What’s All This Soul Stuff Anyway?

November 17, 2014
 
“What is this precious love and laughter budding in our hearts,
it is the glorious sound of a Soul waking up 

Hafiz interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky

Late in his life Carl Jung wrote to a friend and said, “I have failed in my foremost task to open people’s eyes to the fact that man has a soul” The derivation of the word soul is from the Greek word psyche that in turn means breath.

In medical terms the psyche is the sum of who we are: body, mental faculties, emotions and … For some the definition stops there, for others it may include the nebulous concept of the unconscious while depth psychologists and Jungian analysts believe there is a Soul. Unfortunately we cannot identify the soul with a body part. It is an elusive concept

Thomas Moore the writer of many books on Soul suggests that Soul must be imagined rather than explained or understood. A tough concept for the logical and literal minded.

In my Spiritual Coaching practice, the Soul represents a guiding force that supports us on the journey of life and aspires to that which serves our highest good.

As the spiritual coach my first priority is to assess whether my client can accept this idea. It does not matter what name we ascribe to it: Psyche, Self, Soul, Higher Self, Inner Wisdom, I look for common language that we can share.

Why do I consider this of importance? First, I consider the inner guiding force is the most effective tool for helping us through the dark wood. Second, it has a language of its own that is not verbal. It speaks to us through the circumstances of our lives. This can be through our body, our dreams, the patterns of our life, through sign and synchronicity, through “the still small voice”. Third, once we accept the principle that the Soul desires to communicate then it behooves us to listen and pay attention.

Our growth frequently comes out of the ennui, confusion, sense of being stuck even depression that are the sign that something wants to change. I have noticed both in my own life and in those of my clients that ignoring the signs or ridding ourselves of the symptoms can often cause an exacerbation or deterioration until we wake up. I once heard this described as “the cosmic two by four”, a description that seems especially pertinent and a good reminder to stay attentive.

In his excellent book, What Matters Most, James Hollis reminds us that, “if the ego is living in harmony with the psyche there is no problem, there will be a sense of energy, purposefulness, the supporting function of feeling and a sense of well being. In those moments one is in right relationship.” I think that sums up Hafiz’s poem pretty well!

Spiritual Coaching helps to assess whether we are in right relationship with ourselves. It begins with a check-in to the current emotional, mental and physical circumstances of our life and an enquiry into what they could be trying to signify.

The wonderful Julia Cameron, author of many books including The Artists Way once wrote, “Today I listen with my deepest heart. I am alert to guidance in many forms and formats. As I open my attention to a broad range of cues, I find myself guided and guarded.” An excellent practice for honouring the Soul’s journey.

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Gratitude to Old Teachers

November 11, 2014
 When we stride or stroll across the frozen lake,
We place our feet where they have never been.
We walk upon the unwalked. But we are uneasy.
Who is down there but our old teachers?

This poem by Robert Bly resulted in reminiscence about some of the important teachers in my life. I realize that much of the foundation of my belief systems has resulted from the teachers who crossed my path at precisely the right time.

The first was a Minister of the local Baptist Church, the Reverend Gordon Glover. I was fifteen years old and my inability to accept the basic tenets of the church was causing great conflict with my father and mother. Somehow my mother persuaded me reluctantly to visit the Minister of the church I had been dragged to for many years. After he welcomed me in I explained the foundations of my disbelief – the loving God crucifying his son to save me, the absurdity of being born again, the inconsistencies in the whole story. He looked at me with care and concern then leaned over and said, “you are absolutely fine, don’t worry about it. You will find what you need in your own time.” Needless to say this earned him the enmity of my father for the rest of time but to me it was an amazing moment.

They say that when the student is ready the teacher appears. Well in my case I was a long time getting ready. It was not for forty years that the next major influence on my spiritual life showed up. It was the amazing late Reverend Marvin Anderson of the Unity Church in Vancouver that guided my path for a number of years. He reintroduced me to a form of Christianity that gave me the freedom to have my own beliefs. No longer was everything in the Bible literally true. God was no longer an elderly, patriarchal male who believed in retribution. He helped me to see that my previously proclaimed atheism was actually a lack of belief in the God espoused my father. He had a brilliant mind, was widely read and helped to broaden my spiritual search.

I began to study at Unity Village in Missouri for two years and deepened my quest in many ways. He introduced a concept that was profound and as far as I can tell original. “The simplicity that precedes complexity is useless, the simplicity that follows complexity is the pearl of great price.” It helped me through the years when I had to let go of simplistic beliefs and attitudes in order to grow. Finally he preached a sermon that freed me from a trap of my own making. I was sitting in the balcony of a packed church in the company of hundreds of kindred souls. It was as though he was speaking straight to my heart. “Some of you need to move on, your time here is done.”

Leaving Unity opened the door to my next teacher. Following a series of signs and synchronicities I enrolled in a two-year program called the Art of Spiritual Guidance. It was crazy thing to do; I did not know the teacher; it was a significant commitment of money and time; yet I felt called. Atum O’Kane was a profound influence in my life. He opened the door to the psychological aspects of my spiritual journey. He introduced me to Carl Jung, the unconscious and the shadow, dream work, body sculpture and drawing to connect with deeper wisdom, and a deeper understanding of Soul. He introduced me to Sufism, mystic Judaism as well teachings from the Christian and Buddhist tradition. He provided the groundwork that gave me the confidence to practice as a Spiritual Coach teaching how to hold sacred space, how to listen from the heart and trust my intuitive wisdom.

