Swamplands of the Soul

“…sooner or later, all of us are ushered by fate, by the actions of others, by choices we make, both conscious and unconscious, into places we do not wish to visit. Such rooms in our common psychic mansion we label depression, loss, grief, addiction, anxiety, envy, shame, and the like…In these dismal environs we are flooded by anxiety because the fact of being out of control is no longer deniable. Accordingly, and typically, we tend to kick into our former management systems – denial, projection onto others, addiction, frenetic activity – and we mire deeper and deeper in the swamp.”

How’s that for a cheery start to a reflection! In his book What Matters Most, Jungian analyst James Hollis ventures into our “dismal environs” in an attempt to name and claim the fact that no one escapes the inevitability of soul-searing times. Try as we might to outrun them, the likes of depression, loss, grief, etc., will eventually catch up to us. Hollis intimates that a better tactic would be to adopt the wisdom of philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson who says that if a dog is chasing you, stop and whistle for it!

The reason it is wise to embrace “such rooms in our common psychic mansion” is that by doing so we open the door to our soul. It’s been said that religious people believe in hell, spiritual people have been there. When we face what we fear, we not only take away much of its power, but we also come to realize that we have the capacity to prevail; there is within us a Presence and Power waiting to be discovered.

Anne LaMott is not only an author, but a person who knows what it is like to face her demons. She refers to that Presence and Power when she states that courage is fear that has said its prayers. The courage to face what frightens us does not dispel fear, but opening ourselves to a Higher/Inner Power enables us to move through our fear and to enter with confidence “places we do not wish to visit.”

Buddhist’s say that when you walk into the fire, you find out it’s raining in there! Nothing is as bad as it seems from the outside, but we have to enter the swamplands of the soul in order to experience this.

5 thoughts on “Swamplands of the Soul

  1. Nice content for contemplating methods of embracing our fears. I have found this concept extremely helpful throughout my life. I have not found a fear that I could not embrace and each fear subsided as much as I faced it. Good points for making life more meaningful, fun and healthier (mind, body and soul). I also like your reference quotes used through your writing. Thank you Tom

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  2. Thank you, Tom. The choice of the word “mansions” evoked for me a poem from Rumi:

    The Guest House

    This being human is a guest house.
    Every morning a new arrival.
    A joy, a depression, a meanness,
    some momentary awareness comes
    as an unexpected visitor.
    Welcome and entertain them all!
    Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
    who violently sweep your house
    empty of its furniture,
    still, treat each guest honorably.
    He may be clearing you out
    for some new delight.
    The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
    meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
    Be grateful for whatever comes.
    because each has been sent
    as a guide from beyond.

    — Jellaludin Rumi,

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  3. Johanes Metz, a German theologian who just died a couple weeks ago wrote a little book called “Poverty of Spirit.” It is about God embracing humanity, and the challenge for us to embrace our humanity. Once we do, we feel God embracing us. This is the redeeming aspect of Poverty of Spirit.
    Vic Clore

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Vic. I didn’t realize that Metz died. Read the book long ago – a real classic. I hope all is well with you. I’m still, and will always be, grateful for the way you presided at my mother’s funeral – two years to the day, or close to it.

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