Someone I know is performing in an Arthur Miller play called Incident in Vichi, which my husband and I attended on the weekend. The setting is France during the second world war, and the entire play takes place in one room, which may or may not be a waiting room for deportation to a death camp. None of the characters have been told why they are there. They range from feeling terror because of what they already know, to confusion and complacency, to rejecting the idea that there is even a problem.
This play, which was written in the fifties about the holocaust, is striking a chord with audiences and the house is now full every night. Parallels have been drawn between the range of responses of the characters and the political situation in the U.S. But we do not have to look that far afield. On the same day we attended the play, Justin Trudeau announced his decision (for all Canadians) to expand the Kinder-Morgan oil pipeline, and there are parallels in the play to what is happening right here in Canada.
Maybe I sound like I am catastrophizing. Nobody here is facing a gas chamber and Justin Trudeau is certainly no Hitler, but choices are being made which will lead to the extermination of fish and other ocean life, and the continuation of burning fossil fuels is contributing to the devastation of the entire planet, which will eventually include humans.
I am aware that, as with the situation in France during WW II, there is a resistance movement. There are also those who, like me, are fully aware of the situation but are doing little about it, and there are those who deny there is a problem. If there is any kind of future for humankind, I don’t want to be one of those of whom it will be asked, “How could they have stood by and done nothing?”
So I am signing petitions and I am writing. At this time, I am not willing to be arrested or have a criminal record. But in my heart I feel I am not doing enough.
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?
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.
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.