My and my partner's hearts leap when we see the woodpecker is visiting our bird feeder. He ... we can tell this one is a he from the red markings on his back ... does not trust humans, and who can blame him? We stand stock still, lost in wonder, hoping he will stay awhile.

Yesterday, I worked all day on the allotment plot dedicated to growing fresh food to donate to a food bank. I felt a deep sense of belonging with the other volunteers and of knowing how I can be in my right place and time and of service to others.

I don't have a good word to encompass these experiences but still (I feel I should apologise!) I really shy away from attributing the word 'soul' to them. It's not only the old religious associations but also the vague new age use, 'Yeah man, you've got to sort out your soul...' I appreciate the efforts to reclaim the word but for me the negative associations are too strong.

Sense of wonder?

Love and awe?

Can we do without the soul word?

Does anyone else have a sense of profound objection to the soul word, or is it just me?

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Hi Maggie, I realise that a lot of my 'attachment' to 'soul' is around the historical Hillman connection. I found it a really helpful 'not a thing' and I often wonder whether it's had its day - for the reasons you suggest. Is there something other than the religious and the new age, both of which I don't really need in my life or my world view? I guess that's the territory we're in, but it's such an accessible word too isn't it? Other big words are more difficult and buried in the idea of them... but my instinct is with you...

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Thanks Steve, for another tender reflection and poem. I recognise this feeling of overwhelm, when ideas come thick and fast and it's hard to know which ones really 'matter' (or if ideas themselves even matter at all). Perhaps we need the poetic to bring us to our senses - perhaps ideas are 'kindlings', flickers of vision that need to be 'tended to', if they are to take hold, if we are to feel their warmth and to see through their light.

I love this sense of the warmth of ideas. John O'Donohue puts this beautifully (as ever!) in his book about celtic wisdom 'Anam Cara': "Most fundamentalism, greed, violence and oppression can be traced back to the separation of ideas and affection. For too long we have been blind to the cognitive riches of feeling and the affective depth of ideas."

Your poem 'Slippery Hands' (beautiful btw) speaks to me of this 'affective depth of ideas'. It suggests to me that our tending of the kindling idea has something to with passing ideas between us, lightly, without grasping or seeking to harden them into concrete truth. This tender and affectionate human exchange of ideas soon sorts out which ones warm the heart (feed and fuel us) and which ones are just cold husks.

I try to remember the importance of this warming exchange in my therapeutic work. Ideas, James Hillman reminds us, are not just 'up in the head'. They don't just 'get in the way' of feeling. In 'Re-visioning Psychology' he underlines the importance of ideas as 'psychic events', as 'experiences relevant for soul'. They are relevant (vital) because they open ways of seeing through experience to the animating source/pattern. It's not 'we' who have important ideas, Hillman suggests, important ideas 'have us'. "We are always in the embrace of an idea", he writes. Now I really like that - to be 'in the embrace' of an idea - much warmer! He also echoes the notion that ideas need to become embodied, taken in, tasted, exchanged (Eros is at work here!). And this 'taking in' seems to be the key to bridging the gap between internal revelation and external change - "when an insight or idea has sunk in, practice invisibly changes'. I hope so. No - I really believe so.

The exchange of ideas which you and the Unpsychology team foster - does matter - it matters particularly for me because of the quality of warmth which is so palpable in these exchanges. Thankyou.

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Apr 10·edited Apr 10Author

Yes to all of this, Susan. The poem was born a few years ago out of a therapeutic encounter, as you might have realised. This work started for me with Hillman (you won't be surprised to hear) back a decade or two ago, and that thing about an idea not just being an 'idea', but an image/daimon/pattern and something more, or all of these is important. Thanks for the reminder. Even with Hillman, though (or some people who follow him) I also think that there's something to be said for the pulling back and embedding ourselves in the everyday. My daughter, Ruth, is an artist, and she really gets this stuff (she loved your essay by the way - see RT comment on your piece), but she reaches a point, I think, where the everyday seems to gets lost in the idea. Sometimes the 'idea' takes us out of the moment. That's what my sense of overwhelm speaks to I think. You might know this as a therapist, but it's a little like we do all the training and the hours of practice, and in the end, it all comes back to something intensely simple (a la John O'Donohue). Loving the exchange and the richness you've brought, Susan!!

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So true (the need to embed ourselves in the everyday). It's a kind of weave isn't it - between experience and idea?

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