. Psychotherapy that I have been fortunate to find has cultivated within me a habit of self-awareness about my passions being triggered. I think that is a key factor in reacquainting my conscious ego-mind with my transcendent soul.

My soul is coaxing me to cherish even the dark dimensions of itself, and view them as the other side of a coin, opposite Light. Jordan Peterson has his own way of expressing that, involving probing the depths of our own capacity for true evil. That appeals to me. Being “depressed” is a state of “deep-rest” and slow-down so that I can listen better to my larger Self, and nourish my soul.

***

I really like this short TED talk about liberating myself from judgment so that, when triggers rise to my conscious (ahead of dysregulation), I can less fearfully return beyond the gate at the precipice, and pass through it to my soul’s realm where passion is at home and doesn’t threaten relationship with others or my Self:
What if There’s Nothing Wrong With You

My reflection on it:

We and shallow symptom-obsessed psychology focus on learning to prevent or avoid the wrongs, which diminishes the value that the wrongs can reveal to us. And to talk about wrongs using the generalized vocabulary of psychology is perilous, because each of us is wrong in our own individual way(s), not in very generalizable ways (that are the dumbing-down trappings of the collectivism Peterson decries).

Our soul is our own best therapist and teacher because it knows our specifics even better than our smaller conscious intellects. The soul is where our wrongs have deep, deep value. And I’ve come to believe that wandering around in our own soul is the only place where that value can be seen for its fullness and depth.

For a passionate person with borderline tendencies, I am completely normal! [I don’t mean to trivialize the seriousness of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD); I have tendencies of BPD, but I am not “on that spectrum.”] And a narcissist is entirely normal among people with narcissism. And people-pleasers are entirely normal among people-pleasers.

Pathologizing is homogenizing, which is another way of recognizing our prevailing culture’s tendencies toward making the individual subordinate to the collective.

I abhor the Trump mindset, but, if you do too, it might be revealing for you to think about the large portion of the population that elected him. Are his electors his personal fans, or are they expressing their feelings of threats to their individuality and autonomy?

Peterson quotes Churchhill about democracy as a terrible form of government, but less terrible than alternatives.

Why is democracy a terrible form of government? It has built-in, by necessity, a tendency to collectivize, which is always a tendency to suppress individuality and the value of autonomous persons (see the Peterson interview). That is the paradox that astounds Peterson so that he notes the unlikelihood of our not being at each other’s throats (the recurring thread in human history). Democratic government requires a constant paradoxical dynamic: Collective freedom is a threat to individual freedom. And, of course, the converse.

***

For me and my Borderline tendencies, this brief video was interesting: Jordan Peterson – Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) [Jul 27, 2017]. Here’s an expanded one by a different guy: Embracing Borderline Personality Disorder – Dr Keith Gaynor [Oct 23, 2013].

My Love Style is Vacillator, which is a gentler way of saying I have Borderline tendencies. Intelligent and capable of intellectually recognizing a rational growth plan, but weak at following it. I was encouraged to look into a DBT (Dialectic Behavioral Therapy) program – the only respected help for borderlines – but there are sadly few in the country, let alone locally. I reviewed DBT material myself, and in my mind, these are useful tools, and seem to me clearly to be aimed at exploring my soul. For a whispy intro to what “soul” is (most of us today have a truly and tragically small understanding of this classic notion), The real meaning of soul | Lesley Hazleton [Dec 5, 2016] is wonderful, and she uses much the same language of my favorite source (farther below, Thomas Moore)

Today’s leading authority on the soul – more contemporary than Jung or Renaissance authors or the ancient Greeks or mystic saints – is Thomas Moore. His famous book “Care of the Soul” is spread across 2 free YouTube videos (audio only) about 6 hours each – youch – but nothing compares if you’re genuinely committed to understanding and nurturing your soul. And if you want another book more mired in neuro-psychology and explicit Christianity (Moore’s writings are more universal), try “Anatomy of the Soul” (can lend my copy).

I believe it is chiefly shame which keeps the conscious mind/ego from embracing awareness that its larger container is the friendlier and gentler and quieter soul. I’m therefore fond of famed shame researcher Brené Brown (here’s my condensation of her most popular blog) and contemporary Franciscan mystic Richard Rohr.


Soul Therapy, Part 2 of 3


[5 minute read]

[Descriptions of the 3 parts, and links to the other 2]

I think the loftiest goal of a competent psychotherapist is to get a patient to wholeheartedly reject the language of psychology–to authentically recognize its insidious risk of more harm than good. To shred the vocabulary of personality disorders, and phrases like “letting go” and “moving on/forward” and “healing.” To genuinely abandon the notion of being broken and needing to be fixed. That would be as far away as possible from why people seek psychotherapy in the first place: Judgment, by self and others.

To set the patient free is to let them write their own self-help book, according to the sacred idiosyncrasies of their soul.

