The Souls Journey – How to learn to Say Yes

August 9, 2017

Yes:No - Lorne

My recent blog on “How to Learn to Say No” triggered an unexpected self-awareness. I needed to learn how to say “Yes”. My default response when asked to do something was often “No”. This was intriguing. While I was exploring the mechanisms that caused someone to react with a ‘Yes”, I realized I had the opposite inclination. So what gives?

I realized my initial response would always take care of my own needs and feelings first. In fact I would not naturally consider the impact my response may have on another. For example recently I planned a visit to idyllic Cortes Island where I am fortunate enough to have a second home. One of the gifts of visiting is I get a chance to hang out with a dear friend of many years. One of our shared interests is soccer and when he knew of my intention to come he suggested we watch the Confederation Cup Final together. As my interest in the sport wanes in the warmer weather, I abruptly dismissed the idea. It was not until I began this inquiry that I began a process of reconsidering my reaction. Suddenly I began to see that that this was not about soccer but friendship. It never entered my head that he may have extended the invitation because he wanted to see me. At no time had I considered the feelings that may have been behind the invite.

So why, when faced with choice, is my automatic response more likely to be no, and what can I do to become more conscious in my decision as opposed to reactive? Once again I suspected this is a pattern created in childhood by a coping mechanism. However while I find the situation that is likely to create the reaction of “Yes” easy to comprehend, I could not immediately see what circumstances may lead to the opposite result.

Those who can only say yes are likely influenced by demanding or narcissistic parents where yes is rewarded whereas no could result in a withdrawal of affection and the like. So under what circumstances could “No” become the answer that gets rewarded and affirmed.

I sense the key must lie in my early dependence as a child. At the age of six my mother had a baby girl; my younger brother was only four and she had three older children to care for as well. As a result I became extremely independent.

As a therapist suggested later my needs weren’t being met yet my self-sufficiency as such resulted in this not being a problem. My universe became that containing me and my younger sibling. We create a world that was autonomous of the world around us. Under those circumstances it seems reasonable that self-preservation of this entity became the coping mechanism and a natural consequence of that was to reject things that interfered. In this way saying no, unless it clearly served the primary scenario would emerge as a natural result. Thus my automatic response to anything that does not immediately resonate with serving myself is “No”.

So how to change? Well the first step in this as in any other healing journey is awareness. By becoming aware I can begin to notice when the default response is about to manifest. The second step is to play for time – can I let you know later? The third step is consideration of the other – how will they feel if I say no? Is there a higher good to be addressed? How would I feel if I said yes? Finally there is the conscious response which may be either yes or no but it will be a considered response as opposed to a reactive one.

Recently I had scheduled an evening with a small Spiritual Guidance group that I facilitate. When the number dropped to only two people attending I decided it was not worth the time and energy. However both of the remaining people seemed quite upset. They asked if I would meet with them anyway. I noticed my immediate inclination was to say no but I took some time rather than reacting. I realized that perhaps there was a higher good that took precedence over my feelings so I reinstituted the meeting. It was a wonderful rewarding evening that I am so glad I did not miss. As the Hindu proverb says, “you take one step toward God and God comes running towards you.”

 

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The Soul Journey – Signs and Synchronicities

February 22, 2017

He stood there looking more serious than usual. ‘I have to take my shoe off”, he announced. I found this a tad bemusing as he always takes his shoes off when he arrives for his spiritual coaching session however he continued to gaze at me in a somewhat accusatory fashion. I developed a sense I must be missing something then he repeated himself. “I have to take my shoe off”!

The penny dropped – “you didn’t do it again?” I asked. Last time he had turned up he had inadvertently trod in dog shit while parking his bike. We had thought nothing of it at the time and concealed the offending shoe on the back deck during our session. It seemed an amazing synchronicity for this to have happened twice in a row. I have lived here for twenty-three years and never trod in dog poop outside my house.

As you may be aware I believe that each of us have access to a guiding force that resides within. The reclusive poet Emily Dickenson referred to it this way, “The sailor cannot see the north but knows the needle can.” This inner compass can speak to us in many ways. What I refer to as the languages of the Soul are not as readily understood as our native tongue. They include dreams, metaphor, symbols, signs and synchronicities amongst many.

Carl Jung created the term synchronicity (synchronizität in German) to describe a meaningful coincidence. I was eager to explore the possible metaphoric meaning of my client’s current experience.

After opening our session with our usual guided meditation I asked him to recount how it had occurred. “I remembered last time”, he told me, “so I knew it could happen again, that patch seems a particular favourite for untrained owners and their dogs so I was aware of the possibility and more careful than usual. But then I stepped back on to the sidewalk into a pile that I was not expecting.”

I reflected back to him what he had just said, “you knew it could happen, so became more aware and then to your surprise then you stepped in it anyway. Does this have any metaphorical connection to your current life”? By now he was rolling his eyes as the significance of his experience sank in. “It’s what happened to me during the past week – twice! I had calls about two ‘shitty’ jobs. I could see they were both things I should say no to but despite protesting somewhat by the end of the conversation I had accepted them.”

I began to remark on the amazing nature of this connection when he interrupted me to suggest, “you don’t have to look so gleeful about it!” I attempted an apology but shared with him my awe at the amazing way the inner compass had revealed itself. It felt so affirming of my belief system.

