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On Elsner, Kipnis, Watkins, and Our Alumni

Michael Elliott, Ph.D. | Core Faculty, Pacifica Counseling Psychology Program
| originally posted on 31 May 2012

As I read the first three faculty blogs on this great new website, I was struck by the thoughtfulness and care of all three writers. I was reminded why I recently decided to join the faculty at Pacifica. Tom Elsner rearticulated Pacifica’s mission for the sake of tending the soul of and in the world. Aaron Kipnis wrote on the etymology of the word alumni and its variations to help us realize alumni as a nurturing force. And Mary Watkins invited us to put for the sake of tending the soul of and in the world as a nurturing force into practice by joining the Alternative to Violence Project to facilitate the spread of non-violence teaching to those who have been incarcerated. Many of you have committed to the call.

If the work of Individuation is shadow integration, then, in some wa,y also tending the shadow or that which has been marginalized, oppressed, or otherwise left behind is soul work. I have spent years looking into the shadow in an effort to tend the soul (and for me admittedly often to please the ego), as have many who might be reading this blog. But what of the world soul, animae mundi, of which Elsner gave us wonderful images? Does it cast a shadow, a sort of lunar eclipse? Or does it have a shadow that must be looked at, worked with — integrated? I think that when a nurturing force with the intent to tend the soul of and in the world goes to the shadow in an effort to integrate by way of no longer marginalizing or ignoring but instead rehabilitating and transforming, then soul work is an embodied expression of what is good about us. It’s a soulful practice.

I have always struggled with a definition of soul. James Hillman, when asked for a definition of soul simply responded, “Nope, can’t do it.” Then he proceeded to read a poem. Soul is beyond definition or — to play on a Levinas idea — de-infinition, as it is the infinite nature of soul that can’t be captured in finite conceptualization. But that does not make soul nothing or no-thing. It is simply beyond thingness. In a recent discussion I had with Willow Young, Chair of the M.A. in Counseling Psychology program, she suggested that an ethics of Depth Psychology is the always already not yet discovered. We are pulled toward it, moved by it, called to it, and remain ethically bound to tolerate its perpetual ambiguity. However, when a body of people, a nurturing force, with the intent to tend the soul of and in the world, turn back to uncover or recover that which is in the shadow — for a moment or, as our esteemed colleague Ed Casey might say, in a glance — I know what soul is.

My gratitude to be among such a force keeps me humble. The great humanist George Bernard Shaw once said:

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as mighty one; the being a force of nature – instead of feverish, selfish, little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I, am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege, MY PRIVILEGE, to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got a hold of for the moment. And I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

Michael Elliott, Ph.D., is a Licensed Psychologist serving as core faculty at Pacifica’s Counseling Psychology Program. His article “The Art and Soul of Couples and Family Therapy” appears in the current issues of The Therapist.

•|  COMMENTS  |•
Collected here, with posting dates, are observations made in the “Comments” section included with the original appearance of this article at the initial website of Pacifica Graduate Institute Alumni Association.  Please feel welcome to offer additional notes in the current “Comments” function.
Willow Young, Ph.D.  |  13 June 2012
“…for the harder I work the more I live” resonates with my experience of our work in community. Michael Sipiora reminded the attendees at Pacifica’s Public Program Leadership Conference of Hillman’s requirements for anyone who worked at Spring Publications: “You must get your mind around it” and “You must get your hands in it”! Mike, I love working with you as we apply Hilman’s ethos to “getting our minds around” the concepts of the Depth Tradition, and our hands in the work of teaching and dialoguing with our students!
Marilyn Meyer Owen |  2 June 2012
OH! I love that quote! Thank you, Michael, for passing it along and for your exploration of what our work is about.

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