Finding Your Purpose in Life

In the April 2018 blog I wrote about the “soul’s code,” a term popularized by James Hillman in his book by that name. As I wrote there, “Essentially it’s the idea that we grow down into this world from a spiritual dimension, and that gradually we discover—if we are blessed and have good-enough mentors along the way—what we are supposed to manifest on the planet.” This month I will expand that idea in some ways that may make it easier to embody and manifest. The Japanese idea of ikigai—a concept meaning “a reason for being” similar to the French phrase, raison d’êtrewill help us ourselves discover our soul’s code—our ikigai—and ways to operationalize it in our lives.

The illustration at the left* shows several interlocked and overlapping circles as one way to visualize ikigai. At the center of all the circles is ikigai, the reason for being from which we proceed. The world’s spiritual traditions proclaim this notion: we do not just matter, we are much more complex than matter. Rather, as material creatures, we are physical manifestations of “something” immaterial, of an “energy” or of a “spirit.” (This notion, by the way, finds support in the view of the world formulated by quantum physics and in chapter 5 of  Dr. Kumar’s book, Becoming Real.) For me, the “soul’s code,” ikigai, and “what God made us to be” express this basic idea in different ways.

Ponder the ikigai diagram. I think you will notice your attention moving from one segment of the diagram to another, and then to another, round and round. They interlock. Notice that each circle includes the central element of the diagram: ikigai. “Passion” proceeds from ikigai and embraces “What you LOVE” and “What you’re GOOD AT” and can develop into “profession.”And “What you LOVE” can manifest as “passion” or “mission” leading on to other intersecting areas. If we start with “What you can be PAID FOR,” it can develop into “profession” or “vocation,” leading to meeting “What the world NEEDS” and/or to “What you are GOOD AT.”

Discovering and living one’s purpose in life—ikigai—charts the path to fulfillment: one has discovered “what one is essentially good for” and “how to manifest that essence in a way that both benefits the world and secures one’s worldly existence.” It doesn’t get much better than that. The ikigai diagram helps in visualizing what I have written about in past blogs: adaptation to one’s essence and adaptation to the world. (See Ommani Jewel, Dec 2015, Potentials & Adaptations.) Or to put it differently: realizing one’s “soul’s code” in one’s lived life, here and now.

Now comes the hard part: discovering and realizing one’s soul’s code, or one’s ikigai. As C.G. Jung pointed out, and everyone who hasn’t thrown in the towel already knows, life is full of false starts, dead ends, wrong turnings, and setbacks. Each of us needs to embrace and practice self-reflection and self-discovery. Each of us needs to be attentive to our continuing growth and development.

A colleague once gave me a piece of good advice: “The body does not tell lies about itself.” If you take the time, if you slow down, you can notice subtle body movements. These are the beginnings of emerging body memories or intentions.  These memories hint of incomplete experiences and future possibilities. Follow these hints. With practice you will become able to discern with ever greater clarity your “next step,” and then the one after that. Gradually you will become ever better attuned to what lives in you that “wants” your conscious awareness to notice and respond. In this way your “outer mind” will learn progressively more about your ikigai, and you will make real, in the here and now, what you potentially can become. This is the path to purpose and fulfillment.

*Image from

June2018 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW

A Different View of Why We Are Here

Let’s face it: Why are we here on the planet?  Apparently other people have asked this question before. I just googled “Why are we here on earth?” and got more than ten pages of hits. I’m not going to review them here. If they interest you, you can google and follow up. What I want to do is to suggest a viewpoint that makes more and more sense the older I get. Maybe it will make sense to you, too. And then I will reference an interview with the late psychologist, James Hillman, who elaborates this point-of-view with his interviewer.

First, we’re not here to keep the economy humming. We’re here to make actual, real-in-the-world, whatever potential is in us. Hillman calls this “the acorn theory.” In the interview, he says, “It is a worldwide myth in which each person comes into the world with something to do and to be. The myth says we enter the world with a calling. Plato . . . called this our paradeigma, meaning a basic form that encompasses our entire destinies. This accompanying image shadowing our lives is our bearer of fate and fortune.”

