Tag Archives: ranier rilke

Thinking vs. Feeling Our Way Out of Life’s Wounds

Shakespeare knew that unacknowledged fear could stymie a person and keep him from meaningful action.  This was best illustrated in Hamlet whose internal conflict led to a tragic end.  In his famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy he said, “Thus conscience (i.e. consciousness) doeth make cowards of us all, and the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought and enterprises of great pith and moment, with this regard, their currents turn awry and lose the name of action.” Hamlet was tormented by Oedipal issues which he could not acknowledge and thus was driven to unconscious “acting out,” leading to a tragic course of action.

In King Lear, we find another example of this truth.   Goneril said to Edward, “It is the cowish (cowardly) terror of his spirit/that dares not undertake; he’ll not feel wrongs which tie him to an answer.  Our wishes on the way may prove effects.” Lear, like most people, did not have the courage to face the terror in the depths of his heart that left him powerless to “undertake” or to commit to action.  This was because he had experienced “wrongs” in his youth which were so profound that his adaptation had locked him into a pattern of avoidance, a pattern which could be broken only by “feeling” these wrongs.  Because of this imprisonment, the whims and fancies (i.e. “wishes”) were only the “effects” of unconscious wounds and the not the result of conscious, purposive intent. Instead of being the driver in his life, he was driven.

Shakespeare grasped a powerful insight of modern psychotherapy.  Gut-level issues that wound us deeply cannot be resolved with band-aid interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy in which “thinking” and “thinking about our thinking” are utilized, albeit often with a degree of effectiveness.  But he knew that the real core issues of human experience, those that tie us up in knots, must be addressed with “feeling” and not with thinking.  These issues we must “feel” our way out of as we can never “think” our way out of them. I think the emphasis of cognitive based clinical intervention, though certainly of some value, ultimately reflects our culture”s wishes to keep maladaptive behavior and mood disturbances on a surface level and not address the gut-level dimensions as depth-psychology seeks to do.  Until we are willing to acknowledge the subterranean dimension of life, and go there when the circumstances of life nudge us in that direction, our life will be, as Ranier Rilke noted, merely, “The toy of some great pain.”


The following are three blogs that I offer.  Please check the other two out sometime!







Daimonic Energy, Creativity, & Families

Eugene O’Neill is one of my favorite playwrights. I just read a book review in the New York Review of Books in which his personal foibles were put on the table, letting us see once again that so many men and women of “the arts” are the “toy of some great pain” as Ranier Rilke put it.  O’Neill’s personal life was often tragic and the tragedy was passed on to his children, two of which committed suicide and another drank herself to death.  This review described him as narcissistic and often physically and emotionally abusive of his wives.  It is as if he was living out the script that his father had left him. (The book is, “By Women Possessed: a Life of Eugene O’Neill” by  Arthur Gelb and Barbara Gelb)

Life is painful.  Most of us hide it well, living out our lives in a pedestrian manner, finding solace in the amusements and distractions that our culture affords us.  We have boundaries that keep the pain beneath the surface, boundaries that I like to describe as the “fig leaves” that God gave us to hide us from our nakedness.  Creative people, those who frolic about in “the arts”, do not have boundaries that are solid and thus daimonic energy flows through them and from that primitive source of all good…and bad…the gods communicate with us.

T.S. Eliot was aware of this daimonic energy in families. In his play, “The Family Reunion” he painted the picture of one very conflicted,  even dysfunctional, upper-class family through whom one particular individual seemed destined to carry the load of these dark forces. And, from his own personal life, he clearly was speaking of himself.  In this selection from the play he describes the “sin bearer” of this family, the scape-goat in a sense, who he described as the families “bird sent flying through the purgatorial fire.”

What we have written is not a story of detection,

Of crime and punishment, but of sin and expiation.

It is possible you have not known what sin

You shall expiate, or whose, or why.  It is certain

That the knowledge of it must precede the expiation.

It is possible that sin may strain and struggle

In its dark instinctive birth, to come to consciousness

And so find expurgation.  It is possible

You are the consciousness of your unhappy family,

Its bird sent flying through the purgatorial flame.

