Begin It Now

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

[W.H. Murray]
The Scottish Himalayan Expedition
(There is some dispute over the accuracy of the Goethe quote used by Murray, for more information see here)

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(To what) are you paying attention?

Goal directed [Selective] attention

One's currently active goal drives what one attends to in the busy real world.

An active goal (e.g., to find something to eat) caused the mental representations relevant to attaining the goal (e.g., restaurants, bodegas) to become somewhat more active than usual and thus more ready to become activated by corresponding stimuli in the environment.

Selective attention is a powerful tool in the reduction of the often overwhelming abundance of information available in the current environment.

It is sometimes quite striking how powerful this selective attention process is in reducing what 'gets through' to influence us; the phenomenon of 'inattentional blindness' being a dramatic example.

In one study, for example, participants involved in a computer-simulated three person 'ball toss' game very often did not notice - and were surprised to find out later - when a large gorilla walked right through the game across the middle of the screen.

[John A. Bargh]
'What have we been priming all these years? On the development, mechanisms, and ecology of nonconscious social behaviour' published in European Journal of Social Psychology, Jan 2006, p.158, 159

Let's talk about it

That's the real reason for censorship, whether it's the direct censorship of the state or academia's censorship-by-dismissal: the less you allow to be expressed, the more alone and cut off people feel. When certain feelings are unexpressed in the culture, people think those feelings are bad or crazy, and so they trust their feelings less; hence they're more vulnerable to pressure from above.

[James Hillman]
We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy - And the World's Getting Worse, p.87, 88

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Saturn's Blessings

We are very much the creation of the stories we tell ourselves.

... just turn around any of the major psychological stories you tell about your own life.
Read them backwards. You picked your wife because she was very different from (or very much like) your mother. This is an old saw in psychology. But suppose your soul gained practice with your mother for the life later lived with your wife.

Or suppose a person conceives of her childhood illness (that kept her bedridden and out of touch during crucial socializing years) to have been early practice at the work she does now, like writing in solitude or inventing electronic devices or becoming a therapist. She had to be isolated for those years in order to follow her seed.

This way of seeing removes the burden from those early years as having been a mistake and yourself a victim of handicaps or cruelties; instead, it's all the acorn in the mirror, the soul endlessly repeating in different guises the fundamental pattern of your karma.

If we began with Saturn, we would be far more reconciled with our givens, including everything that doesn't work and is imagined to be a trauma, a curse and bad luck, and we would be far less impatient about our growth.

As I've grown older, I've come to realise that the curses, the frustrations, and the character faults visited on me by Saturn mean something completely different than what I thought when I was younger. I took them literally as curses, and I cursed my stars for not giving me what I believed I needed and wanted. That is, I cursed Saturn, to use the old language.

But it isn't Saturn who curses us; we curse him. We make him into that poor, shunned, limping old God because we don't understand his mode of blessing. What a curse it must be to keep giving gifts that are received as punishments!

The faults and frustrations he visits on us are his way of keeping us true to our particular image. No way out. The old lore attributed the last years of life to Saturn. That makes sense. Only now can I begin to reconcile myself with and not rebel against what I am and what I am not.

[James Hillman]
with Michael Ventura
We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy - And the World's Getting Worse, p.27, 68, 69

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These coincidences amaze her. Never does she feel so thoroughly suffused with beauty as when the nostalgia for her past love blends with the surprises of her new love.

The intrusion of the previous boyfriend into the story she is currently living is to her mind not some secret infidelity; it adds further to her fondness for the man walking beside her now.

[Milan Kundera]
Ignorance, p.80

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All messages and parts of messages are like phrases or segments of equations which a mathematician puts in brackets. Outside the brackets there may always be a qualifier or multiplier which will alter the whole tenor of the phrase. Moreover, these qualifiers can always be added, even years later.

In the realm of communication, the events of the past constitute a chain of old horseshoes so that the meaning of that chain can be changed and is continually being changed.

What exists today are only messages about the past which we call memories, and these messages can always be framed and modulated from moment to moment.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('The Group Dynamics of Schizophrenia'), p.232-3

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The way my people take care of something that we're not happy with is to honor it and say, "Thank you, you've taught me a lesson." If it's anger, if it's hate, if it's a drinking problem: "Boy, you've been with me for a long time. Now I'm going to try something else. But I want to thank you for teaching me something about myself."

Never try to just get rid of it. You can't, it's too strong, it's too embedded. Instead, honor it and say, "Thank you."

[Bear Heart]
The Wind is My Mother: The Life and Teaching of a Native American Shaman, p.113

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You, in every moment

The key to your life and my life, Michael, is not locked away in childhood to be recovered by remembering and analysing; it is found in your death and who you are then - and then moment of death is any moment.

I may die in a veterans' hospital with Alzheimer's or gasping with tubes and wires and oxygen or smashed and tangled against a tree in a car crash, or I may drop dead at a corporate board or directors meeting. These are not, however, literally any more revelations of my image than this moment now.

