Robert Sardello (1941 - )
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Lee Irwin
College of Charleston

I want to write an overview of the works of Robert Sardello because he is an author of considerable integrity, warmth, and insight who is contributing very significantly to the emergence of a new, genuinely spiritual psychology in America. This is a psychology that draws on western esoteric ideas, images, and themes for the purpose of reanimating soul-centered awareness as an authentic expression of concern for healing the disjunction between soul-oriented world concern and contemporary human alienation and fear. Sardello, who is a faculty member of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and of the Missoula Montana Chalice of Repose Project of Theresa Schroeder-Sheker and a former chair of the University of Dallas Psychology Department, is currently the co- director of The School of Spiritual Psychology (Greensboro, NC) with Cheryl Sanders. At the Dallas Institute of Humanities, Sardello worked closely with fellow therapists Thomas Moore and James Hillman. He has been a Jungian, existential, and archetypal therapist for over twenty years and is the author of three books: Facing the World with Soul (Lindisfarne/Harper, 1992), Love and the Soul: Creating a Future for Earth (Harper/Collins, 1995), and Freeing the Soul from Fear (Putnam/Riverhead, 1999), plus other articles, one of which I reference in this essay, his Introduction to Rudolph Steiner's A Psychology of Body, Soul, and Spirit (Anthroposophic Press, 1999). Overall, the following review emphasizes the esoteric aspects of his writing but also gives a general overview of his primary soul-centered concerns.

In his introduction to Rudolph Steiner's Berlin lectures on Anthroposophy (1909), Psychosophy (1910) and Pneumatosophy (1911), Sardello notes that Steiner's works provide a primary resource for the reconfiguration of American psychology particularly

in consideration of the soul-work so central to Steiner's creative reflections. Soul-life according to Steiner has its origins in the life of desire which primarily arises within the world, not within the individual, and this desire is a profound urge toward unity polarized by love and hate. This deep inner longing, this aspiration polarized by the conflicting tensions of attraction and repulsion for union with the life of the world or world soul, gives a sense of urgency to the development of character and individual understanding. The soul is best recognized as a dynamic, creative, often conflictive, relationship to the world and to others. Thus soul life gives interiority to experience and soul functions to reintensify (Intro, xiv-xv) personal encounters both inwardly and outwardly in an on-going process of creative development. Soul gives depth and feeling to encounters that swing between degrees of attraction and repulsion, providing a middle, existential ground between physical life and spiritual thought and ideals. Acknowledging this interiority of deep responsiveness requires moving beyond the socialized ego and into a more expansive field of perception and development as inseparable from the world and our relationships with others.

In developing his spiritual psychology, Sardello draws significantly on Steiner's writings, including Steiner's concepts of physical perception, soul-development, and the embodiment of spirit through a world-process of engaged, concerned relationships. Sardello situates the active center of soul-development in the I-consciousness (as the individualized spiritual aspect of soul-life) which he distinguishes from the ego-personality (as a sensual, past oriented aspect of ordinary social life) and defines spiritual psychology as a discipline concerned with the whole soul life, including the dimension of spirit (Intro, xxiii-xxiv). Knowledge of the spiritual dimension comes to soul-life through the formation and contemplation of inner images that reveal moral qualities of soul based in concern for the world and are not based in simple self-interest. These images, in the best sense, represent the highest possibilities for human development and thus, the psychology of the future human being. Imagination in this process is crucial; it is the primary media of soul development and the cultivation of soul-

grounded inner imagery establishes a means for moving more deeply into soul-relationship with others, the world, and the cosmos. According to both Steiner and Sardello, such images arise autonomously within the soul, coming from the spiritual world, as a means for educating and guiding individual development. Therefore, creative imagination is a central phenomena of the psychology of the spirit (Intro, xxvii) and training the imagination requires opening to both spontaneous, bodily felt intuitions and to inspirations that provide a recognition of the spiritual basis of all thought-forms. In turn, this means that the body must be trained, the senses heightened, the emotions trusted, and the I-consciousness shifted toward more soul-centered, heart-centered perceptions.

