The Soul’s Journey – Exploring the Power of Belief

June 8, 2019

WC Fields“Everybody’s got to believe in something. I believe I’ll have another beer.”

W.C Fields

For much of the eighties I suspect that this quote by W.C Fields summarized my worldview. The beauty of this belief is that as long as you were upright there was the possibility of it coming true. Recently I have become fascinated by the power of a belief to influence external circumstances. There are so many stories of miracles, manifestation, positive life change, and mystical experiences that it raised the question of how and why so many different beliefs appear to have power.

The Power of My Parent’s Belief

My parents truly believed that God would provide. Their belief came from scripture. In Philippians 4:19 it states “And my God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” They believed this and there was always just enough even if it took a miracle to accomplish it. On one occasion I heard them discussing the fact that they could not meet the mortgage payment on our house in a lovely part of London and unless God showed up with some solution we would be forced to move. The next day an envelope containing a significant amount of currency arrived with a note to my father saying, “God asked me to send you this.”

Is The Proof In The Pudding?

These types of miracles were not uncommon in Christian circles and of course were presented as evidence of their one true God. However one thing I have learned about belief is that you can’t manufacture it and once it has evaporated it has no power for you any more. I recall more than once my mother saying to me, “you have got to have faith and my response “mum you can’t ‘got to’ with faith”.

More Miracles?

In the early nineties I began to let go of my atheism to embrace a concept of the new age called manifestation. The basic premise is to set a clear intention then bring positive reflection and visualization on the outcome and the inherent power of the universe will eventually work. This was best marketed in a book and video package titled The Secret that presented miracles just like the Bible. And despite eminent critics like author and depth psychologist James Hollis crying, ‘hogwash”, it works – at least for a time to people who truly believed it. Even yesterday a friend of mine was describing utilizing just such a technique to achieve a breakthrough in their career.

Back to Christianity

In the late nineties I came full circle and embraced Christianity in what was called “the new thought” form at the Unity Church. It had a much nicer, mother/father God and no crazy notions about salvation through blood. Everything in scripture was to be explored as mythic guidelines for living. At the centre was a core belief that if you were in right relationship with God then all good things would be yours. Financial success, relationship and health were easily attained however if you fell short then each of these would suffer. So if someone got sick, you could heal yourself as long as you were good with God. (I realize now it was basically The Secret with an added sense of responsibility and guilt.) At the time my belief had its own power in the manifest world. I have a record of a number of occasions where I appeared to defy science through instantaneous healings. It served me well until one day it no longer made sense and as Hollis mentions, “When the energy leaves the symbol all you have left is a dry husk.”

The Esoteric Exploration

In the year 2001 I began a much more esoteric exploration that embraced many of the wisdom traditions – Sufism, Buddhism, Jewish Mysticism and Christian Mysticism. At the mystic level beliefs are not so much about getting things but more about how to live. Loving kindness, compassion, mindfulness, equanimity, sympathetic joy for others became measures of one’s life. I was also introduced to depth psychology and Carl Jung. I learned that true change required me to understand myself at a deeper level and that spirituality was no longer enough. The path to true change was through psychology and understanding the unconscious. The quest for things was replaced by the desire for meaning.

Embracing The Mystery

Why is belief so powerful no matter what you believe in? It is truly a mystery although I sense it is part of the journey toward change and personal growth. Perhaps we need something to believe in to coax us along the yellow brick road. Once the belief loses its power for us we can never go back we have to go forward or stay stuck. My current belief too has its own power to manifest through dreams, complexes, signs and synchronicities all connected to my belief in the power of the unconscious.

At times like this I go back to the Sufi poet Rumi as my exponent of the mystery.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to Sleep

Rumi – exquisitely interpretated by Coleman Barks

 

 

 

 

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The Soul Journey 2 – The Guiding Voice

January 22, 2016

“This being human is a guest house, every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all. Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of furniture. Still treat each guest honourably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whomever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” Rumi – (Coleman Barks)

This was the second evening in the series on the Soul Journey I have been sharing with a small group of friends. I had not planned to open with this particular poem but it seemed to have a life of its own and immediately I saw its particular relevance to the topic we were exploring concerning the guiding voice of the Soul. How does it show up? What are its languages it uses and how can we ensure we listen?

The Soul does not use the normal logic and rationale of the left side of our brains. It speaks to us in metaphor, through deep feelings, dreams, through symbol and synchronicity, our intuition, in beauty and passion, through the still small voice and in symptomatology which Rumi’s poem so exquisitely describes.

