on 6 February 2000
(C) 2000 Sheridan Hill
Freeing the Soul From Fear (Riverhead, 1999), Robert Sardello's third book, shines a relentless light on fear, but it is mainly about love.
Sardello, whose perspective grows from a 20-year practice as a depth psychologist, maintains that the real power of fear lives in our wish to avoid it. He carefully explores the fragmenting effects of fear and describes how we might meet fear with its only antidote-- love
There is a gentle quality about the book. The author takes a fresh look at love, introduces a fear-based behavior called "doubling," and weaves in the ideas of Rudolph Steiner. Steiner (1861-1925) was an Austrian philosopher whose work has led to holistic approaches in medicine, education (Waldorf schools), agriculture, architecture, drama, the new art of eurythmy, and many other aspects of life. He founded the General Anthroposophical Society, still active worldwide.
Sardello's premise is that the soul is not an entity but a capacity, and freeing it involves "participating in fear, not naively, but with the greatest intensity of consciousness and attention we are able to muster." The process he describes begins with cultivating the imagination and creating a more sensory awareness of the world. By awakening the senses to what occurs in the field between our body and our surroundings, he asserts we can invite soul back into our living being and find the courage to face our fears.
Baby boomers will be interested to know that the author advises using great caution and discernment before engaging in transcendental meditation, hypnotism, neuro-linguistic programming and "weekend shamanism," on grounds that they can create an opening for experiences that are neither beneficial nor understood. Our work, he says, is not to replicate the practices of far away cultures and other times, but to find our own, unique road to consciousness.
"Doubling," a concept first found in 17th century literature, is presented here as a numbing of consciousness and a deterioration of conscience that manifests in people who live with a constant sense of fear. Sardello says doubling illustrates how fear ultimately distorts the will, leads us to hate and to perform violent and atrocious acts.
The ability to raise good questions is also one of Sardello's gifts. In his previous book, Love and the Soul, one question he asks is, How can I love you in a way that frees you? In this book, he explores questions that range from interesting (How do we love the unpleasant aspects of another person?), to difficult (What does consciousness consist of?), and those that are nearly unanswerable (Why are we here?).
A chapter on artistic living reminds readers that bringing the arts into our lives integrates the physical with soul and spirit. Musicians, writers, and artists, who work toward truth in a bodily way, show us that our feelings are not our possessions: the colors and sounds of an average day are loaded with feeling. Poets show us how to "jump into the abyss of not knowing, and there let language come to us and speak through us."
Included in the book are exercises designed to counter the constricting effects of fear. The main tools required of the reader are imagination and a willingness to re-imagine work life, relationships, our experience of the speed of time, and our perceptions of anxiety.
Sardello chaired the psychology department at the University of Dallas and co-founded the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, where he worked closely with James Hillman and Thomas Moore in the 1980s. A book jacket quote from Thomas Moore reads: "Robert Sardello is one of the most creative thinkers I know. He writes from a combination of breathtaking originality with heartfelt compassion."