Indeed it is possible.  You may learn hereafter,

Moving alone through flames of ice, chosen

To resolve the enchantment under which we suffer


Someone noted, “Always remember when you encounter someone, he is carrying pain.”  The point is to be willing to allow some slack to this individual for you don’t know what is going on with him.  Auden put this eloquently when he noted that all of us, “Wage the war we are.”  Each of us have our ways of handling this duress and most of the times these adaptations are within the pale of social acceptability and everyone is happy.  But people like O’Neill, Eliot, and “the artists” in general, are more open to this pain, this “daimonic” energy, and that is why our culture usually grants them a little more slack.  They bring great beauty and wisdom to us, without which we’d be condemned to live only on the surface of life, missing the breath of fresh air that the gods offer us.


Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:





the surface of life without these breaths of fresh air from the gods.

The Heart’s “Beastly Little Treasures”

My dear mother often trotted out home-spun wisdom that I’m sure she picked up from her upbringing in the farmland of south-central Missouri.  One of my favorites was, in reference to someone who obviously thought way too much of himself, “I wish I could buy him for what he’s worth and sell him for what he thinks he’s worth.  I’d be a millionaire.”  I stumbled across the 19th century novelist George Eliot’s version of this wisdom yesterday, “What mortal is there of us, who would find his satisfaction enhanced by an opportunity of comparing the picture he presents to himself of his doings, with the picture they make on the mental retina of his neighbours? We are poor plants buoyed up by the air-vessels of our own conceit.”

None of us are exempt from this vanity and that is not necessarily a fault.  “Tis just a human foible.  Of course, occasionally someone like Donald Trump comes along and this “human foible” is magnified for us and we see how catastrophic it can be.  It is important to have self-respect and even self-love in some sense.  Failure to do so merely reflects what Carl Jung termed “ego deflation” which is an inverted form of “ego inflation.”  Jung realized that with either extreme there was inordinate attention on our self and a lack of attention on other people and the world outside of our ego, that we probably saw only “the small bright circle of our consciousness, beyond which lies the darkness.”  It is very humbling to suddenly realize, “Uh oh, this has pretty much been all about me so far in my life.”

“Self” consciousness or self-awareness is very challenging.  It requires what spiritual teachers often call “soul work.”  It entails looking within as well as without, the “within” dimension often requiring confronting what poet Ranier Rilke described as the heart’s “beastly little treasures.”


ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are: 




Macbeth’s “Distempered Cause” and Donald Trump

Shakespeare must have been an impulse ridden young man for his characters often wrestle with the issue of self-control, best illustrated with his description of Macbeth being unable to “buckle his distempered cause within the belt of rule.”  This image is that of a corpulent man trying unsuccessfully to fasten a buckle around his protruding belly.  It brings to my mind, the corpulent Oliver Hardy, of “Laurel and Hardy” comedy team from the early 20th century, comically attempting to fasten his belt.  Shakespeare presented Macbeth as deeply flawed, not merely in attitude and behavior, but deep down in the heart in the depths of his “cause,” or heart/will.  Macbeth’s inability to control his impulses, leading to murderous intent, stemmed from something that had gone awry deeply in his soul.  He was, to borrow a description from Ranier Rilke, “The toy of some great pain.”

This Shakespearean observation of Macbeth has been on my mind often recently as I’ve watched Donald Trump unravel before our eyes and watch his Republican Party stand by haplessly, not having had the courage in their own collective heart to intervene when they could have.  Trump presents such a vivid picture of psychopathology and it has been amusing, and sad, to watch his cohorts attempt at various times in the past year to rein him in.  But when one’s “cause” is so deeply “distempered” or diseased, there is no reining it in.

Trump is still living out of what we clinicians call “the terrible two’s” when the world is one’s oyster.  Usually one’s familial and social context will provide limits so that the child will come to see that the world is not his to exploit for his own ends, but is a domain that requires cooperation.  And surrendering to this external demand is excruciating to a nascent ego but most of us manage to endure the pain,  learning to appreciate the value of trading immediate gratification for the deferred variety.  Trump’s family indulged him, and so did his political “family” early in this campaign.  One of his 16 competitors in the primary season, Senator Lindsey Graham, noted onetime in retrospect, “We all cowered in the corner of the stage” before Trump’s onslaught of bullying behavior.  The “willfulness” that Trump demonstrates has made him wealthy but at the expense of a lot of people.  A strong-willed person, with just a modicum of self-restraint, can be very successful in about any area of life.  Will, or the exercise thereof, is very important but it can lead to one’s downfall.

