The universe is always speaking, they say – we just have to be open to hearing it. “The experience often is characterized by […] guests who come calling, but who swiftly retreat unless they are recognized and greeted” (Coppin & Nelson, 2017). Even in silence, it is speaking. Psyche is the Greek word for “soul”, and it has twin roots - the mysterious “butterfly” and the verb “to breathe” (Hollis, 1996). We breathe it in, that “…breath of life [which] connects us to [the] world, each time we breathe in or out, [enabling] us to be speaking beings” (Downing, 2000).
As Edward Whitmont put it: "one cannot encounter the Self through introversion only. Human fullness requires the actual meeting with a Thou” (Coppin & Nelson, 2017). In the “meeting with a Thou” – in the work of speaking, sharing, relating - of being with – the Self may be experienced, through feeling, and importantly, through all feeling, whether those feelings are desirable, tolerable, or not.
The problem has always been that “to know oneself profoundly can be extremely upsetting” (Bettelheim, 1982) – because it means feeling into “the shadow part of the psyche” (Le Grice, 2016), which can mean feeling painful feelings. In this case our task is simply “…to live through them, not repress them or hurtfully project them onto others” (Hollis, 1996). It is here that talk therapy can provide us critical assistance in doing so.
To “…experience some healing within ourselves, and to contribute healing to the world, we are summoned to wade through the muck from time to time” (Hollis, 1996), because only “…after the full acknowledgement of the loss […] does there really arise the possibility of turning to other as other” (Downing, 2000). As Rilke said, only one “…who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another person as something alive and will himself sound the depths of his own being” (Coppin & Nelson, 2017).
Therapy can facilitate self-understanding, allowing us to connect to our deeper values, aspirations, and beliefs; it can also bring us closer to the experience of the numinosity of which we are both apart from, and a part of, and which holds us in protection wherever we go - the ocean of which our consciousness is but a drop - though, as Coppin & Nelson (2017) note, even that metaphor is inadequate since, unlike an ocean, it “…is fundamentally immeasurable and therefore impossible to quantify or fully define […it is] a wilderness that cannot be tamed.”
As Camus (1965) said, “I don’t know whether this world has a meaning that transcends it. But I know that I do not know that meaning and that it is impossible for me just now to know it. What can a meaning outside my condition mean to me?” One answer might be: nothing, if that condition is restricted to the cognitive. It seems to me that true inquiry cannot “be unyoked from the complex emotional life of the body” (Coppin & Nelson, 2017); for me, the felt sense is the ‘why’ and the ‘what for’ of inquiry itself – my connection to and experience of that which lies beyond my individuality. Psyche, Self, spirit, soul: these are all interchangeable terms to me; their number indicates that what they point at is beyond intellectual comprehension - but not experience. The mind looks for explanations, but the body knows better; it simply receives what is given, and what is given to me - is feeling.
It is not one but all feelings that bring such communion. As Nietzsche said, “All feeling suffers in me and is in prison: but my willing always comes to me as my liberator and bringer of joy.” This I understand as meaning: the will to feel - the will to attend to the entirety of the felt sense, no matter how painful. Suffering “is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete” (Frankl, 1984).
It seems to me that the felt sense is the live wire through which the current of life travels, that feeling is the immanent experience of the one in all, and that thought is but a shadow cast upon the wall by that singular flame. It follows then that when the mind is not put at service of the heart, but instead learns to dominate it, that many of the difficulties that lead us to seek therapy result.
Bettelheim, B. (1982). Freud and Man’s Soul. Vintage Books, Random House, NY.
Camus, A. (1965). The Myth of Sisyphus, and Other Essays. H. Hamilton, London.
Coppin, J. & Nelson, E. (2017). The Art of Inquiry: A Depth-Psychological Perspective. Spring Publications; Thompson, CT.
Downing, C. (2000). Sigmund Freud’s Mythology of Soul; the Body as Dwelling Place of Soul. In: Slattery, D. P. & Corbet, L. (2004). Depth Psychology: Meditations in the Field. Daimon Verlag, Einsiedeln, Switzerland.
Frankl, V. E. (1984). Man's Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. Simon & Schuster, NY.
Hollis, J. (1995). Tracking the Gods: the Place of Myth in Modern Life. Inner City Books, Toronto, ON.
Hollis, J. (1996). Swamplands of the Soul: New Life in Dismal Places. Inner City Books, Toronto, ON.
Le Grice, K. (2016). Archetypal Reflections: Insights and Ideas from Jungian Psychology. Muswell Hill Press; London/NY.
Nietzsche, F. W. (Translation by Hollingdale, R J., 1977). Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England.
Thoughts on Therapy and Mental Health