Art Journal Lab: Soul Searching

For the past several weeks, we have been exploring the acorn theory of soul, as proposed by the late psychologist James Hillman, in his book, The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling. As I often do with books that are poetically written, deep and radical, I am taking a long time to read this book. It was lent to me by a friend, and so I can't write ecstatic notes or underline my favorite paragraphs as I often do. Instead, I do what I did as a teenager. I copy long sections of the beloved book into my journal. There is something about rewriting the book into my journal that gives me the feeling that I am digesting the material more deeply.

The basic idea of the book, which has radically altered how I see my life and my relationship to its events, is: each person has a unique soul, which is invisible to us for most of our life, but as we pay more attention to our life and its history, we start to see signs, symbols, memories that point the way to our soul's code which expresses who we were meant to be. The soul is an acorn--containing all of our unique potentialities from before the beginning of life. The soul even chooses which parents it wants to born to. This calls for a radical re-invisioning of psychology's notion that the way the parents raise their child is what form's the child's personality and pathologies.

Soul is so elusive and perplexing, it feels like a scary theme to bring to my art journal class. And yet, I feel deeply energized and inspired by this kind of work. It feels exactly like the kind of thing I need to be doing. Both for myself, and others. In class, we have been trying different ways of imagining into each of our soul's to find understanding and meaning and to help us make choices that are in alignment with the soul's purpose.

These are the words that Hillman uses interchangeably for the word soul:


“These many words and names do not tell us what it is, but they do confirm that it is. They also point to its mysteriousness. We cannot know what exactly we are referring to because its nature remains shadowy, revealing itself mainly in hints, in intuitions, whispers, and the sudden urges and oddities that disturb your life and that we continue to call symptoms.”

Here is a poem I wrote to my art journal lab students, as an invitation to try on this theory for a few weeks, and see what they might discover about their soul's.


even with your terror

and exquisite heartache

that everything that is

is exactly how it should be.

Your story of suffering

that you sometimes cling to,

your most secret unfulfilled longing,

your rage that you can barely touch,

your most outrageous largeness

that calls to you

(in the dark)

What if all of that were

exactly what your soul ordered

to live itself out,

to engage its depth and mystery

to grow it into the world

to become what it already is?

I have decided recently that I will be developing the art journal lab course material into an online course or an ebook. So I will be blogging more here on what we are working on in art journal lab as a way to continue to develop the material that I have been working on for the past five years.

In one of our recent art journal lab classes, I led the students into a guided visualization where they contacted their earliest memory, and then drew a picture of that memory. They then wrote in their journals--describing more deeply what the experience was like. Some of them dialogued with the child from the memory, to go even deeper. The process allowed each person to discover a seed of her soul.

My theory is: memories from childhood are moments of awakening to the soul. I believe we remember moments of childhood because there was something elemental there, some awareness of self or soul that was not there previously. What we remember is significant and says something to us about our unique destiny.

What is your earliest childhood memory and what about this memory resonates with your soul's callings or yearnings?