In our culture, “nature and nurture” are the terms usually invoked when people talk about what we turn out to be. The nature part is often thought of as our genetic endowment. “You’ve got your father’s nose.” (That’s genes.) “You are so dependent! Your mother spoiled you.” (That’s nurture.) Both of these views are essentially materialistic and causal (in the mechanical sense).

There is another view, the one that Hillman talks about, his “acorn theory,” which he discusses in his book, The Soul’s Code. Essentially it’s the idea that we grow down into this world from a spiritual dimension, and that gradually we discover—if we are blessed and have good-enough mentors along the way—what we are supposed to manifest on the planet. I encourage you to read the interview in which Mary NurrieStearns discusses ideas in The Soul’s Code with Hillman. It’s worth your time—especially if you’re wondering why you’re on the planet.

Here’s the link: .

Facing the Dragon

Fifteen years ago, my late friend and colleague, Robert Moore, published a little book whose relevance has lost nothing in the intervening years. In his preface to Facing the Dragon: Confronting Personal and Spiritual Grandiosity, Moore (2003, xi) quotes a sobering passage from Jung’s Answer to Job:

Everything now depends on man: immense power of destruction is given into his hand, and the question is whether he can resist the will to use it, and can temper his will with the spirit of love and wisdom. He will hardly be capable of doing so on his own unaided resources. He needs the help of an “advocate” . . . . The only thing that really matters now is whether man can climb up to a higher moral level, to a higher plane of consciousness, in order to be equal to the superhuman powers which the fallen angels have played into his hands. (1)

Moore shows how “pathological narcissism results from archetypal energies that are not contained and channeled through resources such as spiritual disciplines, ritual practice, utilization of the mythic imagination, and Jungian analysis” (2003, xii). We need not look far to find people inflated with super-human, archetypal energies that generate pathological narcissism and the fantasies that their ICBM is bigger than your ICBM. But we really don’t have to look toward Pong Yang or Moscow or Washington at all: when we’re so sure we are right, a glance in the mirror may reveal another person swelling up with spiritual grandiosity.

“Why,” Moore asks, “do I emphasize the dynamics of human evil in my research and teaching in psychology and spirituality?” (2003, 1) He answers that we must avoid two traps when we face the threat of personal and collective destructiveness. First, a “flight into the light” enables denial and requires very little reflection or action. It’s an easy out. Second, we have to master the temptation to blame our plight on a scapegoat: the one percent; the other party in power; the other gender; immigrants; the poor. All [of us] must respond to the challenge of coming to an understanding of evil that is neither naïve nor grounded in scapegoating of the other, but which may account for some of the forces of destructiveness that threaten to destroy us” (2003, 2).

Lest this sounds abstract or esoteric, I will illustrate with two personal examples, one from my teen years and one from present time. Both reveal my vulnerability to destructive power.

As a sixteen-year-old, I got my driver’s license and a .22 caliber rifle. My grandparents lived on a farm three miles out-of-town. My grandfather was still working at a lumber company, and came home for lunch each day. There were many barn cats. My grandmother believed there were too many. She asked me if I could dispose of some of them. One summer day while my grandfather was at work I went to the farm with my gun and killed several cats. When my grandfather came home, he didn’t say anything – he typically didn’t say much – but I’m sure he noticed that there were fewer cats.

I still feel shame as I tell this story, decades later. That experience vividly showed me how easily I could get intoxicated with and swept away by destructive power.

Fast forward to present time. The lure of exercising destructive power still tempts me. I regularly watch the PBS Newshour, hardly a program given to inciting violent emotions, yet some news stories trigger murderous anger in me. “Shoot the bastards!” Fortunately, the “bastards” are far away and I have no firearm. I am aware that my irritability quickly escalates toward violent fantasies. And it’s not only the news that inflames my anger.

In both examples from my life, an energy gets activated in me that claims power over life and death. In Jungian language, we call this condition “inflation.” From the Christian Bible we have the admonition that “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.” (2) From ancient Greece, we get the term “hubris,” which is Greek for “too big for his britches.”

