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Soul in America by Mark Napack, LCPC

Sunday, January 14, 2018 8:30 AM | Jung Society of Washington (Administrator)

“My soul, where are you? Do you hear me? I speak, I call to you—are you there?” (C. G. Jung, The Red Book)

“There is no country on earth where the ‘power-word,’ the magic formula, the slogan or advertisement is more effective than in America.” (C. G. Jung, “Mind and Earth,” Civilization in Transition, para. 102)

Soul is hard to find in America.  Indeed, America is hard to find. 
             
               Hard to find;
                  wild strawberries   swans   herons   deer
                            those things we long to be
                  metamorphosed in and out of our sweet sour skins —
                  Hard to find; free form men and women
                            harps   hope   food   mandalas   meditation
              Hard to find; lost not found   rare as radium   rent free
                  uncontrollable   uncanny   a chorus
                  Jesus   Buddha   Moses   founding fathers   horizons
                  hope  (in hiding)
Hard to find; America   

—Daniel Berrigan, S.J., “America is Hard to Find."

And yet, “America” is everywhere.  A veritable spiritus mundi, a 25/8 whirlwind of projection and “power-words,” as Jung would say, a sense that the advertisement of self is the same as self and the slogan confects the soul.  In such a situation, the soul goes into hiding.

Jung’s own words to his lost soul are also ours, in this time and this place.  Are we not called, through our individual and socio-economic symptoms, to a journey of recovery of soul from the exile to which it has been banished?  Standing in our way is spiritus mundi, that collective apotheosis of ego-enflaming inflations.  Perhaps the first thing we need to be clear about is that anima mundi can be distinguished from spiritus mundi.  Although W. B. Yeats understood spiritus mundi in a manner similar to the collective unconscious, when “a vast image of Spiritus Mundi” troubled his sight in his celebrated poem, "The Second Coming," this “shape with lion body and the head of a man, / a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,” embodied counter-values of chaos and nightmare.  One could say that as “Things fall apart” and structures dismantle, we are washed up on a new shore where we may find our souls in the darkness of the ruins.

We have come a long way from the anima mundi as described in Plato’s Timaeus, where our anima is “the consubstantial scintilla, or spark of the Anima Mundi, the world soul (Jung, CW 11, para. 759).  Still, the question of soul persists and Jung’s work is a singular effort in soul recovery in a soulless time.  Where do we go?  What do we do in the face of the Cronos-like images of spiritus mundi?  Turn away and turn toward.  There are two types of images. The first are those whose splinter psychic logic is to fixate and possess, seduce and misuse.  In traditional thought, these have been referred to as idols—e.g., the golden calf or golden whatever.  The second type of image is the symbol which relates things which are opposed and apart, does not collapse otherness and even opens to transcendence.  In traditional thought, these have been referred to as icons or even sacramental realities—e.g., the imago dei which human beings are in their diversity and unity.  This transcendence-immanence of symbols is the way of the soul and soul-finding.  As always relating to something/someone other, the soul and its symbol language is radically capax alterius and is never reduced to the agenda of the power complex of the ego and its “power-thoughts” and “power-words.”

America is hard to find, though it is everywhere, and soul is hard to find, perhaps in a Babylonian exile.  There are strong and gentle traditions of prophetic, artistic, and religious soul in America.  Are they now in a reliquary, having been drowned out by a crass and vulgar  materialism and a lack of conversation?  Conversation itself assumes a discourse of self and other and hence a sense of the symbolic.  It is a back and forth where one is not collapsed into the other and the other is not collapsed into one.  Can these soul in America traditions be recovered by the re-beginning of a conversation and a venturing forth of the symbolic sense?  And are we on a threshold that we but need to cross in order to come back home, “And know the place for the first time” (T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets)?

As I ventured forth in these brief musings with a poem, I conclude with one.  In the spirit of the symbolic conversation where the way of the other is the path of soul-finding, I look outside of America, since it is hard to find, in order to find soul, “On the Threshold.”

Be happy if the wind inside the orchard
carries back the tidal surge of life:
here, where a dead web
of memories sinks under,
was no garden, but a reliquary.

The whir you’re hearing isn’t flight,
but the stirring of the eternal womb;
watch this solitary strip of land
transform into a crucible.

There’s fury over the sheer wall.
If you move forward you may come upon
the phantom who will save you:
histories are shaped here, deeds
the endgame of the future will dismantle.

Look for a flaw in the net that binds us
tight, burst through, break free!
Go, I’ve prayed for this for you—now my thirst
will be easy, my rancor less bitter …

—Eugene Montale, “On the Threshold,” trans. by Jonathan Galassi.

Mark Napack, LCPC  is a Jungian informed psychotherapist in private practice in North Bethesda, MD.  With an academic foundation in Comparative Literature from Columbia University, he has earned Masters degrees from Loyola University in Maryland and Fordham University, and a post-graduate degree from Catholic University of America.  A long time lecturer and instructor in areas of philosophy, religion, and spirituality with a concern for psychological integration, Mark has presented at national and international conferences.  His work has appeared in various scholarly publications.  His current interests have to do with threshold experiences of self and soul in literature and Jungian psychology.

Comments

  • Sunday, January 14, 2018 12:46 PM | Oxana Holtmann
    Your message, Mark, landed powerfully. I experience your blog as a treasure chest full of gems where I often felt pulled forward and inward in my desire to unpack and reflect more. This thought stands out for me, "Conversation itself assumes a discourse of self and other and hence a sense of the symbolic. It is a back and forth where one is not collapsed into the other and the other is not collapsed into one." I also keep coming back to the idea of the soul hiding by being overwhelmed by the demands of the ego.
    Link  •  Reply
    • Monday, January 15, 2018 9:18 AM | Mark Napack
      Thank you for being a part of the conversation, Oxana. The conversation being encouraged here is one which invites pause, interiority, so that there is space to discover new things and even change in a manner which makes us more truly ourselves and more truly related to others.
      Link  •  Reply
  • Sunday, January 14, 2018 3:24 PM | April Barrett
    There is such a power in poetry to move soul to break free of the net that binds us too tightly to cultural expectations. And if the soul of America is as hard to find as wild strawberries, which I never dared to take and eat, I have missed a sacred communion.
    Thank you for the reminder, Mark. Your expression is much appreciated.
    Link  •  Reply
    • Monday, January 15, 2018 9:24 AM | Mark Napack
      Poetic modes of discourse do have such power to liberate, April. Part of what binds us are our habitual modes of language and discourse. To reflect in a different way is required. Poetry and meditative prose need not result in an empty aestheticism but can lead to understanding and care for the soul and world. Thank you for getting it!
      Link  •  Reply
      • Monday, January 29, 2018 11:51 AM | James Fox
        Thank you Mark and April. Its a great pleasure to read both your comments.
        Jimmy
        Link  •  Reply

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