“Psychology ought to make us feel at home in the world and interested in it and to recognize its beauty. Anything that’s beautiful, you fall in love with and anything you fall in love with, you want to keep alive. And that solves the ecological problem and the nuclear problem. You don’t want to destroy what you love.” James Hillman
In 2004, Joel Lang interviewed James Hillman at his home in Thompson Connecticut. The interview features a rare biographical sketch of Hillman as well as some of his observations and ideas during that time in his life. Hillman had just published his book, A Terrible Love of War.
The interview presents us with some great insights into Hillman, including his insistence that for us moderns it is not that we are sick, but that our ideas are. In 1969 Hillman had a personal crisis as a Jungian Analyst which led to his decision to leave the profession. Ultimately, he made his way back, although not specifically as a Jungian, by seeing therapy more as a therapy of soul, meaning something much broader than a therapy of our personal, subjective experience, but one that includes the state of the world and especially our ideas.
The soul itself is “a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a thing itself … ” It is, “an inner place or deeper person or ongoing presence — that is simply there even when all our subjectivity, ego and consciousness go into eclipse.” It is “that unknown component which makes meaning possible, turns events into experiences, is communicated in love, and has a religious concern.” It is “the imaginative possibility of our natures” and it has a “special relation with death.”
Here is an excerpt of Lang’s discussion with Hillman on depression:
Elsewhere, he described how he might respond to a patient complaining of depression. ‘I’ll want to get precise: What do you feel? Sad, empty, dry? Burned out? Do you feel weak, do you feel like crying? And where do you feel depressed? In your eyes — do you want to cry; do you cry? In your legs, are they heavy, can’t get up, can’t move; in your chest, are you anxious, and how does that feel, where, when? Is it like being tied up, or being poisoned?” Depression is a “big empty vapid jargon word … a terrible impoverishment of the actual experience.’
Within any culture or person, it is perhaps difficult to see how myth is operating in us and especially in a culture that believes itself to be modern and rational, looking to the science of “studies” of material facts to understand things such as health, well-being, ecology, culture, nature, science or sexuality.
When we posit a belief in what we call our reality, rather than our mythology, the metaphorical way of seeing leaves us, and so do the gods or the invisible archetypal powers leave us, because we have left them for a concrete, material idea of ourselves and the world.
“If you’re out of your mind in another culture or disturbed or impotent or anorexic, you look at what you’ve been eating, who’s been casting spells on you, what taboo you’ve crossed, what you haven’t done right, when you missed your last reverence to the gods … Whatever. It could be thousands of other things … It would never, never be what happened to you with your mother and father forty years ago. Only our culture uses that model, that myth … The myths we believe and are in the middle of, we call them `fact,’ `reality,’ `science.”’
The idea of what we refer to as Reality, is a dead-end view which claims that things are as they are, and can be no other way, whichever way we come to define our reality. To define circumstances or our relationship to others and the world through the mythological lens of Reality, is perhaps a way to stop imagining, or keep us from furthering the ideas about ourselves and the world. We mistake our ideas for the notion of reality, a word that has no particular meaning or image attached to it.
And one last quote from the interview on archetypes and myths:
“I don’t like the idea they’re located in our brains,” he says. “We don’t know any of this. These are theories. All we know is that there are patterns that appear again and again — in myth, in children’s stories or life stories and that in some places they call them myths or gods and goddesses.
“We don’t know how they began. We don’t know how the world began. And it doesn’t matter how it began as far as living goes. It makes more sense to a person’s life that what’s going on has a pattern and a meaning to it rather than it all began in a bang, or came out of a black hole or something.
From Hillman I have learned to dig into the guts of an idea, through the study of history, etymology, religion and science, so as to not take things only at their face value, or for their literal meaning, but to look for what an idea or a belief suggests about the world or does for me, so as to not be bound to or by ideas, but to deepen them further into the mystery and ultimately ungraspable nature of life as it is humanly lived.
Read the entire interview here: