The Story So Far

Case history: our public, outer life, a collection of facts, figures, biography and stats.

Soul history: the private interiority of identity, memory, feeling, reflections, dreams and beliefs.

In his book, Healing Fiction, James Hillman says:

“We can regard history from the viewpoint of soul. By carefully collating what happened, history digests events, moving them from case material to subtle matter. Hidden in this fantasy is a tenet of my faith: soul slows the parade of history; digestion tames appetite; experience coagulates events. I believe that had we more experiencing there would be need for fewer events and the quick passage of time would find a stop. And then I believe that what we do not digest is laid out somewhere else, into others, the political world, the dreams, the body’s symptoms, becoming literal and outer (and called historical) because it is too hard for us, too opaque, to break open and to insight.”

But neither case nor soul history ever provides a final and complete truth, much as we may imagine particular goals. It’s not that truth does not exist, or that it’s relative to other truths, but that any perspective is a limitation, including only what the lens can see and the heart is open to.

Identity, an accumulative sense through time of being myself and not another, also defines others through distinctions and likenesses, distinguishing us externally as a self among other selves.

Time marks us with habits, memories and limitations through which a distinct version of a story is imagined as fact and takes up residence in our hearts. Although the whole truth of our selves and others can never be wholly seen, we weave a continuous story through the assemblage of historical facts. Digital bits plucked out of an analog background, although never to be grasped fully, can be intuited.

Often disguised and lived through us as fact, story begins in imagination and fantasy, and presupposes an ending, a conclusion already present and working in us. Character continually forming and aiming us at our particular fate.

The stories premise is the conclusion seeking to resolve the tension inherent in living through its characters and plot.

“Therapy requires the fiction of literal realities as the primary material to work on. It must have the raw in order to cook. So we begin with a classical anamnesis. But this move is not in order to be grounded in facts, but because these factual stories are the primal matter in which the psyche of the patient is stuck.

Here is the apparently soulless abyss, the unformed, unpsychological material full of sibling data, economic figures, passage through welfare centers, aches and pains and needs, not yet “worked up” into a plot: it’s all prior to fermentation.”

Through framing our and other’s identity the story bumps against the indiscernable analog field, gathering suspense and building plot through the motion of time. Our story tells us how we got from there to here, where we are, and where we’re going. It’s the past arriving but also the present speculating on where we are going.

Is this an illusion? “From Old French illusion, from Latin illūsiō, from illūdere, from in- (“at, upon”), + lūdere (“to play, mock, trick”)” Who is the narrator and who does the story, the characters and plot serve? Is it for the sake of the end, or is it for the sake of the display of characters? What if the play, the story of our lives enacted, carries the goal within itself? A play for the sake of play, ecstasy and love.

In dreams, the dreamer’s world divides into characters to tell another story. The characters, plots and settings show us a shadow world not always congruent with our dayworld story. Here, we who would be one, divide and multiply into shadow characters and sub plots, sometimes hardly recognizable to our waking self.

Perhaps the play becomes play, ecstatic with desire and love through knowing, a) there is a story, b) someone is telling it, and c) there are characters, plots, beginnings and endings shaping your character and your fate. Through the practice of precise imaginings and retelling, you may then see how a particular premise is directing the stories conclusion. You are the author, the characters and the plot of the story of your life. But not the you sitting on the outside in the directors chair, not the digital you, but the analog you coming through you from deep within the source of the scenes.

“Healing begins when we move out of the audience and onto the stage of the psyche, become characters in a fiction (even the godlike voice of Truth, a fiction), and as the drama intensifies, the catharsis occurs; we are purged from attachments to literal destinies, find freedom in playing parts, partial, dismembered, Dionysian, never being whole but participating in the whole that is a play, remembered by it as actor of it. And the task set by the play and its god is to play a part with craft, sensitively.”

What if every aspect, each conflict, plot and sub plot were understood less as the me I think I am and more as an unseen force of character living through me? Unseen force meaning, the characters and personifications inherent in a universe much bigger than anything we can imagine, that seeks a living voice through the unique particularity and peculiarity of your circumstances.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) – The Youth of Bacchus (1884)Public Domain

Hillman uses the Greek god Dionysius, whose motif was that of display and drama, to help us see our lives as a participation in story, dramatic figures on a world stage, not as an illusion, but as necessary parts in the display of the greatest show there is:

“If the structure of Dionysian logic is drama, the particular embodiment of Dionysian logic is the actor; Dionysian logos is the enactment of fiction, oneself an as-if being whose reality comes wholly from imagination and the belief it imposes. The actor is and is not, a person and a persona, divided and undivided – as Dionysus was called. The self divided is precisely where the self is authentically located – contrary to Laing. Authenticity is the perpetual dismemberment of being and not-being a self, a being that is always in many parts, like a dream with a full cast. We all have identity crises because a single identity is a delusion of the monotheistic mind that ”would defeat Dionysus at all costs.”

And finally:

“We have been long led to believe that logos can be defined only by Olympian structures, by children of Zeus and Athene, or by Apollo or Hermes or Saturn – logos as form, as law, as system or mathematics. But Heraclitus said it was a flow like fire; and Jesus that it was like love. Each god has its logos, which has no single definition but is basically the insighting power of mind to create a cosmos and give sense to it. It is an old word for our worst word, consciousness. Dionysian consciousness understands the conflicts in our stories through dramatic tensions and not through conceptual opposites; we are composed of agonies not polarities. Dionysian consciousness is the mode of making sense of our lives and worlds through awareness of mimesis, recognizing that our entire case history is an enactment, “either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-pastoral,”  and that to be “psychological” means to see myself in the masks of this particular fiction that is my fate to enact.”

All quotes from Hillman, James (2012-02-14). Healing Fiction. Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

 

 

39 thoughts on “The Story So Far

  1. Pingback: …and in the end | The Ptero Card

  2. I love this quote of Hillman’s “But this move (into a therapeutic process)) is not in order to be grounded in facts, but because these factual stories are the primal matter in which the psyche of the patient is stuck.

    Here is the apparently soulless abyss, the unformed, unpsychological material full of sibling data, economic figures, passage through welfare centers, aches and pains and needs, not yet “worked up” into a plot: it’s all prior to fermentation.”

    I think there is a lot of truth here – we can never tell the objective truth about anything – only our subjective experience – and that working through of that raw material is the alchemical work of soul. Thanks for this wonderful post Debra!

    Like

  3. Hi Debra,
    At last I had a chance to give this text a proper consideration that it deserves. I think the distinction between soul and case history germinated in me and contributed to my little piece on privacy. Stories, like dreams, show our enduring inner reality. As Jung wrote in his autobiography: “Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away—an ephemeral apparition. When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilizations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity. Yet I have never lost a sense of something that lives and endures underneath the eternal flux. What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains.”
    But obviously this is more Jung while Hillman would probably emphasize the importance of history and all the “outer” events in our soul making. The eternal rests upon and is fed by the ephemeral.

    Like

    • Hi Monika,
      Love the quote! It’s bringing us back around to the rootedness and the ground of being, fed by the living, and not only that which we see, but the deep inner core of being.

      Hillman devotes an entire chapter of Healing Fiction to Jung’s ideas, which were always seminal for him, but yes, Hillman had his own emphasis and unique way of amplifying, always though honoring the core of Jung’s ideas.

      This soul stuff as rhizome, beautifully shows soul as a source and storage place of all that enlivens and creates new life. I just love this connection to the rhizome!

      Thank you dear friend!
      Debra

      Like

  4. Reblogged this on LIFE PATHS for Better Endings and commented:
    For today’s Thursday Guest Post, I am reblogging “The Story So Far” in its entirety. This is an excellent post on the Ptero blog about Archetypal Psychology. This post refers in a more detailed way than my own yesterday to James Hillman’s book, HEALING FICTION. HIllman’s approach to archetypal psychotherapy allows individuals to “descend” to the Depths of their own personal unconscious through dreams, active imagination and therapeutic ‘story’-telling. But let’s read from an expert:

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We are in synchrony this week, Debra. I have reblogged some of this one today and will use another of your Hillman quotes on Friday at Better Endings. A good essay! Linda

    Like

      • Debra,
        I’d like to reblog your full piece on “The Story So Far” tomorrow as a guest reblog, ok? My rather simplifying approach (conscious and intended for a public readership) can use some deeper reference for the readers to absorb. L

        Like

  6. Pingback: Carrying On: How Your Life Story Can Be Self-Perpetuating | LIFE PATHS for Better Endings

  7. I had to enjoy the bounty of this meal at several sittings!

    I return to the first course just to say, what lingered with me was found there. If I truly absorbed that first course, perhaps I would have been satiated then and there! 🙂 The idea that if we experienced more deeply, truly, we would have to experience less things and time would even slow – How Amazing that one small kernel of a thought! Arresting! – If I’m understanding that correctly – That idea sets off bells in me. And in contrast I see a world of so many experiences and time so rapid reflecting back to me as an indication of the condition of humans being unable to experience deeply thus wanting more stuff in a shorter time.

    Another idea that hits me strongly is that there is this dude Hillman, with such an expanse of wisdom to share, whom I never heard about until your blogging, and like my recent find of Peter Kingsley and last year’s find of John O’Donahue,give me such a feeling of buoyancy. I feel that as there are such treasures being explored within some human souls, there will be continual hope – such beautiful minds and hearts….
    (Sorry for the avoidance of proper sentence structure:)
    Heart Grateful you, Debra! xo! marga

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Marga!

      That first serving might be my favorite part too.

      “That idea sets off bells in me. And in contrast I see a world of so many experiences and time so rapid reflecting back to me as an indication of the condition of humans being unable to experience deeply thus wanting more stuff in a shorter time. ”

      Love this insight! It suggests to me that we get caught in compulsive repetition just trying to show up! Perhaps the ability to be there, wherever there might be, grounds us into deeper experience, and yes, slows our sense of time as we are absorbed by the moment.

      So many treasures to unearth, Kingsley, O’Donahue, Hillman and others. It’s a pleasure to share and exchange these wonderful gifts with you.

      Much love,
      Debra

      Like

  8. Hi Debra,

    To be honest, this post was a little over my head but I could connect deeply with this quote from Hillman, via my own experience in analysis and our mutual interest in embodiment:

    “Therapy requires the fiction of literal realities as the primary material to work on. It must have the raw in order to cook. So we begin with a classical anamnesis. But this move is not in order to be grounded in facts, but because these factual stories are the primal matter in which the psyche of the patient is stuck.”

    This may be tangential, but it also reminded me of the Brothers Grimm Fairytale “The Spirit in the Bottle” and Jung’s idea that the Spirit in that bottle is the Mercurius or Primal Matter within us all, and its current unconsciousness, that which makes itself known to us first by pain and suffering in a reminder that it is “stuck.” I see a clear congruence to Kundalini here as well. As in the fairytale, unleashing it (it being Primal Matter/Mercurius/Kundalini) can be dangerous unless done with the cleverness and the skill of the alchemist, to make it, and ourselves, malleable to the gifts. I’m sort of obsessed with embodiment and tend to see everything through that lens right now, so forgive me if I’m making far-fetched connections. Either way, I always truly enjoy the challenge of your writings!

    Love,
    Amanda

    Like

    • Hi Amanda,

      I think the post may have been biting off a little more than words can ever chew.

      The book, Healing Fiction, is such a lovely, contemplative read. I happened to pick it (again), and was so struck by the clarity of ideas as Hillman writes them, that I was truly compelled to try to share something of them here.

      Perhaps the gist and grist of the idea here is that we cannot help but live as characters in fiction do, forever influenced by powers that be, although culturally, we must pretend to be “me.” Or, to do otherwise may land you either in a loony bin, or certainly not someone others may choose to have a laugh with. If we can’t agree in the reality of “who we are,” we might as well lock the doors and throw away the key. So, I think the idea that we might be living fictions as part of an concession to the conventions of a confused culture is a bit much for most people to entertain, even as an idea. We believe in our fictional selves to our own detriment, as we adapt newer and more desparate ways to pull the lid on tighter from inside the bottle we think we are trying to open.

      The spell, even when broken, never frees us from all spells as much as it provides an opening to briefly see the show from the perspective of the player and the audience simultaneously. The only way to get out of the theatre is perhaps, to leave our mortal breath behind.

      I hope that doesn’t sound too dismal. It’s not meant to be. For me, unstuckness means to weave in and out of the awareness of the play, and mostly, it allows me to forgive myself and others for the part they are currently playing.

      It also reminds me that the goal is never about leaving the play, as if that would bring happiness. I fear that our culture, especially as it becomes more and more aware of its own fracturing, wants out. There seems to be a lot of disowning going around, whether it be religions, histories, cultures, governments or families, clearly we want out. It’s painful to watch, so, how could anyone want to be in this play?

      Therefore, the option of being above it all, leaving the theatre, refusing the pain of being immersed in a global tragedy that seems bigger than any of us, is very tempting for some.

      Does that make any sense?

      Thanks for inspiring me to think some more about the theme. I love the comparison to the Grimms tale!

      Love,
      Debra

      Like

      • Dear Debra,

        “We believe in our fictional selves to our own detriment, as we adapt newer and more desperate ways to pull the lid on tighter from inside the bottle we think we are trying to open.”
        Eeek. That line could keep me up at night, maybe rightfully so.

        Your whole comment elucidated so much, yet also inspired so many more questions….I think it left me a little stunned. How ever will I thank you!!

