Monday, April 9, 2012

Of Getting Low-down In The Vale Of Soul-Making

 [La Malinche Volcano. Puebla, Mexico.  Photo by Paul Martinez]
[Please note that you may have to enlarge the print here in order to read it. A glitch in the blogspot
editing does not allow me to enlarge the text or change the font without creating a complete jumble
of the text.  Just go to your "View" tab, click "Zoom" or whatever tab you have for enlarging print.
You may read the much edited essay at the Learning For Life Group Newsletter (click here).]

"Look at that blacksmith, for instance," went on Father Brown calmly; a good man, but not a Christian -- hard, imperious, unforgiving.  Well, his Scotch religion [Scotch Calvinism]  was made up by men who prayed on hills and high crags, and learnt to look down on the world more than to look up to heaven.  Humility is the mother of giants.  One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak." - G.K. Chesterton, from The Hammer of God

[John Keats wrote]: "Call the world if you please, 'The vale of Soul-making.' Then you will find the use of the world..."  From this perspective the human adventure is a wandering through the vale of the world for the sake of making soul.—James Hillman

"We are composed of agonies, not polarities." - James Hillman

He who binds himself a joy Does the winged life destroy.
But he who kisses the joy as it flies Lives in eternity's sun rise. - William Blake 

So. Downward to darkness let us go, the realm of soul, a human and inhuman place, a perspective, reflective, mediating, making differences between ourselves and things, a constant substrate "there even when all our subjectivity, ego, and consciousness go into eclipse." In soul are multiplicities; polytheistic, there are gods in and of the valleys and gods even near the peak, but the very summit points to something other than multiplicity, something unitive and one. The peak is one spirited. Monotheistic. Thus is imaged in peaks and vales the history of human consciousness, the question of "the one and the many," of "unity and diversity," the four essences, earth, air, fire, water and that one essence which holds them all, that fifth essence, the quintessence.

This dialectic of running and returning, ascending and descending, is the way of human consciousness. Wholeness is that arrival and awareness that the whole contains both peaks and vales and values not one over the other. Of course, understandably, suffering humans vote for peaks, eschew the vales as we personally and collectively know more of the pain and separation of existence while intuiting/bodily remembering a primary identity within what appeared and appears to be a unitary at-one-ment with personal and transpersonal Mother. The yearning for peaks and peak experience is in part to recapitulate the extended, phenomenologically timeless dwelling-in/dwelling-for/dwelling-with oneness before separation when body-ego emerges-then a self separating/individuating out from participation mystique, or mystical participation, which is a fusion of identity between subject and object, self and (m)other.  A conscious ascent and arrival (should Grace allow) at the peak is not the longed for  regressive pull backward into the undifferentiated Great Mother archetype with 
infantile (un)consciousness (Freud's "oceanic bliss") but, rather, due to the effort -
the blood, sweat, tears and temptations to give up the assault of the peak - implies 
and requires an ego, a will, a body/mind compelled toward the summit...thus when it 
is reached the experience is, yes, of oneness and completeness arrived via the heroic 
journey which does indeed make soul.  Soul-making begins and continues in the valley, 
in the perilous devoting of libido and the sacrificing of self-image at the beginning of the 
journey down and up the steep incline which demands letting go of dross, of superfluity, 
of even the imagined image of who we shall be if and when we reach the summit.  The 
ordeal and sacrifice in the vale, the descent and the ascent is best described by 
T.S. Eliot quoting St. John of the Cross in his poem Four Quartets:

In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
    You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
    You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
    You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
    You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.
Poet, priest and mystic Gerard Manley Hopkins all too clearly describes what
it is to experience the clinging-to then plummet-from the peak into the abyss
of soul where "where you are is where you are not" - "O the mind, mind has 
mountains; cliffs of fall Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed" then advises 
"Hold them cheap May who ne'er hung there." Of greater value and of more 
substance ("soul stuff") is he/she who has undergone the severe process of 
emptying (this is called kenosis in Christian apophatic mysticism, as well as 
the dark night of the soul, the nada (nothing-ness), nigredo (the blackening, 
in alchemy), the nekyia ("night sea journey) in ancient Greece, and shunyata 
in zen).  To arrive then at the peak is ecstatic, literally one's ego is displaced, 
beside itself, one is opened out and up. One's emptiness is filled with the peak 
and above. The tendency, understandable, and an occupational hazard of chronic 
"peakers" (extreme "spirit-ists", if you will) is to become identified with and as 
peak/spirit while keeping the vale/soul-self repressed or in shadow as 
"not-me/not-spirit" and therefore "not-as-good-as" and "of-lesser-or-lower-being-
After the peak, another flaying,  a further rendering from the exacting/
extracting journey, a necessary re-descent though one is transformed from the 
entire cycle of the journey which begins in veils/vales, spills/falls perhaps 
deeper there, struggles there, dreams of previous ascent, dreams of the peak, 
and so begins another phase - coagulatio in alchemy - the arduous ordeal of 
Incarnating and integrating the climb, of having arrived on top spent, depleted, 
yet the fuller for the grinding upward and forward.  And yet, in the end, Saint 
Jack and Saint Jill, saints of vales, of soul, spill, all the more vessels of clay 
made the more sacred for the "what is", the reality, of what they consciously 
contain and convey in laughter and tears.   There's no rhyme or time on peaks. 
No sound there at all.  Nothing speaks. Utterance is of the gutter, the candle 
burning, sputtering.  We stammerers, stutterers, murmurers, mutterers make 
matter matter all the more ensouled.  Much there is to say and sing of that. 
Many the tongue wink and wag:

The animal we are
reserves just rights
to complain -

empty bellies, 
encroached territories, 
crotch urgencies, 
skin withers, 
fur falls -

brittle goes the bone, 
so small the gathered human corners, 
so great the needed mercies.

We must not dishonor
the animal we are.
We fight for blood right, 
birth right, some bread, 
a place to lie down
with kindred beings.

A patch beside a stream, 
a doll house street, 
sweat-and-blood won, 

proclaims a personal kingdom.

Listen now.

Milky or Muddy Ways
somewhere require stunning loss.

We are falling, 
battered lips praising

We have
all this.

With a kiss 
love in the crush 
and crank is 


…We speak of "scaling the peak." To scale, to skin, to scrape, to 
measure/mark, to ascend. The climber is scaled, too, scarred, riven, 
driven forward, striving, peaking. One aspires to arrive there, both 
peak and vale, integrated or at least consciously held/endured/celebrated 
as sacred conflict/agony—there is a spire in the word aspire after all, 
symbol of sacred verticality dependent upon  equally sacred horizontal 
foundation,  and spire as in breath, to breathe in and upon, to encounter 
sacred breath, rarefied upon the high mountaintop, to have expended 
countless painful yet necessary breaths during the struggle with what |
becomes hostile estranged elements, body,  mind, earth, air, balance 
and gravity. But here in the vale, looking up  at peaks, I have anticipated 
myself, ahead of myself regarding the different values symbolized by the 
vale and the peak. I walk backward here, spin and spill, to amplify what 
I have already sketched out,  fore-stretched: 

"The more I relate to everything everywhere 
[peaks-language, unity and one, spirit, ecstasy], 
the more I must relate to something somewhere 
[vale-language, diversity, many, soul, depression]." 
[Source: A quote (as I remember it) by a theology
 professor of Martin Luther King, Jr., words which 
oriented him as a young divinity student at 
Harvard University.]
The nature of human consciousness is dialectical--an awareness of the opposites out of which may come the third thing, the new integral understanding and experience born of the tension-between. This ongoing process of thought, this dialectic in human awareness, is the stuff of religion, philosophy, psychology, art, of all personal and collective human experience. Such unitive experiences are derived from the a priori dynamics of opposition, duality, polarity.  The dynamic energy generated from the "friction" of duality creates a third resolution, a synthesis derived of the very conflict but no longer the conflict. This unity is not that a priori Dynamic Ground of All Being which nascently holds such tensions/agonies in potentia.  In a cosmogonic vein one may imagine the originating "dream" in the Dynamic Ground as that which initiates generative conflict/friction leading to the ongoing "necessary fiction" (Wallace Stevens term) of continually shifting/reforming materiality and that Mind/Consciousness derived from such mercurial evolution and de-volution.  The dialectic is duality birthing the third resolution into mental and material being which in turn is subject to new agonies/conflicts continually creating some new configuration held, one may want to believe, in Archetypal Mind or Dynamic Ground.

Dialectically speaking, to nominate the peak as the most numinous, valuable and essential part of the mountain is to devalue and repress/depress the valley into the unconscious which guarantees a fated encounter with the valley. This works both ways although there is something about the valley which figures more prominently and descriptively in the human experience than with the peak. James Hillman distinguishes
'spirit' from 'soul' in his essay associating spirit with peaks and soul with valleys. A psychoanalyst and therefore oriented toward soul, 'psyche' means 'soul', he amplifies the vale archetype defining its vital function by quoting and amplifying the British Romantic poet John Keats' statement, "Call the world if you please the vale of soul-making. Then you will find out the use of the world." I am immediately struck by the word 'use' in the statement since pragmatism seeks those utilitarian uses of things, thoughts/ beliefs, activities and expressions. One can venture that there is a pragmatism of peaks and a pragmatism of vales. Perhaps they overlap or depending upon where one is at are put to different uses to possibly serve a greater whole, although wholeness language,perhaps, is "peaks" or spirit language. Vale language or 'soul language', is a polyglot of experiences which re- and de- generate as does Great Nature create and destroy in endless variety preferring the messiness to the dress of order. Wallace Stevens in the seventh and final part of his poem, Sunday Morning, lows:

We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable.
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

"Soul," the downward, low down, inward motion of mind, says Hillman, is "concrete, multiple, and immanent," it is history, personal and collective, whereas spirit is "one, abstract, unified, concentrated," it's relationship to time is as the eliminator of history. Hillman expands: "The peaks wipe out history. History is to be overcome. History is bunk...So the spirit workers and spirit seekers first of all must climb over the debris of history, or prophesy its end or its unreality, time as illusion, as well as the history of their individual and particular localities, their particular ethnic and religious roots...the spirit is impersonal, rooted not in local soul, but timeless." By an over emphasis on spirit, says Hillman, "history has become the Great Repressed." Thus our need to compensate too much spirit by psychological soul work which involves going into history, into the valleys where shadows are cast, personal and transpersonal, in order to work "our complexes" [which are] history at work in the soul [italics are mine, WF].  Ancient sun devices tracked shadows in order to tell the time of day, night a fixed extended moment dependent upon stars and planetary coursings tracked and passed on for generations through the seasons, thus history is shadow etched, stretched, trekked, extending into matter and mind. 

 …Change in the valley requires recognition of history, an archeology of the soul, a digging in the ruins, a re-collecting. And—a planning in specific geographical and historical soil with its own smell and savor, in connection with spirits of the dead, the po-soul sunk in the ground below. (Po-soul in ancient Chinese cosmology was the earth soul, characterized by yin.)...From the viewpoint of soul and life in the vale, going up the mountain feels like a desertion. The lamas and saints "bid farewell to their comrades" (a quote from a letter by the current Dalai Lama of Tibet).

