Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Soul-making is Not Learned in a Text Book

“Anyone who wants to know the human psyche will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology. He would be better advised to abandon exact science, put away his scholar's gown, bid farewell to his study, and wander with human heart through the world.

There in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling-hells, in the salons of the elegant, the Stock Exchanges, socialist meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than text-books a foot thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with a real knowledge of the human soul.”
-- Carl Jung

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Many contemporary westerners are caught up in eastern philosophies. These folks often express a disdain for organized religion, preferring to be called spiritual. One area of fascination for these seekers is that of the eastern emphasis on the distinction between illusion and reality. They are keen on referring to the material world and mental thoughts as mere illusions. They say they are in pursuit of Reality, as if there were a clear cut demarcation between Reality and illusion. The idea seems to be that we are currently living in a world of illusion, but there exists a world of Reality to be discovered, somewhere. The goal is to meditate, find the right set of teachings, sit with an enlightened instructor and find the Realm of Reality. Etymologically the word Realm contains the root word real, implying that such an actual place of Reality literally exists. Once this elusive Reality is discovered, all worries disappear, fear subsides and one lives in perpetual peace, love and happiness. Ironically, this search for a literal Realm of Reality is little different than the traditional Christian view of a literal heaven, which most Realm seekers view with contempt. I don't think eastern religions are teaching what most westerners are seeking. I think we westerners have turned a powerful spiritual concept into a childish panacea.

It is more likely that the eastern philosophies are trying to teach that reality is an illusion, and illusion is reality. It is a soul-making idea. The ever expanding ego-self is constantly moving out of old realities and into new realities, into an infinitely expanding awareness of 'realities'. There is no literal Realm of Reality, but infinite layers of 'realities'. My current reality is the way my current ego-self sees the world around me. Soul-making suggests that old realities, like December snowmen, eventually melt into illusions under the Spring warming. Sunny new experiences always arrive to remove the old reality, bringing a different perspective to the growing ego-self. As the soul expands, former realities shift to illusions, exposing us to new realizations. Each emerging 'reality' contains the next illusion, and that illusion opens the door to a newer reality, which is destined to become the next illusion, ad infinitum. The goal is not to find the Realm of Reality, but to be present in the process of shifting from ego-self to ego-self as each new reality fades into an illusion.

I call it the move from illusionization to realization. There is no such thing as Self-Realization without Self-illusionization. There is no destination called the Realm of Reality once we shed the illusion. Those who actually think that one day they will arrive in a place called Reality will live in chronic spiritual agony, thinking that if they just try harder they will enter into the Eternal Rest Area, park their cars and relax for eternity. We are always learning, expanding, finding new 'realities' which always become illusions. The material world, human heart and mind are always shifting from event to event, person to person, thought to thought, feeling to feeling. These shifts are often tragically painful. It is difficult to see what I once thought to be secure, stable and certain fade away – moving from a reality to an illusion. Those who think they are making decisions based on yesterday's perceptions are fighting the soul-making process. There is no certainty or security from moment to moment, only the dissolution of perceived realities into the next reality.

This process is illustrated in a story told by presidential candidate Joe Biden, long time senator from Delaware, in his book Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics. Let me reproduce Biden's words about losing his wife and daughter in a car accident:

"Joe Biden was in Washington preparing to interview staff when he learned his wife Neilia and their young daughter Naomi had been killed in a car crash. Thankfully, his two sons, Beau and Hunter, who had also been in the accident, had survived. The incident was a devastating blow that plunged Biden into a depression. He understood firsthand how people could feel like ending their lives, but he knew he had no choice but to fight to stay alive for his sons. Biden didn’t believe he would be able to serve as senator, but his colleagues encouraged him to carry on. Ultimately, Biden felt he owed it to Neilia, who had worked so hard to help him get elected, to serve.

“Losing Neilia and Naomi had taken all the joy out of being a United States senator; it had taken all the joy out of life.” But Biden came to realize how lucky he was to work in a place where so many of his colleagues showed him small acts of kindness and would look out after him. There was far less partisanship back in those days and senators socialized more frequently and easily with members of the other party.

