Book Review: Care of the Soul: How to add Depth and Meaning to Your Every­day Life

Thomas Moore (1992), Piatkus ISBN 0 7499 1168 9.

Moore takes the Renaissance approach of not separating psychology from religion and cites Jung’s remark that every psychological problem is ul­timately a matter of religion.1 For Moore spiritual life is necessary for psycho­logical health, yet he recognizes that excessive and ungrounded spirituality can lead to compulsive and violent behaviour. Care of the soul, he says, is the answer, for it is midway between understanding and consciousness, an instrument of neither body nor mind but of the imagination. He points to Ficino’s observation of the polarizing split of spirit and body, religion and the world, spirituality and materialism. The soul, he says, can offer a middle ground where healing this split can begin.2 The cure for excessive material­ism is to get soul back into spirituality.

Moore has a delightful and gentle view of therapy, the cure of souls, which, he says, consists of bringing imagination to areas of the person that are devoid of it. These areas have hitherto expressed themselves by becoming symptoms. Lack of care for the soul is felt in “emptiness, meaninglessness, vague depression, disillusionment about marriage, family and rela­tionship, loss of values, yearning for personal fulfillment and a hunger for spirituality.” For psychotherapists working with clients in the second half of life, say aged 35 years and over, these are familiar words, expressing prob­lems of midlife transition. Rabbi Kushner says much the same thing in his book with wonderful title, When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough. Like Moore his answer is care of the soul and living in the moment.

We care for our soul, says Moore, by cultivating and appreciating values such as the myth of the family and childhood; by working through the “heal­ing poisons” of jealousy and envy and the “gift” of depression. He urges us to resist the temptation to improve the present by restoring the past and face today’s challenges. This is valuable whether one conceptualizes it as work­ing through the dissolution of old ego defense mechanisms that are no longer needed or gaining insights into the regressive restoration of the Persona. To use soul is to value the unconscious. To get away from the com­fort of consensus reality and intellectual certainty which protects us from mystery and wonder.

Care of the soul requires techne, skill, attention and art; it requires ordinary details carried out with mindfulness and contemplation. Pausing is important. “Dull would he be of soul who could pass by a sight so touching in its majesty.”3 Jungians know that dreams are vital to the life of the soul. They should be treat­ed with wonder, mystery and awe and experienced imaginatively.

Here is a quietly passionate book, gentle and fierce at the same time. Reading it one is convinced that this man practises what he advocates. This book deserves time and reflection. To gobble it fast, searching for answers is to spoil the experience. Indulge yourself. Indulge your soul.

Anthony Wilson

References

1. Cf. Jung, C. G. Psychotherapy or the Clergy, and Psychoanalysis and the Cure of Souls both in Psychology and Religion: West and East Collected Works vol. 11, Routledge.

2. Ficino, Marsilio (C15) The Book of Life, trans. Charles Boer, (1980) Spring Publications.

3. “Upon Westminster Bridge.” William Wordsworth.