The Force of Character: And the Lasting Life

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9780375501203: The Force of Character: And the Lasting Life
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In his bestselling The Soul's Code, James Hillman    restored passion and meaning to the concept of identity, arguing that each of us is born with an innate character, the "daimon" or "spirit" that calls us  to what we are meant to be. Now, in The Force of Character, Hillman brings the idea of character full circle, offering a revolutionary new vision of life's most feared and misunderstood chapter: old age.
    
"Aging is no accident," Hillman writes. "It is necessary to the human condition, intended by the soul." We become more characteristic of who we are simply by lasting into later years; the older we become, the more our true natures emerge. Thus the final years have a very important purpose: the fulfillment and confirmation of one's character.
      
Contrary to the current genetic determinism that sees increased longevity as a wasted aberrance created by civilization, The Force of Character presents an explosive new thesis: The changes of old age, even the debilitating ones, have purposes and values organized by the psyche. Memory for recent events may falter, offering more place for long-term recollections. A heart condition in later life brings an opportunity to remove blockages from constricted relationships, while changes in sleep patterns allow the old to experience the profound elements of nighttime that we usually overlook. As Hillman says, "Aging makes metaphors of biology."
  
In this empowering and original work, James Hillman resurrects the ancient, widespread, and socially effective idea of the old person as "ancestor," a model for the young, the bearer of a society's cultural memory and traditions. America disregards old people who aren't young-acting and young-looking. We don't realize that "oldness" is an archetypal state of being that can add value and luster to things we treasure, places we revere, and people's character. When we open our imaginations to the idea of the ancestor, aging can free us from convention and transform us into a force of nature, releasing our deepest beliefs for the benefit of society.  For all who read it, The Force of Character will be a seminal,  life-affirming experience.

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Review:

This philosophy/psychology work on character and aging is not a self-help book but rather a self-perception book--philosophical, wise, and deep. "What does aging serve? What is its point?" asks James Hillman, and proceeds to examine those questions fully. The loss of short-term memory, for example, enables us to better recall the past and review our lives. "On the one hand, brain cells may be flaking off like autumn leaves in a deciduous forest; on the other hand, a clearing is being made, leaving more space for occasional birds to alight." Hillman also likens short-term memory loss to a warehouse packed full of the inventory of life, emptying the latest files "to preserve enough emotional space for evaluating what has been there for a long time." Other aging markers also have benefits for character, reflection, and imagination. We wake up at night not only because our old bodies have to urinate, for example, but also because our minds are open to the wonders and mysteries of night.

Hillman discusses the three major changes that character undergoes in later life. First is "lasting," which is the desire to live as long as possible. Next is "leaving," where we change from holding on to letting go, and our character becomes more exposed and confirmed. The final stage is "left": "what is left after you have left," and Hillman interweaves all the connotations of that word. --Joan Price

From the Back Cover:

In his powerful bestseller The Soul's Code, James Hillman brilliantly illuminated the central importance of character to our spiritual and emotional lives. Now, in this magnificent new book, Hillman completes his exploration of character with a profound and revolutionary reflection on life's second half.

"Character requires the additional years", declares Hillman. "The last years confirm and fulfill character". Far from blunting or dulling the self, the accumulation of experience concentrates the essence of our being, heightening our individual mystery and unique awareness of life. Drawing on his grounding in Jungian psychology, Hillman explains here the archetypes and myths that govern the self's realignment in our final years.

The Force of Character follows an enriching journey through the three stages of aging -- lasting, the deepening that comes with longevity; leaving, the preparation for departure; and left, the special legacy we each bestow on our survivors. Along the way the book explores the meanings and often hidden virtues of characteristic physical and emotional changes, such as loss of memory, alterations in sleep patterns, and the mysterious upsurge in erotic imagination.

Steeped in the wisdom of a lifetime, radiant with Hillman's reading in philosophy, poetry, and sacred texts, charged with a piercing clarity, The Force of Character is a book that will change -- and affirm -- the lives of all who read it.

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