By Hugh Arthurs
Are not men taught from childhood to put aside their pain, to show no hurt, to be strong?
Aggression, dominance, assertiveness, success are all rewarded. Violence gains ends and achieves power. It is disapproved of in words but accepted and glorified in war and remembrance. Power is seen as a prerequisite to success. Our values reach upward to greater success, to more power, to even greater heights.
“Go ahead, get ahead, do it. It’s only when that breaks down, when depression comes in and you can’t get up and do it, when you feel beaten, oppressed, knocked back … then something moves and you begin to feel yourself as a soul.” (1)
All of our society, male society is geared toward avoiding the feeling of powerlessness, avoiding a sense of oppression. This is our dark side. Rather than feel our own helplessness, we will fight. Rather than feel depression we will oppress others. We trade our pain and our hurt for aggression. We put our pain “out there”, outside, onto the other. We put away our soul. We have no heart then to feel the pain of the world.
What have we done, we men? Are we terrorists? We who people the armies of the world. We devise the tortures.
We look with soulless eyes across the famine stricken lands. We look down from our mountain heights at the last agonies of the people. We watch the death throes of the cities.
When our view of the world is, that imagination is trivial and even dangerous, that fantasy is unimportant, that aesthetics is just for artists, that soul only belongs to church and priests, that we must adapt to the external world and that that world is dead, soulless; then the consequences are terrifying. (2).
This is our world. This is the real world. This is the world of men. A world inanimate, without soul. Peopled by men without hope. Without soul we are lost to ourselves. Without soul we are blind to the world. We make no connection to another. We see obstacles, difficulties, illusion.
What is this soul we search for? “It is a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint towards things rather than the thing itself.” (3)
Mind and Spirit
Soul can, perhaps, be recognised by its qualities. To soul belong Mind and Spirit. In soul we find heart, life and warmth. Here is humanness, individuality, purpose, joy and wisdom.
With soul also go the darker aspects. Anger and rage are hers. Hurt and pain and loss are the depths of the soul. Here we find god and death and our demons.
Soul is the deepening of events into experience. It is an opening, a receptivity to the world. Soul is open, it is female, it is anima.
Where I allow this soulfulness with another I meet their soul. I recognise their own deepening. In this I can experience the joy of connection and of contact. I am brought to awareness of separation and parting, death.
Soul is that quality by which we are in contact with our world. To be in such contact is to be in touch with our own mortality and our humanness. Soul is not air and light, it contains the shadow.
It is this shadow in our soul that men so fear. This is the shadow of our own destructiveness. We find our anger and our hurt. We find our intolerance and our guilt, our abusiveness and our wickedness. Here, sometimes we also find our joy.
These and more are our demons that we deny. We push them out into the world to believe we are free of them. Thus we demonise that which surrounds us. We demonise the other, then we can be “holy” and can burn the “heretic”.
When we deny our personal demons, when we refuse dialogue with our shadow, we lose connection with our personal underworld. Then we are in danger of being possessed by the very demons we thought we had overcome. In the words of Rollo May:
‘The integrated daimonic pushes a person towards (a) universal structure of meaning as shown in dialogue. But daimon possession requires that the daimonic remains impersonal. The former makes the vitality of the daimonic available for the use of the self: The latter projects the daimonic outside one’s self on someone or something else.” (4)
In our western christian tradition soul is identified with spirit alone. This “spirit” is a pale ethereal thing, devoid of all earthiness. It is some indefinable “essence”, trapped in a body and eager for escape. It is a wispish, wimpish thing, longing for a promised reward and petulantly resentful of this earthbound body to which it is forced to be attached.
It is through the denial of our connection to our earth, to our personal demons, to our own underworld and through the elevation of this “spirit” that men have lost their soul. The worship of this “spirit” speaks contempt for the body.
Then the body, the earth and all it contains become merely obstacles on the road the “transcendence” (5).
How do we find our soul again? Perhaps only when we feel our own hopelessness will we come to question how we act. When getting up, getting out, doing, no longer works, when power begins to crumble, maybe only then will we change.
The dark step into the shadow is as difficult for us to take as it is for us to acknowledge the power we have wielded over the world and over women. To step into the shadow is to step into our own pain without inflicting pain on another.
It is to feel our own powerlessness without oppressing another. It is to feel our own despair and not deny another’s hope. In life, in therapy, to acknowledge that which we deny is the beginning of change. By this acknowledgement we may stir what is most real, that which moves secretly in our depths.
1. Hillman. J. Inter Views. Spring Pub. Dallas.
2. Hillman. J. The Essential James Hillman. Routledge. Lon.
3. May. R. Love and Will. Fontana.
4. Condren. M. The Serpent & The Goddess. Harper & Rowe NY.
5. Campbell. J. The Masks of God. Vol.111 Arkana. NY.
6. Buber. M. The Way of Response. Shocken Books NY.
“Shadow and Soul” is the title and theme of a workshop for men facilitated by Hugh Arthurs. Phone 302187 for further information. Hugh is a psychotherapist in private practice in Dublin.