Thomas Moore on the Art of Soulful ListeningNov 30, 2021 ● By Marlaina Donato
photo by Simone Anne
Thomas Moore, New York Times bestselling author, Jungian-based psychotherapist, musician and former monk, has been an advocate for conscious living since authoring his first book, Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life. Twenty-three books later, Moore breaks ground with his latest release, Soul Therapy: The Art and Craft of Caring Conversations, in which he invites therapists, psychiatrists, spiritual directors, ministers and caregivers to cultivate deeper connection based on soulful listening. His timeless wisdom inspires all of us to live from a state of spirituality and conscious wonder so that we might bridge the chasm between cultural, political and personal differences.
What inspired you to write Soul Therapy?
We need more therapeutic conversations in all areas of life, and my book is for the ordinary person, as well as the professional therapist. We could talk to each other with the intention of befriending and offering useful care. Medicine is in need of an injection of this therapeutic talking and listening to add soul and spirit to an otherwise materialistic approach to the human being.
What is soul therapy in modern times?
The ancient Greeks wrote extensively about the soul. Their word was psyche, so it takes very little effort to see how psychotherapy is about caring for the soul. The ancients felt that the soul’s natural home is in the “underworld”, and soul therapy sees it the same way. We are not interested in causing behavior changes or finding explanations for current problems. These don’t go deep enough. They do not touch the underworld, or deep narratives and memories of a person. For example, if a person complains that he eats too much, then we might go deep and see if the underlying issue is a failure to nourish his life and person. We look for metaphors and layers of meaning. We don’t want change for the sake of change. We don’t necessarily expect a person to feel better or be better adjusted to life. We stay close to the symptom, like eating too much, and hope to see it fulfilled at a deeper level, truly nourishing your life.
What soul work is required of the helper to be able to address the needs of others?
The helper in soul therapy has to learn to observe carefully, and at a deep level, the narrative or story being lived out, often unconsciously, in a client. The arts, mythology, alchemy, dreams—these can all give hints about the deeper story being lived. The soul therapist does not give much advice, if any, and doesn’t try to figure a person out. He or she stays close to the symptoms to see what the pain and confusion are all about. A person gets to know better the desires and fears that motivate him, without judgment or agenda. You try to see where the soul might have been wounded or not cared for.
Why do you think there is a perceived increase in anxiety and depressive disorders?
Our underlying philosophy or way of seeing everything is based on quantified studies, brain and laboratory research and the need to explain and define everything. There is no room for mystery and its language, which is poetic and metaphorical. The soul suffers.
How can we truly listen to others and cultivate authentic presence?
Today we often debate rather than converse. We want to win arguments rather than gain deep insight. You listen well only when you find peace in yourself and give up the need to be always right.
What gives you hope for humanity?
In spite of all our problems today, I am an optimist. Humanity is very slowly evolving into a more humane community of Earth beings. We have a long way to go. I see our young people today, many of them impatient to create a different kind of global culture, one that has the courage and vision to deal with our ecological crisis and create a peaceful political planet. They are not plagued with cynicism or despair. We can’t give up our idealism and surrender to pessimism. The world has always had deep troubles. The challenge should bring out all our creativity and passion for life.
Marlaina Donato is an author and recording artist.