“Is there a reality that is not framed or formed? No. Reality is always coming through a pair of glasses, a point of view, a language–a fantasy.” James Hillman
From a very early age, I have always loved words. Long before I could write in cursive I would scribble in my composition book endlessly pretending to write important things. I surely didn’t know at the time the power of language nor was I aware of the beauty of words, thoughts and ideas. Later on in my life, struggling with a deeply terrifying sadness and pain that led me into a very dark place that seemed inescapable, James Hillman’s words and ideas played a part in reuniting me with my old love of language.
Through language, the words and ideas we have available to us for understanding the world, we shape and define events and experience. Committed to memory and to the limits of our imagination and understanding, the story of our lives begins to stick. What is made static often remains static until such a time in which our stuckness becomes unbearable, if we’re fortunate enough. I say that because quite often it’s the woundedness itself that becomes the healing, making the wound a necessary part of who we are.
We live in a world yearning for change, in which a materialist perception of life has hardened our hearts and turned our souls into stone images or better yet, imageless stones. Without psyche or soul, we look out there at the stuff of life and it’s a mess. For the materialist in us all, there is nothing else but the stuff of life. So we try to fix the stuff with politics, shopping, food, pills and other people. But the confusion and mess of the world is bigger than us and hasn’t been fixed in thousands of years of trying. So, can we live with that? Or, how do we live with that?
It may be much more helpful to accept that ideas and feelings more often than not have me, and not the other way around. In this way, when we find ourselves sick of being subject to an awful mood that we’ve talked ourselves into, we find that we are not the feelings, but we are in their sway and then might ask ourselves, “what is it doing for me?” Our lives are complicated and the world can be an awful place in which sadness and anger are fairly appropriate responses to our vulnerability and limitations that we live with- we’re not always obligated to have a nice day- especially in a world that is not always very nice to live in.
Hillman loved the mythology of the Greeks and saw in them the archetypes of human psychological experience. In reading their stories we find the immortal, polytheistic nature of psyche that each of us experiences. Where psyche, or soul can be seen as polytheistic, influenced by a pantheon of gods, our devotion to, and insistence upon the singularity of our identity, loses its grip on us. As Hillman says, “…the puzzle in therapy is not how did I get this way, but what does my angel want with me?”
“Besides, giving up on language betrays our own human nature. I think that the human form of display, in the ethologist’s sense of “display,” is rhetoric. Our ability to sing, speak, tell tales, recite, and orate is essential to our lovemaking, boasting, fear-inspiring, territory-protecting, surrendering, and offspring-guarding behaviors. Giraffes and tigers have splendid coats; we have splendid speech.” James Hillman, excerpt from Animal Presences