One example is King Midas who, in his greed for gold, got his wish. Everything he touched turned to gold. At first, he was delighted: roses, apples, etc., turned into gold. But whatever he touched – including what touched his lips – turned to gold. Realizing he was doomed to die of hunger and thirst, Midas begged to be freed from his golden touch.

Moore references spiritual disciplines, ritual practice, utilization of the mythic imagination, and Jungian analysis as approaches to these energies that inflate us beyond our human proportions. A story from Greek mythology illustrates hubris in action. Apollo, the Sun God, fathered a son with a human woman. The boy, Phaeton, wanted proof that Apollo was his father. Apollo promised to grant whatever Phaeton asked for. “I want to drive your sun chariot for a day.” Apollo hadn’t thought ahead. “I can’t let you do that. Even I have a hard time controlling the horses. Even I am afraid some times.” But to no avail. Not able to withdraw his (Apollo’s) promise, Phaeton takes off in the sun chariot.

The boy has already taken possession of the fleet chariot, and stands proudly, and joyfully, takes the light reins in his hands, and thanks his unwilling father. Meanwhile, the sun’s swift horses, PyroïsEoüsAethon, and the fourth, Phlegon, fill the air with fiery whinnying and strike the bars with their hooves. When Tethys, ignorant of her grandson’s fate, pushed back the gate, and gave them access to the wide heavens, rushing out, they tore through the mists with their hooves and, lifted by their wings, overtook the East winds rising from the same region. But the weight was lighter than the horses of the Sun could feel, and the yoke was free of its accustomed load. Just as curved-sided boats rock in the waves without their proper ballast, and being too light are unstable at sea, so the chariot, free of its usual burden, leaps in the air and rushes into the heights as though it were empty.

 As soon as they feel this, the team of four run wild and leave the beaten track, no longer running in their pre-ordained course. Phaeton was terrified, unable to handle the reins entrusted to him, not knowing where the track was, nor, if he had known, how to control the team. Then for the first time the chill stars of the Great and Little Bears, grew hot, and tried in vain to douse themselves in forbidden waters. And the Dragon, Draco, that is nearest to the frozen pole, never formidable before and sluggish with the cold, now glowed with heat, and took to seething with new fury. . . . .

 When the unlucky Phaeton looked down from the heights of the sky at the earth far, far below he grew pale and his knees quaked with sudden fear, and his eyes were robbed of shadow by the excess light. Now he would rather he had never touched his father’s horses, and regrets knowing his true parentage and possessing what he asked for.(3)

The chariot rises too high and melts the polar ice; it swoops too low and dries up the rivers. Heaven and earth complain. Phaeton cannot control the power he has unleashed. To put an end to the destruction, Zeus throws a thunder bold, striking Phaeton, who plunges into the sea.(4)

Hubris, spiritual grandiosity, pathological narcissism, characterizes much of the emotional atmosphere of our times, as cartoons, posters, and TV shows attest. I say “atmosphere” because the energy – the emotion – that empowers hubris infects us all just as polluted air does, but rather than smelling it with our noses we sense it working in our feelings and fantasies.

The Bible, Greek mythology, and contemporary cartoons(note: Hubris comics created by Greg Cravens , header) advise us that a greater power exists. What does Jungian psychology offer us?

Jungian psychology does, of course, cite the stories from the past in which overweening pride, archetypal inflation, spiritual grandiosity, and pathological narcissism depict the consequences. Waking fantasies and dreams from the night can and do offer images that may counterbalance the attitudes and preoccupations of the conscious minds. Psyche, through dreams and fantasies, presents a challenge: pay attention, notice! Sometimes psyche sends urgent messages; sometimes the information comes in subtle ways on the fringes of our waking awareness, or as a mild sense of discomfort or dis-ease, a sensation that “something” isn’t quite in order.

