My latest reading was Care of the Soul (Thomas Moore, 1992). This book was given to me by Mimi, a former student at Miami, who gave it to me along with a wonderful card in 1996. For whatever reason, I never read the book. Because it made it into the book collection that I brought with me to Qatar in 2007, I picked it up about two months ago. I wish I had read it before but I needed to read it now - what a gift at a very important time in my life.
Moore's writing combined perspectives from mythology, philosophy, spirituality, and practical tips for living. These came together in a way that illuminated the psychological dynamics of living in a complex age while discovering that some of the struggles we have are actually sources of strength. His use of ancient mythological stories demonstrated the importance of seeing these myths as part of our own experience and thereby helping us to see the nobility in our struggles and recognizing how very normal these psychological questions can be. I have numerous underlinings and dog-eared pages to prove the depth and wisdom of the book; I'll share only two examples here to demonstrate.
The story of Demeter and Persephone was used to demonstrate how to establish parameters of care-taking for others. In the myth, the Goddess Demeter was so distraught by her daughter's (Persephone) capture by Hades, lord of the underworld, that she turned herself into a human and became the caretaker for a small boy. Attempting to bring the boy immortality, Demeter placed him in a fire each night until his mortal mother discovered what was happening and screamed out in terror. Demeter's response to the mother was to admonish that we never know when fate is bringing us something good or bad. The question of what is good and bad is eventually reflected in Demeter and Persephone's relationship when Zeus intervenes to remove Persephone from Hades and return her to her mother. Order is restored in the relationships but only after very difficult and challenging years of separation - a separation that allowed Persephone to be of service to others and allowed Demeter to be a caring mother who could recognize that sometimes fate delivers good things in otherwise dismal circumstances - and they both had to wait patiently.
The story of Narcissus captured the struggle we sometimes have in being obsessed with ourselves. In the myth, Narcissus was such a beautiful young man that he fell in love with his image when he saw it in a pool of water. The myth is the origin of the idea of "narcissism," the condition characteristic of those among us who have difficulty seeing others and their needs because they are so wrapped up with their own concerns. It is no accident that Narcissus was young because the tendency to feel longing and pain when separated from something or someone we love is particularly prevalent among young people or those who are young at heart. Moore used this natural tendency among youth to suggest that narcissism among some people may be a yearning to be better, to be something we idealize ourselves to be. This yearning is very painful at times when we may realize how far we may fall short of our own aspirations. The fact is, a narcissistic obsession may be the source of yearning that could create positive change in ourselves and for others.
The insights that Moore explored encourage greater transparency in living and an acceptance that the mystery of life is discovered in the very ordinary circumstances we face. By reconciling the mythological origins that lurk in each of our souls and not being afraid of what is there, we may be able to create a soulful life of greater value. "Then your soul, cared for in courage, will be so solid, so weathered and mysterious, that divinity will emanate from your very being. You will have the spiritual radiance of the holy fool who has dared to live life as it presents itself and to unfold personality with its heavy yet creative dose of imperfection." (p. 262)