This interview is the second of two with Thomas Moore for the Jung Society of Utah blog.
“How can we know ourselves by ourselves? . . . Soul needs intimate connection, not only to individuate, but simply to live. For this we need relationships of the profoundest kind through which we can realize ourselves, where self-revelation is possible, where interest in and love for soul is paramount.”
– James Hillman
“A soul mate is primarily someone with whom we have a soul connection,” according to bestselling author Thomas Moore. Although not everyone we meet is a soul mate, we can make all of our relationships more soulful.
The soul in relationship
“It’s very important in keeping your soul alive to be attached, to be close to people, to get involved in the entanglements and complexities of life, to really allow yourself to enter life in all of its mess and confusion,” Moore said. “That’s what my friend and teacher James Hillman used to say. “Soul is found in all the messes that we get ourselves into.” However, that shouldn’t provide an excuse to remain unconscious and let our relationships suffer. Moore suggested that a more mature and aware way of being in relationship is simply “through talking to each other and telling the stories of our lives to each other. That’s really important. We’re always influenced by the stories that have become part of our own personal mythology.”
What’s your story?
In fact, Moore places great value on the role personal mythology plays in relationships. “It’s a good idea to know the story we’re in and to know that we’ll never get out of it completely,” he said. “But the more we know it and the more we can tell our story, while admitting that it has some sides that are negative and difficult for us, the more we have a chance at not being so dominated by these images.”
Moore said that we often learn these stories from parents and other family members, through social or religious institutions, or from experiences that have deeply affected us. “When someone has had a big rejection in life, that can really affect the way they imagine their relationships in the future,” Moore said. “Someone’s belief systems may also affect their relationships. Some people think that they should only be with people who are of a certain religious or spiritual point of view, so that story influences their relating. Our history, our education, our culture, our family, our experiences all shape the way we see everything.”
It’s important to understand that those around us also have their own personal mythology. “Remembering that other people are in a story as well is the essence of a successful relationship,” Moore said. Keeping personal mythologies in mind can help us have greater empathy for others, especially when they’ve chosen to share any portion of their story with us. “It requires strength to be able to listen to another person saying things you might not want to hear and to think, ‘Well this is a human being they have their background, they have their own destiny, they have their challenges, and they have their life to live. Where we can share it, it’s wonderful,’” Moore said, while also pointing out, “but you can’t share the entire thing, really.”
Mystery, imagination, and compassion
Even when we have shared our stories, there are many things we may never understand about others. “You really are largely mysterious to yourself and the other person,” Moore said. “So when people come together, they really can never fully know themselves. Part of the job in a relationship is to allow the other person to have their mysterious fate and identity, and not demand that they be the way you would like them to be. That’s one of the biggest challenges: To honor their mystery, and also preserve your own.”
Because we are so mysterious to ourselves and others, “there is no such thing as a person as they really are,” Moore said. “They don’t exist. The reason is that we are always imagining. We see everything through imagination. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing there, it just means that we can’t perceive the world except through imagination. We’re always seeing through a story, or through images that we’ve developed.”
So while we may never completely understand our loved ones or learn their entire story, we can create soulful relationships through treating others with compassion. In relationships, Moore said, “you are there to be with [someone]. That’s what compassion means. Com- means to be with them and to feel with them. Not to feel the same, but to feel with someone. And so that compassion is a transparent way of having a conversation where you are strong and you have a great capacity to listen to what the other person has to say.”