“Care of the soul means respecting its emotions and fantasies, however objectionable. Reading the story of Tristan and Isolde, we are caught in the vise between affirmation of their intense love and repugnance in the face of their deceptions. George Bataille, the extraordinary French writer who has long spoken for the dark passages in the soul’s journey, says that every love involves a transgression. Soul is to be found in the vicinity of taboo. In stories, movies, biographies, and news accounts we are fascinated by the many illicit conjunctions and tragic deceptions of love.
One of the difficulties in care of the soul is to recognize the necessity of pathos and tragedy. If we view love only from a high moralistic or hygienic peak, we will overlook its soul settling in the valleys. When we reflect on the tragedies of our own loves, when we slowly find our way through their miseries, we are being initiated into the mysterious ways of the soul. Love is the means of entry and our guide. Love keeps us on the labyrinthine path. If we can honor love as it presents itself, taking steps and directions we would never have predicted or desired, then we are on the way toward discovering the lower levels of the soul, where meaning and value reveal themselves slowly and paradoxically. There we become like Tristan, sailing trustingly toward fate, while plucking the strings of our own resources. Tristan is a religious figure, a monk on the spiritual path to love. Consistently he displays his attitude of complete trust. He is always in baptism, always being named, always in touch with the waters of his origination and sustenance. Being so close to himself, he finds the completion of his spirited nature in the impossibilities of love. Wit and impossibility meet continually as his fate unfolds, a pattern that may take form in the loves of any of us.
If we see Tristan as a figure of our sadness in love, and not as a literal representative of its absolute failure, then we have an image that respects love’s dark depths as well as its brilliant heights. When love’s sadness visits us, that is Tristan floating on his skiff, trusting and yet moving ever closer to the tragic side of life that redeems his light spirit. It isn’t necessary to take a pill or search out a therapeutic strategy to dismiss the feeling, because to dismiss that feeling is to banish an important soul visitor. The soul apparently needs amorous sadness. It is a form of consciousness that brings its own unique wisdom.”—Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul