Honoring Symptoms as a Voice of the Soul

Care of the Soul
A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life
by Thomas Moore
Chapter One

“Care of the soul begins with observance of the soul.”

This line stood out to me, since it’s something I have taught about in different situations. In Step One: Notice, I talked about noticing the cultural messages all around us. On another topic altogether, my acceptance of my fat body involved a lot of simply looking at itJust looking and nothing else. I have frequently found that there is great value in simply paying attention to something, even if I don’t consciously change my actions. So it seems entirely right to me that Thomas Moore begins with suggesting that we simply observe the stirrings of our souls.

Another idea in chapter one that really spoke to me is the idea that we tend to strive for an idealized version of “normal”, when in fact our selves, our soul, resides specifically in the ways that we are different.

“…People often neglect their own natures and are tantalized by images of some ideal normality and health that may always be out of reach.”

“Individuality is born in the eccentricities and unexpected shadow tendencies of the soul, moreso than in normality and conformity.”

I am definitely “tantalized by images of some ideal normality and health”. I write a lot about being different and rejecting mainstream thought (The Fuck-It List comes to mind), but I have to constantly think about and write about these things because I feel the constant pull of conformity. I’m sometimes alarmed by how often I find myself doing things I don’t want to do because I think I’m supposed to do them. Trying to achieve normal is something that will always pull at me and something at which I will always fail.

Moore speaks in chapter one about not seeking to excise movements of the soul – symptoms, complaints, fears, and perversities that present themselves. He talks about speaking for these shadow aspects, moving towards them, going through them, embracing them, rather than curing them or seeking their opposite.

My greatest complaint is about my depression. I think about accepting it rather than trying to cure it through medication or through making some great life change after which I will magically no longer be depressed. I am tempted to think that if I “accept” it then I will no longer be depressed, but that’s not right. When Moore talks about “honoring” symptoms, I wonder if it is possible for me to both be depressed (miserable!) and also have a relatively peaceful acceptance about my feelings at the same time. I just don’t know.

(Image credit)

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  • We’ll discuss chapter two in the post on next Monday.

Notice: Resources

I’m still taking it easy after Dylan’s arrival, and I haven’t written anything new yet. Here’s a quick little post I’ve had queued up for awhile, though:

I like to look at ads and other media and notice what Mother Culture is trying to tell me. Here’s an ad that jumped out at me:

I’m not sure exactly what Accenture does, and I couldn’t get much more information out of their website, but I find the image they chose for this ad very interesting.

  • What does the choice of an animal as an example of a generic “resource” tell me?
  • Would breeding a sheep to get that kind of “more” be good for the sheep? Or for me?
  • Am I supposed to view this image as funny? Would it still be funny if that animal can’t walk?

I’m a little confused about what thoughts I’m intended to have about this ad, but the thoughts I do have aren’t flattering to this company.

Culture Dust

(Photo credit BinaryApe)

Dust is everywhere. We don’t see it, yet if you look on a shelf where things don’t get moved around much, there’s a layer of dust that has settled into the untouched spaces. If you happen to see a ray of light shining through a window in front of you, you think, “Holy shit! What is all that stuff floating there?” When this happens, it amuses me to look around suspiciously at the unlit spaces and ponder the great multitude of particles swirling around me.

Culture is this way, as well. It is everywhere. It is every word that is written, spoken, or sung to us. It is gestures and color choices. It is in which notes are available on our pianos and which ones aren’t. It’s which concepts have a simple word or phrase in our language to describe them and which ones don’t. It’s stories, jokes, sermons, articles, radio announcers, billboards, magazines, car ads, hair dye boxes, children’s stories, the nutritional facts on your can of green beans, the word problems in math books, and on and on and on.

Sometimes you might see what strikes you as a really egregious message – say a nasty message on the handmade sign of a picketer – and you might think, “Holy shit! What is that and where did that come from?” But moments like those maybe ought to remind you to look around suspiciously, because the messages of our culture are always there, and they aren’t usually that obvious.

Using “dust” as a verb instead, there are two ways to dust.

First, dusting can be seen as removing, as in “dust the furniture”. One way to dust our culture is to pick at the messages in our world, shake them about, dust them off, clean them up, see what’s underneath (choose your metaphor). I like to send the previously unexamined stories of my culture swirling into the air (achoo!) and then move my stuff around so that the dust can’t just settle back right where it was before.

The other dusting-as-verb can be seen as adding, as in “dust the funnel cake with powdered sugar.” And I’d like to do some of that, too, by which I mean telling different stories than the regularly accepted ones generally dictated by my culture.

I like seeing culture as dust – something that’s all around me – and as dusting – something I can remove or add.

In practical terms, it’s not usually quite as poetic as all that. Like the dust that’s in the shadows and hard to see and the dusting that’s at the end of a long list of chores that we never get around to, examining our own culture is extremely tricky.

Have you rustled up any culture dust lately? Are there any unspoken messages you’ve noticed in advertising? Unquestioned beliefs you’ve seen presented as news? Any shifts in your thoughts that surprise or scare you? I’m curious to hear any twists of thought you’ve had lately or any big cultural themes that are on your mind.

Notice: Recession Billboards

There’s a billboard near by home that says, “Recession 101: Interesting fact about recessions…they end.”

What is this billboard trying to tell me? Why is this message worth someone spending a lot of money on?

I discovered that this billboard is part of a national campaign that has been going on since June, all apparently funded by an anonymous donor who “wanted people to realize the country has been undergone recessions before and made it through.” The “Recession 101″ lesson series includes other billboard versions:

  • Self worth is greater than net worth.
  • This will end long before those who caused it are paroled.
  • Stop obsessing about economy, you’re scaring the children
  • Bill Gates started Microsoft in a recession.

I’m very suspicious about the intent behind these messages.

If “they end”, does that mean I should just be carrying on as usual? By “as usual”, does that mean taking out loans I can’t afford and piling up debt in order to pretend that I’m winning? Who would pay for a billboard to help convince me that consumer debt is good for me?

And who am I supposed to be happy about them being in jail? Were people actually jailed over this recession, or is that just wishful thinking? If anyone was jailed, I’ll bet they were anomalies who were tried over very strange, obvious things, like Bernie Madoff. Everyone else – the politicians, the CEOs, the loan officers, the bank tellers, the guidance counselors who sell the dream of home ownership before you’ve even gotten a job – are all still at their jobs, doing their thing, same as usual.

Self worth is greater than net worth? Well, yes, I agree. However, I’m still suspicious of the implications here. Strengthening my self worth doesn’t help the economy, so I don’t think that’s what this billboard wants from me. Instead, I think it means, “Don’t worry about the economy. Just be happy.” Which is a really stupid thing to say to people who are losing their jobs and houses.

The messages inherent to the billboards in this campaign really disturb me, and these aren’t the only “spend money, ignore the economy” messages I’ve been noticing. Have you noticed any?