We have worked for a long time on his tendency to want to please and always say yes. He is aware of the root cause that he loves to be picked. It is a compensation for the gawky teenage nerd who was always last to get chosen for sporting teams. This desire to please in order to get accepted is a very common wound from the child’s need to manage an overwhelming world. Eminent Jungian Analyst and author James Hollis refers to himself as the founder of a “recovering nice person’s group”.

We had developed a strategy based around not reacting but taking time to respond by always asking if he could call back rather than replying immediately. This provides time for the adult response rather than the child reaction to the old complex. However as often happens we develop a misplaced sense of confidence. Then we step right back into “it” once again.

And I can’t help feel a sense of joyful awe when I witness the inner guide working through these concrete signs and synchronicities. As James Hollis wrote in his book Swamplands of the Soul, “All we can say for sure is that a mystery comes through us, seeking its own fullest incarnation and that whenever we serve the mystery within us; we experience a linkage to the mystery outside. When we stand in conscious relationship to the mystery we are more deeply alive.” Even when standing in a pile of dog shit!


The Soul’s Journey – What Station Are You At?

January 12, 2017

I think that a train journey is a wonderful metaphor for the journey of the Soul. We move from station to station over our life and of course there are two stations that we will all experience – Birth at the beginning where I sense we are unrealized Spirit and the final terminus where hopefully we have fulfilled the Soul’s desires and become realized Spirit.
Of course the stops in between are unique to each one of us. There are many terrains in which we may find stations – desert, ocean, valleys, dark, light, the roller coaster and the stop named Resistance is all too common.
I believe the journey of the Soul embraces every aspect of who we are: the emotional, psychological, spiritual, mental and Soulful. A client asked me recently how to discern what was Spirit and what wasn’t. My reply: “It’s all Spirit to me.”
This is what makes this epic adventure so challenging, so complex and so rewarding. It is important to differentiate between the station we inhabit and the current state. The station is our personal climate while our state is the current weather within that climate.
For example an early station in my life was Fundamentalism. It was a demanding station with a very masculine, authoritarian God, severe punishment for wrong-doing and only one way out by being saved by the blood of Jesus. While stopped at that station there was good weather and bad weather. Times of great happiness combined with equal confusion.
The train eventually pulled out. For a while it travelled through no-mans land then arrived at Atheism where it remained on a siding for twenty years. There was lot of varied states at this stop from enormous joy and success to absolute shock and despair.
Discerning our current station can help us identify the foundation that helps us manage the variety of states that may occur. For example my current station has evolved from the belief that I am a Spiritual being having a human experience. My specific stop at this point in my life is a station called Flow. It represents the worldview that if I stay conscious and aware, attend to my spiritual and psychological needs, set intention and pay attention then what is mine will come to me – both the good and the less so. During a recent Spiritual Guidance evening with the small group that I work with we did a practice to reveal the current station of the members of the group. I started with a guided meditation to encourage a process of practice of active imagination to access the guiding wisdom that each of us can access.

“Close your eyes, perhaps sigh and feel yourself coming fully present to this time, this place, this moment. Then bring your intention to a single breath. In, Out, Deep, Slow, Calm, Ease, Grace, Peace, Smile, Release, Present Moment, Wonderful Moment.
Now imagine an empty canvas, it is blank, it is waiting for you. It will reveal to you the station your Soul train sitting at. “Held in the embrace of silence, resting in the deep heart, allowing my Soul to be, I come home. Allow an image to begin forming in your mind. Where are you? Don’t engage with it or shape it, allow it to take its own form. When you feel ready begin to draw the image or write the words that are emerging.”

What was most revealing was how unique each image was to the individual journey and in every case there was a deep sense of wonder at the positive aspects of the station despite current conditions that may be challenging. One participant was reluctant to draw because she feared the image would represent her current difficulties. Instead it offered her an oasis for respite when things seemed too intense.
Some times we get stuck at a station too long. We have to be aware that if energy departs from this place, it is time to move on. Resistance can result in being stuck. One client of mine who clearly realized she had stayed too long at stop named Constructive Discontent exclaimed, “I jammed the emergency brake on and can’t recall how to release.”
Unfortunately there is no map of all the stations. We muddle our way through as best as we can – hoping we fulfill our personal itinerary and doing our best to remember the wonderful words of the poet Em Claire.

It’s a beautiful time to be alive.
And the long walk home is peopled—
We, are everywhere.
Yet the struggle to surrender is where we walk alone.
So the next time you fall
look
to either side where you lie
and take the hand
of your dear Sister or Brother
whose own face is muddied.
We can rise together,
even if we fall alone—
for it’s a beautiful time to be alive
even
on this long walk home.


The Soul’s Journey – Finding your “Go to Support Chest”

November 15, 2016

I woke up at 4:40 a.m. the day after the election full of dread. Racing around my mind were confusion from trying to hold two opposites. That consciousness was positively evolving when the Americans had just elected a bombastic, misogynist, racist, ignorant narcissist who had no concept of truth and likely the emotional and psychological maturity of a six year-old.

I knew I would not sleep again that night so I got up and followed my intuition. First I forced myself to engage in my morning meditation practice. Difficult as it was to still my mind, I prayed for equanimity. Then I put on some Gregorian Chants and began to read my Soul Book.

In times of stress, anxiety and uncertainty I try to avoid my tendency of engaging my normal anxiety management systems (distraction, diversion, and varying mild addictions like mindless TV viewing). Instead I open my “Go to Support Chest” to search out practices that feed my deeper self. Sacred music, meditation and reviewing my Soul Book are prime examples of what can sustain me during existential crises.

In the inner cover of my Soul Book are the words, “Reflections, Contemplations, Meditations, and Inspiration.” It is a miscellany of poems, quotes, and stories where I have experienced moments of awe and wonder within this mystery that we live. I write in bright, cheerful, coloured inks that register easily on the eye. In moments like this when the future seems so bleak and incomprehensible, I find things to uplift me.

On this particular day my eye caught a beautiful extract from a poem by St Francis that I encountered in “Love Poems from God” by Daniel Ladinsky. ‘For laughing and passion, beauty and joy they are our hearts truth. All else is labour and foreign to the Soul.” It seemed a perfect focus for the day. I shared the quote on Facebook and found out later that sharing poetry was one of the primary ways people were supporting each other on social networking.

Another entry reminded me of all the different ways to feed the Soul: Love, Peace, Joy, Compassion, Gratitude, Wonder. Awe, Mindfulness and Meditation, Music, Poetry, Dance, Laughter, Passion and Play.” It was time to let go of disappointment, sadness , grief and anger. Time to let go of needing to know what it all means. We live in a mystery. It was time to reflect on the wonderful words of Gautama Buddha, “Never in the world does hatred cease by hatred; hatred ceases by love.” . It worked. I felt a deep inner piece that supported me through the day.

I subscribe to a beautiful service that sends me glorious Soul Poems with beautiful pictures every day. Unfortunely the Panahala site has closed I suspect in disappointment after the election results but Joe Riley’s poem on November 8th was perfect. It was by Rumi:

This is now. Now is

All there is. Don’t wait for Then.

Strike the spark, light the fire.

Sit at the Beloved’s table

Feast with gusto, drink your fill

Then dance

The way branches

dance in a spring wind.

The green earth is your cloth:

Tailor your robe with dignity and grace.


The Soul Journey – Understanding the Stories That Run Our Lives

November 5, 2016

This was the theme I developed for my small Spiritual Guidance Group that met last Wednesday. The idea was unexpected and had indirectly arisen as a function of the dream I wrote about in a recent dream blog. (http://wp.me/p7aFpI-4z)

This dream encouraged me to explore something that was missing in my perspective as a spiritual teacher. The clue to its resolution was in the yellow T-shirt I had put on during the dream. Yellow is a colour associated with the mind and the sun.

The “ah hah” moment came when I remembered I refer to James Hollis, eminent Jungian analyst, as the teacher of my mind. The dream prompted me to return to a task I had neglected – to record notes from his lecture series from his book, “Hauntings”.

Once more his wisdom inspired me. In his second lecture he suggests that much of our lives are run though unconscious stories that we are continually in service to and asks, “what are the implicit stories that your life history seems to be manifesting or dramatizing or externalizing in your life.”

He gives a remarkable example from a friend of his who also happens to me my favourite poet – Stephen Dunn. As a child he lived together with his parents and grandparents on his mother’s side of the family.

Unbeknownst to anyone the grandfather had a mistress, who got sick. He ran out of money for her hospital bills and asked his son in law for money but made him promise not to tell his wife. A secret was born.

It was never repaid – his wife found out the money was gone and asked where. He told her he had lost it at the track. It created a permanent rift between them; he fell into alcoholism and Steven grew up in a fractured family where the coping mechanism was silence. He confided in Stephen when he was in his late teens but promised him to secrecy.

This story and secrecy was an undercurrent to his life and when asked by Hollis how it had effected him he responded, “I thought that arguments were played out in silence and silence was what I armed myself with”

I was profoundly touched by this account and began to wonder what stories had unconsciously shaped my life. I realized that as a fifteen-year old I had concluded that there was no God; life was therefore meaningless and so I had better take care of myself as best I could.

This story was the undercurrent of my life for the next thirty years. It resulted in a very self-serving, controlling and manipulative persona. Only when it was replaced by a new story that I was “a spiritual being having a human experience” could I begin the true journey of the Soul. From this perspective life had to have meaning.

I reviewed my insights with a dear long-term friend and he was intrigued. He began to share his own confusion about why his parents had moved the family from relative comfort in the UK to comparative poverty in Toronto. “I was always trying to find out”, he confided. “I even questioned my mother if she had followed a neighbor who moved here.” I asked him if he sensed there was a secret behind it. It was as though the scales fell from his eyes. “All my life I have been trying to find the answer to a secret I did not know existed.”

I asked how this may have impacted him. He was exquisitely honest, “Sometimes I wonder if there is something I am not aware of – some hidden agenda.”

It was an amazing moment. It confirmed the power inherent in Hollis’s teachings.

Later that evening I reviewed this material with my group. The impact was so much more than expected. People begin to see stories that had shaped and were shaping them:

  • A child who thought she had to always take care of people.
  • A family where silence and conflict avoidance were prevalent.
  • A child constantly in search of a father’s approval.

The final question we delved into was also from Hollis. Exploring our current unconscious stories is but part of the Soul journey. The question still to be answered is what story wants to enter the world through each one of us? Hollis suggests, “We all have these stories lying within us. We need to find the story we are meant by the Gods to live in this world and to understand what interferes with that story emerging.”

To quote teacher and mystic Atum O’Kane, “Before my life is over may I sing my song.”

 


My Path to Equanimity – Denial, Victim, Humour and Surrender

June 24, 2016

“You carry all the ingredients to turn your life into a nightmare, don’t mix them”

Hafiz interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky.

How do we avoid reacting to situations that seem designed to press every button. This is a story of what I came to describe as “the hotel room from hell” that had all the makings of a nightmare.

However it led to an insight into one of the effective coping mechanisms I have created to help me deal with life’s obstacles – I seek meaning in the experience. I am still uncertain about whether this is pure delusion on my part however perhaps that doesn’t matter as much as the fact that it helps me avoid the “nightmare” and to shift from anxiety and discomfort into some equanimity.

When I checked in to the Puerto Allegra Hotel; despite my confirmed reservation they had no rooms left and moved me to an adjacent hotel. It was a spartan but clean facility with  a cute balcony.  I enjoyed my stay and the best news was that it waste no charge.

The next day I checked back and they allocated me room 210. It was not the king room I had reserved. It had two queen beds squeezed into a tight space, it was dark with a window out onto what appeared to be a narrow chimney of light between rooms. The diagram behind the door suggested it was by far the smallest room on the floor. However it was nicely appointed and I had already enjoyed an excellent free breakfast so I went to the beach with no inkling of what the night would bring.

The chimney in fact contained all the air conditioning units. It also possessed the quality of an echo chamber so at night I was treated to a symphony of AC units, each chiming in as though they formed an unholy orchestra with a malevolent conductor arranging a score to minimize my sleep.

I began to recognize them – there were the quieter ones that I associated with the strings, the deeper more full throated ones that were the woodwind section and finally the “tuba”. This monstrous instrument was out of tune, a harsh raucous sound that insinuated itself into my nervous system. If I was asleep it would wake me. If I was awake I lay their in awful suspense of its next interruption.

The next morning I tried to get my room changed. Victor at the front desk gazed helplessly at me, scanned his computer screen more out of desperation than hope then pulled out a huge stack of booking.com forms and began to tell me how he had no rooms for any of them.

Now normally I would have gone to find an alternative but I was attending a workshop for the next four days so it was not possible. It seemed as though I would just have to suffer.

I went through four stages of adjustment. In some ways it became my own workshop of dealing with attachment. It began with denial – this can’t really be happening, surely it will diminish as the night goes on? This cannot possibly be normal.” Then I moved into victim. “Why did it have to be me. What had I done to deserve this? This is so unfair.” It was a short step to judgment. “Why do these selfish people need their AC on. How on earth can a hotel dare rent out a room where you can’t sleep?”

By now I was trying ear plugs but they could not blog out Tony the Tuba as I began to refer to him. The third stage was ironic amusement. I was in this hotel because I had decided the place I originally selected at half the price was too small and spartan so I had decided to treat myself to a little comfort. There was obviously a lesson in here for me somewhere as my original was beginning to look like nirvana.The cosmos seemed to be demonstrating its sense of humour at my expense.

Finally I moved into acceptance and surrender and somehow, after three sleepless nights,  slept seven hours without a break. This was obviously due to extreme fatigue because my final night was a repeat of the first except now I was sanguine, calm and relaxed despite being awake and perhaps the thought of my own bed helped.

Regardless I had found meaning – each stages of acceptance helped me move through the one that followed: from denial to victim, then amusement and finally surrender. I worked through each fully allowing full license for expression.

Frankly it was a lesson I would rather not have learned yet the journey into meaning made it palatable. I can see no way I could have avoided it but perhaps next time I may resist the temptation of luxury for my normal spartan accommodations.

Hafiz’s lovely poem finishes with the words, “you have all the ingredients to turn your life into joy, mix them, mix them.” Somehow mixing denial, victim, humour and surrender had just that effect.

There was one final gift. The workshop was being held a half hour walk from the hotel. On the second morning I found a route that took me along the Rio Cuale for about twenty-five minutes. The natural beauty combined with the soothing babble of the creek over rocks completely restored me. Despite sleepless nights I was raring to go.

 


Poems for SoulClarity 1

May 8, 2016

INTRODUCTION

I believe in synchronicity and this piece is a result of a series of coincidences that began recently in Seattle. I was attending the fifth workshop in the series Archetypes of Spiritual Guidance and made the decision to stay at a B &B closer to the venue rather than being held hostage to the ferries that are a consequence of staying with my friend Maryann on Bainbridge Island. To my surprise when arriving at my lodging I found that there was a bed but no breakfast so I decided to frequent a local Starbucks close to the venue.  As it happened my teacher Atum O’Kane would also drop by for coffee and each morning we would meet up and then walk together. Each morning I chose to share a poem as we strolled and his response was that I must do something with them. At first my resistance stepped in but on my return to Vancouver the synchronicity of those encounters was too much to ignore and  I have decided to make a recording. I realized that each of the poems connected with me at a soul level so it made sense to add a personal introduction to each one and perhaps relate them to my work as a spiritual coach so I began an unfolding blog which is now complete. Each of my spiritual coaching sessions starts with a meditation and poem to create the Sacred Space that is essential for the work to begin. These are some of those poems and my reflections.

