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James Hillman: A Psyche the Size of the Earth

An edited synopsis based on James Hillman's introduction to Ecopsychology (1995, eds. Roszak, Gomes & Kanner).
QUOTE: "Moreover, an individual's harmony with his or her "own deep self" requires not merely a journey to the interior but a harmonizing with the environmental world. The deepest self cannot be confined to "in here" because we can't be sure it is not also or even entirely "out there"!

I'm thinking more about relationships between our dispositions and our positions; that ugly environments may contribute to internal malaise.

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Comment by Barque on April 20, 2012 at 12:06pm

Hi Ian et al.

I came across this blog post recently and thought it may contribute to our conversation about inside/outside soul:

Ecopsychology: Finding Our Home in the Earth

It mentions James Hillman and anima mundi, as well as the Ecopsychology book. I like the photograph of the bridge along the coast.

Comment by Barque on March 27, 2012 at 12:25am

Hi Rita, Thank you for sharing Thich Nhat Hanh's description of the piece of paper. Hopefully one doesn't have to be a poet to see the connection between paper and cloud or paper and sun. If each of us takes time to see how interdependent life is, we may have different reactions to things.

I like Seed's article too, especially when he writes, "As long as the environment is 'out there', we may leave it to some special interest group like environmentalists to protect while we look after our 'selves'. The matter changes when we deeply realise that the nature 'out there' and the nature 'in here' are one and the same, that the sense of separation no matter how pervasive, is nonetheless totally illusory. I would call the need for such realisation the central psychological or spiritual challenge of our age." I think this is partly what Hillman expressed.

Comment by Rita Abreu Costa on March 26, 2012 at 10:05am

Thank you for you comment, Barque!!! I liked very much the article by John Seed. He organizes in words so many thoughts and feelings that I often have :)

His article made me remember the story of the cloud floating in each sheet of paper, by Thich Nhat Hanh.

I leave here two different links for that story:

Comment by Barque on March 22, 2012 at 1:23am

Hi Ian,

There are 31 years between Suicide and the Soul (1964) and Hillman's introduction to Ecopsychology (1995), eds. Roszak, Gomes & Kanner. It's understandable his views morphed during this period as he watched our environments get worse. We've had 17 years since his introduction with few improvements. In two of the lectures I recommend, Tarnas describes Hillman's frustration with a "Titanic" view that analysis is two people enclosed in a tiny, windowless cabin on board cruise ship Earth while the vessel is rudderless and directionless. Seed alludes to this image in his article.

Here are two additional sources to help with Hillman's positions:

by John Seed
"Some of the best thinking on Ecopsychology comes from the neo-Jungian James Hillman. In his “100 Years of Psychotherapy and the World’s Getting Worse”, Hillman blames a lot of the social and environmental problems that we face on the fact that the people who should be out there changing the world are in therapy instead. They treat their pain as a symptom of a personal pathology rather than as a goad to political action to bring about social change. Therapists create patients instead of citizens."

The Second Esalen Institute Invitational Conference
June 26 - July 1, 1994

Herbicides may be more dangerous than suicides. D

Comment by Ian on March 17, 2012 at 12:35pm

Thank you for your kind and patient response to my half-formed ideas. I admit I am simply pushing against this Ecopsychology intro with something I feel I understand better. I just need to read Anima Mundi and watch the videos you’ve recommended! But your thoughts have helped me see what I’m confused about more clearly. I am happy to see the differences between Hillman’s earlier and later ideas as arising from the transition he describes in that quote from Anima Mundi rather than as incompatibilities. Some further comments:

Every time I go back to Suicide and the soul I am struck by a flood of ways of talking about psyche that differentiate the interior in ways his Ecopsychology intro is questioning. One passage speaks particularly strongly to me (the one I quoted before, with a bit extra):

 “Inner and outer are kept apart so that later they may be re-united appropriately, the soul expressing itself in the world, and outer life feeding the inner man. The suicide threat is a confusion of inner and outer. We suffer when we muddle psychic reality with concrete people and events, thus symbolising life and distorting its reality.” (77)

1. My (confused and badly worded) question was trying to get hold of the following non-problem: given the psyche’s special relationship with death, whose death is the soul relating to if the psyche is the size of the earth? The more important problem for me is that as he points out the meaning of ‘inner’ has rightly become much less clear, so what happens to the insight into suicide in the above quote? The differentiation of the interior seems vital to his analysis of suicide, but the introduction emphasises the undoing of this differentiation. (Perhaps I just need to read ‘Anima Mundi’!)