Biden tried to keep his despair at bay by keeping busy. Ultimately, however, he began to make peace with himself and God. He came to see the rage he had felt at his loss as an 'unbecoming form of egoism.' Bad things happen to people all the time, Biden realized, and it was time to get up and start living. "

Realized is a key word here. Before his realization, he had illusionized. This is a necessary step in making a soul. Biden had neither seen nor accepted the real world of soul-making which includes tragedy. His conception of reality had been an immature projection of his view of how life ought to be. The perceived reality of security, certainty and expected outcomes had to fade away. He had to fully experience the illusion of his old reality in order to move to the realization - the new reality.

I am not approaching this topic heartlessly or trivially. These deeply traumatic experiences of loss often bring thoughts of suicide, as Biden mentioned. Something in us cries out to die. But as James Hillman says in his book, Suicide and the Soul:

"A thorough crisis is a death experience; we cannot have the one without the other. From this we are led to conclude that the experience of death is requisite for psychic life. This implies that the suicidal crisis, because it is one of the ways of experiencing death, must also be considered necessary to the life of the soul…Without a dying to the world of the old order, there is no place for renewal…"

In other words, thoughts of physical suicide are not rare during such transitions through old realities into illusions, toward a new reality. The problem arises when a person mistakes the death of the external body for the death of the old internal psychic ego-self. Biden eventually awoke to see that the death he was craving was not the extermination of his physical body, but the death of his old reality. With lots of time, unimaginable agony, sleepless nights, a thousand rants at God, questions of 'what if', love from friends, and all of the normal and necessary birth pangs of soul-making, Senator Biden "came to see the rage he had felt at his loss as an 'unbecoming form of egoism.' Bad things happen to people all the time, Biden realized, and it was time to get up and start living."

Notice, he 'came to see.' In this phrase, we see the gradual emergence of the new reality. Biden's old reality of a picture-perfect family was illusionized in a car accident. Eventually, he discovered a new reality beyond the older one. Death was required, the death of the old reality. But we must remember that every reality, even the fresh new realities which emerge with supple wings from the chrysalis, will one day become a wormy illusion to make way for a newer reality and larger psychic self.

Soul-making requires disappointments, accidents and betrayals. Old realities will not become illusions containing the next reality without our 'appointments' and 'trusts' being broken. There is nothing in this world which guarantees an expected outcome. Earthly life, including all material forms and mental thoughts contain built-in obsolescence. They are innately made to dissolve and disappear.

This process of moving from illusionization to realization is retold every Easter as Jesus faces his crucifixion. He predicted that even his friends, family and followers would betray and deny him. He was not taken by surprise. People often seem puzzled when they read that Jesus predicted Judas' betrayal, Peter's denials, his arrest, trial and execution. Jesus understood the nature of life on earth. This is true positive thinking, seeing that life is rife with troubles and disappointments. The reason Jesus could go to the cross and forgive his enemies was that he knew he was primarily here to make a soul, not win friends and influence people.

Someone might read this and conclude that I am advocating some old Christian notion of forsaking wealth, health and sensual pleasure in this world. I am not. That is as much an error as saying we are here just to be healthy, wealthy and have sensual pleasure. Clearly, we are here to strive for whatever desires fill our hearts – to make money, find security, be healthy, enjoy friends and family, eat food and have sex, etc. However, these are the means to the end which is soul-making. Jesus knew that. He was accused of being a friend of drunks, went to a wedding, had an expensive seamless robe, healed people of all kinds of diseases and allowed a woman to anoint his feet with perfume that cost a years wages. He was no recluse or world hater. But he knew that every sensual moment was one blink away from dissolving into an illusion. Go live life large! Set huge goals, strive for success, marry your sweetheart, have children, become a senator – but don't forget that we are here to make souls. Never forget that a soul-making universe requires that our reality appointments be dissed (dis-appointment). Illusionization is the twin sister of Realization. Both are necessary in this world.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld, in his book Recovering Jesus, wrote, “THE GOSPEL ACCOUNTS were all written ‘on this side of Easter.’ That is to say, early followers of Jesus, including the authors of the Gospels, had the benefit of looking back on an event and seeing in it the working of God.”

This statement hit me in the face like a bucket of wet cement: ‘the benefit of looking back on an event and seeing in it the working of God.’ It is always easy to ‘get it’ when we look back. 20/20 hindsight does not do much good, however, when your hind end is in the midst of unimaginable crucifixion tragedy. Like Job we ask, “God? Where are you?”