Atum is still a big part of my life, shows up in my dreams but the primary teaching role has passed to a man that I deem to be the wisest I have ever met. James Hollis is Jungian Analyst, writer and teacher. His framework for the spiritual life feels right. His belief that meaning is a much higher aspiration then happiness has profoundly influenced my work. His understanding of the powerful forces of the unconscious is second to none, yet he is the first person to say, “I know nothing about the unconscious, that’s why it is called the unconscious.” However he helps us understand that we can derive from dreams and the patterns of our lives the forces that unconsciously control our responses. His explanation of complexes, how they originate and how they affect us is a keystone to my understanding of self, limited as it may be.

His audio book, Through The Dark Wood is the best recipe for a meaningful exploration of our lives I have ever encountered. Up to this time I have listened to it ten times and each time I get something new.

I am the product of my great teachers, I feel amazingly blessed to have met each one of them on this earth walk. To quote the beautiful song written in 1982 by Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley – “They are the wind beneath my wings.”


Control and Anxiety

May 16, 2014

The influence of control in my life reminds me of an octopus. It lies unseen in dark places with its eight tentacles probing into my outer world. The first seven tentacles represent resistance, overwhelment, the need to be right, impatience, anger, planning, manipulation Despite my desire to stop at seven blogs on control this eighth tentacle representing anxiety has finally overcome my resistance.

Recently I had been reflecting on anxiety and realized that although not an anxious person on the surface, I frequently suffer from a low grade, unconscious anxiety that has a surprising capacity to impact my life. Perhaps this is why it took me so long to see the relationship of Control and anxiety.

Of course a natural question about unconscious anxiety is how have I become conscious of it? This emerged from my study of Jungian Analyst James Hollis’s teachings around the unconscious and anxiety. Hollis states that we cannot know what is in the unconscious directly but we may discern influences of which we are not conscious through examination of dreams, patterns and behaviours.

He also suggests that addictive patterns of behaviour are anxiety management systems. They can take many forms from the more draconian such a drug addiction or alcoholism to the less damaging such as TV or simple habits.

I became curious about a pattern of behavior that involved watching TV. It was not any TV; it was focused on a specific form of what I now describe as comfort viewing. It would frequently feature repeat performances of old British mystery programs that were familiar, I liked the characters, they were predictable, and nothing would scare me, disturb me or surprise me.

I realized it was a form of escape; it definitely had a pattern to it; it was somewhat mindless, and like a spider could entrap me in a lethargic snare. Reluctantly I concluded it had all the characteristics of a mild addiction.

Following Hollis’s logic if I am engaged in an addiction no matter how mild, there must be anxiety at the heart of it. I realize anxiety is a bit like a referred toothache, it may not be directly associated with the real centre of pain.

This began a quest to examine potential anxieties in my life. I began with the existential anxieties of life: death, health, age and aloneness. It felt healthy to own some of my fears. Hollis suggests that the best way to deal with anxiety is to turn into fear. Anxiety is a child state while our adult self can handle fear.

However I sensed there was more and perhaps something was going on in my life that was causing anxiety that I had not known so it had been repressed.

It was not difficult to identify. I am organizing a major event in Assisi for the Spiritual Community of which I am part. It has taken on a life of its own with 90 people already registered two years ahead of time.

I realized my anxiety had arisen because I was not on top of the organization required. I was telling myself I had lots of time but at some level there was a fear of being overwhelmed.

It had tucked itself away in my unconscious to show up in my pattern of TV viewing. I realized the best way to deal with it was to tackle the problem and within three hours I had everything under control. The effect was palpable, I could engage in my life in a different way. It was as though an invisible restraint had been released.

For some reason at first I did not see the relationship between this anxiety and control. It occurred to me later that as long as I keep things under control my anxiety is managed but when I lose control, the child state once again assets itself and begins to control the agenda of my life. Once again I am held hostage by the past.

This morning the catalyst to this blog came from observing a distinct shift in my feelings and sense of self after reading a relatively benign e-mail. At first I entered a state of denial but it was difficult ignore that I shifted from feeling good to feeling “blaah”.

What had happened? The e-mail was about a pilgrimage that is associated with the event I am planning but not part of it. There is significant anxiety in the community about getting on the pilgrimage because it is a much smaller event than the Gathering. To some degree I have become the focus of this anxiety and accepted responsibility for forwarding names to the organizer.

The e-mail took me off the hook as the organizer had now stepped forward but had triggered anxiety. Why?

This loss of control means I have to accept that all the people who contacted me are no longer my responsibility. The adult accepts this however the child grows concerned and worried that he missed someone.

I turned the anxiety into action and send an email to everyone advising them of the new development and that there is someone else on whom to project their anxiety. My job is complete.

Now I can leave for Europe with peace of mind. Back in five weeks.