What makes a hero?
According to Philosopher and Scholar Joseph Campbell, a hero is an archetypal figure who takes a journey from his or her ordinary world, goes out on an adventure, through a decisive crisis wins a victory, then returns home transformed with gained wisdom to offer others. This podcast features inspiring stories of real people on The Hero’s Journey and the pivotal moments that changed the course of their lives forever.
There is a guidance in our lives that if we listen, we can hear. You can pay attention to something that speaks in us or makes itself present and known. And when someone tells me something, a certain thing, I actually can tell that they're not just speaking for themselves but there's something big and strong speaking within them. And I take that as guidance for my life.
You probably know him best as an author, but Thomas Moore has had multiple lives, each one a variation on this theme: his deep love of learning. Listen as he offers us a peek into one of the most early and formative chapters of life. May you be glean wisdom and inspiration from this Hero’s Journey. I’m Belinda Lams and this is The Moment When…
Thomas Moore published his classic Care of the Soul in 1992 and has since written twenty books on spirituality, sexuality, myth, religion and depth psychology. He has taught religious studies and psychology and has been a psychotherapist for over 30 years. He often speaks at C. G. Jung societies and has done special work consulting at major medical centers with the idea of bringing soul to medicine. He was a close friend and collaborator with James Hillman and published an anthology of Hillman’s work with extensive introductions and commentaries. He writes fiction and music and has a special relationship with Ireland, the home of his ancestors. He lives in New England with his wife and is the father to his daughter, son-in-law, and stepson.
I start all of my shows by setting the context of how I'm connected to somebody. And you and I have never met, but I know of you through your writing. And I came upon that because one of my mentors, Rabbi Finley -- he would reference you and James Hillman in his talks and my husband ended up ordering your book, Care of the Soul. And that eventually made its way into my hands, into my world. And it came at the perfect time because I think I was disregarding a lot of those parts of myself. And the book helped me to slow down and savor and be with my process and my journey with an honor I would say and with a, an awareness. So you've been an impactful part of my journey for quite a few years and so I would love for you to share your journey with me and, and the listeners.
So, what was your ordinary world like before you got your call to adventure?
Well I, I’m thinking of the fact that over my life I have had several turns that were significant for me and they started early. And the earliest one for me that I recall is when I was 13 years old. I grew up in Detroit. I had been going to a Catholic school, attending a Catholic Church, and being close to the priests because I was an altar boy. And I really loved what I saw in the life of the priests and so it was natural for me to feel that I wanted to try that for myself.
This was a long time ago and the world was different. It was rather normal for — maybe I shouldn't say normal — but it was not too unusual for a young man or even a young woman in a Catholic family to want to become a priest or a nun. But that entailed leaving home and going on about a 12 or 13 year of preparation and study. So it was a big deal.
I found it difficult to leave home because I was so close to my family. My father was an extraordinary man. He was, he was a plumber. He taught plumbing. But he was sort of a philosopher at the same time. He, he left school in the second year of high school. So he didn't have much of an education, but he was very smart.
I think the idea was that I would probably become a plumber as well and I looked up to him a great deal. So when I saw these men doing this work as priests, I saw my father in them. I saw that was one way for me to be more like my dad, but doing it in my own way.
And my parents tried to get me to wait until after high school when I'd be a little older and have a better sense of what I wanted to do in my life. But I was impatient, I was fired up about this idea and so I didn't listen to them and, and eventually they let go and said, “Okay, if you want to give it a try.” It was something at the beginning that I felt really inspired to do and I wasn't going to be talked out of it.
Thomas’ call to adventure took him away from the comfort of his home and family in Detroit and off to a new world of priests and monks in Chicago.
I was extremely homesick for years I think when I left.I had such a wonderful family and I hated leaving them, but my ideals were strongerthan my wanting to stay in the comfort of home.
So what I was doing, I was pursuing the priesthood to become a Catholic priest, but I was also joining a religious order; a community, a monastic order.That means that these people lived a very intense community life. They lived the life of a monk so that was a pretty intense life for me and I got into it from the very beginning when I was 13. I really entered that life then as much as I could at that age.So, I studied a great deal and I was taught that the study was part of spiritual life and spiritual practice. Learning Latin and Greek was part of my life from the very beginning and getting a classical education generally and getting an education in spirituality.