In other words, we have to take care we don't take death too literally, as we take childhood. Time is not the primary factor; an image is not cumulative, and the late stages of life are not the fullest and finest presentation of one's seed. The oak tree is not any more itself after four hundred years and at the moment of its felling. It is always itself ...

[James Hillman]
We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy - And the World's Getting Worse, p.64

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Live In The Now

Community Service

I think it's absolutely necessary for our spiritual life today to have a community where we actually live. Of course, we have dear friends from thirty years ago who are living in Burma or Brazil now. And they're there for you when you're busted - in an emergency. But is that sufficient? For the maintenance of the world? It's definitely not.

I think for the maintenance of the world that other kind of local community requires regular servicing. And that's a very unpleasant, hard thing to stay with, to realize how much service one needs to perform - not for an old distant friend, but for the people [next door].

[James Hillman]
We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy - And the World's Getting Worse, p.43, 44

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Respect your Selves

Ventura: The more I think about it, you do have an image of what your face will look like. You do feel other people in you, who are older, and they talk to you - they talk to me, at any rate. In have a much older man inside me who talks to me every day, quietly, usually kindly, tolerantly, sometimes sternly when I'm really fucking up, always with humour. I like him enormously; he seems very much the best part of me.

I know several men who are, like me, in their forties, and they're starting to feel middle-aged in the flesh, and they say, "My body is betraying me." They even dye their hair and lie about their age. And I know women the same age, not Beverly Hills housewives or movie stars but women whom I never thought would do this, getting breast implants, tucks, that kind of thing - and I'm afraid for them, because they are deeply insulting the older people in them. And those insults are weakening the older people in them.

So when they finally turn sixty-five, when it's their sixty-five-year-old's turn to be, that sixty-five-year-old has been so insulted and weakened that he or she may not be able to do the job.

Hillman
: I saw a drawing of a woman - she was about forty-four. It was a pencil drawing, very touching. She didn't like it because it made her look too old. I said, "That drawing, that's the old woman who is waiting for you at the end of the corridor." They're there. Those figures are our companions, they're always around, and they need strengthening all the way down the line.

Ventura
: And if we've insulted the older people in us sufficiently and attacked them every time we, say, cursed an older driver -

Hillman
: - or the person in front of you in the supermarket who doesn't put her money away quickly enough -

Ventura
: Every time we've done that we've frightened and diminished the old ones in us, and those figures shrink until maybe there isn't anyone there.

And when we attack young people, in the same impatient way we've attacked old people, we weaken our young selves who are still in us, the way the older selves were in us when we were young.

Hillman
: Absolutely. We attack the younger people in us. As you say, the young ones who give us urges, send us fantasies. And so we no longer allow ourselves to feel or to imagine sexuality, we no longer allow ourselves to imagine risk - the incredible risks that young people take! They just do it! We don't allow ourselves to risk in the sense of abandon, letting go.

[James Hillman]
with Michael Ventura
We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy - And the World's Getting Worse, p.21, 22, 23

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Communal Benefits

Hillman: The thing therapy pushes is relationship, yet work may matter just as much as relationship. You think you're going to die if you're not in a good relationship. You feel that not being in a significant, long-lasting, deep relationship is going to cripple you or that you're crazy or neurotic or something. You feel intense bouts of longing and loneliness.

But those feelings are not only due to poor relationship; they come also because you're not in any kind of political community that makes sense, that matters. Therapy pushes the relationship issues, but what intensifies those issues is that we don't have (a) satisfactory work or (b), even more important perhaps, we don't have a satisfactory political community.

You can't just make up for the loss of passion and purpose in your daily work by intensifying your personal relationships. I think we talk so much about inner growth and development because we are so boxed in to petty, private concerns on our jobs.

Ventura: In a world where most people do work that is not only unsatisfying but also, with its pressures, deeply unsettling; and in a world where there's nothing more rare than a place that feels like a community, we load all our needs into a relationship or expect them to be met by our family. And then we wonder why our relationships and family crack under the load.

... even the Norman Rockwell ideal of the happy, self-sufficient family is a distortion of what families were for thousands, probably tens of thousands, of years. During that time, no family was self-sufficient. Each family was a working unit that was part of the larger working unit, which was the community - the tribe or the village. Tribes and villages were self-sufficient, not families.

It's not only that everyone worked together, everyone also played and prayed together, so that the burden of relationship, and of meaning, wasn't confined to the family, much less to a romantic relationship, but was spread out into the community. Until the Industrial Revolution, family always existed in that context.

[James Hillman]
with Michael Ventura
We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy - And the World's Getting Worse, p.13

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In stark contrast to the nuclear family, which tends to seal itself off from the outside world, relationships within the Ladakhi family naturally extend themselves into the broader community. It is sometimes hard to say where family ends and community begins.

Any woman old enough to be your mother is called "Mother," anyone of the right age to be your brother is called "Brother." We still see remnants of this in industrial society. In the more traditional parts of Sweden and Russia, for example, a child will call any familiar adult "Uncle" or "Auntie."

