THE RELATIVITY OF BODY AND SOUL
by Iona Miller, c1992
...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,
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 complexity, 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
NEXT: Magical and Mystical Poems from the Temple
of Living Light; Music of the Spheres
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