James Hillman: Because symptoms lead to soul, the cure of symptoms may also cure away soul

Because symptoms lead to soul, the cure of symptoms may also cure away soul, get rid of just what is beginning to show, at first tortured and crying for help, comfort, and love, but which is the soul in the neurosis trying to make itself heard… The right reaction to a symptom may as well be a welcoming rather than laments and demands for remedies, for the symptom is the first herald of an awakening psyche which will not tolerate any more abuse.

– James Hillman

When we have symptoms like depression, anxiety, unease, and so on, it points to something deeper. There is an invitation there to see what it’s about. And that exploration has many layers.


Our symptoms may encourage or invite us to… Clarify our priorities and reorganize our lives to match our more authentic and real priorities. Make changes in our life in terms of where we live, our relationships, our work, and so on. Engage in a deeper healing journey and exploration. Find healing for how we relate to ourselves, others, and the world.

In general, they are an invitation for honesty, receptivity, authenticity, and healing.


There is also a deeper invitation here, and that is to notice our more fundamental nature.

As long as we take ourselves to most fundamentally be something within the content of our experience – this human self, an I, a me, a doer, an observer, and so on – there will be some unease in our experience. Something is off, and somewhere in us is a knowing that something is off.

This is a symptom that can lead us to notice what we more fundamentally are in our own experience. It’s an exploration of oneness and love, living from oneness and love, and allowing our human self and psyche to transform within oneness and love.


Psychological symptoms are an invitation for exploration as a human being in the world. To be more honest with ourselves, sincere, receptive. To find a deeper authenticity. To find healing for how we relate to the world. To find healing for certain issues in us.

And they are also an invitation to look a little closer at what we are in our own first-person experience. As long as we don’t, and even if we live an authentic life and are mostly healed as a human being, there will always be an underlying sense of unease and something being off.


Hillman refers to “cure of symptoms” while knowing there is no cure at the level of symptoms.

We can, of course, TRY to cure symptoms through medications, distractions, superficial changes, and so on. But it doesn’t really work.

If something is off – either in a conventional sense or in our perception of what we most fundamentally are – it will still be off, and there will be symptoms.

If we try to “cure” symptoms and nothing more, they will show up again or in another way.

Life is persistent. Life won’t let us get away with superficial solutions for very long.

That persistence is our nemesis as long as we ignore it or run from it.

And it becomes a blessing to the extent we take it as an opportunity for a more sincere and honest exploration.

Note: Some physical illnesses trigger psychological symptoms, so it’s good to check this possibility as well. When I had lyme disease and confections, I also felt in turmoil emotionally, which is a common symptom. As I see it, the infections trigger something already there and doesn’t really produce it. So I approached it from both angles: trying to cure the infections and working on my relationship with the symptoms.

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Invitation for healing, maturing, awakening

I sometimes use the word invitation. For instance, I may write there is an invitation in this situation to heal, mature, and even awaken. What do I mean by the word invitation here?

There is no actual invitation inherent in life or any situation. But it’s there as a potential. And we can see it as an invitation and make use of it as an invitation.

In this sense, there is an invitation from life to us in any situation. There is an invitation to heal, mature, and awaken. An invitation to explore and learn. An invitation to notice and experience. If we are ready for it, there is also an invitation in any situaiton for us to notice what we are, and all as the divine.

And we can also invite life. We can invite in healing for something in us, or maturing, or even awakening. We can prepare the ground, we can set the stage. And if it happens, then it’s grace.

So there is no actual invitation inherent in life. But we can make use of it as an invitation. And we can invite in certain things by preparing the ground for it, and if it happens, it’s grace.

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Invite Christ into the middle of it

I keep inviting my higher self and Christ into the middle of my wounds, knots, confusion and identified mind.

It’s a reminder that it’s all already Christ. It’s a reminder that it’s all OK as it is, even the pain and struggle.

It’s an acknowledgment that I can’t do it on my own.

Don Quixote


What do I see in Don Quixote? I see – among other things – someone who is at odds with reality, fighting imaginary enemies.

How do I find that in myself? I do the same whenever I take a story as true. I identify with a particular viewpoint, so am necessarily at odds with reality. Reality is not limited to my stories about it.

What happens when I am at odds with reality? There is stress. Discomfort. A sense of unease. Sense of separation. Tension.

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Gifts of impermanence

The obvious gift of impermanence is that it keeps everything new, fresh and different. (When filtered through an overlay of stories of time.) Life and experience never repeats itself. Even when a story tells me something is the same as something else, it is fresh and different. Even the same story is always fresh and new as it happens here now.

In terms of evolution, impermanence is also very helpful, so helpful it is essential. It allows for this universe and life to evolve. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for impermanence and everything that happened before us. And in terms of human evolution it is that which allows for new and fresh perspectives for each generation.