Imagine the thoughts and feelings of Jesus’ family and disciples before the resurrection miracle took place. Most of us have experienced an excruciating (a word derived from crucifixion) loss, where a few seconds felt like hours or days, our sleepless minds were wracked with despair, our emotions a tornado of loneliness, fear, grief and confusion. The only thing that sustained Jesus’ followers, and us in such times, is fellowship and the development of faith.

Faith was not needed after the resurrection. Faith was needed when the cold, bloody, decomposing corpse of Jesus was pried from the cross and laid in a tomb. When we are in the midst of such tragedies, it is nearly impossible to see the ‘working of God’.

There are two beneficial approaches to a dilemma when unspeakable tragedy arrives:

1. An instantaneous, miraculous change of external circumstances.
2. An abiding trust that somehow the devastation makes sense beyond my current agony.


The point of the resurrection story is not to guarantee that a specific external solution will materialize three days after the disaster. The point of the story is to help suffering people see that we can tap into a psycho-spiritual reservoir of trust which exists in all of us. This trust or faith does not tell us HOW or WHEN the tragedy will end, but that there is a Power greater than ourselves somehow purposefully superintending the circumstances. Ancient Greek philosophers and Christian mystics used the word teleios which meant meaningful completion. The resurrection story gives no guarantee of a specific outcome at a certain time. There is, however, a guarantee of Divine Presence and some sort of completion {teleios}apart from any human understanding, strategizing or timing. To realize this kind of trust may take years, or lifetimes. Soul-making is not limited by time.


Some comedian once said, “If you lined up all of the positive thinkers in the world today, that would be a really good place to leave them.” What masquerades as positive thinking today is sometimes really just magical thinking and fearful denial which seeks to avoid or postpone developing real faith and surrender. Some so called positive preachers seem to be well meaning spiritual co-dependents who are addicted to fixing people’s pain by jacking them up with anecdotal success stories and rare vignettes of hope. I once heard a positive thinking preacher say, “I was once a pimple-faced loser, women hated me, I was broke and homeless – but when I applied (Success System X), my pimples went away, I became a successful millionaire, found my ideal wife and family and now own vacation homes around the world.” I have no reason to doubt his story, but it is not the way tragedy is transformed to faith.

These relative anecdotal prosperity stories may motivate in the short term, but they do not create abiding faith and in fact often leave the hearer more despondent when it doesn’t ‘work out’ for him the same way. Just because one man experiences the healing of his body, finances or love life does not mean that everyone will. This is not the primary meaning or significance of the resurrection story.


Real positive thinking and resurrection faith can be seen in the life of Viktor Frankl. In his mid thirties, Frankl was a successful doctor and a happily married man. One day he was arrested for being a Jew and taken to a series of Nazi concentration camp where he would spend four horrific years. He was stripped naked and his head was shaved. His wife and parents were executed and he suffered indescribable heartbreak. Frankl miraculously survived and went on to remarry, write best selling ‘self-help’ books, achieve financial success and international fame. But he never forgot that over 10 million people died in those concentration camps and that he could just as easily have been one of them. Frankl could not write an anecdotal self help book promising worldly abundance and wealth if you applied his secrets to success. He wrote to teach people the same three lessons found in the resurrection story:

1. Meaning may be found in and through every situation, especially tragedies.
2. Meaning is not dependent on physical conditions or outcomes, but on faith.
3. You vastly increase your opportunities for physical survival and material success if you find meaning and have faith in the times of abject tragedy, but this does NOT guarantee such an outcome.


In the Gospels, the resurrected Jesus did not marry the perfect woman, make a million dollars and become a successful author and speaker. He did not hang out on earth long enough to get on Oprah or Larry King. He did not hobnob with celebrities and presidents. He did not have a gorgeous summer home on the Mediterranean or take expensive vacations around the world. Neither he nor his early disciples made a single nickel off of his Secret to Resurrection Living. Jesus almost immediately ascended into Heaven. Let’s drop our western propensity to literalism and get the symbol in this ascension image. Partly it meant that the resurrection success solution is not primarily played out on the earth stage.

