The soul that heals

A groundbreaking essay collection, The Plague Story (2020), by linguist and blogger Simon Sheridan proceeds from a sobering premise: in February–March 2020 ‘there was a battle in the public discourse between two competing narratives: the plague story or the flu story’. Citing authorised sources (the US CDC and Wikipedia), Sheridan notes that there’s no firm distinction between the two. But with a helpless public at the mercy of experts, facts don’t matter because ‘the interpretation of those facts is what is at stake and essentially it comes down to who has the power to enforce their interpretation (p. 82).’

The story now reshaping the West takes its cue from Hollywood: scientist as hero. But its structure (‘plot’?) is based on an ideology, not virology. The flu story couldn’t disrupt business as usual. Is the disappearance of countless small businesses in just two years – while huge corporations have made record profits – an accident?

Medical science saving humanity from the cruel forces of nature: that myth reshaped my life, literally, before I grew up. And even now, two stories exist to account for a lateral spinal curvature. One says scoliosis is ‘idiopathic’ (mystification that means the experts don’t know what causes it) and treatment involves major surgery to insert metal hardware and fuse vertebrae, restricting movement permanently. The other story says that habits can worsen the condition, yet exercises and bracing can reverse it. The former story gives the specialist all the power: the patient need only submit and be eternally grateful.

My parents fulfilled the latter script, never once doubting the family doctor. A heavy smoker who later died of lung cancer, he supplied the initial referral to a yet more hallowed expert, who referred me to the ultimate specialist. Old enough to apply for a driver’s licence, I was too young to give legal consent for a procedure that would affect me alone. Of course I was informed of the downside: no physically risky activities such as horse-riding, which I loved. The surgical solution would impair my shock absorption. Without the op, though, I’d become even more deformed and die young. It didn’t really sound like a choice. (Vaccination or excommunication?)

Predictably, by then – five years after the diagnosis – my curvature had worsened enough that the idea of not looking freakish when naked held a certain appeal. I’d taken the wrong fork in the road, been told the wrong story from the beginning. (Decades later, my spine has reverted to its earlier S-shape.) Only as a young adult seeking help to pick up the pieces did I realise that healing holds scope for active participation vs. passive faith in salvation through glorified technicians who treat the body like a machine.

If not for all the debility and pain I suffered after the op, I mightn’t have met an alternative healer with whom I had a relationship. And during that phase, through a combination of mind-altering practices like ritual magic, sexual tantra, Iyengar yoga and smoking ganga, my consciousness, such as it was, expanded too far too fast. At which point another fork appeared in the road; two competing stories, each framing the other as tragedy.

Which path should I take? One, fraught with disorienting psychic events, could be called a premature kundalini awakening: an Eastern slant on a perilous path of spiritual initiation. The other, well trodden in the West, could be called psychosis and arrested. Positioned outside the Eastern tradition – I had no guru – and alienated from the Western tradition, how should I choose? It didn’t help that I was suicidal. My healer-teacher partner was out of his depth. The shrink I saw offered to write a prescription. My partner’s students were free-spirited addicts. The shrink’s schizophrenic patients were heavily medicated. I steered clear of cannabis, quit the shrink, and turned to meditation. Medication might have stopped the terror. But it would also have suppressed the visions and the bliss. One story guaranteed greater aliveness and all its challenges; the other promised premature deadness. One meant trusting myself, or rather, what I might become: more fully developed. The other meant trusting a sleazeball behind a desk and/or drugs with gross side effects, whether they restored so-called sanity or not. I chose the less travelled path. And so, decades later, the journey of integration continues, even though it took me only months to disintegrate. Do I have any regrets?

Life on the margins hasn’t been child’s play, but over time I’ve noticed that success as defined by our society doesn’t bring happiness either. No pay-off for conforming can ever be enough. But we stick with that story to the extent that we fear the unknown depths of our psyches.

Soul – an ambiguous word. And a very versatile concept. As a noun it’s been used and abused by more than one religion. Most commonly understood as the part of a human that survives death, its presence in a living individual implies, if not holiness, wholeness – and the chance for salvation denied someone who’s sold their soul. How often the word ‘soulless’ is used to describe contemporary life, while ‘soulful’ tends to sound nostalgic.

In keeping with the general trend of retiring the concept of soul as an attribute of what still gets called the self (though that increasingly dubious notion is in decline as well), Wolfgang Giegerich (b. 1942), a third-wave post-Jungian psychologist, has devoted his long career to reclaiming the concept of soul for depth psychology or, more specifically, ‘psychology as the discipline of interiority’. In What Are the Factors That Heal? (2020), his first book on the practice of psychotherapy (or soul healing), he writes:

Medicine is fundamentally utilitarian and technological in outlook. What is important in our context is that the medical mind starts out from the disease, from the absence, from the lower category, and strives to produce health. This is a bottom-up approach. […] Jung spoke of the soul as a self-regulating system. / So even if empirically the healthy soul is absent, as psychologist I start out from the higher level, from the presupposition of the healthy, self-regulating soul that has everything it needs within itself and take this as my actual standpoint, health can only come from health, not ex nihilo, from absence of health. It cannot come merely from the application of the right therapeutic means, not from pragmatic usage of the appropriate human, social interactions on the empirical level, within the social arena.