AT THE END OF THE YEAR. by John O’Donahue

The first poem on the blog is paradoxically the last one on the CD. It is by the Irish poet John O’Donahue who sadly died at the age of only 52. I was not that familiar with his work until a friend gave me his beautiful book To Bless the Space Between Us. He was a priest, philosopher, activist and poet with an amazing gift for the language. The passage I learned is three stanzas from a poem titled At the End of the Year.

As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks
for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time
nor tide can touch them.
The days when the veil lifted
And the soul could see delight;
When a quiver
caressed the heart
In the sheer exuberance
of being here…
We bless this year
for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way
it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.
 

It seems appropriate to be recording these words at a time when 2012 is nearing its finale and of course I am reaching my destination – to complete this journey with poems I have learned and loved. Twenty-three in all, I hope you they feed you as they have inspired me. They truly provide me with that sense of “the veil lifting” and the soul finding delight.

SONG OF A DREAM by Sarojini Naidu

Exploration of dreams has become one of the passions of my life. I believe that some dreams offer a window into the soul’s wisdom yet understanding the language of symbol and metaphor used in dreams is not always easy. I practice a process called Dream Partnering designed not to interpret dreams but rather facilitate a process to allow the dreamer to access their own inner wisdom. (For more see http://www.soulclarity.com/free_taste.html) I am always keeping an eye open for poems on dreams and here are two of my favourites. The first is called Song of a Dream by Sarojini Naidu

Once in the dream of a night I stood
Lone in the light of a magical wood,
Soul-deep in visions that poppy-like sprang;
And spirits of Truth were the birds that sang,
And spirits of Love were the stars that glowed,
And spirits of Peace were the streams that flowed
In that magical wood in the land of sleep.
Lone in the light of that magical grove,
I felt the stars of the spirits of Love
Gather and gleam round my delicate youth,
And I heard the song of the spirits of Truth;
To quench my longing I bent me low
By the streams of the spirits of Peace that flow
In that magical wood in the land of sleep.

A dream full of beautiful imagery that to me connects directly to the world of Soul.

LAST NIGHT AS I WAS SLEEPING  by Anthony Machado

The second poem is titled Last Night as I was Sleeping by Anthony Machado and wonderfully translated by Robert Bly.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.
Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!
that it was God I had
here inside my heart. 

Oh to have such a perfect dream, imagine golden bees making white combs and sweet honey from one’s old failures, how beautifully he captures the world of soul in this lovely poem.

WE LOOK WITH UNCERTAINTY by Ann Hillman

The next passages resonated the moment I read it in a monthly newsletter from Banyen Books. It is attributed to Ann Hillman and presents a beautiful perspective on the process of transition that is such an integral part of the Soul journey.

We look with uncertainty
Beyond the old choices for
Clear-cut answers
To a softer, more permeable aliveness
Which is every moment
At the brink of death;
For something new is being born in us
If we but let it.
We stand at a new doorway,
Awaiting that which comes…
Daring to be human creatures.
Vulnerable to the beauty of existence.
Learning to love.
 

 A major change is never easy and this poem captures so delightfully the vulnerability of transition and the need to explore beyond our limitations. Frequently I sense in clients the apprehension of being stuck and simply hearing this poem can cause a major shift in awareness. One client suddenly could see that being stuck was actually standing at a new doorway awaiting that which comes.

A NOISELESS PATIENT SPIDER by Walt Whitman

Simply reading about Walt Whitman’s life is inspiring; he was someone whose ideas were far ahead of his time. He had contemporary, earthy beliefs for someone living in the eighteen hundreds and I find his poem titled the Noiseless Patient Spider so relevant to the nature of the Soul journey.

A noiseless, patient spider, 
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated; 
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul. 

 I love the sense of space, urgency and insistence. I love the expressive dialogue with the soul as part of himself. I love the suggestion that at times we are awaiting a foundation to form on which we can build. He brings the intoxication of the Soul journey to luminous life.

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN by Robert Frost

This next poem by Robert Frost became renowned for the last few lines; in fact many years ago I had assumed these constituted the whole thing. During my research I found this quote, One stanza of ‘The Road Not Taken’ was written while I was sitting on a sofa in the middle of England: was found three or four years later, and I couldn’t bear not to finish it. I wasn’t thinking about myself there, but about a friend who had gone off to war, a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn’t go the other. He was hard on himself that way.”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

As we follow our life’s journey there are moments when we make decisions that irrevocably shift every event from that time on. I had such a moment in the dentist’s chair in 1998 when I made a career choice that ultimately resulted in such an improbable series of consequences that some times I wonder where the other road would have led. Today I am more conscious to discern whether the road I am about to select is consistent with my soul’s desire and I think that that makes all the difference.

