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|Breaking Through - Page 3|
So what does a poet have to say to an audience of psychotherapists? It could be argued that poetry and psychotherapy have much in common: both seek to encourage people to begin taking steps out of their small, barren rooms into a wider, more satisfying world. But from the perspective of a poet and storyteller like Whyte, psychology and psychotherapy don't go far enough. Their focus is concerned primarily with individual human biography—good for a start, but, according to Whyte, too small an enclosure for the capacious human soul. "There's something beyond your biography in the mythological view of the world, a soul-based view, that helps you make sense of your individual life, even helps you prepare for it in a way that psychology can't do," he says.
To drive home the point, Whyte describes Manolete, one of the greatest bullfighters of all time, who, as a child, was too scared of the world to venture beyond his mother's skirts. According to the psychological view, his career as a bullfighter was merely a way of compensating for his shameful fear—a "reaction formation" in Freudian terminology. But in Whyte's view, this is entirely too reductionistic a way of seeing Manolete. The mythic perspective would be that he somehow knew he was going to face the greatest, most dangerous bulls in Spain and, in fact, would one day be gored to death by one. "With this intuition of his own destiny, why wouldn't he hide in his mother's skirts?" asks Whyte.
In his poetry and stories, he suggests that someone like Manolete may have had a more realistic worldview than we do, with our faith that science, technology, good health insurance, and a fat portfolio will purge danger and tragedy from existence, eliminating doubt and uncertainty. Poetry is a grand antidote to this fond illusion, because, if it's any good at all, it can't offer false comforts or false hopes, even if the poet himself would prefer them to the truth. "As a poet, you overhear yourself say things you didn't know you knew about the world, and things you didn't want to know," says Whyte. "Poetry isn't about something, it's the thing itself: it enunciates things that ordinary language can't address; it's human speech at the edge of revelation, at the edge of discovery."