A feeling that has something of the world in it…
In this interview Imaginal ecologist Toby Chown and unpsychology magazine editor, writer and therapist, Steve Thorp tackle a range of thorny subjects — the limitations of conventional psychology, the problems with new age thinking, and how following a feeling that has “something of the world in it” can make clearer what kind of work the soul is asking for. How can we find a work that goes beyond the individualistic or narcissistic? How can we move towards work which creates a culture rooted in the creative depths of nature?
The latest issue of the magazine — the Other-Than-Human edition — carries essays, poetry, fiction and artwork, including an essay on imaginal ecology by Toby. You can download it FREE from www.unpsychology.org. Steve is also the author a range of books (poetry and non-fiction), published by Raw Mixture Publishing.
Issues addressed in the interview:
With the coronavirus lockdown, questions and troubling feelings about existential crises have moved from the margins to the centre of people’s minds. This offers us with an opportunity to do ‘psychology’ in a different way.
Historically therapeutic psychology has an over-developed emphasis on the individual — typically a child is seen as being born to parents who don’t attach effectively or securely, which becomes a developmental trauma — and then needs fixing in the adult. This is a partial truth at best, but it is a linear perspective that is disconnected from something deeper and more embedded: a feeling that has something of the world inside it….
What is important is the self in context, and what is missing is the idea of ‘soul’ — the original potential of the self that comes into the world to unfold — what James Hillman called ‘the acorn’ — the part of us that holds the blueprint to unfold our character as we grow and age.
What has also been lost is the ecological self we glimpse in children: the ways they are somehow embedded in the world. Small children lean naturally into their environment in their games and ways of being, but as they grow we educate our children out of this leaning, into something more aligned to social expectation. Yet the potential of nature emerges in all of us because we are human animals: what we might call ‘ecologising’.
Such a multi-dimensional and developmental approach to the ‘self’ is far from the ‘spiritual growth’ models from Western new age movements that keep on saying “You can make yourself and heal yourself with your thoughts — you can create and re-create yourself”.
Like much else in our culture, this is a market idea. We can’t choose who we want to be like picking clothes in a shop — we will always be a version of the acorn that we were born within. And seeing ‘healing’ as a process of ridding ourselves of vulnerability can be deeply shaming, as this vulnerability inevitably continues throughout life — and we always have to face the shadow at whatever age and stage we find ourselves.
So, rather than trying to erase ourselves or create a perfect version of ourselves, we can pay attention to the unfolding. ‘Soulwork’ can be thought of as work for the world. The work that the acorn tells us that we have to do as we we unfold.
However, we have inherited a confusing and troubled notion of work. Of course, we have to find paid work to establish and sustain ourselves, but the soul sometimes asks for another kind of work as well — work as a vocation or calling — work as an authentic expression of who we are as part of the world.
There is a choice. You can say “This is what I have chosen to do”. But there is also a resonance — a sense of something deeper to follow.
When seekers go too far into other cultures without carefully considering the contexts and cultural frameworks, the work they are doing is not their work, it is appropriated from other cultures. So, when we go to a yoga class we might be doing something that isn’t even ours anyway, if we are not carefully mindful of these potential contradictions.
There can be some cultural integrity —and the ‘new age’ has a strong and positive intuition to not just buy into a soul-less materialist culture, but rather than taking on other people’s spiritual practice and making them our own, this has to come through our selves. Perhaps this can come through re-finding a direct or creative relationship to nature?
Sometimes even ecopsychology doesn’t go far enough. Although it places the mind in the bigger picture of the world, it can still miss the soul, it can still miss the way in which the acorn turns into the tree without any force, external will or guidance,
As a society, we have lost our understanding of culture as something that can binds us back into a larger cycle of life and death, the rhythms of life and the maturation of the life cycle. After midlife, a person starts to look towards Death and seek integrity. Here we have to face what is real in relationship to our life. What in our culture supports this kind of soul making?
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