An ASKLEPIA FOUNDATION Journal
THE RELATIVITY OF BODY AND SOUL
by Iona Miller, ©1992
...we are not concerned here with a philosophical, much less a religious, concept of the soul, but with the psychological recognition of the existence of a semiconscious psychic complex, having partial autonomy of function, [anima].
--C.G. Jung, TWO ESSAYS...
The soul loses its psychological vision in the abstract literalisms of the spirit as well as in the concrete literalisms of the body.
--James Hillman, RE-VISIONING PSYCHOLOGY
Psychic and somatic symptoms express the soul's painful wounds and obstructions. The rational mind is incapable of deciding what is best for the soul. The mind can discover what is needed only by listening to and reflecting upon the subtle movement of the soul as it expresses itself in bodily sensations, feelings, emotions, images, ideas, and dreams.
--Robert M. Stein, "BODY AND PSYCHE"
Throughout history there have been many conceptions about the physical and spiritual nature of reality. Early on, they were confounded, though now separated into philosophy, physics, and religion. Each of these models or conceptions of mankind's relationship to nature and the divine was based in a belief-system which pre-conditioned all notions about the nature of the self.
The realm of psychology, with its own unique perspective on body and soul, lies between the worlds of physical reality and spiritual heights. And, of course, there are many schools of thought in psychology, many of which, like behaviorism and humanism, do not consider the relevance of a notion of soul as motivating factor. On the other hand, transpersonal psychology accepts the validity of the spiritual to the point where its primary psychological orientation may recede into the background.
Jungian psychology, and its avant-garde form, imaginal psychology seek to maintain the primacy of the image as a direct expression of soul. As a discipline, it alleges that soul is a primary experience, and seeks to give her a voice. The realm of psyche is a subjective world of depth and meaning that is sometimes corporeal, sometimes not. Entry into this style of consciousness means heightened awareness of subjective realities. Each "thing" speaks of the gods, or archetypal qualities and forces. It boldly asserts that not even technology and inorganic matter are inherently soulless.
Imaginal psychology's main proponent, James Hillman, suggests it is only the literalist, objective world of Newtonian mechanics and the Christian apocalypse that is "dead." This school of psychology views many "spiritual" notions as products of a monotheistic style of consciousness. It puts forth the view that soul is a pluralistic expression, rather than an individual quality. It upholds a polytheistic perspective which is more in line with the primitive concepts of the nature of soul. It views notions like "spiritual soul," "material body," and "spiritual body" metaphorically, rather than literally. Each god or archetype has its relative, characteristic style of consciousness and way of seeing through the nature of things.
Jung and his followers have shown that certain mind-sets lead to biased fantasies about the nature of the body, the soul, and the cosmos. Psyche is essentially related to soma because it is rooted in organic structure. The intimacy of this relationship is not fully understood. It is a realm of mystery which brings in its wake phenomena such as synchronicity and psychosomatic disorders.
Religion and superstition undermined any remotely objective viewpoint about the physical nature of the universe until the Enlightenment. Then scientists armored themselves against incursions of the divine with Newtonian mechanics and Cartesian duality. Descarte split mind from body, and equated the soul with the ego and mind, thus disenfranchising it. The mechanistic, "clockwork universe" was based on the primacy of underlying order. The universe was perceived as chaos tending toward order, with each atom following God's great plan.
This notion of an orderly universe was superceded by the unpredictable phenomena of quantum mechanics and chaos theory. We have found that beneath the apparent order is a world of chaos that self-generates order, which dissolves back into chaos. Even orderly motion is ultimately unpredictable due to initial conditions and even the slightest of random intruding influences. So, the universe may still be "God's plan," but its basis is irrational, not rational.
Physics is a form of philosophy which makes educated guesses about the nature of reality and our existence. It invites us to "look at it this way..." Scientific revolutions demonstrate that these are not ultimate statements about the nature of reality. They are relative, state-of-the-art hypotheses. This particular type of natural philosophy includes many universal laws, however, which reflect the way things seem to be from the current point of view.
It is difficult for any of us to free ourselves from our enculturated and a priori beliefs about existence. It is hard to view anything from outside of our own fundamental philosophical, spiritual, and psychological perspectives. These theories, dogmas, and experiences condition how we perceive reality. Their influence may be so subtle we fail to notice where our position originated. Our viewpoint is relative to our position.
Einstein showed us that, in physics, all perspectives are relative to the position of the observer. He discovered this by imagining he was riding on a beam of light. This relativity holds true in psychology also, depending on what assumed truths one holds. Notions of soul and body are not describing any irreducible reality. These notions are relative realities, reflecting our personal understanding of the nature of reality. They emerge from our specific worldview about the way things (including ourselves) work.
