Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Getting to Know the Soul


When Marsilio Ficino wrote his self-help book, The Book of Life, five hundred years ago, he placed emphasis on carefully choosing colors, spices, oils, places to walk, countries to visit--all very concrete decisions of everyday life that day by day either support or disturb the soul.

"Let us begin by looking at this phrase..., "care of the soul." The word care implies a way of responding to expressions of the soul that is not heroic and muscular. Care is what a nurse does, and "nurse" happens to be one of the early meanings of the Greek word therapia, or therapy. ... care of the soul is in many ways a return to early notions of what therapy is. Cura, the Latin word used originally in "care of the soul," means several things: attention, devotion, husbandry, adorning the body, healing, managing, being anxious for, and worshiping the gods. It might be a good idea to keep all of these meanings in mind as we try to see as concretely as possible how we might make the shift from psychotherapy as we know it today to 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 exactly what that meaning is.

Care of the soul begins with 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, on whatever is wandering and gazing--the latest addiction, a striking dream, or a troubling mood.

This 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 things that bother them. "I need to get rid of this tendency of mine," a person will say. "Help me get rid of these feelings of inferiority and my smoking and my bad marriage." It, as a therapist, I did what I was told, I'd be taking things away from people all day long. But I don't try to eradicate problems. I try not to imagine my role to be that of exterminator. Rather, I try to give what is problematic back to the person in a way that shows it necessity, even its value.

When people observe the way is 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. When you regard the soul with an open mind, you begin to find the messages that lie within the illness, the corrections that can be found in remorse and other uncomfortable feelings, and the necessary changes requested by depression and anxiety."

Thomas Moore, author
Care of the Soul
A Guide For Cultivating
Depth and Sacredness
In Everyday Life (1992, p. 4 - 6)