John Hoedl will be joining us via a Zoom meeting lecture on Friday, February 5th talk about Jungian Psychology and the Modern ‘Soul’. There is also a Saturday workshop Soul Reflections. In anticipation of his lecture and workshop, he has kindly answered several questions to help prepare us for the subject matter. Thank you, John!
What is the difference between spirit and soul?
This is the kind of perennial question that is difficult to answer definitively especially since these terms are often used interchangeably depending on the context. However, if we focus on the concept of soul as understood within the field of psychology, it becomes a bit easier.
It is, of course, natural to bring soul within the purview of psychology because psychology is literally the study of the psyche, or “soul”. With Jungian psychology this means the study of the depth (Jung would say the “unconscious”) within phenomena, be they dreams, symptoms, events, art, etc., that is, the study of what animates them, gives them meaning and makes them captivating to and for the mind. This “depth” can be understood as soul.
So if soul is the depth of a phenomenon, it implies a sense of being in some intimate way connected to, related to (but not identical with) matter. Spirit, on the other hand, is for me more transcendent and disembodied from matter. The “spirit” of something is a description of the essence of this something that remains “above” and abstracted from it. Soul feels “lower,” more embodied.
What does an encounter with the soul look or feel like?
This is a complicated question in that there are different levels of soul each of which could evoke different kinds of responses in us. The most refined level of soul, which would be soul on the level of thought, or pure consciousness, could evoke a sense of deep knowing, a moving (but not necessarily emotional) comprehension of something, like a revealed truth.
On the other end of the spectrum an encounter with soul might be felt in the physical body as a psychosomatic symptom. This would be “soul” trapped, in a way, in the soma and needing to be lifted up, as it were, to the level of thought and insight.
In between these two extremes soul can be encountered as image, and emotion. This doesn’t mean, however, that all image and all emotion necessarily has soul. It could be image and emotion on the surface or “ego” level.
Can you describe the relationship between imagination and soul and explain why it’s so important?
I think imagination is one way that soul manifests. Obviously imagination is very important for giving our lives a sense of quality, colour and meaning. I would add that, strictly speaking, not all imagination has soul. Some begins and stays on the level of ego consciousness. This, of course, does not take away from its importance
What do you think the impact of COVID has been on soul from an individual and collective perspective?
Before getting more specifically to this question, perhaps it’s important to point out that I think psychology has to differentiate between a natural event and a “soul” event. A natural event, like a tornado, earthquake, meteor, and pandemic etc. is not a “soul” phenomenon or event because it does not have consciousness at its core. It is organic, biological, and soul-less. A large collective event with “soul” would be something like the French Revolution, the founding of Christianity, the Enlightenment, and the advent of the Technological Age, for example. Something that reflects a great shift in culture (which is a manifestation of the collective unconscious) from within itself. The pandemic, as terrible, destructive and deadly as it is, is to me a “straight-forward” natural disaster. Also, the way the world in general is dealing with it (scientists, governments, doctors and health agencies, etc.) is, for better or worse, also straight-forward and pragmatic; on the ego level, where it should be. It’s not, in the specific sense psychological.
Now more to the question: If we’re speaking of the “collective” in terms of the collective soul, or Jung’s notions the collective unconsciousness, then I think it’s too soon to say what kind of impact the pandemic has had on this level. We will have to wait and see.
In terms of the impact of the pandemic on an individual soul level, i.e., in people, we obviously don’t have to wait to see this. As one might expect, there is a full spectrum of reactions. People are having certain individual complexes, for example, triggered by this event which can cause them to have amplified and difficult responses. These could include excessive anxiety, depression, or disorientation. They may even have a kind of paranoid response that results in them believing in conspiracy theories, or other kinds of neurotic responses.
When considering this question, we have to differentiate between on the one hand justified or so called “normal” responses (including anxiety or depression, for example), and on the other hand a psychological (soul) response, i.e., a complex initiated anxiety or neurosis.
On the more positive side, I think individual soul responses could include people developing insight and depth into certain aspects of their own lives. For example, a deeper awareness one’s own mortality might occur, or perhaps a more profound understanding of the meaning of relationships, or of what participating in community and public meeting places could mean for soul.Also, sometimes large scale event like a pandemic can have unexpected and surprising results. I remember Jung writing that the outbreak of WWII actually cured a lot of neuroses! It presumably shifted the neurotic conflict from within people’s minds to the global event where the inner conflict could be played out.
If I were to venture a guess as to how the collective soul might respond to the pandemic down the road, I might speculate that the relationship between consciousness and technology might deepen and become more explicit. I’m thinking here of the widespread use of online platforms many people have been using to connect with others, people that may have avoided doing this before. People are more open to this kind of technology now especially since it has allowed them to be in touch with loved ones.
Technology might play a more direct role in psychology’s work of understanding the soul and the deep nature of consciousness.