Eminent Jungian analyst and author James Hollis describes it like this, “The good news is that we do have symptomatology. In the Western world we tend to want to rid ourselves of symptomatology as quickly as possible. We go to a doctor and ask for a pill or we solicit some form of theological solution or some form of positive thinking. But many times these things don’t really touch the issue. The presence of symptomatology paradoxically is a reminder of the dynamism of the psyche it represents the autonomy of the psyche we can’t wish it away or will it away it shows up it speaks. One of the things I’ve learned as a therapist as well as a human being is that the psyche is never silent, the psyche is forever soliciting our will and our intentionality to help us make choices that will align themselves more completely with the intention of our nature.”

Most of us live, whether we realize it or not, in a state of dynamic coexistence between the ego and the Soul. The ego performs the executive role managing our consciousness and how we get through a day. It gets us up in the morning and runs our lives we would be adrift without it and most of the first half of life is devoted to its healthy and positive ego development.

Yet it is only one aspect of a greater whole. The Soul (or psyche referred to by Hollis) is autonomous of the needs of the ego. In my opinion my ego is not that smart. It is too concerned about protecting its own security and therefore is prone to conservatism. The Soul has the capacity to tap into our own deeper levels of wisdom and present our guiding voice. Anyone who has worked faithfully with dreams will have seen the capacity for guidance that seems far wiser than we had thought was possible.

A couple of years ago I attended a conference in Petaluma, California where three teachers presented their stories. Each one of them observed on the power of this guiding force to positively effect their unfolding lives. So how do we facilitate and engage this deep wisdom? It is not about suppressing the ego; the ego is a great servant but the Soul needs to assume mastery in our lives and establish the agenda.

There is a lovely poem by Rumi that includes the description, “Too often we put saddlebags on Jesus, and let the donkey run loose in the pasture.” The donkey needs to be harnessed and directed in order to be put to good use.

Two important words to remember are Intention and Attention. I was unable to see the power of the Soul until I could admit there was such a possibility. Then I began to spend some time each morning affirming my desire that the Soul should lead the way and everything changed. At this point it is essential to begin paying close attention to the unfolding circumstances of our lives and how the Soul speaks to you. Each of us is unique and we have to find our own way.

It begins with noticing the circumstances of our lives, paying attention to symptomatology, signs and coincidences, dreams, and feelings. When life is flowing smoothly it is a good sign Soul and ego are in alignment however when you feel blocked it can indicate the Soul suggesting change is on the horizon.

There is a beautiful poem by St Francis that includes the words: “for beauty and passion and laughter and joy they are our hearts truth, all else is labour and foreign to the Soul.” This reminds me to engage in Soulful pursuits. The same way we feed the body with food, we can feed the Soul.

Recently I had a “fall from grace”: I tripped on my way home and flew through air to crash on a hard concrete surface. Not only my dignity was bruised but my thigh, hand and knee too. However I knew it could have been a lot worse and wondered immediately if this was my Soul trying to get my attention? The next morning I found my copy of the I Ching (an ancient Chinese divining system) and did a reading. The results confirmed my suspicion. “Work on what has been spoiled” so I began to ask myself what was tripping me up? The I Ching suggested a seven-day process to explore and remedy. I committed to the task and one of my key insights was that since early December I had lost touch with an evening contemplation I would do before bed; I would listen to sacred music, learn and recite poetry as well as a daily reflection. I reinstated it into my life and sense my Soul alignment is restored.

We did a practice that is designed to elucidate a sense of clarity about our current Soul state. It begins by taking some paper and crayons. Some seed words were scattered around the page: feelings, thoughts, signs and synchronicities, intuition, body. Then I led a brief guided meditation from Thic Nhat Hanh:

Listening to the bell I feel the afflictions in me begin to dissolve

My mind calm, my body relaxed

A smile is born on my lips

Following the sound of the bell

My breath brings me back to the safe island of mindfulness

In the garden of my heart, the flowers of peace bloom beautifully.

Then it was a case of relaxing and capturing whatever emerged. Gradually a picture emerged, unique for each individual. After sharing the insights each person drew a rune. (Using Ralph Blum’s insightful oracle) As always it was astonishing how relevant and individual each message was for each person. The ego struggles with the idea that drawing a random stone could possibly be significant but the Soul finds a way. As the great Bard himself said in Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”


To Put Away Childish Things – part 1

March 8, 2014

I am staring out of my window at a gloriously sunny February day; in the background are the mountains glistening with new snow. I feel more than miffed. Last night I was already to go, bag packed, a place to stay, skis, boots and poles at the ready. Yet here I am looking at it. It is the consummate ski day and I am not there.

My plan was to arise early and be on the road by six. To make it worse I receive an email from a friend who also assessed the potential and is already there. What happened to my power of discernment? I feel betrayed by my own inner guidance that at the last moment caused me to change my mind.