My favorite psychotherapist would lead me to that threshold of freedom, then leave the rest up to me, the individual, the person, informed by my soul. The purpose of therapy beyond that point would be only to help me identify when I have relapsed back to that point, or thinking in psycho-vocabulary terms. Conformity to externals.

Peterson rose to fame in large part because he contested legislation mandating “inclusive” language. In that sense, I think the best aim of psychotherapy is to transform a patient’s thinking from psychology’s collectively inclusive language to the patient’s own personal and individual voice of truth.

That is very tricky business for a therapist. Like many scientists (and I am a scientist), they are trained and indoctrinated with skills and knowledge which weight the objective more than the subjective. I think this collective conditioning is what disturbs Peterson (and me) deeply. Scientists and scientific psychologists have, in a very real and grave sense, been trained to stick within the realm that keeps patients and themselves stuck in the loop of diagnosis and treatment and further diagnosis… making it a challenge to venture out of that loop and sense the soul’s freedom. The common parlance of psychology is complicit in this iniquity.

Psychology’s knowledge and skills for feeding the soul are only IMplicit in the discipline; their tools are far from explicit for the purposes of achieving that sole soul goal.

Responsible psycho-professionals are careful to guard their own psyches and to employ their own therapists or spiritual directors. But it’s also no secret that many people drawn to psycho-professions are drawn by self analyses of their own challenges. Freud seems to have analyzed himself much more than he analyzed his handful of patients!

It may well be that a psychotherapist who has not yet explored the depths of their own soul’s dark dynamics is unqualified to help me do it. This is a principle very deep in the heart of Peterson’s doctrines. My dark depths may be not only unfamiliar to them, but uncomfortable too. I do think responsible psychotherapists are well aware of that peril, which makes them cautious and aware of their own need for self-care, but it doesn’t *necessarily* qualify them to safely encourage me to leap off the precipice and wander about in my own unfamiliar soul.

The journey into one’s soul, it seems to me, cannot proceed *consistently* forward from the first leap. It is an exhausting journey peppered with relapses back to the gate at the precipice (and sometimes farther back from there). A growing awareness of the soul’s expanse is inevitably frightening and tiring. Consequently, growth tempts the grower to return to their pre-leap numbing with even more intensity. Acting out during relapses is often more intense than before. For therapists, that potential must loom very large as they approach the gate with me. Relapse is failure, though good for business:)

Responsible therapists know this inevitability, and it is their gentle compassion with us which keeps us from abandoning the gate-ward course.

In sum, psychology is only qualified to take us to the limits of our conscious. Stepping beyond must be a solo act. I feel wariness about reliance on a therapist relationship which cannot help me on the journey past the gate. I think this is why therapists pursue for their patients a course toward a deeper sense of self. Because it is only my relationship with my Self which can guide me in the expansive unknowns of my infinite soul. That journey is glorious, but also scary and lonely if I am not a best friend to the only company who walks it with me, vulnerably, in the bare naked presence of the divine: Me.

[Continue to Soul Therapy, Part 3 of 3]

I describe the end of conscious knowing and the entry to the soul as a gate and a precipice. It’s a threshold, and here’s an article about the liminal space of the soul.

[If you’re interested in the series, please mark “Notify me of new posts” at the end of any page.]

[Descriptions of the 3 parts, and links to the other 2]

Soul Therapy, part 1 of 3


[6 minute read]

[Descriptions of the 3 parts, and links to the other 2]

This article is NOT a political commentary nor any sort of opinion piece concerned with controversy around “Jordan Peterson, the phenomenon.” He accuses academia of scheming to repress the Individual with conformist collectivism. “On Claiming Belief In God” (YouTube) merely fell into place with other musings in this series, so some references to its content are woven in.

The host (Dennis Prager) makes me uncomfortable like Oprah does when they try to over-identify with guests: “We are kindred spirits… I am like you, you are like me…” His verbose intro: He knows a “good man” when he sees one, and Peterson is a good man. So it’s particularly amusing that, in response, Peterson deftly denies his own goodness!

The irony continues because Peterson’s message in the interview is about the power of the individual–i.e., you are not like me, and I am not like you. No one is like anyone else. That is where each person’s individual, inimitable value lies.

That principle reminds me of John Paul II’s theology of the human person, emphatic about the mystery of individuals, departing from more objective (disembodied) philosophies about humanity collectively. Similarly, Peterson, in other places, describes the totality of the Bible as a story about a shift from transforming a collective people’s government to a focus on transformation of individual persons. Biblically, “Repent!” was not an exhortation to lash yourself woefully because of your pathetic sinfulness. That’s a corruption of Christianity we owe to dangerous atonement theories; a more enlightened translation is, “Transform your consciousness,” which is a far cry from, “Accept Jesus as savior from damnation deserved by your pathetic sinfulness.”

