School for the Soul

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There is a candle in your heart ready to be kindled.  There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled. You feel it, don’t you?    Rumi

What if, as Richard Rohr tells us, there is a “well-kept secret” of a deeper journey and process available to us all?  Or, as Carl Jung remarked, we need special colleges to teach us how to navigate this transformative process because even if we knew about it we might not even know how or where to begin.

Most of us are so immersed in our ‘ego’ based lives, chasing goals, scrambling to meet expectations of others or our own, comparing ourselves to images in the media, and otherwise investing our energy in what Thomas Keating refers to as “happiness projects,”  we miss the life of the soul, the very one that would provide us with the richness of experience we deeply desire.

Perhaps this is changing.  There are now countless ‘Wisdom Schools’ popping up everywhere.  Most are interfaith and based on the mystical traditions of various religions.  I have participated in a few and found them valuable.   They focused on spiritual/contemplative practices, and occasionally they specifically addressed the soul. 

Over the years I have wondered what an actual School for the Soul would look like, and being a college instructor, I am particularly interested in curriculum and course planning.  What would a special college, or even course, for the soul entail?

Two things come to mind.  The main focus would be learning ways to build relationship with the soul. Just as with the counselling training I am involved in, the most essential piece needs to be relationship and connection.  Being warm and welcoming toward our soul, practicing skills of listening and attuning, while putting aside our own agenda, help establish a trusting relationship.  As with counselling, it is the deepest self who is the true facilitator.  The intention would be to trust the wisdom of the soul and its guidance, and also, just delight in its unique character.

Another necessary focus would be dealing with the resistance – all the reasons why we do not listen.  Naysaying – being dismissive of the soul and/or its relevance in our lives - is an obvious way we resist.  One reason we refuse to listen is fear.   We fear the unknown - where the soul would lead us if we did heed its call. We fear its depths, of what other people would think, appearing weird or crazy, being scorned and rejected, feelings that might surface....  The ego fears losing its control and central role in the personality. 

If you are willing to try something, take a moment and allow an image to come to you of your soul’s invitation to you to ‘join up’ - to participate and collaborate with it in a unique and transformative life adventure.  Imagine how you would do a sculpture or painting of this image (or actually do one) or even allow your body to express this invitation.

You might have envisioned the soul in a posture reaching out, arms extended, palm of hand open.  Or the image might have been something like an egg, a seed, some clay, or a path...  Just don’t dismiss however the soul presented itself to you. 

Now allow an image of your resistant self to come to you. 

Maybe it was an eye roll.  Or a hand pushing  away.  Or arms folded.  Maybe it wasn’t a posture at all, but a hard shell or a thick wall...

What would it take for this image to change?  For the two parts to join up?  Would you even want them to?

 

 

Soul's Theatre

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I was a hidden treasure and I longed to be known.  Hadith Qudsi

Everyone’s soul is unique and yet plenty of general observations about ‘the soul’ can also be made.  For example, although Carl Jung suggested that women’s souls are more masculine, feminine pronouns are most often used to refer to the soul, perhaps because it is usually associated with the body, the heart, nature, and with mystery, which are all generally categorized as feminine.  Cynthia Bourgeault describes the soul as a bit of a ‘prima donna’, and this too, has a feminine connotation. 

I take it Bourgeault means that the soul likes to be the centre of attention.  On the other hand, John O’Donohue argues that the soul shies away from the light of modern consciousness with its “harsh and brilliant white light of a hospital operating theatre.  This neon light is too direct and clear to befriend the shadowed world of the soul.”  The soul might like to be on stage but has no interest in being examined as a specimen or object, or too directly.

Perhaps what the soul really wants is not so much to be observed as to be heard.  It desires relationship.  The soul wishes to be listened to, and to receive acknowledgment and response.  It would seem that when we speak of the ‘inner voice’ we are referring to that of the soul.

According to Carl Jung, the original meaning of ‘to have a vocation’ is ‘to be addressed by a voice.’  In his view, a vocation is a process, not a thing.  Rather than a career, a vocation is a way of life.  When one has vocation, they are attuned to the 'inner voice’ and live in accordance with it on a daily basis.  For Jung, it is through this process that we transform into who we are meant to be.

The voice of the soul is subtle, and is easily missed.  Many of us go through life without even knowing we have one.  So how can we listen?  Body sensations, even illnesses may be messages from the soul.  Dreams, too, are speaking from that part of us. Our sense of energy – whether we feel enlivened or flat – can be like a language.  The soul also expresses itself through creative endeavours.  And images or words or even songs that pop into our mind, may have something to say to us from our depths.  I have to add that all we love speaks to us of who we are deep down.