Shakespeare is probably one of the most wonderful discoveries of my life.  He knew the human heart and vividly illustrated its beauty and its foibles in his plays and sonnets.  And it is very revealing that until my mid-thirties, I could not understand him and actually loathed him!  His wisdom fell on deaf ears.  At that point in my life I was only beginning to emerge from the darkness of “having ears to hear, but hearing not; having eyes to see but seeing not.”

Shakespeare, Jung, and the Unconscious

Hamlet was moping about the castle one day, disgruntled and surly, the very picture of depression to those watching.  Suddenly aware of the object lesson he was providing he declared, “I have within me that which passeth show.  These are but the suits of woe.”  Hamlet was saying, “Hey, you guys think I’m depressed.  Hell, you don’t know the half of it!  You think this is despair, you oughta know what’s raging down inside this ‘foul rag-and-bone shop’ of my heart.”

Shakespeare had a brilliant grasp of the human unconsciousness, that murky domain beneath the surface of life which terrorizes us into this “civilized” behavior that we call reality.   In this scene Hamlet was wallowing in a despair that Shakespeare knew was beyond the grasp of words and deeds, finding faint expression…mercifully for all parties…only through behavior and words.  He knew that without the gift of sublimation, the phenomena known to philosophers as “the thing-in-itself” would violently irrupt and the social body would have more to deal with than a morose malcontent moping through the castle breathing out “threatenings and slaughterings.”

The Bard knew about the terrors…and delights…of the unconscious.  We don’t know the details of how he acquired this knowledge but it was not in school or books but in dealing with the daily grind of a relentless reality.  And, as he went about this “daily grind” he found an ability to look into his own heart and learn what the Universe was trying to teach him then so that he could eloquently and artfully present it to us in his poetry and plays.  Matthew Arnold recognized this hard-earned talent of gifted souls, noting, “The poet, in whose heart heaven hath a quicker pulse imparted, subdues that energy to scan, not his own heart, but that of man.”

But modern life does not want to recognize these subterranean depths and for good reason.  It would be painful.  But we ignore them at our own peril for these demons which we haunt us will always “out” in some fashion.  This is currently glaringly apparent in my own country (the United States) as I watch intelligent and well-educated men and women in our Congress take ridiculous positions without even a doff of the hat to “the pauser reason” which would allow them to be more moderate in their stances.

It is important to note that these subterranean depths offers more than ugliness if we would deign to go there.  Shakespeare knew very well that beauty and joy could be found there as we acknowledge and embrace what Carl Jung called our shadow.  His work presaged what Ranier Rilke would note, “the heart has its beastly little treasures” which, if acknowledged and embraced, can introduce us to the refreshing breath of Wholeness which, in my spiritual tradition is called the Spirit of God.

The Moon is Made Out of Cheese!

This is just a whimsical notion I’ve tossed around for years to illustrate lunacy. And our imagination is a myriad of whimsical notions some of which are occasionally more outrageous than that one. This dimension of the human heart is the birthplace of everything that makes up the world, everything from the wheel to bread-ties. Without the capacity to imagine we never would have even made it to the Stone Age.  And, yes one is free to imagine that the moon is out of cheese but hopefully the notion would not find lodging in too many minds!

My mind/heart is now teeming with these whimsical notions as I have taken giant strides towards escaping the linear logic of the “literallew” of my youth. And, I feel that these whimsies are fine as they are just that—“whimsies.” But, some of them aren’t so nice…to put it mildly…and fortunately I have the “faculty of judgment” available which empowers me to not pay any attention to them. And if our imagination is in play, there will be a myriad of fancies that flutter past our mind’s eye and we cannot be dismayed by the unpleasant ones.

History is the tale of visionaries who have dared to imagine the impossible. One simple example is that unknown soul who dared to imagine that the earth was not flat back in the 16th century. Whoever he or she was must have been hesitant to share this “crazy notion” and when it was first shared the outcome was certainly not pleasant. The “tyranny of the way things are” holds us captive and it takes bold individuals to dare and question that “psychopathology of everyday life.”