THE GREAT WAGON by Rumi

The Great Wagon by Rumi is an astonishingly rich construction rendered into ethereal English by Coleman Barks. It contains eight separate stanzas any one of which could provide fodder for intense reflection however I am going to record my three favourites.

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.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.
I would love to kiss you.
The price of kissing is your life.
Now my loving is running toward my life shouting,
What a bargain, let’s buy it.
 

 So many intriguing concepts that seem so relevant to the Soul journey – the suggestion that there is place beyond our ideas of right and wrong, the reminder that we need to stay awake, that inspiration comes on the wind and that it all starts by setting a clear intention for what we really want. Then the last stanza “the price of kissing is your life” reminds me that once we commit our hearts to the soul journey there is indeed no going back.

NOW IS THE TIME  BY Hafiz

My next poem is beautifully rendered by Daniel Ladinsky from the work of Hafiz and embraces the issue of change.

Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred
Why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God
Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just training wheels
To be laid aside
When you can finally live
With veracity
And love
Hafiz is the divine envoy
Whom the Beloved
Has written a holy message upon
My dear please tell me
Why do you still
Throw sticks at your heart
And God?
What is it in that sweet voice inside
That incites you to fear?
Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred.
This is the time
For you to compute the impossibility
That there is anything
But grace
Now is the season to know
That everything you do
Is sacred.
 

 This poem reminds me to explore the mystery of the Divine in a number of ways. I grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist household with an authoritarian, patriarchal, punitive God. As a result at the age of thirteen I became an atheist. Thirty years later I began to realize that my atheism was in fact resistance to a God concept espoused by my father  and it was time to “stop throwing sticks at God”. I have realized during this amazing journey that indeed “all my ideas of right and wrong were indeed training wheels”. My soul journey became one of finding the sacred in everything in my life.

IF EACH DAY by Pablo Neruda

Finding light in the darkness is a theme of the next two poems. The first is by Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet who led an amazing and conflicted life. Exiled from Chile for communist beliefs, awarded a Nobel prize for literature, an outspoken critic of American imperialism who finally died a suspicious death after his close friend President Allende was ousted from power in a military coup. This man truly had experienced darkness to a degree most of us can only imagine. The poem is succinct and needs no explanation.

If each day
Falls inside each night
There exists a well
Where clarity is imprisoned.
We need to sit on the rim
Of the well of darkness
And fish for fallen light
 

THERE IS NOTHING I CAN GIVE YOU by Fra Giovanni

The second poem was written almost five hundred years ago as part of a letter and is attributed to Friar Giovanni Giacondo, a Franciscan friar who was also an architect, engineer and archeologist. During my research I realized the version I have learned has been adapted from the original but the integrity of the author’s intent is maintained.

There is nothing I can give you which you have not got; but there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take.
No Heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take Heaven!
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace!
The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.
There is radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see;
and to see, we have only to look.
I beseech you to look.
 

The soul journey consists of many landscapes and one we will all encounter at sometime is commonly known as the dark night of the soul. Each of these poems helps us to remember that eventually light will overcome darkness

THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS by Wendell Berry

I am enjoying finding out more about the poets I have grown to love. Wendell Berry is a remarkable long-term activist, a farmer an academic as well as a poet. Recently his poetry has demonstrated both his love of and fear for the environment. The next poem expresses exquisitely the challenges of despair and the power of beauty and nature to support us in holding our centre when we are confronted by thoughts and feelings of hopelessness.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world,
and am free.
 

On my own soul journey I have realized how essential it is to sustain hope in times of despair. I love the line, “the day-blind stars are waiting with their light.” It expresses a faith in the possibility of positive change. I do have to work on building a foundation for my faith. To support me I have created a Soul Journal where I capture stories of the light that appeared when it was most needed. Reflection on these stories help restore me when the affairs of the world create the despair that Wendell Berry describes.

A DIVINE INVITATION by Hafiz

My next poem is short and sweet; an interpretation of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky in his book, “I heard God Laughing” yet it has profound meaning for those committed to exploring the landscape of the Soul.

You have been invited to meet
The Friend.
No one can resist a Divine Invitation.
That narrows down all our choices
To just two:
We can come to God
Dressed for Dancing,
Or,
Be carried on a stretcher
To God’s Ward.
 

There is a quote in the New Testament, The spirit is willing but the flesh is week. All of us when we undertake to explore the journey of the soul will come up against resistance that is often unconscious and prevents us from fully engaging with our spiritual exploration. Accepting the call of the Soul is a bit like taking the red pill in The Matrix, you can never go back. I believe that the soul in its desire for expression will try and support us through a course correction when we go astray. It may start with a nudge then a push that may graduate to a full on cosmic two by four if we don’t as Hafiz says, “Get Dressed for Dancing”.

 BE PATIENT by Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke is a Bohemian-Austrian poet who I had always assumed was female because of his name. He was a renowned German poet who lived at the turn of the twentieth century. The poem I am about to share is best known for the first two lines but there is great depth in the complete passage.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
 

This poem has great relevance for those moments on the soul journey when we seem to be in stasis. I have long believed that the soul treasures experience not outcomes, yet the ego’s satisfaction relies on accomplishment. We live in a paradigm that assumes success is a series of achievements but when we commit to the inner journey we learn to live by a different yardstick. I will frequently quote this poem during spiritual coaching as a reminder that sometimes we need to fully experience the present before the next step opens to us.