Sometimes the messages seem to come from outside of us, from ‘world soul’, what Arnold Mindell refers to as the ‘intentional field.’  Synchronicities (meaningful coincidences) are the most obvious form of communication.  Animals and plants communicate and maybe even the wind.  Any unusual occurrence in our life may be worth paying attention to. 

Allow me to tell you a story.  Back in the early eighties when I was studying for my first degree in psychology, I read Jungian psychology on the side.   Jung was the main reason I was majoring in psychology but he was nowhere to be found in the courses I was taking.  One warm summer evening, I was with a couple of friends at Stanley Park to see a play (I can’t remember which one).  While we were waiting for the gates to open into the seating area of Theatre Under the Stars, my friends wandered off while I sat on the grass and pulled out the book I was reading, The Development of Personality by Jung.

I read the words quoted above as well as the following:

It is what is commonly called vocation: an irrational factor that destines a (person) to emancipate (him/herself) from the herd and from its well-worn paths.  True personality is always a vocation and puts its trust in it as in God, despite its being, as the ordinary (wo/man) would say, only a personal feeling.  But vocation acts like a law of God from which there is no escape.  The fact that many a (person) who goes (his/her) own way ends in ruin means nothing to one who has vocation. (S/he) must obey (his/her) own law, as if it were a daemon whispering...of new and wonderful paths.  Anyone with vocation hears the voice of the inner (wo/man).  (S/he) is called.

An electrical current charged through me, and the vibration remained as I continued reading, 

We physicians of the soul are compelled by professional necessity to concern ourselves with the problem of personality and the inner voice, however remote it may seem to be.

I was in a timeless state and I knew without a doubt what I was reading had to do with my own life.  I mean, it has to do with everyone's life, but I knew that this subject was my life work, though I had no idea what that would look like.

That was around thirty-five years ago and since that time I have been impelled to write about the soul and the inner voice again and again – in regards to transformation, mid-life, fate, nature, even jazz music.  I have circled around and around the subject from every direction, and here I am writing about it yet again.

We are all in a theatre under the stars, and the soul is our ‘prima donna’.  Our life ‘script’ is available to us in our ‘soul’s code’, and we can discern it if we make the effort to listen.  We improvise the rest.

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World Soul

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At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, and the procession of the seasons.  There is nothing...with which I am not linked.  C.G. Jung

And I have felt a presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thoughts, a sense sublime of something far more interfused, whose dwelling is the light of setting suns and the round ocean and the living air, and the blue sky and the mind of man...and rolls through all things.  W. Wordsworth

In recent years, brave scientists have begun to acknowledge that inanimate life has a consciousness and even trees communicate with one another.  Quantum physicists have identified a field in which we are all connected.  Though all this would be beyond obvious to many ancient and present cultures - most aboriginal cultures and spiritual traditions recognize an ‘anima mundi’ (world soul) with which we are all connected - it’s a crucial step for us in the west.

Most of us in this hemisphere have lost the ability to perceive soul in the world, but that seems to be changing.  We are re-establishing an I-Thou relationship (an honouring of the ‘thou-ness’ in the other) with Nature rather than a position of I-it (an objectifying of the other) in regards to Nature.  The latter allows us to continue to mindlessly exploit and denigrate our precious planet, while with the former, we view the Other as sacred.

In other words, what is called for goes beyond appreciating how much we need nature and therefore wishing to protect it.  Many deeply passionate and caring individuals are noting the dangers of climate change and loss of species, etc.  Their words are heart-felt.  But that the earth has a consciousness and a soul with which we are linked, and that has its own experiences and ‘voice’ is less often acknowledged.

Theodore Roszak, who happened to have coined the term ‘counter culture’ several decades ago, also founded a branch of psychology which he called Ecopsychology.  Roszak sees our severance with the earth as being at the root of many mental health issues and much general angst.  As the title of his book, The Voice of the Earth, implies, ‘Gaia’ has a voice to which we need to be attuned.  Unfortunately, even many of his followers who call themselves Ecopsychologists, and who accompany clients into the wilds and so on, so they (clients) can heal, miss the vital point that Nature has a soul.

But even if we recognize that the world is ensouled, how do we make the leap from intellectually acknowledging this to experiencing a relationship and communion with Nature?  Though I can’t say I have an answer or even that I have 'soul perception' any more than anyone else, I will venture to suggest that we need to develop empathy. We need to have the courage to ask ourselves what it feels like to be part of Nature (which of course we are).  Perhaps it is easiest to first recognize and attune to our own souls, and be centred in our own hearts, and listen.

Soul and Aging

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So long as you have not experienced this: to die and so to grow, you are a troubled guest on the dark earth.                                                                                   Goethe

When I think of the soul, I think in terms of depth and substance, weightiness and earthiness.   I associate it with the body, especially the heart.  In Greek, the term for soul is ‘psyche’ and its symbol is a butterfly.  A butterfly?  What could be lighter or more ethereal than a butterfly?

At first glance this seems difficult to reconcile – at least it was for me – but of course it makes perfect sense when I think of the life cycle of the butterfly and how this symbol provides a clue to the life of the soul.  Like the caterpillar which dies and transforms within a chrysalis before emerging as a butterfly, we, too (our reality, not our soul), die before entering a more spiritual plane in life.

This theme of death and transformation has been in the air for me lately.   This past weekend was Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection after his death on the cross, and for Christians and non-Christians alike, it is a holiday marking the arrival of spring after the starkness and emptiness of winter. 

Shortly before Easter I listened to a homily by Alisdair Smith, deacon at Christ Church Cathedral, in which he referred to John 12:24.

I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and       dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears         much fruit.

This verse is not only a kind of foreshadowing of the crucifixion, it is also a reference to the process of transformation within humans. 

We might well ask what the growth of “fruit” or the emergence of the butterfly, for that matter, symbolize in regards to human life.  What does this other side of 'death' look like?  Alisdair gave us some clues.  He spoke of a concept called ‘gerotranscendence’ - kind of synchronistic for me, as it is mentioned in the text book from which I was teaching at the time (in a Psychosocial Development course), though I hadn’t paid much attention to the word before. 

The term, gerotranscendence was coined by Lars Tornstam, a Swedish sociologist and gerontologist, who integrated the work of other theorists with his own findings from over two decades of empirical research on aging. What he found was that for many older individuals, there is a shift in consciousness that is often overlooked.  He describes this shift as being “from a materialistic and pragmatic view of the world to a more cosmic and transcendent one” and in which there is a re-definition of “time, space, life and death.”

A significant number of elders experience, among other things, “an increased feeling of affinity with past generations and a decreased interest in superfluous social interaction.”  They become less self occupied and are likely to become more selective in terms of how and with whom they spend their time.  They are often drawn to solitude, while at the same time finding community meaningful.  To me, this sounds a lot like being a contemplative.

It is also reminiscent of Jung’s theory of individuation (which apparently influenced Tornstam).  Jung believed that during the middle passage (mid-life), the unlived life (and shadow) collide with the present identity, resulting in a kind of death of the old reality.  Jung views this as a necessary occurrence because it opens the possibility for there to be a deeper and more expansive awareness of the deeper self and of life.  But he noted that unfortunately, our culture does not provide much support or guidance for how to navigate this profound and often stormy passage, or what follows.  He wrote,

Wholly unprepared we embark upon the second half of life...we take the step into the afternoon of life; worse still we take this step with the false assumption that our truths and ideals will serve as before.  But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true will be a lie.

He suggests that because this time is so crucial, we really need special "colleges", but he tells us that if we are able to engage our soul more consciously,

it is as if a river that had run to waste in sluggish side-streams and marshes suddenly found its way back to its proper bed, or as if a stone lying on a germinating seed were lifted away so that the shoot could begin its natural growth.

Jung and Tornstam are not the only ones who have observed the phenomenon of a soulful second half of life.  While attempting to put all these puzzle pieces together last week, I received daily newsletter emails from author and wisdom teacher, Richard Rohr, who was also pre-occupied by the mystery of the later years.

The journey into the second half of our own lives awaits us all.  Yet not everyone embarks or continues on the journey, even though most of us get older.  The “further journey”seems to be a well-kept secret.  Many people do not even know there is one.  There are too few who          are aware that there is more to life.

This “well-kept secret” is that of the “twice born.” It appears that it is available to anyone but is a choice, the choice being whether we are going to die to our old identity and attend to the reality of the soul.  We do not know where this will take us.  As Jung writes, the process of becoming our true and whole self is a risk, but it is also

an act of high courage flung in the face of life, the absolute affirmation of all that constitutes the individual, the most successful adaptation to the universal conditions of existence coupled with the greatest possible freedom for self determination.

 

References:

Alisdair Smith, Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver, March 19, 2018.

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation, March 28, 2018.

C.G. Jung, The Development of Personality: Papers on Child Psychology, Education, and Related Subjects, 1981.  P. 171

 

 

Cultivating Soul

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The main thing is, that one has a soul that loves truth and that accepts it where it is to be found.  Goethe

I love soul.  I love the depth and substance it brings to life.  I am much more drawn to peoples’ souls than I am to their accomplishments or what they own or how conventionally attractive they are.   I love soul in the eyes of animals and art that conveys soul.  I could live without most things but it is hard for me to imagine a meaningful and satisfying life without soul and soul connection.  Which, I suppose, is largely what drew me to study for two degrees in Psychology, though I didn’t know at the time that ‘psychology’ essentially means the ‘study of the soul.’

