Thomas Moore on Sex, Mystery, Shadow, and Living a Life of the Soul

thomas moore photograph

Thomas Moore

I interviewed Thomas Moore with a colleague and mentor — and now a good friend — in 1998; if I recall correctly, she was generous and wise enough, the latter in terms of personal and personnel development, to give me the byline. Moore, a former monk and a psychotherapist, has released 19 books, including the 2014 release A Religion of One’s Own, the best-selling Care of the Soul, and The Soul of Sex, the book he was promoting when we did the interview. It’s a busy day, so I’m not doing a full post here, but just putting up some idea-quotes from the interview worth engaging.

“One thing I learned from Rilke is to live from a deep place. That’s one of the key phrases from his book Letters to a Young Poet. Live from a deep place. It’s a simple idea, but I think most of us live on a superficial level, we don’t live that deeply. When you live from a deeper place, you don’t know what’s going on, you don’t know your motives. I’m always quoting Oscar Wilde. He said, ‘Only the shallow know themselves.’ So I don’t talk about self-knowledge. Because when you live from the soul, you don’t know what you’re doing. You get into your marriage, maybe, and you don’t know why. Or a job, you don’t know why. It may not be prudent, it may not be all rational and all thought out, it may not make sense to your family and to your friends. A lot of times when you follow the soul your friends are just confused because they want certain things for you, and when you live from that deeper place you may not be terribly prudent.”

“I think probably the essence of sex is the coming together of differences, coming together in desire and pleasure. Empedocles, a Greek philosopher, said the whole world and all the things in the world are held together by Aphrodite, the goddess of sexuality — here’s a philosophy, the principle of Aphrodite, the spirit of Aphrodite. And at the same time he said what brings humans together in love and lovemaking is Aphrodite. So whatever it is that keeps the seasons coming and the planets in orbit and the oceans in place, birds flying south and all of that, it’s the same thing that draws people together sexually, to make love. And so it’s very hard to define what that is. But as I write about sex, I keep Empedocles in mind. Sex is very mysterious. It’s both cosmic and very personal at the same time.”

“What I’m trying to do is get away from what I think is a modernist philosophy that marriages are held together by good communication, by self-understanding and mutual understanding. I don’t think that’s true. You can have not much understanding at all and be quite mysterious. And what holds people together is more the passion and the mystery for something that has brought them together mysteriously — fate and circumstances and you recognize something. And what is desire, desire for another person and not for somebody else? It’s not something manufactured, and it’s not rational, and it’s not explainable.”

“People tell me we should try to get science and spirituality together. I’m not interested in that. I want to get out of the modern paradigm. I think it’s dangerous. It’s inhuman. There’s a tremendous loss of soul. I don’t want to build bridges to it. The modernist philosophy is self-destructive. We have made atom bombs, we pollute our nature entirely, we completely pave over our universe, we have absolutely no interest in beauty and other issues of absolute importance to the soul. I think it’s time to stop it. Individually, if enough individuals do it, maybe the culture will see it and move out of it.”

“I’m writing about the soul, which is the deep down and often dirty part of a person’s life and fantasy life and emotion. It’s not clean at all. Sometimes just because I use the word ‘soul’ it’s put into a context that’s very foreign to me, that is too sweet and too positive. I see a great deal of value in those darker parts of life, in the darker elements, and we should not try to clean it up. … I see a lot of books on shadow, but they don’t really honor the shadow. They try to get out of it cleverly. That really weakens our work when we do that. So something like jealousy — it’s a human thing to be jealous. You have people murdering each other out of jealousy, and it becomes insane just as anything can. You can murder someone out of greed — that doesn’t mean the desire for money is bad. But if it gets out of hand, it can reach psychotic levels and be very dangerous. I think it’s very important to see through the sentimentality — too sweet, too positive, too transcendent.”

Thomas Moore photograph“People say that I don’t advocate absolute moral values, that I’m recommending moral relativity, anything goes. And that’s so foreign to me I can’t understand that, because what I’m trying to do is deepen our appreciation, in this case of sex, or anything for that matter, so that we are more ethical, not less. And the ethics is more deeply rooted instead of just being a lot of talk about being ethical without really being ethical, or just following someone’s idea of what’s right or wrong rather than struggling through your whole life to find out what fate is demanding you to do and not to do. It’s far beyond simple right and wrong. I think the emphasis on absolute moral values is a defense against really living ethically.”

“You don’t live your life to save the world. If you live your life with honesty and some beauty that’s the most you can contribute.”

“Everywhere I go people give me books and say, ‘You need to read this.’ I don’t need to read anything. And I don’t want to do that to anybody, ‘You need to read this.’ You don’t. If you have a choice between reading any book published in the 20th century and reading Shakespeare, there’s no choice. Go back to Shakespeare. Or Emerson. Emerson’s one of my favorite people of all time. Such beautiful sentences and thoughts, it’s unbelievable. Read Emerson.”

I invite you to read and share the assortment of interviews posted on this blog, among them:

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