 INVICTUS William Ernest Henley

I encountered the poem Invictus in a movie of the same name. There is an extremely emotional scene where Matt Damon standing in the jail on Robin Island hears the voice of Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela reciting this poem. This poem inspired Nelson Mandela during his twenty-seven years of incarceration. Although I can never hope to match Morgan Freeman’s drama and passion, it has become one of my favourite recitations.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
 

 The poet William Ernest Henley who lived in late Victorian times wrote this under extreme personal duress. He suffered from TB, had one leg amputated and major surgery on the other just before he wrote this poem. He captured dramatically the resilience of the human spirit responding to adversity, something I have witnessed many times with patients living with cancer.

OPEN THE DOOR by Rabindrinath Tagore

I had no idea what an accomplished creative genius Rabindrinath Tagore was until I did some research for this recording. Writer, playwright, songwriter, poet, philosopher and educator, he was the first non-European to win the Nobel prize for literature. The poem I am going to share is particularly appealing for someone who lives on the coast of British Columbia and learns to treasure the occasional days of blue sky that are a welcome interruption from the rain.

 Open the door,
liberate the blue sky;
let the inquisitive flower-scents
 enter my room;
the light of the early sun,
let it flood my body
 from vein to vein;
I am alive, the word of greeting
 that’s throbbing
in every twig and leaf,
 let me hear it;
this dayspring dawn,
let it swathe my heart and mind with its scarf as it does the field
green with the shoots
 of new grass.
The love I have known in my life
utters its silent language
in the sky, in the air,
 everywhere.
I am bathed in the light
 of its pure enthronement.
All that’s real I see
 as a necklace of jewels
on the breast of blue.
 

Recently this poem assumed a new significance for me. I was attending a workshop on the archetype of the liberator and was asked to create a daily practice to focus my intention on the act of liberation. This poem has become my morning ritual, at the conclusion of my meditation I begin the words, “Open the door, liberate the blue sky” It is a wonderful way to greet the day.

THERE’S A HOLE IN MY SIDEWALK Autobiography in Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson.

I have a client who frequently begins the session with the words, “Well I am back in the hole again.” He is referring to a lovely poem that I frequently refer to in my spiritual coaching work. It’s titled: THERE’S A HOLE IN MY SIDEWALK Autobiography in Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson.

1) I walk down the street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost . . . . I am hopeless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes for ever to find a way out.
2) I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I’m in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
3) I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. . . . its a habit.
My eyes are open
I know where I am
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
4) I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
5) I walk down another street.
 

This is such a brilliant analogy for life. If you find yourself in the same situation again and again and it is never your fault, then you are living the first chapter of the poem. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day you repeat the same story over and over without realizing you are stuck. The first step to moving on is awareness. Once we are aware, we move on to the second chapter I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I’m in the same place. This is the stage of denial. Although you are aware of your pattern you aren’t yet prepared for the conscious work that will result in a shift. It often takes a lot of work breaking through resistance and old patterns before we can finally walk down another street.

The Guest House by Rumi

It is a source of deep astonishment and wonder that long before Freud, Jung and Adler, in fact over seven-hundred years ago, the poet Rumi pronounced a wisdom that would be at home in depth psychology today. His amazing poem The Guest House reminds us that hidden within the darker responses of our lives are gifts.

 “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 shame, 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 reminds us of the opportunity to become conscious and find meaning in our experience. Once we can begin to witness the events of our lives from this place rather than that of victim then we begin to find the gifts. The exploration can take some time and energy but each of us have a tremendous capacity for healing; we just have to remember who the patient really is.

Certainty by Tukaram

Tukaram was a a seventeenth century Indian saint and poet whose work I was introduced to in Daniel Ladinsky’s book Love Poems from God. This poem called Certainty struck me as an incredibly contemporary message reminding of the dangers of attachments to any one belief system.

Certainty undermines one’s power, and turns happiness
into a long shot.  Certainty confines. 
Dears, there is nothing in your life that will not change – especially your ideas of God. 
Look what the insanity of righteous knowledge can do: crusade and maim thousands in wanting to convert that which is already gold into gold.
Certainty can become an illness that creates hate and greed.
God once said to Tuka, “Even I am ever changing – I am ever beyond Myself, what I may have once put my seal upon, may no longer be the greatest Truth.”
 

 I suspect that all of us who have embarked on this journey of the soul may have encountered times where we felt absolutely certain we had found the path to truth. We may even feel it is our duty to persuade others. Tukaram’s wisdom clearly anticipated the tragedy of sectarian violence that we see today. He also reminds us that concepts of God are not fixed points in time. Some of my most challenging moments on my soul journey have been when my God concept has eluded me. James Hollis once wrote that “when for whatever reason the energy no longer enlivens our (God) image that structure dies for us as a source of the divine. The energy has departed leaving a dry husk.” At that time there can be a “dark night of the soul” challenging our faith. Tukaram affirms the positive possibilities when he says, “Dears there is nothing in your life that will not change especially your ideas about God.” The Soul Journey calls us to let go of old certainty and be open to the mystery. The Soul Journey is dynamic not static; James Hollis also said, “We find our God in that which enlivens the Soul, simply say hello.”

Special Plates by Rumi

This poem had a profound effect on my life. Special Plates is the first of the three Rumi poems I have learned, Rumi is a another Sufi poet whose words were captured so magically for westerners by Coleman Barks. This poem has a special significance to me because it was not only my introduction to Rumi but also the beginning of my love affair with soulful poetry. I had impulsively signed up for a two-year program called the Art of Spiritual Guidance comprised of two weeks and eight weekends that started in October 2001 led by a teacher I had never heard of called Atum O’Kane. The first week of the program took place at a beautiful resort called Hollyhock located over six hours and three ferry rides from Vancouver on remote Cortes Island. By the time the first session began, I was beginning to have serious misgivings about the sanity and wisdom of my decision. Who was this teacher with the strange name? Who were these strangers? Had I really committed almost $5000 and two-years to something I had never heard of a month ago? Then after a brief moment of silence, Atum read this beautiful poem.

Notice how each particle moves.
Notice how everyone has arrived here from a journey.
Notice how each wants a different food.
Notice how the stars vanish as the sun comes up.
and how all streams stream toward the ocean.
Look at the chefs preparing special plates
for everyone. according to what they need.
Look at this cup that can hold the ocean.
Look at those who see the face.
Look through Sham’s eyes
into the water that is
entirely pearls.
 

As I heard these words I felt an unmistakable sense of reassurance flow through my body. I knew I was in the right place at the right time. In part I sense there was a soulfulness that connected at a soul level. I believe great poetry like a dream can break through the clutter of the conscious mind. The words, “look at the chefs preparing special plates for everyone according to their needs” hung in the air between us; this would be no cookie cutter program, no one size fits all. I felt relief flood through my body; my fear of dogma and institutional doctrine dissipated; this would be a program of personal discernment. In that moment I realized that I had not only arrived here from a journey but was beginning one.

THE JOURNEY by Mary Oliver

The next poem I would like to share is very precious to me, not just because of its exquisite language but because it is generally the very first poem I use when someone comes to me for Spiritual Coaching. The decision to start Spiritual Coaching often emerges from a time of confusion and a sense that you need to shift the direction of your life but don’t know how to proceed. Mary Oliver conveys a remarkable sense of the unfolding drama of change.

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations –
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little.
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheet of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.
 

To me Mary Oliver is perhaps the quintessential American poet, her depth and wisdom and soulfulness that inhabits so many of her poems creates a wonderful perspective for the concept of the Soul journey. This poem reminds us that we must make our own way, that we may feel resistance from both within and without; that at times it may be stormy but light will begin to shine.

LAUGHTER by Hafiz (rendered by Daniel Ladinsky)

This is a stanza from a longer poem that spontaneously comes to mind.

What is this precious love and laughter
Budding in our hearts?
It is the glorious sound
Of a soul waking up!
 

Hafiz is the wonderful Sufi poet so brilliantly interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky in his book I heard God Laughing.

LOVE AFTER LOVE by Derek Walcott

The second poem I would like to share is by Derek Walcott, the eminent poet from St. Lucias who Robert Graves once commented that “Walcott handles English with a closer understanding of its inner magic than most if not any of his contemporaries”. This poem is called Love After Love.

The time will come
When, with elation,
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror,
And each will smile at the other’s welcome,
And say, sit here, Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
To itself, to the stranger who has loved you
All your life, whom you ignored
For another who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
The photographs, the desperate notes.
Peel your image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
 

This poem reflects so beautifully that wonderful moment that as renowned psychologist and teacher Jean Houston once said, ‘You are more than you think you are and something in you knows it”. It recognizes that moment when you come face to face with your Soul and you understand that you are a part of something much greater than you ever realized. I find Robert Grave’s use of the words “inner magic” most profound. It is as though Walcott’s words can speak to us at a deeper level than our brain can absorb. I recall reading this poem at a workshop and there was a moment when it brought one of the participants to tears. When she tried to explain her reaction in words, it just wasn’t possible. The heart had engaged with the exquisite sense of Soul that Walcott had created but the mind was unable to interpret. Such is the gift of beautiful soulful poetry in our lives.

A DIALOGUE OF SELF AND SOUL by W. B. Yeats

The first poem I learned was by W.B. Yeats, it was written when he was 83 and was a part of a much longer poem that is a reflection on his life. I first heard it on a meditation recording by John Kabot Zyn, and it had a powerful impact on me at that time. More recently I heard James Hollis refer to it in a lecture from his book “What Matters Most” as an example of finding meaning in one’s life.

I am content to follow to its source
Every event in action or in thought;
Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!
When such as I cast out remorse
So great a sweetness flows into the breast
We must laugh and we must sing,
We are blest by everything,
Everything we look upon is blest.
 

What Yeats does so beautifully is remind us of the gift of individuation and that when we have the courage to  seek meaning in the experiences of our life, and forgive ourselves then there is a response from the soul. I have sensed that as I identify the complexes that have bound me, there is a release of the energy that binds me to the complex. This sounds akin to Yeat’s delicious words, “so great a sweetness flows into my breast.