With this very brief introduction to Sardello's core psychology, we can now look at his more extensive written works. One aspect of his writing I truly appreciate is his ability to write in a heart-centered way that condenses his many years of thought and practice into very concise statements that resonate with layers of meaning and require considerable thought to unpack, even though they appear simple and accessible. This is a unique spiritual gift. Aphoristic sentences abound throughout his writings, constantly challenging the reader to delve more deeply into the possible meanings, yet he maintains a certain simplicity of expression that is always accessible to the reader, each at his or her own level of preparedness. In Facing the World with Soul (FWS), Sardello begins to strip away the façade of ordinary, alienated social life and shows why numbness, isolation, and emotional contraction calls for a new psychology of human development. In a series of ten chapters, which he writes as letters to the reader, he delves into the ordinary things of the world to show how they first act to disempower the individual and then suggests how those things can be reinvested with soul in order to free the individual from isolation and surface life.

If anger is a source of vitality, as Sardello claims, then this is a vital book! It is a creative, gentle anger and reflects the authors unique grappling with the world by turning it upside down and inside out. FWS is a very creative, remarkable, imaginative book that offers the

reader a cascade of insights that reveals whole new territories breaking open in the world as resources for personal and social transformation. One of the dominant metaphors of this work is the Grail tradition, the search for soul and maturity in a world out of balance. Parzival (via Wolfram von Eschenbach) and his quest and transformations, encounters with the feminine, and search for the Grail reflect, for Sardello, an image of the individual in search of his or her meaningful relationship with the world soul (FWS, 12). At the heart of Sardello's work is the image of the soul of the world where self-knowledge results in a conjunction, a seeing through, that unites soul with the inner qualities of the external world. This relationship, of soul and world-soul, is characterized by the image of Pistis Sophia (as an image of the Grail) who interiorizes and spiritually animates the outer world (FWS, 16-17).

For Sardello, psychological phenomena are not reducible to strictly subjective experiences, but reflect manifestations of the Divine Sophia within the world. The women of Parzival's quest image the Sophia as stages in the life of a soul seeking maturity, a coming-into-being that results in an opening of the world to new degrees of responsibility and engagement. This inner process of soul-encounter expresses a primal, magical relationship that remembers and honors ancestors, encounters the imagery of archetypal beings, and fully perceives the soul-substance of place, land, and world (FWS, 21). The imaginal worlds are not simply in the mind but within the multilayered world where imagination is an organ of perception that can open to the world-soul to Sophianic depths and draw the individual to new maturity and insights. Through training in silence, concentration, image-making, meditation, and contemplation -- all technical terms in spiritual psychology -- the individual can develop a new, living relationship with the world-soul, promoting inner transformation that allows the world to think through the individual (FWS, 28).

Sardello then examines house and city, learning, disease, economics, technology, things, violence and beauty, and food, through the process of discovering the World Soul in each of these aspects of living.

He gives a remarkable tour de force, filled with abundant insights and reconstructions of topics long thought to be without spiritual value. Clearly, the goal is to reconfigure the world as it is now, in the present, not through a sentimental nostalgia that look back nor through a soulless deconstructive pessimism, but through a reanimation of the materialized world of things and processes by instilling them with creative, future oriented soul qualities. Images becomes a media through which the developing individual discovers primal spiritual energies at work in the world. The house is more than a utilitarian box to live in - it is a place of soul activity that creatively expresses a mythical worldview. The city is a gathering of elemental beings that image conditions of the World Soul, not only as in exile, but also as in search of new spiritual expression. Soul seeks disclosure, an inner opening of imagery that allows for new creation, new perception, an outward flowering in real construction and making (FWS, 45-46).

Knowledge comes from following the desires of soul, from uniting with the world in a creative, erotic, whole body sensing and not simply through abstract technical learning. Books should be read as a resource for engaging soul with the world through language that stimulates imagination to give to the world, rather than to take from it. This occurs not so much through intellectual learning but through a sensitization of soul and heart-centered, imaginative perception. Art, music, drama, and therefore beauty, is crucial, not secondary to soul-making; love is the primal value in learning because it teaches giving not taking. Dialogue, not monologue, is the soul-world medium of education; listening and reciprocity are crucial. Disease, illness, pain, suffering arise often due to a lack of interior life as soul loses its connection with the creative processes of world becoming and manifest as suffering within the World Soul. The mass cells of cancer reflect a lack of individuation, a loss of soul that has not learned to uniquely engage inner life. Stress and fatigue reflects loss of animation, lack of engagement with the world-soul. The heart becomes vulnerable to attack because there is no heart-centered imagination; blood does not pump freely but is contracted by loss of connection to the deep rhythms of the cosmos (FWS, 78).

Utilitarian economy destroys soul-life by emphasizing self-interest over caring for the world; greed replaces love, consumerism denies equity and disrupts equality. A more soulful economy is the gift-economy, one that does not expect a return, interest, or gain from the giving (FWS, 91).

Technology imitates the processes of abstract, disconnective thought not soulful relations of the heart. Such thought promotes false, imitative, dummy thought which replaces care for others with abstract information (FWS, 103). Electronic media make possible the construction of superficial image worlds basically soulless and artificial; the computer as artificial intelligence is the extreme example of soullessness. Qualitative relationships of play, of soul vitality, must infuse the things of the world, fostering creative insights that enhance life, not diminish it. Learning to attend to things soulfully reverts energy to beauty (FWS 126), opening the heart to an enriched diversity, and new intensity of perception. The longing for beauty resonates with the Orphic tradition and requires death and rebirth, embedded in the imagery of ecstatic dismemberment and inner reconstruction. The individual must undertake the journey of Ariadne into the Labyrinth, following the soul's path, where the familiar is made strange and new depths are revealed in the danceground of joy and agony (FWS 149).

For Sardello, world and soul must be brought continuously into relationship such that soul infuses all aspects of world and world infuses all potential of soul. This practice leads to a new mode of synthetic thought, a Hermetic consciousness, in which world represents itself in living, soulful images (FWS 170). The new mode of thought is both philosophical and mythological, includes the senses, energizes the body, and has both Lunar and Solar attributes. Hermes, and the Tarot Hermit, symbolize this new thought, proceeding through symbol, analogy, intuition and direct experience -- as an individual task -- to hold the world and soul in conjunction, to honor the quest, and to acquire true wisdom of soul. In Love and the Soul (L&S), which I consider to be Sardello's central work, the Hermetic theme of relating to the world-soul is further explored. Soul work begins in identifying the creative, Hermetic I of the present future as distinct from the empirical, past-

oriented ego, and perceiving the Sophianic world as the true temple of soul (L&S 17, 20). Self knowledge is inseparable from the world and its development requires over-coming egotism and self-centered interests for a new relationship based in individual, creative love that enhances the value of the world.

The development of the I as mature individuality, receptive to a spiritual future, requires constant effort, engagement, and inner discovery. This is a process of soul making that throws off everything general, collective, and ideological while seeking to constantly engage the world creatively, soulfully, individually. The I must be trained to see more vividly, to deconstruct the bifurcated objectification of body and world and to open to the beauty, richness, color, and music of deeply felt and imaged relationships (L&S 31). Opening to the world strengthens the I and allows care and love for the world to shape and inform the creative imagination, allows the soul to breath and to feel the deeper rhythms of interconnected life. Soulful purpose arises when the individual feels the qualitative wholeness of the world and responds creatively. The I as a creative center of love acts as an agent of transformation, sustaining integrity as perception expands into the world, to the limits of the stars, without losing uniqueness and individuality (L&S 42). A new trust of the body is required, one that values bodily wisdom, freed from habit and contraction and open to spontaneity and joyful expression.

The world-soul as Sophia is a becoming, pouring out of the future, whose connection to the individual soul stimulates awareness of inner relationships, inspires intuitive imagination, and opens memory to new depths and awareness. Sardello traces a gnostic history of the Sophic world-soul and discusses her threefold, revelatory nature: as guardian of the lunar underworld, as a solar divinity of illumined world-unity, and as the heavenly, all-encompassing wholeness of the cosmos (L&S 55). Meeting Sophia requires opening to the wholeness of the body, awakening the heart to selfless love, and discovering a living relationships with the wholeness of the world. This quest is again imaged in terms of

Parzival search for the Grail, his encounters with the feminine reflecting stages of soul development. Juxtaposed to this search is the soul-shattering rupture of atomic war, violence, alienation, and massive upsurges of collective hate, doubt, and fear. Drawing on Steiner, Sardello sees the emergence of a more healthy world through soulful intuitions of the future, an imagining of soul that reveals humanity as undergoing alchemical transformations leading to more loving wholeness instantiated by individual manifestations of the Sophia (L&S 78). This harmonization of the individual body with the world-body, of soul with Sophia, proceeds through an awakening of moral and vertical memory (L&S 82) that recalls the goodness and the multidimensional wholeness of on-going creation and stimulates a conscious, vigilant reverence for world emergence.

Awakening to the world-soul also means encountering grief, sorrow, and suffering that is pervasive within the world. This grief is felt deep in the body as it reflects on sorrow and loss deep in the lunar Sophia. Yet grief helps to clarify what is important, what is valuable and worthy of preservation. Through imaginative empathy of soul, of deep feeling, the individual experiences a breakdown of the numb and armored body and opens to the mobility and responsiveness of a more radiant etheric body (L&S 97). This transformation, this strengthening of the subtle body, leads to love for the world and a healing that is both for self and for world. In the transformation of the etheric body, dream work is central; dreams provide soul-images that give experience and felt reality to soul perceptions. Attending to dream activity provides an increased capacity for waking interaction with the world-soul; dream sleep is a medium of sensitization of soul when not reduced to lineal, formal interpretations. The activity of imagination is correspondent with dreaming experience when it breaks free of lineal realism and images the world in new, creative forms. To further enhance perception, the 12 senses (borrowed from Steiner, L&S 135) must be trained and inner senses strengthened.

The heart as an organ of perception continues Sardello's earlier writings on the heart as the true organ of psychic attention, an organ whose perceptions are not neutral but inherent with a sense of anguish or joy (L&S 151). Centered in the heart, sensory perceptions are not passive but actively engage and meet the world as a thou and not as an it. Heart seeks to experience the living quality of the world-soul, to disclose the hidden multidimensionality and to contribute an out-going radiance of love that adds to that disclosure. Human love relationships must expand to include the world and working for the world and resist dyadic closure; the third in every relationship is the creative presence of the divine Sophia (L&S 170-71). Soul is thus a capacity to perceive through the heart; it is that capacity which allows the world to be experienced in its emblematic, symbolic, hieratic, inter-relational character (L&S 177). Freedom is found in the individualizing of soul through imaginative, engaged perception of the world, through creative participation, not through detached observation. Womanly soul knowledge, as imaged in the Sophia, provides the way into the future for both men and women. Sardello concludes with another look at Parzival and the formation of community based on working with others, in heartfelt friendship, without in any way diminishing individual freedom. This is a major work on soul and deserves much closer study and rumination.

In Freeing the Soul from Fear (FSF), Sardello brings forward his group work and explorations of fear as inhibiting soulful relationships and paralyzing the capacity for love. He feels that fear is increasing in the world and is prevalent as an inhibiting factor responsible for much soul loss due to rapid, overwhelming change. Fear contract the soul and inhibits love, dulling human identity, and armoring the body against assault, suffocating inner awareness (FSF 3-6). Fear, to be overcome, must not be ignored or denied, but explored and experienced in order to transform the heart's contraction. In order to carry out the necessary transformation, the individual must learn new imaginative techniques involving a variety of visualization exercises (explained throughout the book) aimed at strengthening the imaginative soul capacities. The body must release its armored conditioning and acquire new vitality, flexibility, and sensitivity. The etheric soul-body must be enhanced to acquire

more subtle field perceptions, in order for love to create a new intimacy and reciprocity that can free the soul from fear and reveal the sacred character of the world (FSF 34-35). By slowing down, opening to the world-soul, we can recover an inner numinous quality that images the world as temple and enhances vitality.

