in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

A Soulful New Year to You All!

Dear All

As the midnight hour creeps over the world I wish you all a very HAPPY AND SOULFUL NEW YEAR!

I am just putting the final touches to a new article on Soulfulness for the Milltown Review which I shall send tomorrow before I leave for India. It is a joy and a privilege to once again be returning to that wonderful land and I will certainly be thinking of you all over the coming weeks where I shall try and put some blog posts on our conference, further details of which can be found on:

In the meantime please find attached the beginning of the article which I hope will appear in full form in due course.

The picture is from the current exhibition of late Rembrandt at the National Gallery in London for which I am grateful to Dr Mary Eaton for getting me a ticket. He indeed was a master of the soul and a worthy guide for the year ahead...

God bless


Mindfulness, Heartfulness or Soulfulness?:

Teresa of Avila, Otto Rank and James Hillman on the Return of the Soul


Professor Peter Tyler

Key Words: Soul, Mindfulness, Heartfulness, Otto Rank, James Hillman, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Teresa of Avila, Mental Prayer


One of the most surprising developments in contemporary psychology has been the renewal of interest in 'soul-language' as a way of describing the human psyche. Reports of the death of the soul over the past few years now seem premature in the extreme. Consequently this article will explore the reaction against the empirical turn that psychology takes in the mid 20th Century by two eminent psychologists: Otto Rank and James Hillman. Their work will be related to another feisty rebel whose 500th anniversary we celebrate this year: St Teresa of Avila. Starting with Rank and his reaction to Freudian orthodoxy the article shall then explore Teresa's own unique, ‘language of the spirit’ before returning to Hillman and seeing how Teresa’s work can inform the contemporary debate. Of particular concern will be the ongoing debate regarding ‘mindfulness’ and its use in psychological setting. A key argument of the article will be that Teresa of Avila’s oraciĆ³n mental can be described as a form of mindfulness – or perhaps better – a form of heartfulness or soulfulness.




Rank’s Impertinence

In May 1930 the founders of the modern practices of psychology, psychoanalysis and psychiatry gathered in Washington D.C. to participate in what was called the ‘First International Congress on Mental Hygiene’. Four thousand people from over fifty-three countries, including Australia and the USSR, gathered, largely to baptise the new discipline of psychoanalysis and introduce it as a respectable and viable form of clinical intervention. Included in the purpose statement for the convention was the idea that it was necessary to determine ‘how best to care for and treat the mentally sick, to prevent mental illness, and to conserve mental health’ (in Proceedings of the First International Congress on Mental Hygiene). As with most such gatherings, scientific and intellectual seeking was clouded by the internal politics of a nascent movement that was still vulnerable and trying to assert its respectability in the face of a sceptical world. Accordingly, when Dr Otto Rank, one of Freud’s first disciples and advocates, rose to speak there was excited anticipation regarding how he viewed the direction in which analysis was moving, especially at this the moment of its first public ‘coming out’ in America. His paper was not to disappoint. In a short ten minute extract of his paper, Rank deftly condensed his views on analysis, psychology and the forces that were at that moment shaping the future of analysis, the effects of which we still live with today. In his speech Rank contrasted ‘the scientific’ approach to ‘human behavior and personality’ (Sp:221) with what he called the ‘human side’: that ‘characteristic which... can’t be measured and checked and controlled’. This latter, he argued, ‘was the only vital factor in all kinds of therapy, mental health’. That which is ‘human and cannot be schematized’ had to be distinguished, he suggested, from ‘intellectual knowledge’ of the human psyche, for the scientific attitude does not so much neglect the personal as lead to a denial of it in order to ‘maintain the scientific attitude’. Rank’s paper was essentially one that went to the fundamental heart of what we think psychology (or psychoanalysis/psychotherapy) is.  An enquiry was being made into the mysterious nature of psyche – this time not in the language of the ancients but in our own well-used twentieth and twenty first century phrases


Psychology as Interpretation

One of the key themes of Rank’s speech to the Mental Health Congress, and much of his writing after his break with Freud in the 1930s, was that psychology is not so much a ‘science of facts’ as an ‘art of interpretation’. As he put it in his Mental Hygiene Speech:


Psychology does not deal primarily with facts as science does but only with the individual’s attitude toward facts. In other words, the objects of psychology are interpretations – and there are as many of them as there are individuals. (Sp:222).


