Thomas Moore on Care of the Soul

Thomas Moore is the author of the bestselling book Care of the Soul and fifteen other books on deepening spirituality and cultivating soul in every aspect of life. He has been a monk, a musician, a university professor, and a psychotherapist, and today he lectures widely on holistic medicine, spirituality, psychotherapy, and the arts. He lectures frequently in Ireland and has a special love of Irish culture. He has a Ph. D. in religion from Syracuse University and has won several awards for his work, including an honorary doctorate from Lesley University and the Humanitarian Award from Einstein Medical School of Yeshiva University. We chatted to Thomas from his home in America, about his work ahead of his upcoming workshops in Ireland.
Psychology & the Soul
‘I think that when we think psychologically now we tend to think of how the mind is used to influence behaviour. We analyse it laterally in terms of the influence of our parents, the influence of our culture, and that sort of thing. We count heads to see how many people have problems. That is what I call psychological modernism, it is adopting the way that we do everything in our culture in a way which ends up being materialistic.’ 
‘So I try I think the opposite, I go back to the root of the word - the psyche is the soul – the word psychology really means talk about the soul. That is what I try to bring back in my work. I try to get away from the emphasis on behaviour and measurements and go into the fuzzier realms of dream, fantasy, imagination, memory, and emotions.
When you have this mechanistic and highly measured approach to human behaviour, and you call that psychology, it tends to create standards. You automatically assume that normal is good and that the more people are alike that the better it is. I’ve always said, following Jung, that as we develop the soul we become more individual. So that means we develop the depth and imagination and the raw stuff that we are made of. When we work from that place we become much more individual, for years I have been saying that we become eccentric as a result – and that is a good thing. Jung called that individuation. I prefer to have the outcome of psychology to be interesting people rather than healthy people. I never liked the term health applied to the psyche because some of the most interesting people I have ever met have not been terribly sane or normal.’ 
‘The desire to possess and conform to a system of rules to govern behaviour seems to be an innate thing, and I believe it is a good thing. But having a rigid or constricting framework can be problematic. I follow the work of James Hillman in my work quite a lot and one of his very first things he did in branching out on his own was to write about ‘psychological polytheism’ – what he means by that is that there are a lot of things that go on in life and in the soul, and that they can contradict one another. And that is OK -that is the way that it should be. In a polytheistic or a polycentric realm you have rules but you also have absolute freedom, and the trick is to be able to affirm both and have them both coexist. That takes some work, and you have to stay at it every day.’ 
‘That is essential component to the way I do things and the way I write. I accept the fact that there are contradictory claims on us, and that it is up to us individually to find a way to work it out. That means you might have to cheat a little bit on one side or the other to get an agreement somehow. That is quite an interesting challenge. But the alternative is to become moralistic, to take one of those positions and demand that everything follow that one principle.’
Dreams & Symbols
‘In my therapy room I work exclusively with dreams. To me looking at a dream is very similar to a doctor looking at an x-ray. So when I look at the dream I can see things that the person is telling me in a symbolic and metaphorical language. 
When I was about 35 years old, I told myself I am going to become good at images. So I studied mythology and poetry and literature and languages to become better. So when someone brings their dreams by me, I see the metaphor – most of the time it doesn’t take a genius to see how the metaphors work – and that becomes the basis of the therapy for me. I am always thinking in images. And when someone tells me the story of what is going on in their life, certain words or certain phrases will stick out and I hear them as little dream fragments. So the work is almost all with imagination. It is not terribly rationalistic, and it is certainly not mechanistic. I have no desire to tell someone how to live - that is not my role. My role is to guide them to find their depth. To find out what is going on at a deeper level within them so they can make some creative choices.’
A new age of Religion
‘The gist of my most recent book, A Religion of One’s Own was that we are going through a deep change in the way we think about religion in the world today. I think it is a very positive thing, and that even though we are losing established religion with clear belief systems – we are picking up something much more important. That is an awareness of the sacredness of life and the things that are of the world.’ 
‘At this time, the religious traditions are increasingly not being seen as organisations that we join and do what they tell us to do, but they are being seen as bodies of information we can turn to in order to get insight, inspiration, ideas, and maybe some practices. We can turn to and from them freely and take from them what we need. I think it is necessary to question your beliefs, and especially your childhood ideas of divinity. You need to question it and maybe reject it.’  
‘And if you want to learn something new you may have to spend some time with these traditions, so you don’t just have a superficial understanding. I have spent a lot of time with Zen Buddhism and it has affected my life to a huge degree. But I never wanted to become a Buddhist, I want to take what I can, and weave it into my own spiritual imagination. You can be inspired by the traditions without having to become a slave to them.’
‘I still call myself Catholic although it is my own definition of what that means. There are elements of established religion that I love. I don’t want to see the churches go - I hate to see beautiful edifices turned into restaurants and tourist centres. I would like to see a Catholic church prosper where the people who staff the church – who I wish would be men and women – but they would be available to guide the spiritual lives of those who come there – but to guide them without the person having to become a Catholic – without there having to be this idea of membership. There is so much that could be offered. But right now the emphasis on membership and of obeying the basic principles and professing beliefs all gets in the way of the spiritual life.’
Saving our Symptoms
‘I can appreciate that people want happiness and want to be positive – in fact I am thinking of writing a book that is quite positive. But I would never do it without the Jungian idea of shadow. If you do that you are being swept away into this wishful state for something that is purely positive and that doesn’t work for me. There’s a lot of practical ways we can engage with our souls – that is what I want to give people. Not just talk about thoughts and ideas and theories but in day-to-day way, how can you go about living a more soulful life.’ 
‘One key way I see of doing that is by saving our symptoms. Whatever it is we are suffering, I want to stay with it and not rush into some opposite pole and say that would better. For example if you are sad or depressed you may feel you should be happy.  But perhaps that depression has its place in your life and maybe you can only be happy in a very real way if you can also allow yourself to be depressed. I think you have to be able to be both, otherwise you are into some kind of imbalanced psychology where you go too far to one side, and then you just inviting the opposite to come in.’
‘Or what if the issue is anger? You might to not be angry anymore. But maybe what you could do is help start to work through your anger without any intention of getting rid of it. You may find that the difficulty of that process can help you become a stronger person, and the stronger you get the less angry you are, because the anger has been a venting of this repressed strength.’ 
‘Sometimes the only way we can is through a feeling rather than away from it, we can be curious and stay with it and find out what it is all about, and it is then that we generally see how it can morph into something more useful.’