Attaining balance and right relationship to the world requires sinking, decent into the underworld and deep breathing, an inner relaxation that reduces bodily fear. The Hermetic imagination can be trained to open the anesthetized senses into the world, so that the soul-body will establish reciprocal connections that allows consciousness to expand. Sardello give a visual meditation involving the four elements as they relate to a more fluid sense of bodily life; such exercises are meant to free the body from habitual contraction and stiffness (FSF 68-69). He also recommends brief daily image-centered meditation to slow time and to foster greater internalizing of experience; releasing the image allows for perceptions of empty, image-free duration. Images of violence instill fear and closure, soul purification requires recognizing inner anger without acting on it; purification requires allowing the soul to experience deeply without repression of over-reaction (FSF 86-87). Money fears, work fears, relationship fears, fear of suffering or death, all require a re-imaging based in soul-perceptions that give creative alternative responses to real world situations. Empathy is a key here, being open to the existence of others, their struggles and hopes; to feel as the other might feel, to be present to the other, as a supportive sharing that helps to carry the burden of pain without denying its reality.

The confrontation with destructive power requires openness, not closure, not the removal of fear, but an inner psychic capacity to meet fear in order to transform and redirect its energy. Sardello encourages seeing the world as sacred, consecrated, a place of transformation where soul invites back the spiritual presences and reaffirms a will-to-love (FSF 129). Cognition needs to be informed by a theosphical vision, as an imaginative revelation of spiritual worlds, where feeling and life is at the very heart of reality.

Rather than detached, fear instilling, literalizing observation, he suggests seeing the world as embodied soul. Without such perception, a false double is formed, an artificial self-as-observer, a socialized-self cut off from deep feeling, anxious, defensive, fearful. The double loses feeling for humanity, is alienated, normalizes fear, and acts without a moral or spiritual center. Individual conscience based in soul perception requires dissolving the double, freeing the soul from artifice, and recovering authentic relations through heart-centered living. Love counters fear; Sardello distinguishes between sexual, emotional, spiritual and creative love, each offering its own challenges in overcoming fear. Love unites but teaches differentiation and respect for individuality, reveals new direction through being truly present, without prejudgment or assumptions (FSF 204-05).

Through understanding fear, a way is opened for the discovery of beauty and world transformation. Artistic living requires seeking this beauty, seeking awe that opens to beauty as an active presence in the world, resulting in art that gives it imaginative form (FSF 214). Sardello discusses the spiritual value of dance, mime and body movement, painting, poetry, music, literature -- all expressive of soulful participation in an active, imaginative, sensory life. Artistic perception flows through color, texture, intensified feeling that instills a quality of transparency or beauty that shines forth through the visible form. When body unites with imaginative force of soul and the creative power of spirit, the individual, free from fear, thus discovers truth, beauty, and goodness in the world as primary creative values. The body is fully alive and soul has learned to weave the polarities of contemporary life into a new unity, a new image of becoming. As soul strengthens, confronting fear, transforming awareness, the imaginal ability comes into greater relationship with everyday consciousness. Love becomes the new medium of self-expression that reconnects, seeks beauty, honors the world-soul, and counters fear and disconnected living. Imaginal cognition builds a new current, connecting to invisible worlds, and attracting spiritual presences that opens the world to new perceptions and directs attention to the realization of future possibilities (FSF 262-63).

Perhaps one of the most significant aspect of Sardello's writings is the way in which they reorient the use of esoteric ideas and symbols. Interspersed throughout his works are numerous references to alchemy, myth, grail traditions, the Knights Templars, classical Egyptian and Greek religious ideas, Hermetic symbols, the tarot, theosophy, magic, gnosticism, archetypal imagery, dream materials and visionary accounts. These themes and references are then recast into a contemporary orientation toward soul-work that valorizes esoteric imagery in the service of overcoming materialistic denial, alienation, and disconnected, fearful living. The goal of affirming the esoteric teachings, the importance of the Mundus Imaginalis, the soul-work of awakening to the Divine Sophia, is presented as a resource for healing therapy. This suggests to me a new stage of esoteric development in the future: esotericism as a visual landscape of soul seeking new, diverse horizons of transformation through creative, individual application, and not through social organizations or collective movements. This is perhaps what Sardello means when he writes that such healing is a solitary journey, and perhaps this is why the history of esotericism is primarily the history of specific, deeply committed individuals.

Lee Irwin
College of Charleston