In Regards to Re-ensouling the World

July 1, 2013

James Hillman’s words have permeated my dreams. As I reflect on my dreams and the image-scape of my sub-conscious mind, I am recurringly driving down a road along the California coast in awe of the majesty of the rocky cliffs falling into the sea. The overwhelming grandeur of the natural world sweeps through me, and I begin to feel that the rhythm of the waves pounding against the rocks mimics the journey of my blood pulsing from my heart. In waking from this very real dream, I find myself seated in the soul of the world.


In his essay, Anima Mundi: The Return of the Soul to the World, Hillman writes,

A world without soul offers no intimacy. Things are left out in the cold, each object by definition cast away even before it is manufactured, lifeless litter and junk, taking its value wholly from my consumptive desire to have and to hold, wholly dependent on the subject to breathe it into life with personal desire. When particulars have no essential virtue, then my own virtue as a particular depends wholly and only on my subjectivity or on your desire for me: I must be desirable, attractive, a sex-object, or win importance and power. For without these investments in my particular person, coming either from your subjectivity or my own, I too am but a dead thing among dead things, potentially forever lonely… the world without soul can never offer intimacy, never return my glance, never look at me with appeal, with gratitude, nor relieve the essential isolation of my subjectivity.


Perhaps the relief from subjectivity ultimately comes from making every single thing its own subject. By naming something “object” we immediately place it outside of ourselves, and therefore give ourselves the opportunity to make decisions about it rather than to simply be with it. This seems to be the double-edged sword of the faculty of reason hard at work. As we try to get closer to the world around us, we ultimately distance ourselves by making everything outside of ourselves the “other.” Just as when in relationship we claim feeling tossed aside like an object, or objectified by another being so to do we demean the Anima Mundi by placing it outside of ourselves, and by closing our eyes to the fact that it is even there at all.


The consequence of this misplaced dualism is that there is no longer any wonder in a “thing” aside from what it can do for us. There is no longer any wonder in a relationship aside from how it can serve us.  No more reveling in the fact that something was created at all, or in the beauty that connection is found where it had previously been lying still.


But how do we sit with something that seemingly came from nothing? How do we listen to, and learn from something whose communication is so slight? What, exactly, can plastic tell me? As Hillman points out, this “object’s” existence alone speaks loudly enough as a symptom of the state of the natural world, and humanity’s relationship to it as its captor rather than its co-creator.  He writes, “The great wound in the red earth, whether in my dream or in my neighborhood, is still a site of wrenching upheaval, appealing for an aesthetic as much as a hermeneutic response.”  In my mind, “The great wound in the red earth…” must be a mirror image of the great wound in the red heart. Perhaps this is a wound in the personal heart that needs tending and dedication. Perhaps this is a wound in the ethereal heart that needs our thoughts and healing energy sent its way. Hillman’s point, I believe, is that there is no difference between the two – that when there is a wound in one, there is inextricably a wound in the other. As Hillman states, in order to re-imagine our current picture of the world it takes a re-entering into “…the Platonic cosmos which always recognizes that the soul of the individual can never advance beyond the soul of the world, because they are inseparable, the one always implicating the other.”


And it is a move into the heart that will bridge the gap in cognition between the human heart and the world’s heart. In yoga the heart is said to be the seat of the self – the small self as well as the large Self. There is a light there that is always shining. It never flickers or wavers or ever goes out, and that light is the same in each being and thing. The only difference is in the packaging.  In The Thought of the Heart, Hillman writes that “Every move we make, phrase we utter, is confession of our heart because it reveals our images.” So too then, in the Platonic sense, is every move of the Earth a “confession” of the soul of the world. He illustrates this further in Anima Mundi when he writes that “…we are heart-sick because we are thing-sick…” We have not given due beauty to the heart of each thing so instead we create things and objects that seem barren and empty of life; things that are of great detriment to ourselves as well as to the self of the Universe. This type of creation/realization only deepens the wound of the personal heart because the things we’ve made are ultimately so far from the truth of what we are.


In giving in to the heart, we take a step towards giving in to beauty. As Hillman points out, this is not just an aesthetic beauty in the current sense of the word “… that has deprived it [beauty] of its teeth…” Rather it is beauty as a calling forth of inspiration from the soul. He goes on to say that in bringing consciousness into each thing as a form that has been inspired by the beauty of the heart, we ultimately deepen our own personal consciousness by ridding ourselves from the confines of subjectivism.  Out of this cell of language and rules, we see that each thing has its own psychic reality which we can then actively participate with rather than for or against or in reaction to.


Through Hillman’s essay Anima Mundi: The Return of the Soul to the World, it is evident to me that my experience of the world cannot be untangled from the way in which the world so experiences me. As I stand in the waves that crash against the rocks, I have changed their course and alchemy as they have changed mine, each of us taking a bit of the other back from where we came. And as we move on away from each other to mingle with the others, we continue to pass each other along. If we’re open to it, that is where creation comes from: from each understanding the soul of the other. The loneliness fades away and the heart begins to heal as we realize that we are never alone, but rather always encased in the company of soul.




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