Prager and Oprah stroke guests’ egos uncomfortably, with excessive adulation that seems to point to their own insecurity. Awkward to endure. That is a recognition of my Shadow projected (a la Jung). “I spot it, I got it.” My own insecure conceit is something I do not like about myself, so I repress it into my Shadow. Peterson is a useful guide for me in this regard. More on that later in the series.

Peterson’s opponents point to his haughtiness. If you can endure privileged white males pontificating, Peterson has a genuine respect for other persons as beings unto themselves—situating egos in a high-value, healthy framework for relating to one another.

I’ve come to believe that ego is not, in and of itself, a bad thing at all (I fancy Richard Rohr on that topic). Many institutions today are obsessed with anti-egoism. Peterson sharply faults universities for transmitting their obsessive carefulness about offensiveness to larger western society. But there’s plenty of culpability to spread around.

Chief among blame-worthy institutions are major currents in established religions, which oversimplify humility and reduce self-focus and egoism (“What’s in it for me?”) to selfishness and egotism (“Look at my greatness”). This shallow-izing Christianity means the soul must find its fuller expression elsewise – like in socialistic movements – because, as Peterson, often points out, modern society has killed God, and as Nietzsche warned, something must fill that large void in expressing our collective soul.

Psychology is rightly obsessed with ego as a fragile dimension of self concept. Peterson is a psychologist, so credibly and authoritatively criticizes anti-ego collectivism. Losing the value and sense of ego-self is a slippery slope toward losing individual and collective souls. After all, relationship and personality challenges have largely to do with being conscious of how egos interact–particularly the vulnerability of the less aware who act as if reality begins and ends at the boundaries of the ego, and so defend the ego’s fragility at the expense of freer communication across the boundaries, replacing authentic ideation with ideals.

Even people more conscious of the wider boundaries of the psyche/soul can be insensitive when their egos are carried away by the inner freedom of the larger Self. I wonder how much the anti-Peterson impulse toward collective conformity is a reaction of vulnerability by more fragile Selves to whom the expanse of the soul is less familiar or more daunting.

***

Notions about the psyche have been historically intertwined with notions of soul. I don’t know well the history of psychology, but there seems to have been a shift from an original concern with the inner soul, toward instead studying external, observable behavior predominantly–a shift at the soul’s expense (James Hillman’s archetypal psychology bemoans psychology’s obsession with behavior: “Psychopathology = psyche-pathos-logos = the ‘speech of the suffering soul'”).

Reductionist science is obsessed with data (like observable behavior), so perhaps psychologists chase research funding by aligning with the objectivity that the harder sciences extol. Behavior is observable, so measurable; the machinations of the soul are not. Taxpayer funding of academic philosophers masquerading as scientists (psyche-ologists) isn’t as easily fundable politically.

The obsessive scientization of psychology favors behavior more than probing the soul, happily left to philosophers and their meager funding. It feels to me like 9 out of 10 bloggers on Psychology Today have a deep need to cite behavioral research, and often begin with something like, “A recent study by…” When not that, they often cite their own experience as therapists. I think both are fine. Behavior is a window to the soul, since the soul is linked to both thought and behavior. Peterson practices the same integration of data, clinical experience, and soul-searching.

But I think another consequence of the scientization is that treatments in psychology and psychiatry are obsessed with diagnostics. Labels. To be fair, psychotherapists are aware of the weaknesses in this paradigm. I sense that tension as hypocrisy about externality…

Many of the shallow mantras in pop psychology discourage worrying about how others see you, and encourage outcome-independence (Peterson extols “equality of opportunity,” while decrying social-engineering quotas as “equality of outcome”). That’s not bad to me either. That encourages Jungian Individuation and the development of Self, which serve the soul. So what is my trouble with contemporary mainstream psychotherapy? Soul Therapy, Part 2

[Descriptions of the 3 parts, and links to the other 2]


Soul Therapy, contents


3-part series [5 minutes each] about the diminishment of psyche-ology for treating the soul

Soul Therapy, Part 1 of 3: Society seems blinder to the extraordinary power inherent in the autonomous Individual person. Psyche-ology has come to focus on more superficial behavioral or materialist brain science, while fewer scholars remain concerned with consciousness and the psyche’s mystery. The soul (psyche) which animates the individual person is the chief victim.

Soul Therapy, Part 2 of 3 proposes that an optimal psychotherapeutic outcome sheds the language and categories of psychology altogether and approaches the gateway to an individual’s unbounded soul.

Soul Therapy, Part 3 of 3 extends to perspectives on depression and anti-depressants, borderline personality tendencies, the value of the chilling darkness within the soul, and some resources of further interest.

If you’re interested in the series, please mark “Notify me of new posts” at the end of any page.

Neil D. 2020-03-29