        The Dancer and the Dance…All the world’s a stage – for the archetypal energies!

        Talk of “the play” immediately reminded me of a dear Hindu friend of mine. Once, when faced with a very difficult time, this high-functioning man with an aura of peace spoke of (in real time, as in, almost automatically) “trying to understand this part of the Lila,” Lila being the Sanskrit word that translates roughly to “Divine Play.” I wonder how growing up with that frame of reference for the world around you might change how you interact on stage…

        Far from interpreting your explanation of Hillman’s idea as dismal, I more see it as seductively appealing, offering a strange solace in times of misery, almost a relief, and at best, a great deal of compassion, as you mentioned. Beautifully enough, this weaves us back to our conversation about karma as action! On a personal level, is our action, our personal karma, then, best understood as our reaction to our assigned part in the play? As for the macrocosm, too, from the Tao of Physics: Karma is the active principle of the play, the total universe in action, where everything is dynamically connected with everything else. In the words of the Gita, Karma is the force of creation, wherefrom all things have their life.

        My final thought I’m left wondering then, having not read the book, of course 🙂 is Hillman saying the soul really just wants fictions that heal…?

        I can’t thank you enough Debra! I continuously learn so much from you and feel it is truly an honor to engage with you in this way! I strive to one day hold up my end of offering insight in our conversations.

        Love,
        Amanda

        Like

      • Hi Amanda,
        Your comment is so rich, that I am allowing some time to pass absorbing your words for awhile before I respond. But I wanted you to know how inspired I am by it.
        xxx
        Debra

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Amanda,

        I am somewhat familiar with lila, as play in Hinduism, mostly from Alan Watts’ books and think that it fits in nicely with the notion of healing fiction. I would think it an advantage to be aware of the temptation to literalize the idea of a reality as that which is completely objective, and also accessible and to counter the temptation to even try to have an objective perspective with an understanding that our access is limited and always comes through the masks we are wearing.

        This is helpful:

        “In the words of the Gita, Karma is the force of creation, wherefrom all things have their life.”

        That perspective lessens the personal burden and any implication of linear directionality as far as past lives go.

        I think, and of course cannot speak for him, Hillman sees the soul’s desires as wanting to be seen. He often takes his ideas about soul back to a phenomenological level of display. Whether seeing is healing or not might be secondary for him. Seeing brings us deeper into the image and fantasies, or fictions, seeing them for what they are, or at least giving them their due as powers and forces acting in us.

        I think Hillman continuously tried to counter our ego-centricity by giving us ways to be with the phenomena of life, the “what,” rather than they “how” and “why.”

        Soul then, is not something in us, for too often in our modern culture, “in us” means something that belongs to the ego, or whatever we call the notion we have of ourself.

        If we say that we are in soul, and that soul is a perspective that “mediates events” with qualities that provide insight and meaning, through reflection, we give back to the world meaning derived from the things themselves, rather than focusing on what they mean to us, or that we are making the meaning. If we are making meaning, the world is dead. The world itself is given back its liveliness. The world then is ensouled, not just we humans.

        Seeing is essential, way more so than our notion of healing ourselves. When we start with the premise of healing ourselves, the focus turns to notions of what we are and how to change the fiction we call the self. Hillman took a lot of flack for this position, obviously, where psychology is concerned, because the business of psychology is to dig into our sense of being a personal self as if we contain the answers to everything, especially the mystery of who we are (this related to Monika’s post on privacy).

        But, who is the self apart from the knower that we would heal? Hillman wanted to avoid the obvious splitting that happens when we try to imagine who we are apart from the phenomena of how we show up, and what is seen. This can be done by recognizing that the world and what is seen is a much more meatier place to dwell than any loop of self we can conjure up and caught in.

        Amanda, you very much hold up your end here! I love your insights and questions and so enjoy our conversations.

        I am off to attend a bluegrass festival today. I hope you have a great day and I look forward to more of these chats.

        Love,
        Debra

        Like

  9. The happy full tummy after a meal when one just floats a bit in a feeling of warm contentment, not too sleepy, and not too awake…just right 🙂 .

    digestion tames appetite; experience coagulates events…

    Through the practice of precise imaginings and retelling, you may then see how a particular premise is directing the stories conclusion.

    Here is to having the wisdom and courage to a good look at our premises before we get the indigestion provided as a protection to keep us from overeating or eating poisonous things for too long.

    -x.M

    Like

  10. I think he’s saying that the self is a story teller, joining up the story, weaving in the threads that pull together the whole, and that the story becomes ours, or part of us, when we are able to tie in our own responses. So imagination is less fantasy, than an ability to recognize and awaken to life, both outside and inside?