"What revolt, what disillusionment, what longing! Nothing but crises, breakdowns, hallucinations and visions. The foundations of politics, morals, economics and art tremble.  The air is full of warnings and prophesies of the debacle to come--and in the 20th century comes!  Already two world wars and a promise of more before the century is out.  Have we touched bottom? Not yet.  The moral crisis of the 19th Century has merely given way to the spiritual bankruptsy of the 20th.  It is the "time of the assassins," and  no mistaking it. Politics has become the business of gangsters.  The people are marching in the sky but they are not shouting hosannahs; those below are marching towards the bread lines.  C'est--laube exaltee ainsi qu'un peuple de colombes...("it is - the dawn exalted like "a flock of doves.")." - Henry Miller, The Time of the Assassins, A Study of Rimbaud, p. 163

" ...Ongoing punctuation issues...which is a "vale" issue since "peak" is expansive, all inclusive, requiring no punctuation when experienced...but human vessels need even in the absolute peak experiences a comma, a colon, a period or, better, in Spanish, a "punto", a point, as in "what's the point?" and "to what end is this peak pointing?"...and most necessary of all is a question mark, the peak experience as an ongoing question mark and embarcation ...and so with a question and the ensuing flood of punctuation the vale receives/mirrors/gives the peak form with legs, teeth, hair, effluviums and stench...all peak language is ultimately trench talk...some call it "poetry" is also called "politics" or should, rather, consider the vale where human souls relate and weal and deal."  - Warren Falcon in a letter with the essay below sent via the "snail-mail-post-in-the-vale"

Depression, the vale, pulls one deeply down into the unconscious in order to contact that "black hole" energy of authentic self now overpoweringly insisting upon conscious attention and earnest bringing-forth-and-up and beyond past persona-masks. Much needed aspects of authentic self are inwardly determined by that which is not the ego, what Carl Jung calls the "not I" or Self, that greater totality from which the ego is derived.  Said aspects have been languishing in the unconscious which actually inflicts what Jungian analyst M. L. von Franz calls a "creative depression"—what psychotherapist Joan Poelvoorde helpfully calls a "working depression" as it is pragmatic, has a goal "it" is insisting toward integration into human personality—it is creative in that it seeks to be fleshed out, lived in temporal reality, thus personally incarnating the transpersonal Self uniquely in the valley. Poet W.H. Auden writes of the dark night's job description for creative soul-making, "With the farming of a verse make a vinyard of the curse.  With your unrestraining voice still pursuade us to rejoice."  No easy task but worth the effort - hi ho the dairy o...

These integrated aspects create Doppler-like disturbances in not only the internal field of consciousness but also in the external social field of relationships, politics personal and collective. Some people will not like the newer, wholler personality roughly etched with authentic character much as a landscape is scarred by iceberg, river, weather, human compression and patient, inexorable, excoriating/excruciating time. Even failure in the attempt to confront, accept, and integrate these hitherto repressed or nascent aspects of soul/self—if at least sincerely attempted—is individuating and authenticating. One may, like the Old Testament Jacob, wrestle in the waste places of psyche in darkness with an aspecting-aspic-angel (aspic congeals) wounding, transforming, and coagulating both self and necessary  angel in authentic encounter with life, all of it, volatile, dynamic "I and Thou"-and-"I and It" encounters, Martin Buber's dynamic characterization of the subjective and objective responses/encounters with Existenz which has within it an appeal for response, and in our human response it is  born witness to, shaped/formed, and given soul:  "Our life is psychological, and the purpose of life is to make psyche of  it, to find connections between life and soul (Hillman)." We are the creatures who respond in mind and emotion, in gesture and symbol, in bestowal of bearing presence/giving weight by our being with, in, and for what appeals to us "so inherently hearers" (Rilke) in depth-dark being/becoming, and in the going away and out of witness, but borne, as we can do, given location within in memory and more. 

"To be," says American philosopher C.S. Peirce, "is to be perceived." We must keep our eyes open even, nay, especially in the dark, at places marked with only an "X" for it is there "on the narrow ridge," says Buber, where one does "not rest on the broad upland of a system that includes a series of sure statements about the absolute, but on a narrow rocky ridge between the gulfs where there is no sureness of expressible knowledge but the certainty of meeting what remains undisclosed."  Ridge. Vale. Of greatest value in either is the meeting of "what remains undisclosed."  Revealed. Born withness to, which is creative and transforming.  Being "takes on" a face as do we human presenc-ers  both or all at once angelic and daemonic.  In many myths angels and demons morph into each other, trade roles and faces.  We humans do too. This is vale work. This is soul making.

