Care of the Soul Summary
by Thomas Moore

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Care of the Soul Summary

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Modern behavioral psychology has denied the existence of the human soul, believing instead that a person’s actions are key to understanding. In this way, a “cure” can be found for atypical behavior. Author Thomas Moore believes this neglect of the human soul has led therapy astray. According to Moore, only by looking deeply inward to the soul can a person discover the key to coping with life’s problems.

Moore first addresses the question of just what the human soul is. To Moore, it is the center and core of every human being. It is the locus of the spiritual side of a person, beyond the reach of rational inquiry, yet is key to understanding the essence of life and its challenges. The only way to explain the workings of the soul, he says, is through metaphor and myth. Myths have always served to illuminate universal truths about human triumphs and sufferings. Many have to do with love and power. Myths begin to unravel the mysteries of life in a way that rational inquiry cannot. They explain, in a symbolic way, a person’s relationship to the world and can produce a profound sense of acceptance and understanding. In contrast, modern psychology has focused on developing a “cure” for life’s problems by redirecting patterns of behavior. This empirical approach obscures the fact that there are much deeper origins. Problems of love and hate, jealousy and envy, depression and failure are too complex to be cured by a modification of one’s behavior, if they can be cured at all.

To reach the level of understanding of the soul, one must first acknowledge its existence. This requires a journey deep inside oneself. This effort of self-discovery may be painful but is essential. It is a journey taken throughout history by many people, which is why myths have a universal ring. Despite humanity’s technological advances, the human condition has not changed. To illustrate how myths can teach us about ourselves, Moore recounts the ancient Roman story of Narcissus, who falls in love with his own image in a pool of water and, in an attempt to merge with that image, falls into the pool and drowns. This is more than a story of self-love; it is also about a journey to self-knowledge. To love oneself selfishly is to have no soul, Moore says, and the myth teaches us that our self-image may not be what it first appears. Thus the myth helps us to unravel a fundamental mystery of the soul and may lead to a transformation of one’s self-image.

One of the major themes of the book is self-acceptance. A divorce, the loss of a job, the passing of a loved one—all of these common experiences can pose a tremendous psychological shock. There is no “cure” for such events, only acceptance. To move beyond such problems is never easy and requires considerable soul-searching. To neglect the role of the soul during such times is to deny the depth of the problem. Such times are difficult but in fact may be opportunities to learn and grow. Even those in the grip of psychological depression may emerge from it with new opportunities, if they see the depression as an important and necessary stage in the growth of the soul.

Moore also reflects that modern life moves at a hectic pace, and many times people leave no time for reflection or contemplation; the speed of the outer world often leaves the inner world behind. Removing oneself from the world for a time has been part of the spiritual life of many cultures and, Moore asserts, is an essential part of caring for the soul.

The author’s work is deeply influenced by Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology. Mythology and the analysis of dreams played a large part in Jung’s thinking. He saw myth and dreams as important tools in exploring the soul. James Hillman, a disciple of Jung who developed archetypal psychology—a form of therapy that stresses the importance of myths and symbols—is also frequently referred to by Moore. Hillman’s thesis of psychology as a “way of...

(The entire section is 1,073 words.)