2. “Psyche is expressed through particular material things.” Seems exactly right to me. The real difficulty for me is adjusting to the apparent moralising of ecopsychology (not that I disagree with it); suddenly (well, it appears sudden to me, not having read Hillman’s writings in the decades between Suicide and the soul and this introduction!) there is all this moralising – how did that get there? He took every care not to moralise against suicide, but suddenly herbicide is not OK!? :-)



3. Another angle on this question is given by the quote from Anima Mundi, which helps me with whatever transition Hillman’s thinking underwent: "My practice tells me that I can no longer distinguish clearly between neurosis of self and neurosis of world, psychopathology of self and psychopathology of world…” So psychopathology is not solely in personal reality, but is found in the world; shouldn’t Hillman’s preferred approach to such psychopathology to be to honour it in some form? No doubt it was. Time to read some more recent work!

Comment by Barque on March 16, 2012 at 12:08am

Hi Ian,
I'm not sure that the early Hillman is incompatible with the later Hillman. I see extensions through his career, moving from the interior to the exterior.

1. I don't understand this question. The Hades perspective, it seems to me, is possible in the formulation of ecopsychology, if by the Hades perspective we mean a deep perspective. Don't you think the Hades perspective would acknowledge the degradation of the planet, the extinction of species, the depletion of non-renewable resources, looking at the world other than as "resources" to be consumed, cut down, scooped out, ripped off, etc.? It would include cities as "concrete jungles" without green spaces and human proportions? The Hades perspective (Tarnas talks about this in the 4th class) is the view from underneath, from below to counter a one-sided spirit, light, progress, consumption, domination perspective.

2. Historically soul is associated with earth, matter, body ... The three overlapping circles show Body, Soul, Spirit in a vertical stack. Psyche is expressed through particular material things. I don't see psyche's size as literal size. I see this phrase as meaning that psyche pervades all.

3. You could say psyche is the size of the universe, the size of the universe and heaven, the size of the universe and Hades ;-) These aren't literal dimensions or quantifications. I see the phrase moving psyche out of the individual, extending the notion that psyche or "a soul" is confined within each person. You may enjoy Hillman's essay Anima Mundi: The Return of the Soul to the World, first published in 1982 and subsequently revised. At the beginning of it Hillman quotes Sendivogius: "The greater part of the soul is outside the body." Thomas Moore also quotes William Blake: "Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that called Body is a portion of Soul discerned by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age."

I strongly recommend the Tarnas lectures to help with Hillman's approaches, styles, rhetorics, meanings, especially the last 2 lectures where Tarnas shares a Western historical overview for Hillman's work.

My understanding of Moore's approach that you admire seems strong in Jungian therapy: Live with aspects separately and more deeply until they create a third alternative. Marion Woodman talks about wholeness coming from learning to "hold the tension of the opposites." There is still change but one doesn't collapse the tensions too quickly or too easily to remove tensions. One stays with the tension as a creative, imaginative response emerges. Your instincts may want to differentiate psychology and ecology, however it seems there will always be psychological interpretations, psychic mediations of how we see ecology, how we see the world, what we'll use for information, in-formation. In his Anima Mundi essay, Hillman writes, "Yet psychology reflects the world it works in; this implies that the return of soul to psychology, the renaissance of its depths, calls for a return of psychic depths to the world."

A little further, Hillman shares "My practice tells me that I can no longer distinguish clearly between neurosis of self and neurosis of world, psychopathology of self and psychopathology of world. Moreover, it tells me that to place neurosis and psychopathology solely in personal reality is a delusional repression of what is actually, realistically, being experienced. This further implies that my theories of neurosis and categories of psychopathology must be radically extended if they are not to foster the very pathologies which my job is to ameliorate."

I see ecopsychology as part of this extension, willy-nilly and structured. D.