Unfortunately, anyone who has taken a university course in Psychology can tell you that most of contemporary psychology is bereft of soul.  You will learn lots about behaviour and cognition but not the soul.  Psyche, the Greek term for soul, is defined in English as mind, and in the west, at least, mind is mostly interpreted as brain.

The brain is currently the focus of an enormous amount of psychological research, and I even heard one prominent psychologist refer to the brain as ‘the holy of holies.’  Research on the brain is interesting but the brain is not synonymous with soul.  Apart from the likes of Carl Jung and James Hillman (it is the rare university Psych. course that addresses their work in any depth), soul is mostly ignored in ‘the study of the soul.’  Therefore, I propose, only partly tongue in cheek, that we develop a true study of the soul and call it Soulology.

First, of course, we would have to ask what we are referring to when we speak of soul, and as I discussed in my last post, this is a difficult, if not impossible task, as we cannot locate it.  It does not seem to exist in physical reality.  Still, we need to address questions such as how we differentiate it (or not) from the higher self and the spirit and so on.  Is the soul spiritual or psychological or both?  Is there an anima mundi (world soul)?  Do all living beings have souls or just some? 

Of course, plenty has been recorded regarding these topics going back to the Egyptians who believed there are five aspects of the soul, the most important being heart.  Certainly philosophers and theologians have written more about the soul than psychologists.  Soulology would have a foundation that would only need to be integrated.

Ultimately though, it might not really matter what the soul is or if we can ever truly define it.  Perhaps what matters most is the development of the soul, with which numerous theorists from Carl Jung to Teilhard de Chardin to James Hillman to the poet John Keats have concerned themselves.  Theologian, Cynthia Bourgeault believes it is “our obligation”  to develop our soul.  How then, do we develop the soul?  It seems there is an essential clue in the word psychology (soulology) itself.

The psychologist Thomas Moore must have had the true meaning of it in mind when he wrote his book, Care of the Soul, because when you go deeper into the etymology of ‘ology’ ('study of') you find it means ‘to devote yourself to’ and ‘to cultivate.’  Psychology  (Soulology), in essence, means ‘devoting oneself to and cultivating the soul.’  The essential clue to the development of soul is in the meaning of ‘ology’ and for me, particulalry in the concept of cultivating.  While care is important (the soul thrives on beauty, music, substantial food, fine craftsmanship, etc.), cultivation can take development even further.

We can cultivate in test tubes and therefore it might be possible to cultivate a soul in a space station (after all, some astronauts have had profound experiences in space), but I suspect there is something about earth that is essential to the cultivation of the soul.  It also needs the waters of life, nutrients, light and darkness.  The soul needs enough room, and we need to protect it from pollution, which includes noise pollution.  The soul apparently thrives on truth, authenticity, and genuineness, which we also call nature.  It meets itself in nature, and finds itself reflected in world soul.  Pruning is important, that is, removing and letting go of what is no longer alive.

We need to keep an ‘eye’ on our soul , that is, we need to attend to it to make sure it is flourishing, and make any needed adjustment.  And as Harold Buhner says about communicating with plants, we can listen to them if we are centred in our hearts.  I suspect this is true of listening to the soul.  The soul itself is our main source of information of what it requires.  It will communicate with us if we know how to listen.

I think it is important to remind ourselves that we are not the ones inventing or creating soul. As with anything in nature, all we can do is do our best to provide the best conditions. Whether something thrives or struggles is, to a great extent, out of our hands. 

Richard Rohr believes the soul is formed at birth and we need to discover it, which is different from Bourgeault's view that we are born with only the potential of a soul.  Where they are in agreement is that we have a destiny, and as Rohr puts it, if we do not "live our destiny to the full" our (soul) "will never be offered again."  He adds, "the discovery of our soul is crucial and of pressing importance for each of us and for the world." And he suggests there is more to discovery than awareness.  In fact, he seems to imply a kind of cultivation when he says we must "grow them up."  

Of course, a field of Soulology would take all of this much further, and it is certainly an area of study that I could see devoting myself to.  I realize now that when I decided to major in Psychology, it was the soul which drew me.  However, much of my learning about it has been apart from formal education, which is maybe as it should be.  Anyone can be a soulologist.  There are no degrees required.  It really just takes some devotion and some basic gardening skills.