Bright and deep magic here. This beautiful word carries the energy of an essential element of our being that has become mostly homeless in these strange modern times. It is a word that names that which I cherish as precious and holy, that which is the solace, ground, and guidance in the terrain of all my days. For many, this word and the current of reality that it speaks is a foreign place, if they are aware of it all. Or perhaps a concept over which to fret about judgement, damnation, and salvation when under the spell of priests and old books written by white men with sick agendas. Rarely is it seen as what it is: mysterious, deeply powerful, and fundamental in the nature of creation and existing. So I want to explore this together a bit. Join me?
Societies success is predicated on the dumbing down and disconnecting – from absolutely everything except addiction and consumerism – of individuals and groups so as to render them powerless, confused, distracted, afraid, and easy to control. It is a soulless endeavor by design and necessity, and it is effective. To embody soul, then, is an insurrectionary act of resistance, and liberation. It is a life-saving and life-giving act of the greatest and most urgent importance. It is the foundation of the resilience to claim our power and walk through the experiences and transitions that we face as individuals and a collective life in the universe and the world right now. When we contact soul, we stand on our own hallowed ground. When we live soul, we are Creation embodied.
This is not exaggeration.
So what is soul? And how does one embody it? What is it not, and how does one discern?
What is soul is a hard question to move with. It’s a western-mind question, a tiny arrow pointed at the stars. Let’s stretch beyond the reductionist question-answer mind and into the realm of beholding. This is a more conducive relationship to have with the exploration, because soul is not a point in the matrix of existence that can be grasped between the fingers. To behold it, there needs to be an opening within the being and the mind: not up and out, but down and in. Not to the sky, but to the soil. Not to the light, but to the darkness, that oft maligned and misunderstood energy. To the inner world, otherworld, and underworld. So here we begin: soul is not a thing, soul is an essential creative force, and we contact it through feeling. Experience as well, but not bright and fast experience, not modern society super-stimulus experience. Slow, dark, quiet experience.
Imagine this: you are in a forest in the dark. Night breathes and rustles all around you. The humming of insects is a song deep and vibrant in your body, the touch of the breeze a caress over your whole being. The shaggy outlines of silhouetted trees form a frame around the star-laden sky vaulting overhead. All your senses are alert, your whole being is humming with the life of the night. Your whole being listens, letting the richness of this darkness soak you all the way through. You are utterly, deeply, alive. And in this aliveness, in this softening out of the totalitarianism of the mind and the stark severity of daylight, you are opening into deep contact and conversation with the vitality of Life all around you. You start to deepen into wisdom and eros through communion with your own unhurried nature, and the more than human world on its own terms.
This is soul territory.
I can hear folks now – “The woods in the dark? Fuck that.” And for some, it’s true, it may never be the right thing. Heavy programming against the fullness of life there. But hear this now: the woods in the dark are glorious, their otherness an embodiment of territory that exists within us all but that is, for most, denied, ignored, or exiled to our great misfortune. This is not the only place that soul lives, either. It is, however, so much of how soul feels. Soul doesn’t refuse light or day or mind, it is not adversarial to those frequently beautiful things: it is there in all those things, should we allow it, and it’s also something different. It’s the rest of our experience, the one that society surgically removes so that we will be more manageable cogs in the machine. That exquisite different place and way is what I’m inviting you into here, through the simple and holy portal of feeling. The feeling of breathing in concert with life, alive in all your senses and deeply rooted into the earth of which you are a part and into the sacred ground of your being. Feeling. We could speak of soul all day and night and we wouldn’t be touching it in any meaningful way. Soul is the essence and foundation of our being. It’s the beat in our hearts, the light in our eyes, the sound of our voice, and how we touch life with our lives. It is cosmic, but not bright-star cosmic, it’s dark space cosmic. It’s the field as well as the dancer within it. And feeling is our way into communion with it.
Soul can only be experienced, and to dive in and embody it in a world that is savage and hostile to its depth and power is an act of extraordinary passion and bravery. If any risk is worth taking, this is the one.
Risk? There are a few things that make the embodiment of soul risky. The first is that when one embodies the soul, one ceases to be an automaton. One becomes fundamentally unruly because one will deepen and become rich in the truth of the essential nature of being, thereby becoming sovereign in the most sacred and magnificent way. To root oneself in Soul is to become radiant with the light and shadow that creation itself is woven of. It is ultimately empowering. This is threatening to the status quo in our personal lives and in the broader world around us. Our friends, family, lovers, co-workers, anyone around us may become an Agent Smith in that moment and try to wrestle us down into the accepted mold so that their world is not disrupted by the awakening and expanding of our own, or just distance themselves from the strange challenge of it. Many will support us in it as well, and be inspired to move towards their own soul because of our journey! This is glorious when it happens. But it needs to be known that it can be awkward, alienating, and difficult. There is a cost. This is what I mean when I say that to embody soul is an insurrectionary act: one becomes radiant with the power of creation, and that is a light whose illumination is a rendering sword of truth as well as a healing balm. The consequences are unpredictable in both their beauty and their difficulty.
Another risk inherent in the embodiment of soul is that soul and grief are inextricably interwoven. They are strands in the same braid: grief, joy, and soul. The plait of being. Grief is frequently conflated with despair, and people are often terrified of it and violently resistant to it, but grief and despair are not the same thing. Grief is a fertile and life-giving force, one of the many dances of love. It has enormous gravity and enormous consequence, and is utterly gorgeous. Music and poetry pour out of it: life shimmers with a dark radiance when we are in its sacred territory. Despair is bleak and toneless, powerless and miserable. It has passed any possibility of beauty and sunk into stagnation. Both of them hurt, but one fills the well of the heart through the spring of the soul, and the other empties and dries, leaving only sour poverty in its wake.
