Soul Issues are World Issues: An interview with Robert Sardello


No system of thought, philosophy, psychology, or religion can be static. To be viable, such systems must evolve along with the evolution of the consciousness of the humans living and embracing them. In a fine illustration of this movement toward the future, Robert Sardello, Ph.D., has gifted us with Love and the Soul: Creating a Future for Earth.

Dr. Sardello’s book, an exploration and guide to” finding the doorway leading to the creation of a new spiritual culture,” pushes the boundaries of psychology as it’s currently understood to the very edge. While much of current psychology concerns itself with what has influenced us from the past, Sardello constructs a new psychology which includes the work of the soul in the world, in a way that facilitates a constant participation in the flow from and to the future. In this way, inner work can be constantly balanced by caring for soul qualities in the world in order to .avoid falling into egotism and self-absorption.

Sardello identifies three essential qualities of Soul:

  • Soul is tremendously interested in the future.
  • Soul can no longer be viewed as belonging to what goes on unconsciously beneath the surface of consciousness.
  • Soul cannot be confined to personal consciousness — it must be taken into the world: Soul as World Soul.

Sardello illustrates how these three qualities, expressed through their essence, Love, are critical balances in a world overwhelmingly shaped by Science, Technology, and Economics. Otherwise, “left to itself, Technology determines the meaning and essence of the future. Left to itself, Science determines what counts as valid consciousness that which is quantifiable, measurable, and can be seen. Left to itself, Economics determines what happens in the world, and indeed defines what makes the world.”

Dr. Sardello, you speak in your book of your coming to these understandings through your own efforts to figure out what to do with the pain of exile from the earth.
Dr. Robert Sardello: In the whole tradition of depth psychology and soul work, there has been a one-sidedness that fails to realize that soul also belongs to the world. So we have the sense that soul has to do with the individual, and that any kind of soul difficulties, then, have to do with the individual.

I found it more helpful to imagine the individual soul as just like a drop of the world’s soul. Then that takes us in many different directions. One is the question of why isn’t it experienced that we are a part of the soul of the world. One reason is a kind of anesthetizing of the senses. That is, if our senses aren’t awake, we feel separated from being present in the world, instead of connected. That’s why there’s a whole chapter on the 12 senses, instead of the usual five, and how these 12 senses are correlated with the signs of the zodiac.

You write of the idea that the body and soul together are a sort of hologram of the world and universe.
RS: Yes, so the smallest act of love can exert the same force in the world as the largest gesture. One person can make a big difference. As the concentration camp accountant Itzhak Stern says in Schindler’s List, “he who saves the life of one human being saves the life of the entire world.”

Do you have a sense there is a resurgence toward community in the last few years, or a coming together of old friends who are meeting for the first time?
RS: For me, that didn’t happen until I left and broke old forms. I was in Dallas for 20 years, teaching in the university and teaching in the Dallas Institute. One day, driving to my therapy practice in the rain, someone went through a red light and hit me, totaling my new car. I got out of the car, and realized my whole life had to change. Before long, I left Dallas, started working with The Chalice of Repose, and co-founded The School of Spiritual Psychology.

Where are your current explorations leading you?
RS: The book I’m currently working on is tentatively called Freeing the Soul From Fair. It’s about the question of feat I wanted to look at just how much fear presently invades the world, both in large and small ways. For instance, I am concerned about terrorism and violence, and just how they are affecting soul. Fear paralyzes soul so it can’t operate correctly.

Then, the book will look at what is involved in healing fear. And, l’ve been looking at myths that describe the effects of feeling fear — Frankenstein and Dracula show two different ways in which fear paralyzes. The Frankenstein direction shows fear paralyzes and hardens the body and tends to make us into a kind of automaton in the world, and the Dracula side demonstrates more a fleeing the fear by going into fantasies of magical powers.

What advice do you have for people who feel they cannot find their way on this path of soul work?
RS: Coming into soul in a conscious way is a very gradual process. I don’t trust things that are quite immediate. It is difficult, this whole business of soul. A good way to imagine the soul is that it is an organ, and if it isn’t exercised, it withers and dies. So the idea of soul is very appealing for many people, but the actuality of it is much more difficult. In a large measure that’s because the organ hasn’t been exercised.

The work of exercising the organ of the soul includes simple things like developing the capacity to make an inner image. For instance, every day for ten minutes take a rock, the same ordinary rock, and observe it carefully, then close your eyes and make an inner image of that rock and try to hold that image present and steady. Many people find this quite hard to do. Doing this for ten days strengthens the capacity of the soul to image, which is the soul’s basic function. Then, it can be done in relation to the world.

So, I drive down a mountain on a nice fall day, with the trees in beautiful colors, and I enjoy it. Then, that night, for ten minutes, I will try to make an inner image of this sight — actively sit and not just remember what a wonderful experience that was, but try to make an inner image and hold it steady for a few moments. So one comes to the point of seeing that an image is not just a picture to be looked at — it is more the making of the picture that is the soul activity. So, one begins to be present to the making itself as well as the picture that is made.

The basic life of the soul is that it is a weaving of polarity and images. This soul polarity can be described as liking and disliking. Nothing in the soul is neutral. It is always moving toward or away from something. Sympathy and antipathy — that is the basic polarity of soul. The polarity, then, of sympathy and antipathy moving toward and from, when the soul is strong and healthy, those are weaving together to make images. Whatever it is that we are in the world, we have this basic polar relation to liking and disliking that weave into making a picture. If people don’t have a sense soul, it means that they, through things like having the senses out of balance, don’t have these polarities working in the correct way. It takes a discipline to strengthen the soul so one can gradually become present to the imaginal life.

Robert Sardello, Ph.D., was chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Dallas for many years, and co-founded and co-directed the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. He is co-founder and teacher in The School of Spiritual Psychology, which offers three-week intensive training throughout the world, and also teaches at The Chalice of Repose Project in Missoula, MT, a training program in caring for the dying through conscious music-making.

For information on the School of Spiritual Psychology, contact Cheryl Sanders-Beckwith, P.O. Box 595, Great Barrington, MA 01230. Call 413.528.3030.

Books by Robert Sardello:

  • Love and the Soul: Creating a Future for Earth (Harper Collins, 1995)
  • Facing the World with Soul: The Reimagination of Modern Life (Harper Perennial, 1992)
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Jan Thatcher Adams
Jan Thatcher Adams, M.D., has been in active Family Practice at Sundance Clinic in Shakopee for 20 years. In addition, she is Clinical Professor in the Department of Family Practice, University of Minnesota Medical School.


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