When I notice, I need to take the next step by finding where the image or fantasy has similarities with known stories, movies, myths, or passages from spiritual scriptures. That provides me with the human context, situating the image or fantasy from psyche within the body of experience of the ages. Then I ask: What does that mean for me? What am I doing to which the image or fantasy speaks? Finally, I have to evaluate what I am doing and the compensatory message that psyche offers. These four steps constitute part of a feed-back loop that starts with my action or attitude, psyche’s compensatory comment/response (in the form of a dream, an image, a fantasy), and my understanding and evaluating both my situation and the compensatory information. Here, in brief, we have the outline of a psychological discipline that will satisfy what Moore calls for.

The dangers of personal and spiritual grandiosity appear to be part of being human. Thousands of years of human experience attest the danger of succumbing, whether as King Midas or Phaeton or a contemporary man or woman, you or me. We live in a dangerous, infections emotional atmosphere these days. Sniff the air. Pay attention. Find an advocate to help you work at what’s necessary to climb to a higher moral level and plane of consciousness.

(1) Moore, R. L. (2003). Facing the Dragon: Confronting Personal and Spiritual Grandiosity. Wilmette, IL: Chiron Publications, quoting C.G. Jung (1952/1958), Answer to Job, The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, vol. 11, p. 459. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

“Dr. Robert Moore was Distinguished Service Professor of Psychology, Psychoanalysis and Spirituality in the Graduate Center of the Chicago Theological Seminary where he was the Founding Director of the new Institute for Advanced Studies in Spirituality and Wellness. An internationally recognized psychoanalyst and consultant in private practice in Chicago, he served as a Training Analyst at the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago and was Director of Research for the Institute for Integrative Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy and the Chicago Center for Integrative Psychotherapy. Author and editor of numerous books in psychology and spirituality, he lectured internationally on his formulation of a neo-Jungian psychoanalysis and integrative psychotherapy.  His publications include THE ARCHETYPE OF INITIATION: Sacred Space, Ritual Process and Personal Transformation; THE MAGICIAN AND THE ANALYST: The Archetype of the Magus in Occult Spirituality and Jungian Psychology, and FACING THE DRAGON: Confronting Personal and Spiritual Grandiosity.” (Moore bio by Benjamin Law, blaw@jungchicago,.org). Several MP-3 recordings of Robert Moore’s classes are available from the C.G. Jung Institute (

(2) Romans 12:17-19; Deuteronomy 32:35

(3) Ovid. Metamorphoses, Book II, 150-178, mythological index and illustrations by Hendrik Glotzius.

(4) Ibid, lines 272-328  

(5). Hubris Comics, created by Greg Cravens, and reproduced here with his permission.

March 2018 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW

Companions for the Journey IV

From time to time I discover a book that helps orient me in the turbulent times in which we live. Recently, a friend gave me Soul Food: Stories to Nourish the Spirit & the Heart, by Jack Kornfield and Christina Feldman (1). The authors have collected stories from a wide variety of sources: Taoist, Buddhist, Sufi, Christian, Zen, Desert Fathers, Hindu, and the man or woman who never gets quoted anywhere else. I want to share with you some stories.

“I have only three enemies. My favorite enemy, the one most easily influenced for the better, is the British Empire. My second enemy, the Indian People, is far more difficult. But my most formidable opponent is a man named Mohandas K. Gandhi. With him I seem to have very little influence.”(2)

These five short sentences from Gandhi focus on life’s biggest problem – self-acceptance, as Jung pointed out when he wrote, “Perhaps this sounds very simple, but simple things are always the most difficult. In actual life it requires the greatest art to be simple, and so acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the acid test of one’s whole outlook on life.” (3)

The second section of the book opens with several accounts of simplicity. Nasrudin, the “wise fool” who appears in many stories from the cultures of the Near East through Central Asia, tells his friends in the tea shop the story of his life:

Nasrudin was now an old man looking back on his life. He sat with his friends in the tea shop telling his story.

“When I was young I was fiery—I wanted to awaken everyone. I prayed to Allah to give me the strength to change the world.

“In mid-life I awoke one day and realized my life was half over and I had changed no one. So I prayed to Allah to give me the strength to change those close around me who so much needed it.

