Through a Jungian Lens

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The Virtues of Caution – James Hillman

with 6 comments

Slow down, you move too fast, you've got to make the moment last

This is my third post on James Hillman in my small voice of tribute to a man who has moved many in North America, especially men. Hillman was the central figure behind the men’s movement that has made a significant impact on American culture in terms of how men relate to women and to themselves. For me, more important was Hillman’s daring to stand outside the norm of modern society and even challenge his own peers in the professional psychological world. In daring to challenge all, he inspires one to challenge one’s own beliefs and prejudices. Yet in challenging anything and everything, Hillman advocated caution in moving to change the things that needed changing. This voice of caution echoes what I have heard from Jung, a voice that continues to sound in my head – hold the tension allowing something new, something unpolarized to emerge.

More from Hillman, this time from an essay published in Resurgence Magazine in the July/August issue of 2002:

A third psychological background to caution is quite simply the endemic background of Westernized societies anywhere: depression. Depression slows all heroic endeavour; the very thought of action is too much! Hence, depression whether of the psyche or of the economy is desperately feared in Westernized societies and every possible measure mobilized against it. The pressures we feel, the drugs we take, the expectations we nurture and the dictates of global economic expansion are all anti-depressive measures. Psychiatry could easily say that the headlong rush of the river itself is a manic defence against depression.” (Hillman, The Virtues of Caution, Resurgence, issue 213, 2002)

Hillman’s words give a value to depression, a value that I had never before appreciated. It is hard to appreciate something that is either physiologically or psychologically painful when one is in the midst of the pain. But almost everyone of us if asked if we would remove the pain from our past, most would say that it was this pain, the wounding that moved us to become the people we are today. If anything, we wear our scars with some pride believing that we have emerged from that pain as better people.

As a coach I would have my athletes (runners) learn how to go into their pain and embrace the pain in order to avoid becoming a victim to their pain. In counselling, the same thing happens psychologically. One doesn’t deny, one takes the time to hold the pain to integrate the pain and thus allow the psyche to move on with a stronger sense of self. Caution doesn’t mean to cease going forward, it simply means moving forward more consciously.

“. . . we must distinguish the moment of arrested movement from an identification with the arrest itself, as if beauty must stand still. But beauty, like caution, is not meant to stand still. The saying is not “Don’t leap,” but “Look before you leap.” Beauty means only for us to arrest for a moment the senseless insensitive forward thrust, in order to open the senses by inviting the aesthetic response.” (Hillman, The Virtues of Caution, Resurgence, issue 213, 2002)

I have to admit that these words take me back to my youth when the same words appeared in a 1967 popular song by Simon and Garfunkel, a song called “59th Street Bridge Song” or “Feeling Groovy.” Even then, the world was moving too fast.

Thank you, Dr. James Hillman.


6 Responses

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  1. Dear Robert,
    Thank you for this Post and memo rating Dr. Hillman.

    Some of what you wrote I probably did not quite understand – it confused me in some way :

    Let me explain :

    I am conscious that the circumstances that you and I experienced in our youth, could have influenced our decisions that we made in out life’s – by which we are the persons that we are today – for me I don’t consider myself as better person but as a lucky person, because I am lucky that I have experienced the circumstances that caused pains and wounds and left scars.
    Of course like you, I did not considered it at the time when the circumstances were active.

    I now have come to peace with these circumstances – (but I don’t think that the pains could be totally removed, apparently as they never have existed).

    So my question – what is wrong of what you wrote :
    “If anything, we wear our scars with some pride believing that we have emerged from that pain as better people”.

    Opa Bear

    October 31, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    • So my question – what is wrong of what you wrote :
      “If anything, we wear our scars with some pride believing that we have emerged from that pain as better people”

      Well, that was a good question. First, by using the term “better” I mean in terms of more conscious of self, not as better than others. As people go through analysis/therapy/counselling or simply mature, there is often a stated belief that if it was possible that they wouldn’t go back and undo the wounding. The reason being that the wounding was part of what has helped create the person that they are today, someone they have come to honour. The wounds, in their opinions, have helped them become better and more conscious beings. My scars, my wounds have been part of what has lead me to being who I am today. I know that I am not perfect, but I know I would not have been as conscious without the wounding pushing me to become more conscious.

      That said, too many are wounded and remain within their wounds, unable to find the will to leave being victims of their wounds. Some are fatally wounded and have no opportunity to individuate. One can’t make a blanket, general statement without realising that the reverse idea is also true at times – that is just the way it is in almost all things if not all things.

      Thank you, Opa for asking hard questions


      November 2, 2011 at 3:59 pm

  2. Robert, I don’t thank you enough for the wisdom you impart as you look through your Jungian lens. I continue to learn so much and am grateful that the spirit of your writing is always so honest and open. I’m totally enjoying seeing Hillman through your eyes. Thank You.


    November 1, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    • Hi jbj – glade to have you post again. Thank you for your supporting comments regarding the worth of my efforts here. I hope that future posts also are worthy of your consideration.


      November 2, 2011 at 4:01 pm

  3. Dear Robert,

    Your answer took my confusing away and now I understand your Post in the way as you have meant it to be.
    Thank you very much for explaining and answering my question.

    Opa Bear

    November 3, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    • You are quite welcome my friend. 🙂


      November 7, 2011 at 8:49 pm

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