The story about Jesus’ post-resurrection ascension tells us that the ‘results’ of the resurrection miracle were primarily experienced in another Realm, the Realm of Soul rather than the physical world. This is true for most of us. It is in the Realm of Soul or Spirit that we see the real fruit of a life lived by faith. It is in the ascension, or in the invisible realm of soul that we will experience the real solutions to our earthly tragedies.


Of course we can and should affirm and intend to become materially successful, wealthy and healthy if that is our desire. We ought to learn spiritual principles and work hard to achieve our full potentials on this planet. We ought to write that best selling book, record that CD, find the ideal partner and raise a nice family – but the post-resurrection ascension story reminds us that God-Reality is much more concerned about the development of our character than our bank accounts. Most of us will live average lives on this planet, or maybe even below average. But resurrection faith, developed through difficulties, makes sense of the hackneyed metaphor which says, “Your reward is in heaven.” Take heart, even though you may not see it right now, God is ‘working’ in every event in your life.

Monday, March 10, 2008


"He who has lost his soul will be finding God anywhere, up above and down below, in here and out there, he will cling to every straw of love blown past his doorway as he stands waiting for a sign." ~James Hillman


Humankind has lost soul, at least the western world. I don’t mean soul in the Catholic sense – as some ethereal essence which comes wrapped in a body of sin to be released at death to reside in Heaven, Purgatory or Hell. I don’t mean soul in the materialist sense – as some neural site located in human brain.

I mean soul in a sense that has been so lost that we don’t even understand it when it is being described, let alone active in us each day. Soul is so lost that it may take a miracle or the end of western civilization to rediscover it. If there is an apocalypse of the conservative or liberal variety, it will be Soul forcing the human race to see its forms and necessity.

We are so devoid of soul that we don’t even recognize that it is missing. We have substituted matter and spirit for soul, and neither of those works. Matter works well for the material part of us, and spirit fills the spiritual part of us, but neither fills the role or work of soul. Modern medicine offers us an array of pharmaceuticals and statistical manuals, and modern religion offers us an array of old and new gods and goddesses. That is why James Hillman says, “He who has lost his soul will be finding God anywhere, up above and down below, in here and out there, he will cling to every straw of love blown past his doorway as he stands waiting for a sign.”

To rediscover soul is to rediscover our darkness and depths. Soul is what leads us into the unavoidable void, tricks us into conflict, startles us through unplanned infatuations, snares us by resentments, haunts us by unsolicited thoughts of illness and death, sweeps over us with irrational jealousies, and surprises us by a hundred forms of fear, anxiety and self obsession.

Soul most often shows up when life is good and clam, whispering that something is missing or quietly asking ‘what if?’ Souls causes us to wonder and wander down paths into fantasies which sometimes shock us. Soul shows up in what we call symptoms, problems and other annoying irritants which get in the way of ‘living’. These irritants of soul remind us of Gandalf’s request to Bilbo Baggins to accompany him on an adventure. Bilbo replied, “Adventure? Nasty, uncomfortable things, make you late for dinner.” Soul makes us late for dinner, and almost every other appointment we think life owes us. A major role of soul is to disrupt, annoy, confuse and bring dis-ease. This notion of soul is antithetical to the whole western attitude toward existence which seeks to create a life free of all problems and deny suffering. Like the aggravating grain of sand in the oyster, soul inserts itself into the shell of our everyday lives in order to make pearls.

If oysters were modern Americans, and could write diagnostic manuals to assess abnormal psychological conditions for all of oyster-kind, I am sure you’d find P.T.S.I.D. listed on page one, Post Traumatic Sand Irritant Disorder. Never mind the damn pearls, oyster life would be better without the particle of sand. Similarly, we humans are largely ignorant of the necessary and normal grains of sand which will inevitably show up in our little shells called human existence. No matter how hard we try, soul will never cease doing what it does. Humans are here to make pearls, soul is here to bring the irritants.


Many have mistaken eternal soul for our thoughts and emotions. Soul is neither human thinking nor human feelings. Soul does incarnate in human thoughts and feelings, but it is neither of these. Soul existed before there were human bodies with brains and nerve endings - and soul will continue to exist long after the human species is extinct. Soul does not depend on human organs or emotions. A smile may incarnate on human lips, but that does not mean Joy depends on human lips for its existence. What we call ‘thoughts’ and ‘emotions’ are archetypal energy patterns that show up in many forms, thoughts and feelings being only a finite manifestation which we have turned into soul. One might as well exalt the Mona Lisa over Leonadro da Vinci. The form is not the source. The reason humans have turned soul into thoughts and feelings is to give us the illusion that we can control it. If I am the source of all my ideas and emotions, then I can control them. But I am not the source.