Impermanence is also an invitation to grow and wake up. It helps us notice when we attach to a story as true, making it into a should that inevitably clashes with (our stories) of what is. And in this friction is an invitation to examine those beliefs and identifications. Are they true? Can I know they are true? Are they helpful? What happens when I hold onto them? (And they clash with what is, was or may be.) Who would I be without these beliefs? What are the grain of truth in their reversals?

Living a lie is painful, this pain is an invitation to find what is more true for us, and when this is lived, there is clarity and kindness.

And even simpler, impermanence is what allows all content of experience to come and go, living its own life, on its own schedule. Am I that which comes and goes? Something does not come and go. What is that? What is it that does not come and go?

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Experience of time

Our experience of time is fluid… expanded, condensed, not there at all. 

This morning seems like ages ago. And there is no gap between now and what happened decades back. 

When I do bodywork, seconds and minute details can unfold worlds of experience, yet a session is over in the blink of an eye. 

Noticing this fluidity in our experience of time is an invitation for inquiry. 

What is this experience of time? What do I find when I look into it?

Do I find past and future as mental field creations only? Do I find past, present and future as one package, all happening within the mental field?

Memories strung together. Scenarios of the future. Images of the present. All tied together into one seamless experience of time, and completely fluid and mallable because it is all imagined. No gap to something that happened years ago. An infinity of experience in a second. All happening within and as timelessness. 

In noticing this mental field overlay creating the experience of time, I notice all happening as timelessness. 

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Lookin’ good for Jesus


I thought this was cute. Why not look good for Jesus?

Seems that it would be part of any comprehensive and integral approach 😉


And it is always interesting to explore where I find the genuine truth in this, for myself. Where do I find the genuine truth in looking good for Jesus?

For me, it has to do with inviting guests.

Any content of awareness is a guest, so if we take a visit by Jesus to happen within content of awareness, we can invite it in.

We can do certain (second person) practices, find receptivity of the three centers, and more. We can invite Jesus in as alive presence in its many forms such just alive presence, or its aspect of luminosity, or infinite love, or wisdom, or the fiery heart quality I find when I do Christian practices, or for others, maybe as a vision or a voice, or something else. Or just the good old taste of an open heart at our human level.

And if we take Jesus, or Christ, or the combination, to be a noticing of what we are (that which experiences happens within, to and as), then that is also something that can be invited in. We can prepare the situation, as best as we can. And that guest may come as well, or not.

So by inviting in Jesus as any or all of these guests, we want to look our best. We want to look good for Jesus, inviting him in for a visit.

Of course, Jesus, as anything else, lives his own life, on his own schedule. And that is also part of the game.

People acting from contraction

One of the things that sometimes trigger irritation in me (when the I-Other split is already primed) is people blindly acting from contraction… people who are tense, wound-up, seem hunted or haunted by something, and are blindly caught up in it, blind to what is happening.

(This is obviously a shadow-projection. At the very moment I see them as blindly tense, I am describing myself as I am right there and then.)

And as usual, there are some valuable gifts in here…

When I am blindly tense (which includes seeing it in others and being bothered by it), it is an invitation for me to more clearly see what is going on. The discomfort in it nudges me to do something about it, and the only way that really works, in the long run, is to investigate my own reactions… to identify and explore the beliefs behind it, be with whatever comes up in an heart-felt way, tracking the process behind it, and so on.

So again, what seems like an annoyance when I don’t notice it as an invitation, becomes a great gift when I do.

It leads me right to my own blind spots, inviting me to see more clearly what I previously was oblivious to.

Job’s suffering

Book of Job, illustration by William Blake

I have just picked up The Book of Job, translated and with an introduction by Stephen Mitchell. Before I get too far into it, I want to explore what comes up for me around the topic of suffering now:

  • Life happens. Everything is living its own life, and comes and goes in our lives as guests. This is true for the physical world, and also for our experiences. Even our experiences… everything we may take as ourselves such as our thoughts, choices, impulses, actions… even all of those are guests, living their own life, coming and going on their own, and on their own time.
  • An experience of suffering comes from the clash between life + a belief. Life is one way and it should be another way, according to my stories about it, so there is a sense of something being off. If the clash is mild, there is stress, and if the clash is stronger, there is suffering.
  • Suffering can be seen as an invitation
    • To deepen into who and what we are. To deepen into our shared humanity, to allow edges to round off, to see that we are all in this together, we are all in the same boat, to find in myself what I see in others and recognize in others what I know from myself, specifically, to recognize the suffering of others as my own, allowing for a receptive heart which invites action.
    • To allow and be with our experiences, as they are… allowing the resistance to them to fall away, seeing that it is the resistance, or rather the identification with this resistance, that creates the experience of suffering.
    • To see what is already more true for us. To investigate our beliefs, see if they are true, what happens when I hold onto it and if it wasn’t there, and explore the truths in all of its reversals. And seeing that the truths of its reversals, all together, is what is already more true for us, and also reveals the inherent neutrality of the situation.
  • And then finally, to find a genuine appreciation for what is, as it is…. not as an invitation for anything, not as something that will get us something else, not as something to manipulate… but for its own sake. To appreciate, and even love, what is, as it is. As life… as God expressing and experiencing itself.