Some people are too adhered to the light/peak and so spurn the darker/valed/valued, more three dimensional person. Light, too much of it, flattens out, annihilates multi-dimensionality and those who
are too much identified with it often appear hollow, unlived, spiritualish bliss ninnies who remain disengaged and somehow ingraspable and amorphously present; such light over-identification guarantees an encounter with the dark gods, with depression, perhaps madness, for the psyche demands its due, "it pathologizes," says Hillman,and cares not a whit for egoic ideals such are comfortable fortresses of light, "saintly" spirituality. Hillman enlightens (or endarkens, rather) us further:

"...within the affliction is the complex, within the complex an archetype, which in turn refers to a god. Afflictions point to gods; gods reach us through afflictions. Jung's statement--"the gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus, and produces curious specimens for the doctor's consulting room" (Jung's Collected Works 13, paragraph 54)--implies that gods, as in Greek tragedy, force themselves symptomatically into awareness. Our pathologizing is their work, a divine process working in the human soul. By reverting the pathology to the god, we recognize the divinity of pathology and give the god his due...A complex must be laid at the proper altar, because it makes a difference both to our suffering and perhaps to the god who is there manifesting..." (Hillman, A Blue Fire, Harper Perennial pg. 146-147.

Of History And Soul, Of Fleetingness And
A Thing's Gracious Gift To The Eternal

I, like Hillman, am a soul man, partial to soul, to space, to time, to locale, at more than a lover's quarrel with the world and very much so at quarrel with spirit which "deigns to destroy us," says the poet Rilke, "us the most fleeting of all". Rilke is a soul man who spent much time on the peaks and even more time in the valleys. In the Ninth Duino Elegy Rilke is actually covering soul's ground, expanding Keats foundational statement about vales and the use of the world, meaning a fuller spectrum experience of life and the Eternal's being enriched from the shadows, the surfaces, the subterranean. The Eternal is not complete after all. The Eternal needs the temporal, what is gained there in consciousness, the Eternal needs a where, an orientation, particularity, to be more substantial (substance is in this word) whole, wholeness here meaning an ongoing process of completion and depletion, filled in with something in cycles of chaos and return rather than abstraction. He begins:

"Why, when this span of life might be fleeted away
as laurel, a little darker than all
the surrounding green, with tiny waves on the border
of every leaf (like the smile of a wind): - oh, why
have to be human, and shunning Destiny,
long for Destiny?...
Not because happiness really
exists, that precipitate profit of imminent loss.
Not out of curiosity, not just to practice the heart,
that could still be there in laurel...
But because being here amounts to so much, and because all this
that's here, so fleeting, seems to require us and strangely
concerns us. Us the most fleeting of all. Just once,
everything, only for once. Once and no more. And we, too,
once. And never again. But this
having been once on earth - can it ever be canceled?"

As Hillman says, the peak (spirit) wipes out history. Rilke's question, which become an assertion in his asking, (that "having been?" which is to be historical and eternal) asserts that history can never be canceled. It is continuing human creativity which evolves not only human kind via creatures and creation but also the Abstract, the Peak, Spirit.

Lest it be thought that I am voting for sickness over health, gravity over levity, William James-ian distinctions, I suggest that to be is to express and to attest to and for the Blind Universe, that Wholly Other Eternal Abstraction, of the implicate fullness of material being, of incarnation from quantum to quarry where physical being is an agony and an ecstasy and all between. It is this experience with its words, its knowledge, Rilke says, that we bring to the discarnate "angelic" spirit realms:

"Praise this world to the Angel, not the untellable: you
can't impress him with the splendour you've felt...So show him
some simple thing, refashioned by age after age,
till it lives in our hands and eyes as a part of ourselves.
Tell him things."

Refashioned by age after age -- in other words, by history. These things have soul, are soul, are ensouled by our conscious physical existence and our responsiveness in the vales. John Tarrant, a Buddhist, Jungian-oriented psychotherapist and poet says as much in these opening lines:

"There is a blessed fidelity in things.
Graceless things grow lovely with good uses."