Soul cannot be controlled, but it can sometimes be placated as long as it is recognized and heeded. As long as I think I am controlling ‘my’ thoughts and feelings, I will continue to be estranged from soul. Soul will not disappear. Soul will always master my thoughts and feelings until it is done with me. Soul will not be overcome by human programs to make life free of suffering. These programs can be extremely beneficial, but they will never trump soul. We should not ignore or acquiesce to suffering, but our best programs and pharmaceuticals will never end painful thoughts and feelings. Suffering is soul expanding human consciousness – perhaps we can use the metaphor of psychological growing pains. When we solve a particular kind of suffering, something else will replace it. Suffering, like bacteria, will always morph into new forms in order to move humans into deeper experiences of soul. Soul operates the same way in the animated material Cosmos, as a tumbling universe of tumultuous galaxies and swirling debris fields forming elaborate designs and subsequently disassembling into chaos. Recognition of this cosmic and psychic phenomenon provides an ironic relief of some sort to the turbulent nature of reality.

We are enamored by modern physical science just as our forefathers were enamored by metaphysical spirit. Quantum physics is all the rage, being used even by spiritual teachers everywhere to ‘reveal the true nature of the universe,’ or to demonstrate that their New Age deities have superseded the old traditional religious gods. We have tried to turn science into religion, buying into the fantasy that science is better than religion. Science and religion, and religious science, all serve a function – but none of them is soul. The old age and new age have both neglected soul – focusing instead on spiritual or physical wholeness as the aim of existence. The old priests believed they could save our spirits, the new priests believe they can save the globe. Neither seems to recognize that these temporal vessels are just that, temporal vessels for soul making.

This may come as a shock to the religious conservatives and secular liberals, but nothing around us will be saved – prolonged possibly, but never saved. Soul is using these vessels.
Soul is in our symptoms and pathologies, in our irritations and insanities, in our addictions and dysfunctions – in the nuisances we are trying to solve and get rid of with medicinal physics and metaphysical spirit. Neither allopathic nor homeopathic medicines will stop the affects of soul. Soul will assail us no matter what we try to avoid it. These daily irritants which we dismiss with labels like fear, projection, dysfunction, death, disease, problems, etc. will never go away.

Books and seminars proliferate promising to solve our myriad problems, never stopping to look at these problems as the critical and wondrous vehicles of soul. Psyche is the ignored invisible realm in our culture. Soul has been relegated to some spiritual substance which gets released at death if you are a good Christian, or transmigrates back into another physical body to work out that horrible old karma accrued from our bad and selfish past deeds. Soul is neither spirit nor matter in any form.

People are frantic to get rid of their problems through spiritual and material solutions, frantic to relieve stress and banish all painful thoughts and feelings – and I understand it completely. Part of being human is to avoid pain and pursue pleasure. The tragic irony is that without the awareness of the role of soul, no matter what programs we use to relieve pain, the pain will not go away. Soul will not be pushed aside. If I use alcohol or enroll in meditation school, I may experience some temporary relief from my painful thoughts and feelings, but what I have really done is sublimate soul’s work. The symptoms may disappear for a time, but they will resurface, usually even more severe. Roiling molten lava can be held under the surface for only so long.

The AIDs virus is soul telling us we will never develop an ‘immune system’ at the physical or spiritual levels to fight off psychological disease. The depression and suicide epidemics reveal soul shouting to pay attention! The proliferation of eye and hearing problems in our culture are directly related to our inability to see and hear soul. Soul’s work will not be eradicated no matter how clever we get with our spiritual and so called psychological solutions. I constantly hear New Age adherents talking about the illusions of fear, or saying that Fear is false evidence appearing real (FEAR). Fear is no more an illusion than love or peace. For the human to think he can banish death, fear, resentment, illness and other unpleasant experiences to the metaphysical category of illusion is the puny ego trying to build a modern tower of Babel to reach and control the gods. We will always fail and be scattered like a ripped bag of marbles. Often, those who cry most loudly against the illusion of fear enter into the most palpable experiences of fear to see that it is no illusion, but a symptom of soul utilized to bring deeper awareness.