It takes me all morning to shake my disgruntled feelings and adjust my attitude. This at least led to a productive day however it was not until the evening that I was prepared to explore the inner journey that had transpired.

For a number of years I have tried to live my life from the inside out. What I mean by that is that I do my best to assess the guidance that is emanating from my Higher Self/Soul/Psyche. I do this by following signs, synchronicity, serendipity, dreams and sometimes oracles. It has given me an immense sense of satisfaction dropping into the flow of a soul directed life.

I have become accustomed to pulling a rune to verify my decisions. (Runes are an oracle based on Norse symbols recently popularized by Ralph Blum.) They have been remarkably effective at ensuring I book flights at the right time, avoid undesirable situations, and have over the years saved me hundreds of dollars. The evening before my planned ski trip I checked in with the runes and drew a very negative result. It gave me pause; I wondered if the highway may prove dangerous or the weather problematic. When I woke the next morning the rain was pounding on the skylight, recalling the rune I turned over and went back to sleep.

As a result I missed the best day of the year! What did this mean? On the one hand I could accept that for some unknown reason I was not supposed to go; it would be about trust. On the other I could be facing a need to re-evaluate my relationship with how I use runes. Eminent Jungian Analyst and author James Hollis suggests that once the energy has left the image it becomes nothing but a dry husk. Was I being asked to change? I decided I it was time to begin an enquiry.

My first step was to consult the oracle in question and ask whether this was about trust or change. The rune I pulled was very clear, “Movement” – rune of transit and transitions, new movement, new attitudes or a new life, a relationship may need to change.

I knew immediately it was time to let go of runes as a simple decision-making tool. I noticed a sense of resistance and anxiety to this idea. It was a sure sign of a shift being required. I could sense how dependant I had become on their use. I would defer responsibility for my decisions and blindly follow the response. Upright meant yes, reverse meant no.

They had served me well but it was time to move on. It still felt appropriate to use the runes as a spiritual practice supporting me as a tool of spiritual exploration but not to make decisions on buying tickets or going skiing. It was time to practice and explore a deeper discernment.

I sensed that this transition had begun some time ago but it took the loss of a perfect ski day to get my attention.  On the Soul Journey there are many steps, stages and stations and what was useful and served us at one time may eventually lose its power. The words of St. Paul came to me, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.” It was time to grow a little.


An Engagement with Eros.

October 26, 2013

Recently I attended the last in a series of workshops on the Archetypes of Spiritual Guidance. The theme was the Beloved and as part of our exploration we did a simple practice exploring the relationship between Love, the Lover, Longing and the Beloved. Basically it involves taking four small pieces of paper and writing these words down, folding the paper so you no longer know which is which then laying them down in a cross: top, bottom, left and right. Each position carries its own meaning but the one in the lower position is about healing a wound. I had inadvertently placed Longing in that spot and immediately discounted it because as far as I was concerned there was nothing I particularly longed for so how could there be a wound. Basically I then engaged in some sleight of hand that switched its position to the place that seemed more appropriate. When will I ever learn?

A few days later I was sharing details of my weekend with a dear friend in Toronto and when I explained my confusion over “wounded longing” she began to laugh. Her response was a consequence of the fact that she had been the subject of my wounded longing about four and a half years ago. It had been an embarrassing and somewhat humiliating experience through which I felt somewhat betrayed by my Soul. I had been brought a series of incidents that I perceived as explicit guidance to pursue her. These included a profound dream, a series of synchronicities and serendipity, oracles and feelings that all seemed designed to move me down this path. When it became obvious that my feelings had nothing to do with her at all, I felt like a victim of a bizarre cosmic joke and even to this day could never make sense of the events and had to consign them to the bucket that I call “mystery”.

Her laughter helped me evaluate what longing had led to my pursuit of her. She represented what seemed unattainable in my life: someone who is young, vital, physically beautiful, smart, spiritually aware to whom I felt a strong energetic, physical and emotional attraction. The fact that she was more than twenty years younger than me was likely a significant factor in my suppression of this longing. It seemed inappropriate, and inconsistent with whom I had become. I had consciously closed off to any exploration of this possibility with her and anyone else.

Now I realized that I was being asked to visit this wounded longing, to explore something that I had thought was in the vault. Frankly I had no idea how to proceed. I suspected that the healing of this wound was not through fulfillment so where should I look? I began with a contemplation to see what emerged. I could see clearly I had been suppressing something that was unfulfilled. It was likely a function of the aging process, of what Jung described as “the life not lived”. I had suppressed it because I had some judgments about it. I had already done the relationship with the “gorgeous 26 year-old” and I had no desire to go down that road for a second time. At times I felt frustrated that I was not drawn to women my own age or even close to it.

