by Thomas Moore
When Thomas Moore talks about caring for the soul, he does not mean in a religious, save your soul for the eternal hereafter sense. He is talking about the soul in the sense used by psychiatrists like Jung, poets like Keats or Rilke, Renaissance philosophers, or Greek playwrights. He means that part of our self connected with genuineness, depth, imagination, ambiguity, mystery, myth, and ritual.
Moore’s book, Care of the Soul, is difficult to get into because his concept of soul is so hard to grasp for a busy, contemporary reader, distracted by the buzz of daily life. His whole point is that the soul is not something that can be scientifically defined and examined, fixed or fine tuned. As he says, “Soul is the font of who we are, and yet it is far beyond our capacity to devise and to control.”
Moore’s thesis is that our lives are fuller, richer, and deeper, with a greater recognition of our individual selves the more we cultivate and care for our souls. Conversely, ignoring and starving our souls leads to disillusionment, loss of values, ugliness, and even neuroses.
He explores his thesis first by looking at common issues in everyday life that he argues “offer the opportunity for soul-making, once we stop thinking of them as problems to be solved.” Some of his scenarios and explanations are confusing – for instance, how the myth of Narcissus builds the soul, while the psychological condition of narcissism demonstrates a week soul dominated by the ego. Discussions such as this seem to pre-suppose a familiarity with classical psychoanalysis beyond that of a general reader.
But Care of the Soul has a lot to offer the reader willing to dig in and give due consideration to Moore’s message. In particular, the later sections comparing the soul and the spirit and on tending the soul through artful living are worth pondering and re-reading. For instance, this passage inspires closer attention to day-to-day ritual:
To live with a high degree of artfulness means to attend to the small things that keep the soul engaged in whatever we are doing, and it is the very heart of soul-making. From some grand overview of life, it may seem that only the big events are ultimately important. But to the soul, the most minute details and the most ordinary activities, carried out with mindfulness and art, have an effect far beyond their apparent insignificance.
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I've read a couple other "soul" books by Thomas Moore, but this one has been on my TBR shelf forever. I finally read it now as one of my books for two of the TBR challenges I am doing this year, the MT. TBR CHALLENGE (hosted by Bev on My Reader's Block) and the OFF THE SHELF CHALLENGE (hosted by Bonnie on Bookish Ardour).