Some will hear me saying that we should not try to overcome pain, but that is not the point. I am saying that pain is most easily overcome when we see the normalcy and necessity of suffering. Just monitor your own life and watch soul. You will notice that when you have gotten a handle on one problem, two more pop up like the Hydra-headed serpent of Hercules. And often, the old problem which we thought we had ‘overcome’ returns twice as ugly.

There appear to be two really beneficial ways of approaching soul suffering:

1. First, we must realize that the problem or symptom will run its course, taking us as far into the rabbit hole as we need to go, and will not let go of us until it is done with us. In this case, yes, we are victims of soul. As hard as it may seem for modern Americans to see, we are not the ultimate masters of the universe. I do not completely create my reality. I may have some say in my response to what soul brings to me, but I do not control soul. We are the block of unformed marble at the mercy of the sculptor. This option does not bode well for those of us who have been taught that we create our own reality. Soul will have its way with us. Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl realized this as his new wife was wrenched from his arms and marched off to a Nazi death camp. Frankl waited in a line of Jewish males to be stripped of his jewelry, wallet, briefcase filled with important papers, clothing, eventuating in a shaved head and eyebrows. Lastly, he received his new identity, a number tattooed into his arm. Naked, branded, humiliated, socially and personally bankrupt, Frankl had a flash of insight that – that in order to survive, his old life had to be completely forgotten. He was now entering into a new way of living and was at the mercy of his captors. If he clung to the past and dwelt on what once was, he would lie down and die and as so many others would eventually do. To survive, he would submit to the necessity of the horrific ordeal. Soul would have its way.

I know that this approach flies in the face of our American positive thinking and can-do optimism, but it is the only solution to such situations. Let me emphasize: IF YOU CAN CHANGE THE SITUATION, FOR GODSAKE CHANGE IT! I am speaking here of those situations in life which keep bringing the same symptoms back again and again. Most of us continue to encounter the same kinds of jobs, friends and partners because soul has work to do through them. No matter what we try to do to solve this, these people and situations will arise again and again until the ‘awareness’ occurs. Once the awareness occurs, we may kick ourselves at how simple the lesson was and how we should have learned it years ago – but we didn’t. Soul does not relent.

2. The second approach is to learn to shut up, quit fighting and to listen to soul. Every addict is likely sitting face to face with soul and not stopping to listen, or even realizing that there is that option. Soul comes disguised as heroin, alcohol, Vicodin, work, food or relationships. Soul begins by whispering to us through some substance, and then shouting as the substance becomes a symptom and ends up killing us as the unheeded symptom becomes lethal. We will listen or die. Soul is not concerned about the mortal body or about social prestige or morality. Instead of listening, we often fight, hate, work against, seek solutions, ask for God to deliver us and live in anguish over our ‘unfortunate’ dilemma. We do not realize that what Jesus said to Simon Peter was soulfully insightful, “Simon, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat that you may return and be of help to the brethren.” This metaphor, Satan, is soul coming as a hellish onslaught into the routine of daily life to sift the chaff away in order to make a larger soul. To honor soul is to set the rational mind aside and simply ask, “What are you telling me?” To honor soul is to quit staring into the pond of narcicisstic feelings and ask, “What is the new myth?”

That is why Freud called his therapy a ‘talking cure’. Freud was recovering what many ancient cultures knew and we moderns lost, namely that soul has a voice and wants to make us conscious of deeply creative psychic material. The Hebrew prophets did this in their writings, but we moderns have negated the therapeutic value of soul-expression by calling it prophecy and raising it to the level of revelation from a God. When soul is turned into spirit, it ceases to be a source of consciousness raising metaphor and becomes a set of dogmatic laws to be believed. Jung called this approach ‘active listening,’ watching hundreds of clients experience psychic shifts by paying attention to soul speaking through the symptoms.


This essay has been about the modern neglect of soul. This soul-focus does not negate the orderly, beautiful, wholistic nature of Spirit. Spirit is what many call ‘God the Good’. Spirit calls us to health, abundance, life, hope, happiness, success, victory, peace and bliss. Spirit works in conjunction with soul as we live in a material body and world. Body, soul and spirit all work together to make the complete Human.

