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In gratitude to James Hillman…
By Steve Aizenstat
One of Pacifica’s Elders has left us. I and the entire Pacifica community grieve our loss and celebrate all that James Hillman offered to each of us and to the tradition of which we are a part. His love of soul influenced how we tended our work together. He was supportive and actively involved with Pacifica Graduate Institute through the years of our development — encouraging, challenging, and inspiring us as our school grew from a tiny training program offering classes in an apartment in the 1970s to the accredited graduate school of today.
Pacifica’s vision statement animae mundi colendae gratia, for the sake of tending the soul of the world is rooted in the work on the Anima Mundi that Dr. James Hillman put forward in the late 1970s.
The work of James Hillman is at the core of the Pacifica soul. Nationally and Internationally, his books, writings, and commentary are and will continue to be deeply meaningful touchstones, to be mined and explored more fully in the future. Of the imagination and through the imagination, James Hillman listened and then spoke on behalf of the essential images alive and active in today’s culture. His work reached back, extends forward, and is present to the immediacy of our time — this world, this struggle.
James Hillman reflected on the world behind the world, the home place of the invisibles, those archetypal entities, the figures of psyche who shape our behavior and muse our true calling, our fate. His expansive, creative mind reached out beyond the world of human experience to consider the importance of connecting to our environment, to the realities of our planet. He brought our attention to the aesthetic qualities of all that lives in the world natural and human-made. I have carried these words of James with me for many years,
the things of an ensouled landscape announce themselves, look here we are. They regard us beyond how we may regard them, our perspective, what we intend with them, and how we dispose of them. This imaginative claim on attention bespeaks a world ensouled.
Anima Mundi: The Return of the Soul to the World. Spring (1982)]
Many of us have been shaped, sharpened, and sliced by the power of Hillman’s ideas. His work animates our own. His wit and intelligence, as well as his keen perception and willingness to see through so many aspects of contemporary culture opened our eyes, touched our hearts, and brought beauty to our way of experiencing the world and one another. Eros, love, lived in the essence of all he offered and that which was mused through him. Humor and outrage were also present in times of need.
James Hillman helped guide Pacifica from the beginning, he offered shelter, called out the contradictions, helped us get back on course. He pushed us to articulate and practice a psyche-centered approach, a soul-centered perspective, in all that we do teaching, research, encouraging diversity, governance, psychological training, interpersonal relations, scholarship, and in our very way of being.
At the 1990 dedication of Pacifica Graduate Institute’s Lambert Road Campus, James Hillman began, as he so often did, by asking a challenging question:
We are here this afternoon for a ceremony of dedication. In dedication of what? To dedicate what? Not merely these physical buildings, this ground of gardens, this blessed site. Not merely to dedicate a school of gifted faculty, imaginative staff, and intelligent students; or only a unique program. More likely we are here in dedication to a vision that formed this site and its buildings and brought to it these unusual persons who comprise the Pacifica Graduate Institute, its particular vision of psyche and an education in psychology dedicated to its vision. And he concluded his dedication address by offering a vision:
So the psychological education provided by the Pacifica Graduate Institute can lead the soul out of its century-long and once necessary confinement within the personal, individual, and humanistic walls that have kept it from the world and the world soulless. This vision toward the world can also re-dedicate our dedication to Psyche with a visionary’s fantasy-inspired imagination that would aim for nothing else, nothing less than re-souling the world giving it the gift of each one’s specifically peculiar dedication.
Several years ago, James Hillman chose the OPUS Archives and Research Center located here on the campuses of Pacifica to hold and care for his many papers and transcripts. We were honored to accept this task. His working notes and outlines containing significant seed ideas, rich with possibilities, will offer graduate students, visiting scholars, and faculty the opportunity to carry his work, the soul-centered work of our tradition, into the future.
Hillman’s dedication and ours to psyche’s call continues. Now we are asked, I am asked, to carry the work forward. We are challenged to do so in each of our particular and peculiar ways. Engagement with our innate dreams and inner images brings attention to the visitation of the unique, the odd, the intolerable those forces that respond to the immediacy of the present and are pregnant with the pull of the future.
My work with dreams, with education, with soul is, in large part, due to my personal and collegial relationship with James Hillman, both with the man and with the body of his work. In his death, he lives on as an Elder, alive now in our council of ancestors. Pushing, informing, animating, I feel his presence still. I experience his love.