Addressing Maladies of the Soul
Cultivating an awareness of the sacred in everyday life.
Posted Jan 16, 2019
Thomas Moore, a Jungian psychotherapist and former monk, raised the intriguing idea that the loss of soul was implicated in all our troubles, individually and societally. In his book, Care for the Soul: Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life, Moore (1992) wrote, “when the soul is neglected, it doesn’t just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning.” (p. xi) The natural impulse is to eradicate the symptoms—a goal that has been taken up aggressively by modern psychology and psychiatry. Yet, the root cause of the malady of the soul remains. Whether one is religious, spiritual, or not, Moore writes all of us have encountered the soul in deep experiences. These experiences surround us (e.g., stars pin pricking the dark night, storm clouds gathering before a rain, the storms themselves, the sky in all its blueness and billowing white clouds, the changing color of the ocean, fiery sunsets, the slow dawning of day) and have the ability to induce a sense of awe, a sense of our smallness in the universe. Moore states that the soul connects our psychology to the spiritual. It is found in ancient wisdom and myths. It is embedded in imagination. It is genuine in its process. It is felt in the heart.
When the soul is neglected, it emerges as a sense of emptiness in our relationships, discontentment in our work, or a lack of a sense of purpose in our lives. In reaction to this soul sickness, we may turn to frenetic activity: overworking; overeating; drinking too much; moving from one relationship to another, one job to another; and so forth. Soul is ignored when we become disconnected from an awareness of the sacred in our ordinary experiences. Moore writes that becoming conscious of the mystical (i.e., the sacred, in our day-to-day moments) is one way we can restore the soul. Such awareness does not require grandeur in ceremony; nor does it require a specific theology.
How does one do this?
What and how we eat is one example. Food, Moore writes, holds the potential to be a powerful metaphor: how we consume it can be imbued with the sacred or devoid of it. We can be in a disengaged relationship with food; e.g., eat it hurriedly as we are driving, unaware of what it is that we are consuming. Or, we may be in an adversarial relationship with food and eating: one that cycles through diets of deprivation or episodes of mindless gorging. Alternatively, we can deepen our relationship with food and the act of eating. We can do so by taking a moment to engage in the ritual of thanks: to the divine for the food about to be consumed; honor the sacrifice of the animal or plant that nourishes us; or approach food with gratefulness for the gift of being able to digest the meal.
Another example is how we engage in ordinary day living tasks. Even seemingly mundane chores; such as washing the dishes or folding laundry offer an opportunity for becoming aware of the sacred. Lynda Sexon (1992) described this as ordinary sacredness, the cultivating of the sacred quality of an experience which on the surface appears commonplace. Sexon wrote that we can discover the sacred in the secular and the divine in the ordinary. How? In these chores we have the chance for gratefulness: for the hot water, the sink, the dishes themselves; for the miracle of being able to smell, touch, see clean clothing freshly removed from the dryer; and for the simple pleasure of doing these tasks well.
Our daily commonplace interactions and actions can be permeated with the sacred. Robert Sardello (1992) in his work in spiritual psychology suggested that the ordinary when imbued with the soul can feed the human need to live deeply and in an engaged way. This can take the form of savoring and appreciating the ordinary interactions: the checker and bagger at the grocery store whose work processing your purchases gives you the gift of varied foods and other items you need. We can recognize the sacred in the everyday miracles around us. For example, by pausing and valuing running water at the touch of a faucet; or clean streets due to weekly garbage pick-up.
The soul, Moore writes, “needs an intense, full-bodied spiritual life as much and in the same way that the body needs food.” (p.228) “Soul sickness” is in many ways “soul starvation,” and its product is an emotionally anorectic life. Our awake life and our dream life each reflect our soul; its longings, its deprivations, its joys. We can reduce discontentment and enhance deeper living through appreciating the beauty and poetry of ordinary activities. The moments mindful of the sacred within the commonplace deepen what we experience; they act as a way to avert numbness to what is around us. In doing so we can connect profoundly with the moment, with the act, and its relevance to satisfying our needs and of those whom we love; and, its relationship to our mortality—for each moment is all that any of us has.
Moore, T. (1992). Care of the soul: A guide for cultivating depth and sacredness in everyday life. N.Y.: HarperCollins.
Sardello, R. J. (1991). Facing the world with soul: The reimagination of modern life. Hudson, N.Y.: Lindisfarne Press
Sexon, L. (1992). Ordinarily sacred. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia.