In Symptoms Lies Soul: Symptoms are a Call Towards Destiny, Individually and Collectively
The Greeks believed that everyone is accompanied in this life by a guiding force. They called this the daimon. Some might call it a guardian angel or one’s genius. The daimon is sent by our spirit to help us grow down into our destiny. It knows our unique character — the aspect of us that nobody else has — in other words, our soul. It forces us to become that. When we are not, it gives us feedback that we are off-track. It sends us symptoms.
Our symptoms, therefore, lead to destiny if we choose to answer the call. By fulfilling our own destiny, we help the world fulfill hers.
In symptoms lies soul. In soul lies spirit. In spirit lies destiny. In our destiny lies the destiny of the world.
Daimons and Demons
The word daimon is etymologically similar to demon, and it is often is experienced as such: the ugly, unwanted, unacceptable aspects of ourselves. Our demons show us where we struggle most. Yet this is where our destiny lies. Through our symptoms, our demons, we are invited to face our greatest fears. Through repetition and courage, we work on our inner selves; we polish the gem that is our soul so that it can shine unto the world.
Let me provide a personal example. For many years I experienced gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a burning sensation in my throat. Although I now have it well under control (amazingly, I got off medication through diaphragmatic breathing), I still notice something very interesting about that area of my body. If I pay really close attention, I notice a feeling of “trapped energy” in this area. The sensation shows up as a tingling, pulsating, or pressure. It seems to almost always be there. This is an area in my body where I am “wounded.” I also happen to have another major struggle in my life associated with this region of the body: speaking. Using my voice is one of the core ways in which I struggle. This is where my soul, my pathology, lies. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why my spirit incarnated into this body. This is a spiritual task, and it shows up in my soul as a wound. My “daimon” provides this wound so that I can cultivate soul — a loving of my pathology — and somehow bring this into the world. The physical symptom (reflux) points towards soul (trouble speaking), which points towards spirit — the destiny I am to fulfill. Hopefully the words in this post are one way of bringing my soul into the world.
Since our spirit belongs to the greater whole — the interconnected web of all things — our destiny is not only for me, but for we. We fulfill our destiny for the sake of the world. We evolve spiritually so that the world can, too.
The Soul of the World
As we reach for our destinies, so does the world. Our souls are but reflections of the Soul of the World. Referred to as Sophia by the Western esoteric traditions, the Soul of the World seeks to fulfill her destiny through us. Robert Sardello, a colleague of James Hillman, writes, “The World Soul has thus undergone the long process of evolution, a kind of fall from unity, in order that this unity might be again fulfilled, now fully consciously. Restoring the World Soul to its unity thus becomes weighted on the side of the development of fully conscious individual soul life: the task of human beings in the destiny of Sophia” (Sardello, 2008, p. 83). As he points out, it is the task of each individual to help evolve the Soul of the World, not for our own sake but for the sake of the whole. He goes on to say, “The whole of Earth as an imagination of the cosmos is repeated in the structure and function of the human being. And the inner Earth is reflected as the interiority of the human being; the psyche of the human being as something deep inside is the imagination of the interior of the Earth, necessary to the individualizing of the Soul of the World” (Sardello, 2008, p. 317). So, our personal soul is also the soul of the world. Again, this perspective shifts us out of egocentricity. It impels us to behave in a way that simultaneously benefits me and we.
Alchemy of the World
Alchemy offers an exemplary image for what we are aiming to do by transforming the world through ourselves. The alchemists sought to transform material elements, such as minerals, metals, and plants, into substances such as gold, “the philosopher’s stone,” or the “elixir of immortality.” But the alchemists knew that they were not only working with physical objects; they were simultaneously working with psyche. Psyche and matter were a single whole. They transformed themselves through the world, and vice versa. The vessels used to contain and transform the elements were emblematic of the human body containing the soul. Jung considered alchemy a symbol for individuation.
Transforming a substance is not a pretty process. It involves putreficacio and mortificacio — putrefaction and mortification — where substances are grinded, broken down, decomposed, or dissolved. Jung saw this as a necessary part of the soul’s path to individuation. We could also say that the ego goes through this process as it begins to dissolve; working through karma and letting go of the old “self” is replete with darkness and despair (i.e., “The Dark Night of the Soul”). As we go through these processes internally, so too does the world. The ugly, horrific, putrefying content we are forced to contend with on the internal path is reflected in outer reality. In this way, natural disasters and societal turmoil might be seen as reflections of the process our psyches are simultaneously working through. This is profound because it suggests that we can change the world by working on ourselves.
Transformation is a call, and it is usually not pleasant. At the heart of transformation is a sort of death. Rebirth does not happen without it. Death and rebirth do not just occur across lifetimes (if you are inclined to believe so), but also occur within lifetimes. We have died and been reborn countless times in this life. This happens moment-by-moment, day-by-day, as we shed the old and create the new. Hopefully, our psyche is moving towards something akin to the “philosopher’s stone” as it continuously becomes refined and polished. This takes careful attention. It requires compassion and acceptance, a soul process. It takes courage and strength, a spirit process. It takes letting go of the “me” in the center of it all, a death process.
The collective psyche requires the same ingredients for its transformation. We can move towards a more wholesome version of our collective psyche as we each participate in this process. Sophia, the Soul of the World, is seeking to wake up to her highest potential. We are called to fulfill her destiny.
*This post was excerpted from my upcoming book, “Symptoms of the World: Interconnectedness and the Re-Imagination of Illness, From Cell to Society.”
Matthew S. Goodman, Ph.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY32423) and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California. He hosts “The Middle Way” podcast. Learn more here: http://matthewgoodmanphd.com
Sardello, R. (2008). Love and the Soul: Creating a Future for Earth. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.