What we believe conditions what we perceive, feel, and express. Research shows our beliefs and opinions are largely conditioned by the belief system of our peer group. The day-to-day influence of convention creates a consensus opinion about reality and is a big influence on lifestyle. Much of consensus is a tacit agreement to overlook certain kinds of information, especially if it doesn't fit the "party line."
Beliefs are subject to radical reversal in some instances--the process of conversion. Jung called this 180 degree shift in consciousness enantiodromia. Conversions arise from a desperate need, from exposure to a new peer group with different attitudes and values, or through embracing a broader worldview, or by covert means like propaganda and brainwashing.
The prime expression of beliefs is through spontaneous imagery. We never experience directly, but interpret our experience of our perceptions through imagery. All our input comes through multi-sensory channels. We never directly perceive ourselves, soul, or God. We don't perceive our bodies directly, only our sensory impressions. But we do have first-hand experience of our body-image, soul-image, and God images. That is all we know directly. The rest is pure speculation.
Relative viewpoints condition our concepts of reality, body and soul. A given individual may hold several within himself. For example, a rational scientist may find no empirical evidence for soul in her normal methods of investigation, but it does not prevent her continuing practice and belief in her faith. The emotional self will not be denied, even if it is held discrete from the workplace.
Historically, the body (and matter in general) has been a spiritual battle-ground. Because of the bi-polar nature of our being (or our perception of bi-polarity), the human spirit naturally comes into conflict with our earthy and material needs. These primal drives create conflict between spirituality and instinctuality or sensuality. But the conflict is a matter of perception and psychological perspective.
In the West, flesh was condemned for "original sin", a mandate forced on the body by so-called "spiritual" pontification. This mandate was extended to include the condemnation of all matter. In the East, the perception of any solid substance was declared a mental phenomena. Matter was seen merely as an expression of universal mind, reduced to a gross state known as maya. In this state all matter is subject to karma, the natural consequences of active existence. In this worldview, the soul is continuously recycled. Both philosophies reject materialism, and the body with it.
So matter is merely a convincing illusion in one view, while in another it is inherently evil, the very opposite of God. The notion of immanence holds, on the other hand, along with Pantheism and Animism, that all matter, formless or substantive, is naturally infused with the divine. All agree that matter occupies space and time and is perceived by the senses. Philosophically, matter is the formless material of the universe of sensory experience. Each of these ideas, maya and the "fall," provides a coherent worldview, yet remains discrete and congruent only within its own belief system, with its a priori assumptions unexamined.
In our culture, the body and our fantasies about it, have come to represent the lost Feminine element. We have lost touch with our primal femininity, the animating principle (nature, body, instinct). We have become estranged from the body through the mind/body split fostered by Cartesian thinking, which is also non-relativistic.
The image of the disembodied modern individual is one of an over-rational "walking head," not a whole human being. Our modern need is not for further disembodiment by transcending off into salvation in the nether-realms of space, not for more out-of-body experiences. Rather, we almost desperately need to create ways of truly inhabiting our bodies, unsplit by Puritanical and Cartesian residue.
There is a way that joins spirit and body through the spontaneous imagery of soul. It seeks neither to solve our troubles (pathologies) nor "save" our souls. It suggests direct engagement with images for soul-making or deepening through personal experience. We can see through the nature of apparent reality for ourselves, if we but try. Then we develop our own philosophy, apart from consensus. When it comes to questions of speculation on the unknown, we can either accept what others have said, or look for ourselves.
We seek the lost soul primarily because of the intense degree of wounding in our modern consciousness. This wounding has "opened" us to transformation. We can embody soul by seeing-through appearances to an acute awareness of the archetypal, subjective perception of our experience.
We can find soul in the body. It speaks metaphorically in body language (how closed or open one is to life and experience), body talk ("he's a pain in the neck," "I can't stomach that"), symptoms, and displacements. Conversion reactions change psychological dis-ease into concrete ailments. Jung said the gods have become diseases and there is a god within every disease. Noticing that psychic element and giving it voice is psychological soul-making. We can also look at our behavior, emotions, thoughts, and styles of consciousness psychologically.
The conflict over the body is really between spirit and spirit, good and bad, polarized. But it is popularized as a split between spirit and matter, with the soul as intermediary. To compound the problem, in linguistics and beliefs, spirit and soul have become mis-identified with one another by theology and philosophy. Philosophy, for the Greeks was an adventure undertaken for its own sake, without dogma, rites, or sacred entities.
These disciplines pull the soul in opposite directions, leaving the alienated ego rejecting both mystical experience and the imperfection of the body. Thus we need recourse to priests (for spirituality), therapists (for psychological insight), and doctors (to interpret the condition of the body).
