From Therapeia 1: Impossibility, Suggestion and the Contentment of Poverty. Letter to students 2018.
Because It Makes Soul, Love is Possible
A labyrinth is a multi varied image. One might have a minotaur and another might be Chartres. The path itself has meaning and the value is in the experience of getting there and getting back, not in some singular point of action or vision. ‘A symbolic journey to the centre of yourself’ is one take. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has no dead ends and actually has only a single path, and one entrance and one exit. Following that image into one of the labyrinths most familiar to us in our studies, we must ask what exactly Theseus needed from Ariandne, or her from him, since the route is really a matter of just following the path. And what does the devouring beast that resides at the centre want or need, and why it is children that satisfy that need, and who do we become when we wrestle and overcome those forces? The traditional religious view that this represents a victory in ‘overcoming our animal passions’ is unsatisfactory to us who consider, amongst other ideas, that passions, as pathos, are visitations from the gods, and that desire is holy.
The labyrinth in Chartres, with its quadrant pattern articulating the cross, was walked as a pilgrimage or else crawled as repentance. A pilgrimage is a mystery. Something happens to the person that is indefinable, but believed in with firm conviction by the pilgrim. The impact of a pilgrimage is in the body, which, if it is to efficacious, only happens by actually being at the physical place considered holy or significant. The effect of being present with the matter, space and soul of that place, if successful, is experienced as a meaningful and yet ineffable event. Furthermore, this initiation is often accompanied by changes in or markings on the body.
These days of virtual relationships, love dolls, artificial environments, and even genetically modified foods are leaving many people denatured, out of touch and disembodied. There is a general disorientation of body and a loss of erotic and creative presence. There is no body home to experience the sacred mystery. One consequence is the contemporary confusion over gender identity and the literalisation of the desire for wholeness. Ironically, through the literalising of images, little is left to the imagination and life is voided of mystery.
Walking on the knees as repentance is another mystery. If the penance is successful, how the body and soul move from one ontological condition, that of being in a state of sin and requiring forgiveness, to another state, one of having one’s transgressions entirely nullified – for that is both the point and the consequence of repentance and return – cannot be explained by any rational categories and yet is a matter of experiential certainty for the believing penitent.
The complicated matter that we have named and been attempting to get close to for some time, our labyrinth in this case, is love. More specifically, the relationship between love and soul. And since they always imply and embrace one another, we should add: the effect and imagination of love on both psyche and eros. For our loving is not a maze but rather a continuous path, where the meaning is always in the journey and there is no ‘arrival’ point that is the final goal. The pilgrimage of love is a bodily experience, one that opens imaginal dialogues and creates images, and it entails the risky matter of ‘reveal thyself’ to an actual other. It is not attained in isolation, however creative, reflective and insightful those images might be . And once here, the states experienced are entirely real for those experiencing the love, both the lover and the beloved, but not in any way verifiable to any observer.
None of the philosophers, poets or awakened souls whose works and words we admire and study has had any success in defining or explaining love, and that has not stopped any of them from commenting on and celebrating love, be it of a god or of a person. So we are not expecting to solve the mystery. But that should not deter us from trying. In walking the walk (which in our studies is also by way of talking the talk), we are trying our fortune at a little more perspective and insight. Perhaps we will find some images or poetry that could inspire us, a dance or a prayer that might allow for the journey to initiate us further into the mysteries of love, what it desires, what it needs and what it accomplishes.
Does the poetic and philosophic expression ‘impossible love’ suggest that there is another type of love that is ‘possible’? If being in love, or falling in love, or simply loving, alters the condition or state of our physical existence, and yet this profoundly physical experience cannot be verified physically, does all love exist only in the imaginal realms? What then would be the connection between the experience of the physical body and poetic realms of love? Perhaps all genuine love is ‘impossible’, at least in the same sense that mystics claim that miracles happen and yet are scientifically ‘not possible’. Then, like miracles, love would belong to a category of experiences that do exist, but on non-ordinary planes of existence, manifest and true to those who believe in them and ‘impossible’ to access by thinking with the mind.
If we were more open to the images and experience of deep love, then we might have a better understanding of what is meant by ‘impossible love’, why it might need to be impossible and what this means for the soul. To add to our idea that perhaps, in the sense we mean, all love is impossible, Hillman also proffers a view that it is precisely impossible love that makes soul.
But this is hardly a Roman road. So you will need to read the texts and captions and comments of that document, and this one, to stimulate your own images of love. For that is what is required and necessary for us to arrive and be able to discuss ideas and share your poetry about love. Albeit that by its very nature, this would of course be impossible.