In the Hero’s Journey, the Hero meets a mentor who guides him in this new world. Thomas met many highly influential mentors along his path, each one calling forth his various gifts beginning in high school when a new priest came to teach English. His name, Father Gregory O’Brien.
He was extremely polished, highly educated, artistic man. And he loved the religious life and he was very reverent in everything he did. He had a very deep spirituality. But he was also a very earthy worldly person and he was an excellent musician. Cuz he just was very well educated in all the arts. And he was such an inspiration to me. He opened up the world of art to me and music.
And he invited a professor from University in Chicago to come and teach music at our seminary. And so I joined up right away.I wanted to study piano and music theory.
So I, I started when I was in high school, when I was 14, studying music and I loved it. I realized after a short time that my particular interest was composition, music composition. So I started writing music right away in high school.
Once he completed high school, Thomas moved to Milwaukee for a year of college and a year of spiritual training. It was during these years that he encountered another key figure; a Priest named Father McNamara who was in charge of the monastery.
He was a, a very wonderful man. He had a good sense of humor. He liked to study. He liked to write. He was an intellectual of sorts and he liked to be up with the news, what was happening. And he was a good leader. I thought a very good leader. And he saw something in me and asked me to be his secretary for those two years. He also asked me and only me — he didn’t asked anyone else there — to write an essay for him once a week that he would read and go over and edit to help me learn how to write. So that was very important to me. I admired this man, and he was one of the first of many men who inspired me and taught me and showed me how to make a move into my own future.
The next phase of Thomas’ education took him to all the way Northern Ireland, which was a little taste of home as that’s where his family was from originally. There he studied Philosophy courses actually taught in Latin, which he found quite interesting and challenging. It was during this time that Thomas decided that he wanted to acquire a piece of Irish art, but that was challenging as well.
I had no money. I was in this religious order and in the vow of poverty. I had no money to spend on myself, but I figured I'd find some way to do it. So I wrote to the National Gallery in Dublin and asked them the question if they could help me get some art. And the Director of the National Gallery — it's a very prestigious position and he was an honored poet, Thomas McGreevy was his name — he wrote me a note back and said, “Come see me.”
He didn't say anything else, he just said, “Come, come see me.”
Off to Dublin he went. There in a small back office at the National Gallery of Ireland, Thomas spent precious time with his new mentor, Thomas McGreevy.
He was 70, I was 19, and he began telling me his life story and all the people that he had known who were great writers and artists. He had been a kind of friend or father figure to a lot of writers like TS Eliot and James Joyce, especially James Joyce and Joyce's family and TH Lawrence and many other figures like that. And at the moment he was very close to Samuel Beckett. And I had been reading Beckett's plays and I loved Samuel Beckett, he was one of my favorite writers.
So to sit there with Thomas McGreevy and to listen to his stories and for him to take me under his wing was really one of the most important events of my life. I think he brought out the artist in me and the writer in me just as, you know, he had done with so many other people. So I felt that I owed a great deal to him and he really befriended me. He taught me the value of this kind of friendship; an older person befriending a young person and giving them so much of themselves. So that friendship and that relationship was key for me. Very, very important.
I’m Belinda Lams and this is The Moment When…Today we’re talking with Thomas Moore about his journey to become a priest and the valuable influencers who shaped his life along the way… His story continues.
Thomas completed his two years in Ireland and headed back to DePaul University in Chicago to study Music Composition and Theology, in Latin of course.
I worked very hard in those years. I thought that maybe when I left, I might be able to be a musician in some way. I know I couldn’t make a living writing music but I thought I could teach or do something like that. But then I learned, I discovered that this double major of mine made it impossible for me to really give enough attention to my musical preparation. So I felt I really didn't have enough education and maybe not enough talent to really do it in a big way. So, I decided not to go in the direction of music even though I already had a master's degree in music composition.
Thomas’ life path continued to get refined and clarified, leading him right up to his pivotal moment. It was the late 1960s.