All healing appears to come from without, when we cannot heal our own dis-ease. The body is betrayed and mentally abandoned. Symptoms become something to get rid of, while the soul has no recourse to a higher power. Then the body becomes tyrannical, ruling the self with addictions and psychosomatic complaints. It has many ways of manifesting dis-ease.
The entire choice between spirit and body, inner and outer, has its source in identification with the ego. Ego maintains itself by creating conflicts from opposing drives within. It suppresses one and makes you believe you have chosen freely. The dilemma comes from the ego, not the soul.
Matter, spirit, and ego fight over the soul. Yet soul is a primary experience. Each wants its unique fantasy to reign uppermost. So, the first task is to distinguish soul from spirit, so the body may unite and be enlivened by both. In this process, primacy is given to the perspective of psyche or soul. This is a psychological approach--not spiritual or religious--giving voice to soul. It means the return of a subjective feminine eye on reality. It means the enlivening of our bodies, the world of nature, and the imagination. When we see soul as the background of all phenomena, we become aware of the animating principle.
All images arise from either body processes (instinct) or psychic forms (spirit). Whether instinct-controlled or spirit-controlled, they are related to physiological processes. They appear psychologically as images, but work physiologically. They produce emotional or visceral aspects, but not in any causal way. The images don't produce reactions. The image is the entire psychophysical gestalt.
We have considered three relative perspectives from which the notion of soul may be viewed: theological, philosophical, and psychological. Each has its own distinct notion about the body. Like Jung, we are not referring to a religious or philosophical concept of either body or soul. Soul may or may not ultimately be a disembodied, immortal thing as Zoroaster, Plato, and THE BIBLE suggest.
They uphold the pervasive cultural view that soul is a transcendent entity, distinct from the body, that participates in an idealistic afterlife. No one alive can say for sure, and what about this life, here and now? Psyche's view speaks directly to our whole personalistic experience, with its transpersonal elements.
The soul in depth psychology is an empirical manifestation of imagination, fantasy, and creativity which is always in the process of becoming--images forming, and dissolving, and forming anew. Imagination is the essence of the life forces, both physical and psychic. These fantasies always permeate our beliefs, ideas, emotions, and physical nature.
Like the psyche, or life-breath, of the early Greeks, this notion of soul is like that of the butterfly which always stays close to the ground. It is an airy thing, hovering lightly, without heroically soaring to the heights. In this model, there are no abstract flights of fancy into spirit's realm, no transcending off into subtle "spirit bodies" mistakenly distinguished as aspects of the soul. These urges are real, but they belong to spirit.
Rather, the soul generates images unceasingly. The soul lives on images and metaphor. These images form the basis for our consciousness. All we can know comes through images, through our multi-sensory perceptions. So this soul always stays close to the body, close to corporeality, to what "matters." Let the images come into your body. Embrace the image. To heal the mind/body split we need a view of reality that eliminates the dichotomy of "in here" in this separate body vs. "out there" in the alien, external world.
Even physics shows us we are continuous with that world. Our skin-boundary is an illusion. We literally exchange gases and atoms with one another, and the world. The turn-over of matter in the body means there is no single, stable structure over time--just a duration of consciousness.
The line between organic and inorganic matter is indistinguishable at the subatomic level. All that exists is alive with motion. Both body and mind are the realm of psyche which can manifest as particular behaviors, psychosomatic illnesses, emotional patterns, mental and spiritual beliefs, and synchronistic events.
Mystics tell us that the entire world of phenomena is of the nature of mind or consciousness. Modern quantum mechanics seems to uphold this view from the scientific side. There is no solid matter, when you get right down to it--only waves of energy, "quantum fuzz", and probabilities. So, matter is no more tangible, nor less divine than the intangible energy or light from which it congeals. It is a spiritual notion that matter is a debased form of energy.
But the perspective of spirit would not have us confuse the creation with the Creator. Yet, in some sense, the light is the Light, in the metaphorical, if not literalistic or concretistic sense. We are merely a local outcropping of individuality, embedded in a continuum of cosmic connectivity, a webwork of relationship. In so many words, it means, "We are the world!"
"In here" and "out there" become moot when the subatomic nature of matter is truly understood. It becomes easier to see the nature of psyche as the underlying, living, divine field of all experience and phenomena. At the deepest level, we are physically indistinguishable from the cosmos at the quantum level.
Our existence is one of an indeterminate electromagnetic field, rather than a distinct chemical entity. Divinity is not off somewhere else, long ago, or in the future. We don't need to leave the body, die, or travel through time and space to find it in "pie-in-the-sky" salvation. As the Buddhists note, all is self, or Atman, here and now always.