Comment by Ian on March 11, 2012 at 7:04am

Thanks for your response. I am in complete agreement with these ideas about our relationship to the natural world, but am still troubled by incompatibilities with what Hillman wrote in earlier works.

(1) If the psyche is the size of the earth, what does death mean? This is why the Hades perspective seems impossible in this formulation of ecopsychology.

(2) Hillman's doctrine of the reality of the soul/psyche loses its radical nature when we associate soul with earth; psyche and earth seem entirely different in kind to me, yet to speak of psyche's size confuses matters. I know they are still distinct in what Hillman writes here, but they seem much less so!

(3) The related loss of boundaries - 'no cuts' - seems similarly problematic: if psyche can be the size of the earth, why not the size of the universe, or the size of the universe and heaven combined?

It's not really my intention to be a critic here - but comparing these writings of Hillman's is helping me understand his early stuff better, and to find what I like and don't like in his ideas. As is obvious, I prefer, "Inner and outer are kept apart so that later they may be re-united appropriately, the soul expressing itself in the world, and outer life feeding the inner man." (Suicide and the Soul, 77) to "psychology merges willy-nilly with ecology"!

I've always admired what I found in Thomas Moore's writings one day (perhaps you can suggest where I read this?), when he recommended that instead of trying to reconcile different or competing aspects of our lives that we live these aspects separately and more deeply. My instincts tell me that some principle like this should also apply to working with both psychology and ecology - we should differentiate them rather than try to hold them together.

Comment by Barque on March 7, 2012 at 12:23am

Hi Ian,

I haven't spent the time you have thinking about this: Is there any room in this way of thinking of soul and in ecopsychology for Hades' perspective? I offer an initial response. I think Hillman's focus on the hidden aspects of Hades aligns well with ecopyschology (I first typed echopsychology that may be an entirely different discussion). There is so much about ecopsychology, nature that we don't know but we proceed as if we know everything about our natural world. We attack nature, we exploit nature, we use nature but how do we understand our relationship to nature? How do we acknowledge the hidden features? Also, Hillman's focus on death could sensitize us as we look at ecopsychology in terms of loss, extraction, waste, etc. Our current buzz words include sustainable, renewable, recycling but what do we mean by these terms? In societies where time is viewed as linear, there is a beginning and an end. The end is often a refuse dump, a piling up of the discarded, rejected, old, and unusable. In societies where time is cyclical, re-cycling is meaningful as a significant cultural value. There is little refuse or waste, or waste is accorded value for its transformation. From Thomas Moore, I imagine that ecology is one of those current areas where the complex is split and we need to bring various interests, sides and perspectives together if we are going to have a sustainable future. Zeus and Hades are brothers. Let's consider the overviews and undersides of our environments at the same time.

I posted Richard Tarnas speaking about Hillman on the Barque: Thomas Moore as Catalyst blog. I've only listened to the two parts of the introductory lecture so far. It has helped my understanding of Hillman. You may enjoy the segments, too.

Comment by Ian on March 6, 2012 at 6:11am

Thanks for this link. After reading it, I know I understand even less than I thought! I've started reading The Dream and the Underworld, and am particularly struck by the section 'Hades' in Chapter 3 (pp29-30):

"there is no time in the underworld. There is no decay, no progress, no change of any sort...the upper and lower worlds are the same, only the perspectives differ. There is only one and the same universe, coexistent and synchronous, but one brother's view [that of Zeus] sees it from above and through the light, the other [that of Hades] from below and into its darkness...All soul processes, everything in the psyche, moves towards Hades."

I thought I was beginning to understand this, helped particularly by the concept of 'conscious dying' in Suicide and the Soul. But in the Introduction to Ecopsychology, I see that "the deepest levels of the psyche merge with the physical body and the physical stuff of the world" - and now with the embrace of the soul of the world Hades seems to have disappeared. So my question, which I'm sure reveals how little I've understood (I know nothing of ecopsychology!): Is there any room in this way of thinking of soul and in ecopsychology for Hades' perspective?

Sorry I didn't get to your thought about relationships between dispositions and positions - I intended to, but found it stretched me further than my understanding permitted!

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