Revolution was in the air and I think I caught some of that. And I also felt I was being educated so well that I had a lot of doubts and questions about what was going on in my education. Well one day I just woke up and I realized that whatever had inspired me to go off and do this and spend 13 years at it, had gone. It disappeared within those few weeks. It had just gone. And I'm just the kind of person — I look back at my life — when I feel that way, I make my decision and I get out of it. I, I make a change.
So I told the person in charge that I, I couldn't go any further. And he tried to convince me to spend a year just to try to sort it out. Taking a year to think about it's not going to do any good because it's definite. I know. I know at this point now that it's time for me to change and shift and move on.
And none of my colleagues, my classmates, or my professors understood that. They seemed to be rather negative and that shocked me and surprised me that I didn't get their support. But I left. I had no way of making a living and I didn't know what I was going to do. But that was another call again. You know, it was time to end this one phase and take a chance on something else.
So, Thomas left his highly regulated life and entered a new world with a different set of rules.
I had lived the vow of poverty for all those years, 13 years. And then suddenly, I was living poverty. (laugh) I had no money, no way of making money. I was coaching students at the University in music as one way of making money. I played the organ at churches to make some money. It was difficult making the transition from being in this monastery to trying to make it and figure out how to live in the world on my own. That was quite a challenge.
I didn't want to have anything to do with it when I first left with religion or anything after that. I really wanted to be out in the world and just explore the world itself for a while.
What brings a person to the point of making such a dramatic change in their life after years of investment? Wasn’t all that education supposed to solidify Thomas’ path to the Priesthood? Instead it guided him in a different direction than he expected. Listen to his reflections on this process of growth and awareness that led to his decision to leave.
Your deep interest in spirituality, I mean, was that there at the beginning? Was it about spirituality for you or what about something else?
Yes, the spiritual life was really important and when I met Gregory O'Brien, the priest who brought music into my life, he also brought a deep sense of ritual and contemplation and meditation and many, many aspects of the spiritual life. He was so good at that and had such a deep understanding of it. So he influenced me a great deal in that direction too.
He was a man who was way ahead of his time and a lot of the people around him didn't appreciate him, which is typical. Especially in the arts, loves the arts, and everyone else thinks that they're just fruitcakes you know. They don't have any substance, you know. And so he had a lot of challenges that way. And what it did for me was that I also became, I guess then and even now, people would call a very liberal theologian. I wanted to move in my own direction or new directions. I wasn't satisfied with the old ways of doing things.
I was getting more and more open-minded. And I think that's one of the reasons I left was that I wanted to be in a bigger world. The world that I was in was too narrow for me and I didn't want these authoritarian people above me telling me what I could think or what I could do, what I could write. And I think that was part of my motivation in wanting to leave it.
You outgrew it.
I outgrew it. I don't know how to describe it. I think there's something in me that, that doesn't deal with tradition and doing things the same way all the time. You know, I can't handle that too well. I like to always be trying something new and something bigger all the time.
When I was in my last years of Theology before I left the religious order I was in, one of my professors was very interested in Teilhard de Chardin who was a Jesuit priest, who was also a paleontologist and who had studied the science of evolution. But he pushed the idea of evolution into a spiritual realm, so he talked about spiritual evolution. He connected them, the earth, the planet, with spirituality. And that really had a big impact on me to be able to think about what it was. It was about being religious, being spiritual and worldly at the same time. That's what Chardin, how he affected me. And I read everything I could find of his and I admired him tremendously. I still do.
And he was one of the first steps I took away from a traditional theology and away from a traditional spirituality. And that theme of having spirituality and everyday life in the world come together has been the kind of the base of all of my work ever since. So I always have tried to bring soul and spirit together or earth and spirituality, or the world, the worldliness in a spiritual way of being. I haven't wanted to separate those two things. And even my most recent books pick up these themes. I am still hammering at them trying to find ways to say this, to express this idea.
Which is so interesting that you went into more of an ascetic life and then, you know, it's like separating to find that.
Yeah, it's kind of ironic in a way to go off to a monastery to find the world, you know. So that was very important to me, those studies at that time. You know, I met Paul Tillich just talked to him briefly really, just for one conversation. He was a very influential Lutheran theologian at the time. He was at the University of Chicago when I met him. In his work too, he brought the spiritual and the worldly together. He defined or he described God as the ground of being; the base of our reality.