In alchemy, this is also the three phases from nigredo (the misery) through albedo (working through, clarification, differentiation) to rubedo (the fruits of the work), and then back to nigredo again to explore a new facet of it.

Struggling with guests: seeing them as stepping stones and tools only

To continue the guests analogy, and combine it with my experiences with the group yesterday…

We can see experiences as guests, coming and going on their own, living their own life.

And we can explore how we relate to these guests.

The ultimate hospitality is that of Ground, which already and always allows any experience. It is the nature of awareness to allow any content, and it already and always does that. There is no way for it to do anything else. Awareness inherently allows any guests, and their coming and going on their own time.

But when this host takes itself to be a guest, it forgets about itself as the ultimate host. There is now a sense of a separate I, an I with an Other, and there is inevitably a struggle with some or all of the guests, in different ways and with different intensities. We try to invite some and discourage others. When they arrive, we try to encourage some to stay and others to leave.

And we can also try to manipulate guests in different ways.

We can see them as stepping stones to something else, a tool for achieving a particular goal, something to transform into something else, something to transcend, something to dress up to make appear as different than what it is. In short, we don’t appreciate them for what they are, as they are. We want them to be different, or to be a tool for us to achieve something.

In our external life, manipulating guests this way seems cynical and even neurotic. And it is no less cynical and neurotic when we relate to our experiences this way.

It is all being caught up in manipulating what is, being caught up in the apparent solidity of I and Other, of seeing as solid the wanting of things to be different.

A simple example is suffering (life + a belief that it shouldn’t be that way). We can try to discourage it from entering. When it is there, we try to ignore it or make it go away. Or, if we see ourselves as a little more sophisticated (although we are not really), we can try to manipulate it in different ways. We can use it to develop compassion, to find peace with it, to allow beliefs and identities to fall away, to deepen into our humanity. We may not (overtly) try to make it go away, but we may also not be quite happy with it as it is. There is still a lack of appreciation for it as it is, for its own sake.

That appreciation for it as it is, for its own sake, comes when Ground notices itself as Ground. There is a recognition that this appreciation for any guest, for any content of experience independent of its particulars, is already and always there. It is only clouded up by the surface drama sometimes, created by a mistaken identification and a sense of I and Other.

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Life inviting us to see what is already more true for us

Sometimes, it can seem that life is conspiring to keep us from seeing more clearly what is already more true for us, but the reversal holds as well…

Life is always and everywhere inviting us to see what is already more true for us.

When I hold onto a belief, I make a story with only a relative truth appear as an absolute.

And life invites us to see what is already more true for us in several ways.

Dissonance between what is already more true for me, and the belief

First, through the dissonance between what is already more true for me, and what I try to make appear true through the belief.

What is already more true for me is what is, without the beliefs. This field of awake emptiness and its content, which is no other than the awake emptiness itself. (It is far simpler and more familiar to us than what these words convey.)

And what is already more true for me, is the grain of truth in all the reversals of the story I try to make into an absolute truth. Somewhere, I know that these too hold a relative truth, just as the one I picked out to somehow be more true.

Life showing up outside of the boundaries of my beliefs

Then, through life showing up outside of the boundaries created for it by the belief. The story I believe in says the world is or should be a certain way, and that I am or should be a certain way, and life & I show up differently. Again, there is a dissonance.

Life presenting me with the reversals of my initial story, and their grain of truth

And finally, through life presenting me with all the reversals of my initial story, and the grain of truth in each of them. And these reversals may come up through others, or even from myself.

Dissonance as an invitation

In each of these cases there is a dissonance, and this is the invitation for me to see what is already more true for me.

There is the dissonance between what is alive in immediate awareness and the belief. There is a dissonance when life shows up outside of the boundaries defined by my belief. And there is a dissonance when life presents me with the reversals of the initial story, and the grain of truth in each of them.

This dissonance, which can be experienced as stress or even suffering, is – as Byron Katie says – an alarm clock telling me that it is time to take a look at my beliefs.

When we take it that way, the dissonance becomes a trusted friend, our most reliable and unfailing teacher. It becomes the greatest gift.

If we don’t take it that way. If we stubbornly continue to cling to our beliefs, trying to avoid dissonance through changing our circumstances, it just prolongs and deepens the suffering.

Life as our greatest friend (or not)

In that sense, life as it is is our greatest friend, and also our tormentor when we don’t notice the invitation (or don’t know what to do with it.)

Of course, it is really we who are our own greatest friend… when we respond to the invitation, and it is we who are our own greatest tormentor… when we don’t.

And going one step further, there is just the one field containing both.