Grieving is a holy act. If we allow ourselves to experience love all the way on its course from headwaters to the sea, we inevitably encounter loss and the grief that attends it. If we lean in to the grief, if we let the loss soak us to the bone, we enter into a holy alchemy wherein life can sculpt the light of our Being into a greater radiance. And yes: it hurts. It can feel unbearable. But it’s not unbearable. It takes subtlety and sophistication to be with it in a life-giving way, and if we can do that, we are rewarded with an experience of living profoundly deep and rich beyond comparison. We have to walk into it in a state of empowered surrender, and that skill takes time to develop. In empowered surrender, we choose to stay with the wound and pain of the loss, choose to sit up straight and embrace what arises there with love and patience and a clear eye, we choose to deeply behold and be affected by it. Simultaneously we surrender to the magnitude, the mystery, and the wisdom of what is emergent in that space and let ourselves be cooked and grown by it. We let ourselves be affected by life in all its fullness. And we call in our allies to stand beside us as we do it. We are meant to make the walk, but we are not meant to walk alone. To grieve is an initiation into a new order of the self.
Grieving is a holy act.
Then there’s this too: to awaken and embody soul is a warriors path because the first encounter on the path is with the truth of oneself. That can be some rugged shit.
When we come into direct contact with ourselves, we see the savagery and wonder of creation and the world right there within ourselves, and that can be terrifying. It’s rarely comforting to meet oneself utterly naked, especially since the meeting is so frequently abrupt and severe. The ugly buckles us over with shame and disgust and the glory overwhelms us in myriad ways. We recoil from one and grasp after the other, wringing our hands about both in exasperation and embarrassment without realizing that absolutely everyone has the same stuff going on. It’s quite a bind. And when we meet that material, the only way through it is through it. There is no going around it once it has arisen, nor will it be negotiated away. Once it has arisen, it will not recede, and it is there to be embraced, known, and integrated whether that’s what we want to do or not. It’s just there, the reality of who we are. What we encounter is what we’re actually woven of. That’s what we get to love, be with, refine, enrich, embody, and offer in this life. It is beautiful, utterly exquisite and singular in all of creation, and it is also challenging, stupefying, and shot through with pain that one may not know how to deal with or be with in a life-giving way.
This is a challenge that is worthwhile.
There are options, of course. Society is made of the option to flee in place. Society offers opportunities to escape the self, others, life, and the moment without ever moving an inch through a huge array of systemically integrated distractions and socially sanctioned addictions (hello social media and the bar). What is known but not deeply understood is that this constant escaping is wounding to the whole being. People get that it’s not good, but they don’t fully grasp how violent to life it actually is. It traps us in a constant state of agitated exile, locks us into childish and ludicrous behaviors, and retards the magnificence of our essential nature. It wastes our LIVES, our miraculous, one-shot-ever opportunity of being who we are right now, just for now. You are the only you there will ever be, you have an important piece of the puzzle to make manifest through your life, and society is designed to deny the fulfillment of that miracle. It’s an extraordinarily violent situation to be in.
I’m not exaggerating here.
The souls imperative is to engage and actualize itself. It has a deep radiance to manifest in the world and that’s all it wants to do, no matter what it takes. So to check out, to distract, deny, numb, and avoid is to deliver crushing wounds to our own greatest possibility in the course of our days, and it happens on a regular basis, as far as I’m seeing.
This is the pain that is not worthwhile.
So what do we do? How do we do this work of embodying the soul?
We go down and in with everything. Not in a narcissistic way that wallows in pain and twists the knife and calls it “deep work”, but in a deeply curious, loving, powerful, and humble way that hunts for the wisdom and the ecstasy in every experience so as to emerge with the gift. We have to get the gift, you see? Not for ourselves, but for Life. This is crucial, this is among souls deepest agendas. It’s not about the self anymore, it’s about what we can harvest from the beauty and pain of our lives to craft into a gift for the life of the world beyond us. Life has to become about legacy at some point. It has to move from the realm of self-interest into the realm of devotion to beauty, because beauty is everyone’s nourishment. Legacy is one of souls deepest concerns.
To embody soul is utterly beautiful. It’s a beauty that makes you weep with a broken hearted adoration for the magnificence of life and laugh out loud as you finally, truly SEE the flocks of birds whirling and diving overhead and the thick cords of rough bark on the trees around you. Truly, there is no greater beauty than to embody the soul in service to life and the world.
So it comes so clearly to this: we let ourselves be touched. By all that is beautiful and all that is horrible in ourselves, the world, and life, we let ourselves be affected. We let the darkness in. We let the light in. We send down deep roots to receive and integrate the influx of both before we unfurl magnificently to pour forth that life giving beauty. We stay present with what is, especially when it hurts and we want to flee. We stay grounded, we move slowly. We listen. We listen to the more-than-human world, and let that affect us completely. We deepen.
This is soul territory. It’s a way of being, and the root of our true nature. We meet it in how we feel life and touch life. How we live in the fleeting gift of the self, how we enrich the world with the unique medicine that we are as an individual in the life of the world. It’s the beat in our hearts and the light in our eyes, the sound of our voice and the love that binds us to all to which we are devoted in this life. It’s not to be explained, only to be illuminated, praised, and then experienced. Don’t wait too long. Your soul is what matters. Don’t make it come after you. Turn towards it and truly live.
I’m by your side: lean in.