    I hope I have understood this (I may need to read it again). It makes a lot of sense though, processing and experiencing, rather than casting aside the world.

    Like

    • Hi nicci,
      Yes, I think you summarize it nicely. Hillman does though, place great value on imagination and fantasy. My take on him is that he sees imagination as our means for perceiving. Imagining then would not be a special mode of perceiving, but how we see everything.

      Thanks for reading here and especially for leaving a note.
      Debra

      Like

      • Thanks Debra. Rudolph Steiner’s idea of imagination is possibly quite similar then…how we see everything, and in a sense how that wakes us up.

        Like

  11. Hi Debra,

    Thanks for an exquisite digital glimpse into the analog depths. The first quote from Hillman blew me away, and on it went from there. One thread I connected throughout that I enjoyed relates to this Hillman quote: “The self divided is precisely where the self is authentically located.”

    That leapt out because I felt a clear connection to what I think is being described there, and in the post as a whole– wherein we are called to consider our individuality as a perhaps splintered glimpse into an analog depth, and thereby to “inhabit” our lives and dwell within the meaning flowing through them– with the idea I’ve been mulling over quite a bit lately from A Course of Love suggesting we are each individuated extensions of a vast and glorious whole.

    I see this echoed in your description of dreams, where the consciousness we suppose is singular and undifferentiable spontaneously fractures into many to reveal a story, and a meaning, and if I am following all of this correctly the suggestion is that our waking world could be found to be the same, and to be the movement of “a universe much bigger than anything we can imagine, that seeks a living voice through the unique particularity and peculiarity of your circumstances.”

    In efforts to make leaps of connection between two digital points in the analog field, I find in this meaning considerable reconciliation with the ideas in A Course of Love suggesting we would do well to recognize within ourselves the culmination of the “story” of Creation. The notion there is that we are the fulfillment of a great story, and in recognizing such, able to embody the movement of that story in our very lives with greater fullness and “play”, to borrow a word used here.

    I hope I haven’t misinterpreted or overlaid too much of my own perception… Perhaps a third reading is in order. Responding seems a very helpful digestive aid, at any rate.

    Michael

    Like

    • Hi Michael,

      Just a quick note to say that so many current ideas between very diverse friends, including you, have contributed much to my thinking and attempts to articulate the ideas here.

      I love your comments and wanted to reply to your post I just read on Self and purpose. I hope you can see a bit of a response to your post here.

      This self stuff is very tricky business, yes? …as is our drive to tease out truth. I think I am finding that there is a sense of contentment in certain ideas and understandings.

      But, as well, there remains a willingness to suffer the birth pangs of what ever is still there waiting to be born. Also, as long as suffering remains a part of this realm, a feeling of incompleteness remains.

      I love how so many different paths do converge. It affirms something deep in our common humanity that is hard to ignore!
      Thank you muchly!

      Like

      • Hi Debra,

        Yes, I felt something of a response to my earlier post in your writing here. I think it helped direct me into it and connect with the threads of it. This self stuff is indeed tricky, but glorious– not in a self-aggrandizing sense, but in the sense of a scientist who has wrestled with a problem for two decades and finally glimpsed a new type of order never before considered.

        The convergence of paths is wondrous, and one of the signposts I take to mean I’m moving closer to the heart of it all. There’s increasing richness of connection it seems, as the orbit shrinks, and we discover the commonality around which and from which we each take our differentiated/individuated being.

        Michael

        Liked by 1 person

  12. What if every aspect, each conflict, plot and sub plot were understood less as the me I think I am and more as an unseen force of character living through me? Unseen force meaning, the characters and personifications inherent in a universe much bigger than anything we can imagine, that seeks a living voice through the unique particularity and peculiarity of your circumstances.

    I really like this ( as does Ka I see! ). It is quite a concept that deserves ample contemplation and ” digestion”.

    Thanks Debra,

    xx Linda

    Like

  13. Debra,
    “What if every aspect, each conflict, plot and sub plot were understood less as the me I think I am and more as an unseen force of character living through me?” and the “insighting power of mind…” Love and Love!

    You have brilliantly woven your thoughts with those of Hillman’s while expressing the fundamental mystery of identity.
    xx Ka

    Like

  14. Debra,
    I think I need to read this a few times to digest everything in this. But I have papers due tomorrow and that is the priority. Mundane as it is, it is my stage for this moment in time.
    Beautiful work!
    Jim

    Like

Your comments welcome here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s