“Alas, now I am old and my prayer is simpler. ‘Allah,’ I ask, ‘please give me the strength to at least change myself.’’ (4)                                                                                                                 

One of the Hassidic stories recounts the travels and fame of two rabbis who were brothers.

“In the course of their long wanderings, the two brothers Rabbi Zusya and Rabbi Elimelekh often came to the city of Ludimir. There they always slept in the house of a poor, devout man. Years later, when their reputation had spread all over the country, they came to Ludimir again, not on foot as before, but in a carriage. The wealthiest man in that little town, who had never wanted to have anything to do with them, came to meet them, the moment he heard they had arrived, and begged them to lodge in his house. But they said: “Nothing has changed in us to make you respect us more than before. What is new is just the horses and the carriage. Take them for your guests, but let us stop with our old host, as usual”(4)

The third section of the book, entitled “Living Our Truth,” opens with another delightful Nasrudin story.

‘One day Mulla Nasrudin got word that he had received a special message from the Sheik of Basra. When he went to pick it up they told him that he must first identify himself. Nasrudin fished in his trousers and took out a brass mirror. Looking into it he exclaimed, “Yup, that’s me all right.”(5)

To live our own truth we first must discover our own truth. Early on in the Red Book Jung admonishes the reader not to imitate him (nor what he writes in the Red Book). “It is no teaching and no instruction that I give you. On what basis should I presume to teach you? I give you news of the way of this man, but not of your own way. My path is not your path, therefore I cannot teach you. The way is within us, but not in Gods, nor in teachings, nor in laws. Within us is the way, the truth, and the life.” Jung’s words remind me of the passage where Jesus is reported to have said “Man, if thou knowest what thou doest, blessed art thou; but if thou knowest not, thou art accursed and a transgressor of the Law.” Consciousness makes all the difference.

“Mindfulness,” rather than “consciousness,” is the word people now often use. The friend who gave me the book told the story of two Zen masters, one visiting the other.

“It was raining as the visiting Zen master made his way to the other master’s house. When he arrived, he set his umbrella down by the door, knocked, and was let in. In the course of conversation the host asked his guest whether he had set his umbrella to the right or to the left of the door. Surprised and confused, the guest master could not remember. Whereupon he relinquished his position as master and returned to ranks of the students.”

The story makes a simple, but profound point: be aware of what you do. Another story (this one from the book) reminds us that mindfulness, that knowing what we are doing, depends on attention and on intention. No autopilot here.

“A young female disciple undertook to develop the meditation on loving-kindness. Sitting in her small room, she would fill her heart with loving-kindness for all beings, yet each day as she went to the bazaar to gather her food, she would find her loving-kindness sorely tested by one shopkeeper who would daily subject her to unwelcome caresses. One day she could stand no more and began to chase the shopkeeper down the road with her upraised umbrella. To her mortification she passed her meditation master standing on the side of the road observing this spectacle. Shame-faced she went to stand before him expecting to be rebuked for her anger. “What you should do,” her master kindly advised her, “is to fill your heart with loving-kindness, and with as much mindfulness as you can muster, hit this unruly fellow over the head with your umbrella.” (8)

So what is it about these stories that make them “soul food”? Why call them “soul” food at all? These and similar stories produce a specific effect on me: They alter my point of view. More precisely, they take me out of my “business-as-usual” mindset. By shattering the expectations of my conditioned mind, they open me to a different way of seeing and being. But why call them “soul food”?

In Psychological Types, Jung defines the soul as “the relation to the unconscious . . . and as a personification of unconscious contents.” A little later on he writes: “The organ of perception, the soul, apprehends the contents of the unconscious, and as the creative function, gives birth to its dynamis in the form of a symbol”.

In other words, “soul” is that capacity in each of us: 1) to become aware of something not in our current consciousness; 2) to be moved by that something, by its dynamis; and 3) to experience that “something” in a form and shape that carries more meaning than we can unpack (i.e., it is a symbol in Jung’s sense).

