Myth and the imagination 

Robert Sardello discuses the life of the soul

Atlantans will have an extraordinary opportunity June 7-11 to hear some of the world's leading scholars at the biannual Mythic Journeys Conference, whose theme this year is the imagination. Consult for more information.

Among the participants, including performers, psychologists, scholars and artists of all types, is Robert Sardello, whom I consider one of the most interesting figures in psychology today. Sardello, who has a longtime association with James Hillman, the founder of archetypal psychology, has developed his own school of spiritual psychology. He integrates the work of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), an Austrian scholar and mystic who has had an enormous influence on Europe to this day.

Sardello has written five books, the most recent being Silence. Other titles include Love and the Soul and Freeing the Soul from Fear. Sardello believes that the heart is an organ of perception and soul-consciousness. His work is to help people experience awareness of that state.

I recently interviewed Sardello on the Internet. Following are some excerpts of his fascinating replies. (You can read the whole interview on my website,

You repeatedly stress that the soul should not be approached with sentimentality. Can you define sentimentality and say a little about its danger? How do we avoid it?

When it comes to the heart, present culture is exaggeratedly either sentimental or completely cold. We live a split heart. On the one hand, science/medicine views the heart as a pump, a view that is substance without metaphor. On the other hand, there is the sentimentalized heart of fantasy love ..., which is metaphor without substance.

The danger of sentimentality is that it leaves the hard, cold heart free to develop without question... At the soul level, sentimentality splits apart the "light" and "dark." In order to avoid this split, there has to be a working through of how the body is imagined. The moment one says "body" or "heart," what is implied is a conception of the body and heart. Conceptions are spectator views of the body. There is a huge difference in starting with the "body" and starting with "body awareness." How do you enter into that awareness? The School of Spiritual Psychology has developed heart practices, meditations. We don't get caught in sentimentalizing because we don't begin with a mental concept, which always creates an opposition. Depending on which side you land on, the other is "bad" and the "good" one is sentimentalized to make a case for it. There is a difference in starting with the heart as a phenomenon and starting with a primordial phenomenon like "heart-awareness."

I reread Freeing the Soul from Fear and was shocked by its prescience. Everything you write about fear and terrorism in 1999 has become intensified. It's almost a cliché now that Bush exploits fear to entrench his power. What can people, as members of a polis, do to reverse what is happening to our government?

It would not really matter if we move from Bush to something idealistic, such as a politics that takes global warming seriously, is against war, and works to disempower the corporations. Such a focus, if it works out of the same mode of consciousness as we collectively live now, would produce only more of the same. What must happen, I think, is the recognition that we are lost and let it unfold into the fullness of what we are to become as a people. There is no reversal when the region of lostness has been entered. It is a truly exciting time.

You often mention the moral quality of the imagination. What do you mean by that?

Everything we do, even the smallest imaginable thing, impresses as felt-sense and image into the body, then into our world, and then into the universe. If we could totally feel that our actions have such real effects, we would have to reorient our imagination totally. This is the real meaning of "karma," though that has been trivialized. Culture will reawaken when it realizes that those who have died are intensely interested in what happens to the earth and can help. There is a dawning pop interest in these things, an interest that has already been literalized by a couple of terribly phony television shows. Culture will reawaken when we don't just hold a belief or disbelief in reincarnation but find the evidence in our felt experience.

You emphasize beauty in your work. What is beauty?

My approach to beauty in previous writing was romanticized. I now think it is simply the innerness of everything, felt in silence as Silence.

Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology.


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