The Friends of Jung brought Thomas Moore to Tucson in February to speak at an organizational fundraiser. I confess I had heard of him but never read his most well-known book “Care of the Soul.” He is a former monk, religious scholar, and Jungian psychoanalyst, the title of the talk was, “A Soulful Life in an Unsettled World.” This was before the pandemic. While there was plenty to be alarmed at then, it seems like another era already.
I took copious notes. He is a marvelous speaker. It relates well to what we do with our contemplative practices, and expands horizons as well as we live into this time of significant upheaval. Here is a rough synopsis. I have tried to keep it simple. I will loop this back to Vedic Astrology at the end.
He began by mentioning that he had found a letter Carl Jung had written to someone in Tucson; a reader of one of his more obscure books who was appreciative of Jung’s thoughts in the text. Jung commented and even complained that many people did not share his enthusiasm, that he was aware that his ideas were frightening or scary to people, he noted that the “world of the intellect is afraid” of the depth he was exploring. Moore then asked us to consider for ourselves, “are my ideas frightening to people..?”
In general, Moore was starting to talk about dealing with anxiety; really dealing with anxiety, from a depth perspective. He talked about it from his study of Jung and his own living into the spirit of Jung.
One of the stories he told was from early on in his own academic career. He was being considered for a Fulbright Scholarship and the professor noticed that he had already read all of Jung’s work. The professor asked him if he knew that Jung was considered “crazy,” that he did magic and practiced alchemy. Moore didn’t get the scholarship and joked that it was perhaps because the man suspected him to be similarly in-route.
“The intellect is afraid.”
Moore began to talk about Jung’s emphasis that we need to get in touch with the extra-ordinary, to get in touch with Eros or Desire as a way to contact this; that this was the necessary direction to abate the anxiety and depression prevalent today. Moore also gave context to Jung’s life which involved the rise of Fascism and his own precarious situation as an intellectual emigre.
He described how yes, Jung did “magic,” that he valued mystery, that he saw these as ways to confront the unconscious, figure it out through play rather than thought.
He went on to speak about the Jungian concept of Anima- the feminine aspect of the soul we all have; that the voices and images that come from there have to be listened to, expressed in some form for us to be whole. Anxiety is about not being in touch with the power of the soul, not being able to perform alchemy- transforming things elementally- not being able to listen inwardly or get the image out. He joked that “STEM education was not good for magic…”
He emphasized that images were for power not adornment, that art and poetry were from other realms- that it was vital to create, play, be goofy, eccentric (outside the circle), crazy: “talk to your dead people”, “enjoy your craziness,” “do what your dreams tell you to do,” “people should worry about your sanity sometimes.” He noted that Plato had philosophized that religion, love, intuition, and art were all forms of madness.
The primal need is to be in touch with your power, to follow your inspiration, to follow your desire. Moore asked, “What would YOU do?” “There is no answer, find your way in your life to your power.”
He spoke some about Dark Eros as well, the realms of aggression, evil, ego and worldly power. He suggested anxiety was a form of masochism, self-harm through a limited ego, lack of imagination, or dimensionality. He talked about the reality of both evil/good, darkness/light and the imperative to face the dark side of shadow otherwise the goodness and vision of light was merely a defense, not facing the truth of our being both human and divine.
While he didn’t talk extensively about shadow, he did talk about the need for spirituality to have both a vertical axis and horizontal axis. He implied that in secular culture we tended to live too horizontally, and with religion and un-examined spirituality we could live too vertically. We need both-the ability to transcend and to sink roots, to have a deep and broad humanity and faith in transcendence as well, he asked, “Can I trust myself?” “Do I trust life?” “Do I have a big enough vision for life, enough to hold tragedy (mystery, paradox)?” If not, there is some work to do.
Again, not talking much about shadow he did point to it as something that must be integrated. That innocence was not ideal, that sentimentalizing was a form of denial that we had to suspect our motives and our assumptions creatively. Here are some other questions he posed:
Can we not act out our shadow but be with it?
Can we look at our desire to make a lot of money?
Can we look at our sexuality in the light?
Can we catch ourselves doing something stupid? Or being too clever?
Can we consider that we are being manipulated by our own story?
Can we listen to people who point difficult things out to us?
Can we catch ourselves when we are filling space, spouting?
Can we leave room for mystery, emptiness, ignorance?
This is the last piece from my notes that I will share. When asked about psychedelics, their place in the exploration of consciousness or soul he was measured. Yes, these can be ritualized and used, yes they have had a place in traditional cultures and may have some relevance today. Yet he seemed to want to distinguish what he understood about soul work from the realm of personal seeking, spiritual experience, self-expression. As a student of the mystics myself, he was pointing towards mystical experience that was somehow earned or yearned for rather than stimulated. That we had to dig, that it was there, all of us had the potential to tap into the eternal. He quoted William Blake, “We are secretaries, the authors are eternity.”
Now, I tried to be brief but there is a lot here. Plenty to ponder and play with as we shelter in place and consider how to be right now and going forward in the midst and after-math of this pandemic.
I will write about Vedic Astrology next time. I will leave you with a teaser. Carl Jung actually called astrology the “sum of all the psychological knowledge of antiquity.” And the origins of the word influenza, actually means “influence of the stars.”