These stories feed that capacity in each of us that takes us outside of and beyond our current mental state. They enliven and energize our consciousness in unexpected ways. (That’s the dynamis, the energy effect.) In a word, they liberate us from our stuckness in the here-and-now that so often can feel oppressive and stifling. Understood in this way the question in Mark 8:36 begins to make sense: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Then we have Scrooge, Midas and the whole lot who, as people used to say, “Know the price of everything, but don’t know the value of anything.”

Soul food stories combat the soul-less-ness of a dog-eat-dog reality and offer us a liberated way to see and understand what’s going on around us.

(1) Kornfield, Jack, and Chrfistina Feldman (1996). Soul Food: Stories to Nouris the Spirit & the Heart. New York” HarperOne.

(2) Kornfield and Feldman (1996:55).

(3) Jung, C.G. (1953). Psychology and Religion, The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Princeton: Princeton University Press, para. 520.

(4) Kornfield and Feldman (1996:184)

(5) Kornfield and Fledman (1996:269).

(6) Jung, C.G. (2009).  The Red Book: Liber Novus, A Reader’s Edition. Ed. Sonu Shamdasani. New York: W.W Norton, p. 125. (Italics in the original.)

(7) “List of authentic agrapha,” Codex D of Luke 6:4.

(8) Kornfield and Feldman (1996:274).

Feb2018 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW 

Emotional Responsibility

In his Emotional Intelligence (1995) and Working with Emotional Intelligence (1998), Daniel Goleman focused our attention on the profound role that emotions play in our personal, work, and social lives. His presentation is well grounded in neurology and richly illustrated with vivid examples of emotions running riot; as well as calm and calming responses to infectious emotional situations. In a section on self-control, he writes: “The ultimate act of personal responsibility at work may be in taking control of our own state of mind. (1998, p. 84). Taking control of our own state of mind implies emotional responsibility—not only at work, but in all areas of life. Practicing emotional responsibility frees us to follow the advice of the I Ching about brightening our bright virtue, as I wrote in the December column.

What does it mean to be emotionally responsible? To illustrate emotional responsibility I often use the term “emotionally house-broken.” We know what happens if our domestic pets are not house-broken: they let go wherever they happen to be. A person who is not emotionally house-broken “lets go” wherever and whenever, pretty much regardless of the situation or who is present. Such an individual has no sense of responsibility for polluting the environment. Because emotions are contagious, another person’s uncontained, emotional outburst can trigger a corresponding or complementary emotion in us. Whether we wish for that to happen or not.

For example, we feel intimidated or assaulted by the angry person’s uncontained anger. We cringe or want to strike back. The whiner elicits revulsion in us or the impulse to “give him (or her) something to whine about.” In the presence of a depressed person, we may try to cheer him up or try to escape and avoid the deadening pull of depression. In these examples, the angry person, the whiner, and the depressed person let their emotions flood the area, affecting everybody nearby. These people take no responsibility for their emotions.

What tells us that a person is emotionally responsible? We feel emotionally safe in that person’s presence. We can recognize that the other person is experiencing some sort of emotion, yet we don’t feel infected. Taking responsibility for emotions means containing them; but containing does not mean suppressing them, and it does not mean denying them. You can contain an emotion while at the same time tell another person what emotion you are experiencing. You experience the emotion, but the emotion doesn’t do the talking. Another part you your mind that is in charge speaks about your emotion. That is emotional responsibility in action.

The importance of cultivating emotional responsibility extends beyond our private lives. The constant emotional bombardment from advertising, news, and politicians aims at arousing and manipulating our emotions to further their purposes, buy their product, believe this or that side of a dispute, support this or that candidate or policy. In both private and public life, letting emotions have their way with us polarizes and divides us one from another. As difficult as it may be to develop emotional responsibility so that we contain our emotional reactions, we must do just that if we want to find common ground with others and make it possible to live together in the same house, the same city, the same country, and ultimately on the same planet.

What I write here proclaims no new wisdom, yet each one of us has to learn it for ourselves, probably the hard way.