Not that Giegerich is offering medical advice. But, reading between the lines, it seems fair to infer that neurosis (if not delusional psychosis) plagues our society. And yet there’s a parallel narrative unfolding in its shadow. To those circling the sterile light of the mainstream narrative, that shadow story sounds like madness. And the mad must be locked up (or down or out).

Astrology has names for this shadowy domain. And the house of self-undoing is one of them. From the outside, it can be seen to contain prisons (crime), asylums (insanity), hospitals (death and disease), libraries (vast knowledge), wilderness (including viruses), dreams (or nightmares), hidden enemies, secrets kept from us (often by ourselves), the unknown, the unconscious, solitude. From the inside, it’s a place of introspection. Jung got to know it well.

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5 Responses to The soul that heals

  1. Interesting and thought provoking. In my opinion some of us are fortunate to have lived long enough to see and assess multiple and sometimes conflicting choices and approaches to inner and outer healing. I don’t think the choices humans have been offered have ever been ideal. Even through the limited reading I have done of Indigenous tradition, from the outside it seems as if social/community agreement and methods of control were very much part of daily life and the punishment could be severe if someone transgressed. One of the problems I see with modern methods is that they initially arose out of Euro-West philosophy and science (including medicine and psychology) where we believed we knew better and had superior minds. Not so sure about that, especially in relation to what I perceive as where we seem to have ended up in relation to climate change and the globally increasing population vs. diminishing resources. In retrospect it was short term thinking. However in the centuries since we have believe we have the right to live as long as possible and disease/problem free so will often make choices that promise that option, even if they are not successful. The governments (our social/community controllers) do what they think will work and I don’t think they have any idea if it will or not. Advisors/specialists assess the history and associated graphs of previous incidences and success or not and put forward probable outcomes. I don’t think any of us know the answers or how things will turn out. So, in the end I can only make my own choices from the options available.

  2. Addendum. My Euro-only focus is because that is what I’ve focussed on as it is my heritage. Similar developments seem to have been occurring in the Muslim and Asian/Chinese world as well.,,and probably elsewhere. I am just not familiar with that history.

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful perspective, Annette. Interesting that you mention Indigenous tradition. My first thought is that in a culture circumscribed by such a tradition (prior to invasion), there would have been a more or less consistent approach to healing – not a market-driven smorgasbord of possibilities borrowing from all times &/or cultures, nor an accelerated future-focused program of research & development relying on technology, & some of it highly speculative. So I imagine that less questions might arise w/r/t aptness of treatment.

    I think it’s pretty clear that we don’t have superior minds. We’ve merely dissociated mind from body, human from nature, conscious from unconscious. The ancient Greeks sought healing through dreams. As for the right (entitlement?) to live as long as possible, this seems inevitable in a death-phobic culture that denies the possibility of any afterlife, let alone cares to maintain an active relationship w/ ancestors/spirits. I’d never suggest that anyone should make similar choices to me! But in a society that pretends to rationality, I feel justified refusing options that, in my limited experience & according to personal research, don’t make sense.

    • Absolutely re: multiplicity of choices. It can make things more complicated, especially when some of those choices are tied to research projects and they are open (and I think they have to be transparent legally) about it being a ‘trial’. Multiplicity of choice seems to have invaded all walks of life and is tied to the capitalistic creed/need. All of it causing increasing longterm problems for the planet. Yet our ancestors struggled on regardless and survived. Although many, one of my ancestors, did die during or after childbirth and grandfather (who I never knew) died too young because there was no hospital in the country town where he lived. There must be a balance in there somewhere. I too have chosen to refuse some options regarding ‘healthcare’ and the constant interference of organisations’ and government’s computer-generated reminders that ‘you are due’ for the next ‘oil and grease change’. I’ve begun to chill and pull back from much of it.

      • Medical advances have minimised deaths in childbirth & we have better access to & lots more hospitals now. (I had a great uncle who died at 18 w/ a spine more twisted than mine: no surgical fix for him. Hope I didn’t sound like I was whingeing!) What we’ve got is great at the individual level, w/ the downside of overpopulation. Seems overpopulation is good for the economy: an economy untethered from the environment. Too bad the resources we most need are depleting as the waste we produce multiplies exponentially. While responsible for my mother’s healthcare, I made each decision according to what I knew she would’ve wanted, even if I disagreed. Near the end of her life I was asked whether she should receive CPR if need be &, based on her advance care plan, I said yes, but the doctor explained it’d probably break her ribs so I said OK, no. They have to ask.

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