Most Westerners would agree that we have lost our sense of community. Our lives are fragmented, and in spite of the number of people with whom we come into contact in the course of a day, we are often left feeling sadly alone, not even knowing our neighbours. In Ladakh, people are part of a community that is spiritually, socially, and economically interdependent.

[Helena Norberg-Hodge]
Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh, p.186

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Shedding Skin

Hillman: And becoming more and more oneself - the actual experience of it is a shrinking, in that very often it's a dehydration, a loss of inflations, a loss of illusions.

Ventura: That doesn't sound like a good time. Why would anybody want to do it?

Hillman: Because shedding is a beautiful thing. It's of course not what consumerism tells you, but shedding feels good. It's a lightening up.

Ventura: Shedding what?

Hillman: Shedding pseudoskins, crusted stuff that you've accumulated. Shedding dead wood. That's one of the big sheddings. Things that don't work anymore, things that don't keep you - keep you alive. Sets of ideas that you've had too long. People that you don't really like to be with, habits of thought, habits of sexuality. That's a very big one, 'cause if you're still making love at forty the way you did at eighteen you're missing something, and if you're making love at sixty the way you did at forty you're missing something. All that changes. The imagination changes.

Or put it another way: Growth is always loss.

Anytime you're gonna grow, you're gonna lose something. You're losing what you're hanging onto to keep safe. You're losing habits that you're comfortable with, you're losing familiarity. That's a big one, when you begin to move into the unfamiliar.

You know, in the organic world when anything begins to grow it's moving constantly into unfamiliar movements and unfamiliar things. Watch birds grow - they fall down, they can't quite do it. Their growing is all awkwardness. Watch a fourteen-year-old kid tripping over his own feet.

[James Hillman]
with Michael Ventura
We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy - And the World's Getting Worse, p.8

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Dangers of Dogmatism

Dogmatism: unfounded positiveness in matters of opinion; arrogant assertion of opinions as truths.

Dogmatism is an enemy to peace ... In the present age ... it is the greatest of the mental obstacles to human happiness.

The demand for certainty is one which is natural to a man, but is nethertheless an intellectual vice. If you take your children for a picnic on a doubtful day, they will demand a dogmatic answer as to whether it will be fine or wet, and be disappointed in you when you cannot be sure.

The same sort of assurance is demanded, in later life, of those who undertake to lead populations into the Promised Land. 'Liquidate the capitalists and the survivors will enjoy eternal bliss.' 'Exterminate the Jews and everyone will be virtuous.' 'Kill the Croats and let the Serbs reign.' 'Kill the Serbs and let the Croats reign.'These are samples of the slogans that have won popular acceptance in our time. Even a modicum of philosophy would make it impossible to accept such blood-thirsty nonesense.

But so long as men are not trained to withhold judgement in the the absence of evidence, they will be led astray by cocksure prophets, and it is likely that their leaders will be either ignorant fanatics or dishonest charlatans.

To endure uncertainty is difficult, but so are most of the other virtues. For the learning of every virtue there is an appropriate discipline, and for the learning of suspended judgement the best discipline is philosophy.

Dogmatism and scepticism are both, in a sense, absolute philosophies; one is certain of knowing, the other of not knowing. What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or of ignorance.

Instead of saying 'I know this', we ought to say 'I more or less know something more or less like this'. It is true that this proviso is hardly necessary as regards the multiplication table, but knowledge in practical affairs has not the certainty or the precision of arithmetic.

Suppose I say 'democracy is a good thing': I must admit, first, that I am less sure of this than I am that two and two is four, and secondly, that 'democracy' is a somewhat vague term which I cannot define precisely. We ought to say, therefore: 'I am fairly certain that it is a good thing if a government has something of the characteristics that are common to the British and American Constitutions', or something of the sort. And one of the aims of education ought to be to make such a statement more effective from a platform than the usual type of political slogan.

Thinking that you know when in fact you don't is a fatal mistake, to which we are all prone. I believe myself that hedgehogs eat black beetles, because I have been told that they do; but if I were writing a book on the habits of hedgehogs, I should not commit myself until I had seen one enjoying this unappetising diet.

Ancient and medieval authors knew all about unicorns and salamanders; not one of them thought it necessary to avoid dogmatic statements about them because he had never seen one of them.

Many matters, however, are less easily brought to the test of experience. If, like most of mankind, you have passionate convictions on many such matters, there are ways in which you can make yourself aware of your own bias.

If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do.

If some one maintains that two and two are five, or that Iceland is on the equator, you feel pity rather than anger, unless you know so little of arithmetic or geography that his opinion shakes your own contrary conviction. The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way.

So whenever you find yourself getting angry about a difference of opinion, be on your guard; you will probably find, on examination, that your belief is going beyond what the evidence warrants.

A good way of ridding yourself of certain types of dogmatism is to become aware of opinions held in social circles different from your own ... If you cannot travel seek out people with whom you disagree, and read a newspaper belonging to a party that is not yours.

[Bertrand Russell]
Unpopular Essays ('Philosophy for Laymen', 'An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish'), p.38, 39, 115, 116

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Assumptions