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“The struggle now and always is with the autonomy of ideas, their ability to invade the human mind, seize it and shape its formation into ideologies,” writes James Hillman in Kinds of Power. “Do we really know what has moved into our minds—those ideas like furniture, that stand silently in the same place for decades determining every move we make in the interior habits of our thoughts and actions. Ideas we have, and do not know we have, have us.”
In America, the idea that power is force captures the imagination. While in traditional British society, power was defined by subordination within an oppressive class system, America maintains that anyone can be powerful provided they have a big enough bank account or a big gun—provided they are BIG enough. This idea is not something we arrive at individually—not something we consciously think: it is like heavy old Victorian furniture we inherited, creeping around it without seeing it anymore. “We are lived by powers we pretend to understand,” writes W.H. Auden. Constrained and oppressed by this heavy old furniture, many painful symptoms arise.
Here is Hillman: “I do not want to believe that we are essentially a people obsessed with security (and this was written in 1995, long before the age of terrorism)…nor that we are a people enslaved to consumerism; enchanted by the media, entertainment and celebrity; dependent on relationships; or that we are a narcissistic society in love with its own childhood to the utter denial of our national tragedies, unable to imagine a meaningful future.”
The deeper syndrome according to Hillman is “inertia of the spirit, a passivity that feels no vocation and shies from imaginative vision, adventurous thinking and intellectual clarification. That we imagine ourselves today as a nation of victims attests to a vacuum in the spirit of the nation. These are the symptoms of the soul in search of clarity. Clarity is the essential.”
Clarity comes from seeing–but not from outside, not in the sense of outside surveillance, but not just from inside either. The kind of seeing we need to discover a new kind of power—a power that comes from being with life instead of against it—requires that we sink deep into our lives. This might seem a paradox, but it’s true: to find larger ideas we must sink below our conscious ideas. To connect with a view beyond our national obsession with the “inner child,” we to remember what was like to be a child, seeing the furniture clearly for what it was, obstacles to what we really are and can be, constraints to be surmounted, climbed over. I remember climbing over the furniture as a child, imagining there was not furniture, just a vast forest full of gorgeous animals, and I was one with it…one with the beating heart of life.
To be continued….