And this is true of ourselves. Practical and pragmatic the soul is. In the wag of the world there are, indeed, authentic 'peak' experiences integrating conflicting opposites (or, a la Hillman, holding and being with the primitive agonies) within and without which turns one toward a more expansive embrace of the givens of human existence, full-spectrum living which Zorba the Greek calls the "full catastrophe": "Zorba replies: "Am I not a man? And is not a man stupid? I’m a man. So I married. Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe." This is very much the "wag-on world with the three things, doing, undoing, pretending", peak and vale, the full mountain lived from top to bottom.

And thus history wags on, unfolds, peak and vale, tooth and nail, spirit and soul seeing and singing "through the glass, a kind of veil, darkly" with swearing and praise to the end while never ceasing to marvel at "the dark loveliness of the glass." The tales tell us so. We contribute our own leaving many sentences dangling in the vales where dangle is allowed or, dangling on the edge of a peak because we have been too long too high, our soul demands that we come down by any means necessary to the "necessary angel of the earth" (Wallace Stevens), the valley, the cleft where that angel, the angel of the Imagination, does its work in the human soul, doing, undoing, pretending which means in part to  "stretch in front, put forward" a tense, a text and context extending out of soul into the plenum,
affirming soul, the vale, precipitate weather continually shifting, making more soul and bringing a joy the angels of the spirit, of heaven have never and can never know:

"He who binds himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy.
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sun rise." - William Blake



The Dalai Lama speaks: "The relation of height to spirituality is not merely 
metaphorical.  It is a physical reality.  The most spiritual people on the 
planet live in the highest places.  So do the most spiritual flowers...I call 
the high and the light aspects of my being spirit and the dark and heavy 
aspect soul. Soul is at home in the deep, shaded valleys.  Heavy torpid 
flowers saturated with black grow there.  The river flows like warm syrup.  
They empty into huge oceans of soul. Spirit is a land of high, white peaks 
and glittering jewel-like lakes and flowers.  Life is sparse and sounds travel 
great distances...There is soul music, soul food, soul dancing,and soul love...
When the soul triumphed, the herdsmen came to the lamaseries, for soul is 
communal and loves humming in unison. But the creative soul craves spirit. 
Out of the jungles of the lamasery, the most beautiful monks one day bid 
farewell to their comrades and go make their solitary journey toward the 
peaks, there to mate with the cosmos...No spirit broods over the lofty 
desolation; for desolation is of the depths, as is brooding.  At these heights, 
spirit leaves soul far behind...People need to climb the mountain not simply
 because it is there but because the soulful divinity needs to be mated 
with the spirit..." 

James Hillman's comments on the Dalai Lama's letter, amplifying the use of 
peaks/spirit and vale/soul as archetypal spaces inside and out: "May I point 
out one or two little curiosities in this letter.  They may help us to see 
the further contrast between soul and spirit.  First, did you notice how 
important it is to be literal and not "merely metaphorical" when one takes 
the spiritual viewpoint? Also, this viewpoint requires the physical sensation 
of height, of "highs."  Then, did  you see that it is the most beautiful monks 
who leave their brothers, and that their  mating is with the cosmos, a mating 
that is compared with snow?...And finally, have you noticed the two sorts of 
anima symbolism: the dark, heavy, torpid flowers by the rivers of warm syrup 
and the virginal petaled flowers of the glaciers?...We can recognize what is 
spiritual by its style of imagery and language; so with soul. To give definitions 
of spirit and soul -- the one abstract, unified, concentrated; the other concrete, 
multiple, immanent -- puts the distinction and the problem into language of 

- excerpts of a letter by the Dalai Lama, is quoted in James Hillman's The Puer 
Papers, Spring Publications Inc, 1979, pg. 59.

* (Jung, [1921] 1971: paragraphs 781 & 12)

** A quote (as I remember it) by a theology professor of Martin Luther King,
Jr., words which oriented him as a young divinity student at Harvard University