My second step was to seek guidance from an oracle. I chose Osho Zen’s tarot; it is my power oracle that often helps me see what I am trying to deny. Osho has that gift. To my surprise I drew Going With The Flow, “You are able to float now trusting that life will support you and take you exactly where you need to go.” It seemed like a positive omen to accompany me on an eighteen day, 4000-mile road trip to the American South-West.

As many of you know who follow these musings, James Hollis, author of fourteen books including What Matters Most, is one of my most important teachers and I always take him with me when I travel. On this particular trip somewhere in the wilds of Utah I began to listen once again to a lecture series from the above book. He always manages to both inform and entertain with his droll humour and modest manner and this was no exception however driving through the exquisite scenery heading towards Moab I would find myself occasionally distracted from his words. Then something grabbed my attention away from the vista, he began to talk about Eros as the powerful life-force of desire and longing. He suggested it must be respected not disregarded. “Wounded Eros seeks to heal; but neglected Eros seeks revenge.” In a eureka moment it becomes clear to me that Eros wants my attention. My suppression of this life force had led Eros to seduce me with the earlier encounter with my friend in Toronto, not to be fulfilled but to get my attention.

I feel that sense of awe that comes with a realization of the forces in the universe that desire to engage with us and if we are open to them magical things begin to happen but of we suppress them for too long Hollis suggests they can create monsters. I made a commitment driving toward Arches National Park that I will honour Eros, that life force of longing and desire, in whatever way it shows up in my life and that I will be open to and respectful of its power.

There is a Hindu proverb to which I ascribe that suggests that when we take one step towards God, God will come running towards us. I suspected that there would be some consequence to my decision to honour Eros but I had no idea what it could be. Any way I had a campsite to find, a national park to explore and a long road to travel. (Anyone wishing to catch up with my more physical adventures can do so at http://www.hangin.wordpress.com) Several days passed and I found myself staying at my friend Robert’s delightful place half an hour south of Santa Fe. During my visit he had a dinner party for three of his friends. One of them was a poet, a retired Federal Government employee who spent part of the year in Mexico. I felt drawn to her and as the evening progressed I realized that I was actually attracted to someone in my own age range. By frantically juggling dates that she mentioned, like being at college in 1967, I realized that we could not be that far apart in age and she was beautiful, self aware, interesting, smart and seemed a perfect correlation to my wounded longing. It was a pleasant encounter; she read some of her poetry and opened up about her life. It was only after she had left that it became clear to me that Eros may have interjected itself in my life but certainly not in hers. In hindsight I realized that I had done all the work to create the engagement and she had done nothing. She had not even asked me one question about myself. Feeling crushed, I drew rune to solicit a second opinion. The response could not have been more clear: Isa – Standstill. “You may be powerless to anything but submit, surrender, even sacrifice some long cherished desire.” So my first encounter with Eros was to feel sadness, disappointment, somewhat letdown yet I also felt energized, alive and vital with a sense that these feelings were positive rather than negative. And there was a gift, it was still possible to be attracted to someone of my own age even if a rarity.

My next stop was Ghost Ranch, an exquisite retreat center eighty miles north of Santa Fe. I had no idea what to expect. I was there because of a recommendation of some friends and because it was where Georgia O’Keefe painted. I was only there two nights and my primary focus was going to be hiking, a landscape tour and spiritual reflection. Yet Eros was not to be denied. While walking back from dinner a beautiful, Hispanic looking young woman engaged in conversation with me. She had been with a group that were hiking the Kitchen Mesa trail and had noticed me on the trail. “I was so impressed that you were doing it on your own”, she observed. I shared with her the moments of terror I had experienced descending a fifteen foot chimney. Her name was Jessica she was a lawyer from DC who was doing advanced yoga teacher training. Besides her beauty, she was articulate, smart and obviously on a path of self awareness and then she said, “You have lovely eyes, they pick up the colour of your shirt.” Then she was gone to class. Normally because of the age difference I would have shut down my feelings telling myself not to be a stupid and unrealistic. This time I honoured the God Eros. I allowed myself to feel the joy of a lovely connection; to feel the desire to pursue her but not act on it. I saw the difference between the two encounters. She had engaged with me and our connection had been a shared one. It was a sweet and delicious memory of my Ghost Ranch visit.

Where do I go from here? I have no idea. I draw a rune Kano or Opening. The rune of renewed clarity, dispelling the darkness that has been shrouding some part of your life. The words of Winston Churchill spring to mind. “This is not the end, it is not the beginning of the end, it is perhaps the end of the beginning.”