He was always trying to develop what he called a Theology of Culture, trying to make a workable culture that can thrive wit h a spiritual awareness. He tried to bring those two together. So there, before I even left the monastery, I had Tillich and Teilhard de Chardin who were writers. I never met Chardin and only had a brief conversation with Tillich, but they really had a big impact on me and ever since then, I've been carrying them around with me in a way. They're part of my heritage. And I'm still working out the questions that they raised.
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Today we’re exploring the power of mentorship and how a receptive soul can benefit from its guidance…with my guest Thomas Moore.
Throughout those years, Thomas’ life was shaped by his studies, his experiences, and his mentors. And then there was this mysterious revelation that had finally caused him to shift his path. What about that?
Well, I'd like to remark on the way that you receive your information and how other people didn't necessarily understand or support you. And, I understand what you're saying. I experienced that myself. But I think how interesting that you trusted that in yourself. Because I know often, people have an experience like that where they understand that things are changing but they keep clinging or trying to make something work that's not really working anymore and they extend that departure. But something in you seemed to be very quick to trust that and I think that's really interesting. What were you trusting?
I was trusting the revelation I had that I had to move on. I could tell you about it in a way that would really seem strange maybe to some people. (laugh)
Do it! Tell it!
It is that…see I really believe that there are such things as angels. I don't mean angels that you can see or that are like human beings floating around. I mean that there's an angelic aspect to human life. That means that on an ordinary day, you might get an impulse or you may even hear a kind of an inner voice telling you what to do and what not to do. And I think that's an angel. It's really hard to say this, I don't mean a physical thing, I don't mean anything at all remotely physical.
I mean this experience that we have that we are guided somehow. The voices come to us and that's what came to me. I've always been taught as a spiritual person that you obey the angel’s voice. So I did, I do that. I believe in it. It’s not a naive hokey kind of belief. It's really just being aware that there is a guidance in our lives that if we listen, we can hear. You can pay attention to something that speaks in us or makes itself present and known. And when someone tells me something, a certain thing, I actually can tell that they're not just speaking for themselves but there's something big and strong speaking within them. And I take that as guidance for my life.
So that's how I got my sense of certainty and trust about moving ahead, even though it didn't look very good. It looked like it would be very difficult to move into a new life when I had nothing to support myself and no plans for the future and doubt about my abilities and what I could do. It took a great deal of trust in the voice that I heard or felt. That's what has guided me throughout my whole life.
The Hero’s Journey isn’t complete until the Hero brings home the elixir to offer others. Here’s what Thomas brings back.
Well, I'm still a monk. (laugh) I'm still a monk in many ways. If you were to see me right now, I’m in this little room, little cell you might say, surrounded by bookcases. The books are way over me, you know, taller than I am, the bookcases. And these are the books that I use to write my own books to help me, to give me inspiration and some ideas. They're my teachers, all these people that wrote these books that are with me in this little room.
I treasure that life of being a monk, of being in that monastic world, I treasure it. So I take that whole life with me. I didn't discard it totally. At a literal level, I did. I said I don't want to live this life anymore. But the spirit of it and the style of it and the aesthetics of it, I keep. And it’s still part of my life today even though now I'm married and I'm a parent. It's still with me.
I offered Thomas a few of my own thoughts.
I am so grateful that you listened and that you have gone on this incredible journey with multiple chapters literally and experientially and that you've brought back so much wisdom. And all of these things that you’ve braided together, that you bring to us who read your books or experience you in the world, I know for myself it's enriched me deeply and I'm so incredibly grateful. And I listened to the voice that had me contact you so there you go.
That's a good sign. Thank you for what you said and for giving me an opportunity to do something I've never done before, you know, to talk about these things. It’s something I scatter in my books but I don't really talk about.
You can learn more about Thomas by visiting his website thomasmooresoul.com. You can find out about his new Soul Psychology e-course, his speaking engagements, and order his most recent book Ageless Soul: The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy.
You can also see photos of Thomas in his younger years at our website themomentwhen.me.
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