By situating the truths of psychology in the hermeneutic turn rather than the

aimless seeking for quasi-empirical ‘facts’, Rank had essentially anatomised the

nature of analysis as a clinical discipline. In this he was not alone. For it is an

interesting historical coincidence that at precisely the time Rank was working

on his notion of self in America his fellow Austrian, the philosopher Ludwig

Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951) was having similar thoughts about the nature of

psychology. Like Rank, Wittgenstein was beginning to develop a theory of

psychology that emphasised its hermeneutic above any quasi-empiricial status.

This work would flower towards the end of his life in the writings that

followed that published as Part One of the Philosophical Investigations and would

occupy the Viennese philosopher for the last few years of his life in Ireland and


Thus, both Wittgenstein and Rank present us with a bifurcation in the twentieth century’s attitude to the self: we can either chase after quasi-scientific explanations of psychic phenomena or see the exploration of the psyche, especially from a clinical perspective, as a seeking after interpretation and meaning. Thus in Rank’s Mental Hygiene lecture, he speaks not of presenting a new psychological theory, but rather of a new ‘worldview’/ Weltanschauung.

To express this adjustment of ‘worldview’ required by the analytic patient Rank chose an interesting phrase (one also used by Freud): Die Seele/ seelische, that is ‘the Soul’ or (inelegantly in English) ‘the soulish’[2]. These terms, which all of a sudden in the past few years we find psychologists using again, were of utmost importance for Rank’s exposition of the nature of the psyche and the life of the mind. As he wrote at the beginning of Seelenglaube und Psychologie (literally, ‘Soul-belief and Psychology’, published in 1930, the year of Rank’s fateful lecture to the Mental Health Congress, hereafter SP): ‘To write a history of psychology is to write a history of the soul’ (SP:1). For him psychology is nothing less than Seelekunde – a difficult phrase to translate – literally ‘service of or witness to the Soul’. In choosing to base his analysis and much of his later work around the term ‘soul’, Rank was deliberately pointing out the position that I am suggesting in this article -  that psychology cannot simply be considered an empirical science, rather the philosophical, or indeed we might say, the metaphysical, is as important in considering the psyche as the empirical. Thus the term ‘soul’ becomes for Rank a cipher to widen the ambit of psychology to take in artistic, creative and philosophical reflection on the self as well as the straightforwardly empirical.  Hence the analytical situation (what Rank calls ‘the analysis of analysis’) becomes an arena for the love emotion and the ethical gaze of the therapist to the client and vice versa – this is for him das Seelische. Analysis, thus ultimately for Rank, is ‘at bottom a love therapy’ (WT:20).

Which brings us to our second dialogue partner - St Teresa of Avila. For just as Rank realised that talk of the psyche and psychology, would be limited by a purely empirical or scientistic approach, so, I would like to suggest here, we can say the same for Teresa. For just as Rank uses language to deconstruct the expression of the psyche on the boundary of what can be said, so Teresa, in works such as her Book of the Life and Interior Castle, equally challenges, I would like to suggest, our common-place notions of the selfhood, the soul and what it is to be a human being.


[1] For more on this notion see Tyler 2014
[2] We immediately run into a problem with the English translation of seelisch. ‘Soulish’ or ‘Soulful’ are possibilities, but have perhaps now been irrevocably adapted by Southern Blues players so that they no longer convey the Rankian sense of Seele. The term I shall use later in the article – ‘soulfulness’ – might be an alternative.


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