Thomas Moore is not the only author to catalog our psychological ailments, blame them on shifts in our culture, and then point a way out of the darkness, but he’s certainly the most poetic writer on the subject.
Over the next 13 weeks, I’ll be hosting a group discussion about this book, with a new post for a new chapter each Monday. If you can, there’s still time to find a copy and join us.
Even if you don’t read the book, you are welcome to answer the discussion questions and topics as they arise. As my friend Clove said, the interesting stuff is in the discussions. You don’t have to have read the book to jump in to the comments.
In the introduction, Moore calls loss of soul the great malady of the 20th century, encompassing an array of symptoms like feelings of emptiness, meaninglessness, disillusionment about relationships, a loss of values, and a yearning for personal fulfillment.
These sound immediately familiar to me, perhaps especially as a person diagnosed with depression. Indeed “vague depression” is on his list of “emotional complaints of our time”. My depression is at times frustratingly vague, making the all to common advice to “just snap out of it” dangerously alluring.
I assume that many of the people around me suffer from a similar list of symptoms, and I’m also willing to blame it on “our times”. I do also wonder if these feelings are more universal throughout time, “normal” if you will, and if associating them with a particular century is the same kind of attitude that leads all adults to think there’s something wrong with “kids these days”.
Moore says it is impossible to define the soul precisely. He rather uses examples of its presence: music and people with depth, good food, satisfying conversation, genuine friends, memorable and touching experiences, attachment, love, community, intimacy, fulfilling work, rewarding relationships, personal power, relief from symptoms. What a comforting list of desires that is, and how elusive some of them seem.
Care of the Soul is Moore’s take on a self-help book, although it aims to go a more philosophical and mythically inspired direction than most modern self-help books. The part that tempts me most is his idea that we distinguish between curing ourselves and caring for ourselves and that we stop thinking of common life issues as problems to be “solved”. He says:
As you read this book, it might be a good idea to abandon any ideas you have about living successfully and properly, and about understanding yourself. The human soul is not meant to be understood… What we want to do here is to re-imagine those things we think we already understand.
I’ve started off the comments here with some questions. Please jump in and reply or comment yourself on any thoughts you had from reading the introduction.
We’ll discuss chapter one in the post on next Monday.