I include this little concluding caveat because our monotheistic culture is plagued with mono-vision. We are monogamists and monopolists. Duality drives us a little nuts and we have to integrate everything - seeking the number one football team, the number one candidate, the number one beauty contestant, the unifying principle in physics, the top song or movie of the year, etc. We usually feel there is only one interior power. We usually conflate soul into spirit because we see only one side to the interior life and it must be spiritual. Consequently we turn soul into an empirical science and label it Cognitive psychology, Behavioral psychology or handily place the psyche into some other medical category.

The Renaissance writers often called themselves spiritual monotheists and psychological polytheists, recognizing the diverse roles of soul and spirit in the complexity of the so called interior life. Making a full human includes soul and spirit, pathologies and salvations. The Roman Catholics called it the Via Negativa and the Via Positiva; the Chinese call it the Yin/Yang; the Hindu’s call it Brhama the Creator and Shiva the Destroyer.

Some will read this essay and think that I am saying life ought to be painful and problematic. I am NOT saying that it SHOULD. I am saying that it IS. I don’t care who you are or how enlightened you may be, soul will knock on your door and introduce another symptom of insanity when you least expect it. It is normal. In fact, if this essay has troubled you at all, look behind you right now - you just may see Psyche disappearing out the door with a little grin on her face.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Function of Dysfunction


The universe into which we are born is intentionally unfinished and 'dysfunctional'. That means that dysfunction has a function. Self centered survival instincts like defensiveness, rationalization, fear, greed, war and jealousy are part and parcel of the normal human condition. It is from this base which we get to develop souls and grow character, just as a kindergartener begins her learning with math and reading problems. She has to learn the times tables and alphabet. Misspelling words and getting math sums wrong are normal and necessary for the learner. The infant must stumble before he can walk and stutter before he can talk. As one learns, awareness, choices and responsibilities increase with regard to geometry and literacy. One is enabled to take the newly acquired knowledge and choose to do harm or good.

Soul too must grow. We are always developing, whether we are conscious of it or not. We are learning the soul’s alphabet and math equations, how to spell and how to do sums. It is the purpose of existence. Humans are born with innate soul potential; internal categories or archetypal seed pods which are capable of being cultivated by the water of time, through failure, under the sunshine of Spirit and the fertilizer of life struggles. Life is a kind of kindergarten. Teachers come along every second of the day in the form of internal thoughts and feelings, and external people and situations. Often these teachers are seriously ‘dysfunctional,’ or our responses are less than ideal. Being conscious that this is the nature of life makes it much less painful and easier to care for the soul.

We often speak of being raised, or ruined, by a dysfunctional family. All parents did what their spiritual development allowed them to do at the time. Each of us, no matter what our chronological age, is a kindergartener of sorts. I believe that the Universe is a school of soul-making which includes dysfunction and what we have labeled abnormal behaviors. This means that the insanities of my parents, their parents, the parents of their parents and as far back as theologians or geneticists can conjecture or trace DNA, are part of the 'way it is'. Why can we accept the insane chaos and collisions throughout the physical universe as being cosmically beautiful and normal, and then turn around and call our own psychic relational collisions and life chaos abnormal and wrong? Is it because we want someone to blame in this school of soul-making? Is this the psychological equivalent of 'the dog ate my homework'?


My parents functioned at the level to which their souls had advanced when I was born and growing up with them. Since I have become an adult, I have watched them continue to grow up – to observe their souls becoming richer and deeper. A few years ago, I watched my mother die a slow, soulful death as she withered away from colon cancer. One day, with tumors filling her abdomen, she said to me, "Mike, I look back at the way we raised you kids and I am so sorry. We were obsessed with success, work and being successful. If I could go back I would…".

I don't remember all that she said at that point. I do recall seeing the kind of reflective regret that only adversity and imminent death can bring. I saw and felt her remorse and sadness coming from tearful eyes and trembling lips. I now know that I was not looking at a dysfunctional parent, but at a beautiful soul blossoming through the life she had lived, and was about to finish.


It is possible to live in the tension or paradox of seeing the world perfectly imperfect, and to hold conscious human beings accountable for their actions, words and attitudes. The Chinese Tao Te Ching says that 'before one can become perfect, he must be imperfect.' Jesus said the same thing, "The first shall be last and the last shall be first."