I think religion should have a role in challenging this “tyranny” and does on occasion though usually the insight of the challengers is quickly co-opted and turned into dogma. Scientists are often earth-shakers as they are willing to think outside of the box and bring new dimensions to our consciousness. And art provides my favorite “earth-shakers,” people who are not only able to think outside of the box but at times outside of the box that the box is in!!!

The imagination is very much related to the body. One whose imagination finds the freedom to flow will be in touch with his/her physicality and will be comfortable with it. The unconscious, the gut-level dimension of the heart, will be allowed to speak its truths some of which are occasionally very dark at first glance. As Ranier Rilke put it, “The heart has its beastly little treasures.”

GOP Facing God’s Judgment!

Matthew 12:36-27 “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

I used to interpret these words of Jesus to mean that some time in the distant future I would stand before God and listen to Him remind me of ugly and stupid things that I had said and done in my life. But now think that one dimension of the “judgment of God,” occurs at those moments when “reality” confronts me with the lunacy of a particular vein of thought that has preoccupied me, influencing my speech and my behavior. Some of these “judgments,” especially from my youth, still make me cringe with the realization, “How could I have said that? How could I have done that!” Sometimes the angst is so intense it is even visceral. These are my “Rick Perry moments” when I realize I had completely made an ass of myself; and, yes, I often respond with Perry’s famous, “Oops.” For, our words reveal what is going on in our hearts, that unconscious domain which we can never “know” in the sense of “wrapping out head around it.”  But these “Rick Perry moments” have helped me to learn that this region of my heart is ever present and offers many opportunities to learn something about myself.

The Republican Party in the U.S. Congress is currently being exposed to this same “judgment of God” as the “The Letter” they impulsively wrote to Iran is being deemed “ill-advised”  by many.  Some of those who signed this letter are voicing second thoughts about the decision and criticism from outside the GOP echo chamber is mounting. But having “second thoughts” about our thoughts, words, and deeds, individually and collectively, is part of being a human and the self-reflection can lead to modifying one’s agenda. This is listening to “reality” rather than stubbornly and blindingly continuing on a course of action or with a vein of thought simple because it is too painful to acknowledge to oneself and others, “Oops! I was wrong.” This simple self-reflection is a God-given neurological gift if we have the courage to use our forebrain to monitor old-brain impulses.   But for those moments when we fail to do so, we have the T. S. Eliot wisdom, “Oh the shame of motives late revealed, and the awareness of things ill-done, and done to others harm, which once we took for exercise of virtue.”

The unconscious fear of being exposed is intrinsic to human nature. But I have learned that the pain is more bearable since I found the courage to acknowledge that I always have so much I’m hiding and that when bits of it surfaces I should see it as a gift, albeit a painful gift!  I think it was Ranier Rilke that said, “The heart has its beastly little treasures.” The God-given gift of self-reflection makes the moments of vulnerability less intense and allows me to say, “Oh there you go again, being human!”

Having the “thoughts and intents of our heart” exposed often evokes the feeling of being “wrong.” But this feeling of being “wrong” is ok as we are all only human and will always find ourselves subscribing to ideas that are self-serving and ultimately counter-productive for everyone. But when we are trapped in our ideas…when we are ideologues…we are so invested in our ideas that we cannot allow them to be modified by the feedback of others. People who cannot acknowledge and experience this fear of being wrong, i.e. the “judgment of God,” will likely spend their lives projecting their anguish onto others, seeing the “wrong” out there and often seeking to obliterate it. As psychologist Martha Beck noted, “You spot it, you got it!” People obsessed with attacking and condemning others for being “wrong,” are merely diverting their attention from the painful challenge of the Apostle Paul to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.


AN AFTERTHOUGHT—Well, the Apostle Paul’s suggestion is a good one but after thinking about it, I’ve decided, “Bah humbug! I’m gonna continue to blame those dang Republicans!!!  Listen, I’m “preaching” here and don’t think I should have to “practice what I preach!”

(For more info on the backlash the Republicans are experiencing, see the following link—http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/14/gop-iran-letter-criticism_n_6868398.html)