The universal EM field is a primary physical, if not corporeal reality. Our apparently discrete existence is contiguous with it. In this model there is no mandate for a "soul-as-spirit body" to leave or vacate the body for purification, enlightenment, or union with divinity. Only our state of consciousness keeps us from that moment-by-moment realization. Direct psychological experience tells us that "I AM THAT."
We are psychological beings, composed of body and soul. Psychic life is physical and mental. Spirit enlivens soul--it manifests through soul. Soul animates the body. Soul enlivens and tends to favor the body. The body unites with spirit and soul by becoming "saturated" with them, immersed in their essence.
Denial of the body by a disembodied spiritual drive leads to ascensionism. It may be an escapist, transcendence fantasy. It is a way of keeping life at bay. In the provisional life one is always waiting to live life if things are just so. We can reinhabit or re-own the body in consciousness and experience ourselves as total psychosomatic beings. Spirit can be grounded in the body by making practical use of spiritual insights.
The harmonization of spirituality and instinctuality leads to wholeness. For example, in sexuality, a spirit-body split leads to an inability to see one sexual partner as both sexy and spiritually inspiring. This may manifest through circumstances or a psychological complex. It is an aspect of the Madonna-whore complex.
The whole person, on the other hand, views the sex act as the divine marriage of spirit and soul, God/Goddess, Shiva/Shakti. It epitomizes the universal cycle of creation/destruction, mind and matter in play. This attitude exalts body, soul, and spirit. It is akin to a nature mystic experience where the outer divine resonates and enters the body.
The ancient art of alchemy was the search for the God-head in matter. The alchemical task was to unify spirit and soul in the body. Psychic reality means to be in soul, esse in anima, as Jung put it. It means an enlarged experience of concrete reality to include the realm of the psyche, a dialogue with events, situations, and circumstances.
Body is made complete, not by perfecting it, but by spiritualizing it. It becomes the vehicle of the "incarnating Self." Spirit is attracted to matter and matter to spirit. Matter gets purpose and meaning from spirit. An "immortal body" now means grounding of the spirit. The uniting of soul, body, and spirit was called the Unus Mundus, or One World in alchemy.
As a psychophysical entity you experience the Anima Mundi, or Soul of the World. The Jews knew it as the Shekinah. She is the embodiment of psyche, the animating force behind all events, images, and material forms. Soul functions both in the body and through projection in the physical world. Psychic reality means to be-in-soul, through embodiment (soma) or enlivenment (psyche)--perceiving images viscerally (soma) and mentally (psyche).
Acknowledgement of this force does not constitute Goddess worship -- only recognition of the archetypal reality of nature, and our nature. She is a way of reclaiming the divinity of body, matter, and world. The Soul of the World notion, though repressed, is part of the return of the Feminine. Hillman invites us into this world:
Let us imagine the anima mundi neither above the world encircling it as a divine and remote emanation of spirit, a world of powers, archetypes, and principles transcendent to things, nor within the material world as its unifying panpsychic life-principle. Rather let us imagine the anima mundi as that particular soul-spark, that seminal image, which offers itself through each thing in its visible form. Then anima mundi indicates the animated possibilities presented by each event as it is, its sensuous presentation as face bespeaking its interior image--in short, its availability to imagination, its presence as a psychic reality. Not only animals and plants ensouled as in the Romantic vision, but soul is given with each thing, God-given things of nature and man-made things of the street.
Hillman suggests therapy shift its focus from saving the soul of the individual to saving the soul of the world, resurrection of the world, rather than man--a raising of consciousness of created things, the world's psychic reality. He says we have, in essence, taken and stored the world soul within ourselves. "There is no 'in here' and 'out there'. We should give it back."
Physical reality becomes psychic and psyche becomes real. It "matters." The difference between soul and external things no longer matters. Inner and Outer worlds are real. They are One World. Image, metaphor and symbol bridge the abyss between matter and spirit. They are integrated with feeling, mind, and imagination. We can see soul in all natural objects. We can notice our fantasies constantly conditioning our experience of reality.
We need to learn how to be in our souls, just as we had to learn to reinhabit the body. Being-in-soul implies that you are being suffused with spirit. Knowledge of spirit doesn't come from ideas, even revelations, but through a reflective process. Their conjunction, or marriage, means spirit is reborn whenever you are in touch with soul. They are opposites, so the interplay is eternal. Just observe without attachment the interaction of soul and spirit, distinct yet conjoined. Hold the tension of the opposites.
When spirit as energy and matter as form are in balance, the body becomes the living "Temple of the Spirit." The notion of a soul's immortality comes to mean direct experience of non-spatial, non-temporal, four-dimensional reality--the realm of relativity.
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