The Role of the Soul

(Have no clue what happened to the web site logo!)

As our unfolding continues on through the mystery, clues keep arriving to help orient to wholeness and facilitate the emergence of the next levels of consciousness necessary to help navigate our historical moment. Through a very typical Ojai convergence, I have just come across the work of Bill Plotkin, author of ‘Soul Craft” , “Nature and the Soul”, and his most recent book, “Wild Mind”.  As a fellow soul traveler with strong links to Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme, Bill’s unique perspective strongly resonates with me and I hope you can find great inspiration from his vision as well

As a psychotherapist, Bill has a deep curiosity about mind, conscious, sub-conscious and unconscious, and has a great vocabulary to help map and flesh out the psychic and hopimedicinewheelpsychological terrain we are all exploring. He is familiar with Internal Family Systems and Voice Dialogue, and has developed his own model and language for the mature and immature parts, based in part on the Native American ‘medicine wheel’ and the four cardinal directions, north, east, south and west, as seen here. Bill also adds in Greek mythology, Jungian psychology, archetypal imagery, and more, but also allows you to find metaphors and language that speak to your own unique self.

From the four cardinal directions, which we can imagine as a horizontal plane, we add three more directions: above, or towards the heavens and celestial realms, which we call Unknown‘Spirit’; below, down into the earth and the heart of mother nature which we call ‘Soul’; and finally into the center of all, which I call the ‘Ego’. We all begin at the center and maturing brings an integration of all seven directions, which I call the ‘Self’. Integration does not imply that every aspect and possibility has matured and completed its unfolding. Just that all seven directions are included in our basic ‘self sense’, and some maturity has begun to deepen the way in which the seven nurture and support each other in their emergence and deepening maturity. Wholeness is our natural state, but we forget, and the ego begins to act from the parts and sub-personalities that are cut off from the others. In “Wild Mind”, Bill goes into great depth about the seven directions and I highly recommend this to you.

***(an important note on language; words are, as the Buddhists say, are fingers pointing at something, but definitely not the object or experience they are pointing to. Spirit and Soul are words pointing to the same experience as the Sanskrit terms Purusha (timelessness, unboundedness, stillness: the masculine expression of divinity) and Prakriti (creation, mother Nature, impermanence, the feminine expression of Divinity. Bill and I agree in this, whereas Adyashanti reverses the words, using Spirit for the feminine and Soul for the masculine. But then Bill Plotkin uses Ego and Self opposite to the way I do. He uses the expression 3-D Ego to describe what I call the Self. He has a more Western based perspective, myself more Eastern. But the principles are exactly the same.)

Bill’s other passion is wilderness and uses wilderness expeditions for vision quests, soul IMG_0405searching, and other means to break out of the shell of a ‘civilized’ ego. Our self sense has become so limited, stunted and deformed by modern society that we have developed a major cultural psycho-pathology that is destroying the planet. Wilderness experience, going one on one, alone with nature, with some guidance, allows a major shift that can open repressed skills and means of knowing that are essential to our growth and survival, as individuals, and as a species.

As somanauts, our encounter with nature can also be an inner voyage to the cells, organs, meridians, nadis, energy channels and fields that comprise our bio-spiritually embodied selves. This is level one soul work. The role of the soul is to help us fully embody our divinity, inwardly and outwardly. In yoga, we explore the seven directions spatially, through movement, imagination and perception, in postures, to shift consciousness from the everyday routine to a communion state with the soul. We become one with earth, water, fire and air, we feel their gifts, their presence, their power, so when we are out in nature, we already are deeply connected through the elements. The deeper dimensions of the soul can then begin to reveal themselves as we meet the birds, bees, flowers and trees, oceans, waves, winds and rain as dimensions of our own deep soul. We no longer observe nature from a distance, but dissolve into the mystery of the unfolding moment. The soul is not about control, but surrender into Creation at the most primary level.

Grad student homework: (This may take a while, or it may come quickly!)

Find your own chakra totem, one animal/plant being for each chakra, one through seven. Find the gift/feel/flow of each of these and how they relate to the other six. You may find only one to begin, but this can be a very rich exploration in and of itself. This is a soul meditation. These are some possible starting points. You may find others as well. Good DSC09300luck!

Who is my root support?
Who awakens my feeling of flow?
Who empowers me?Who offers my heart roots and wings?
Who liberates my voice?
Who helps me see all?
Who is my primary celestial guide?

Take what arises onto the mat, and out into Nature and the world around you. Be open to surprise.

‘Soul’stice Greetings

The Journey      by Mary Oliver

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 felt their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
though the sheets of clouds,
and their 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.

Solstice: from the Latin ‘sol‘ for sun and sistere, ‘to stand still’: “when the sun stands still”. The ancient observers of the heavenly bodies recognized that the points on the horizon where the sun rises and where the sun sets oscillate from north to south and back again. Two times a year, the sun stops to change directions. The day of the northern most point is known as the summer solstice, the day where the sun stops at southern most point is the winter solstice.

Soul: from the Old English ‘sawol‘, the Gothic ‘saiwal’, and the Old German ‘seula’, meaning the intrinsic animating life force in living beings extending beyond the physical plane.

Soulstice: Stopping to listen to your soul. Finding stillness and darkness where that ‘new voice’ begins to be heard, and allowing it to take you ‘deeper and deeper into the world’, where you meet life, face to face, in its rawness and unbridled intensity, in its compassion and sensitivity, in its unconditional love; where you meet your Self.

The soul is not your personality, your thoughts or ideas, although these may be shaped by the soul. The soul is not subject to logic, reason and order, although it and of itself has no problems with those. The soul cannot be controlled as it is wild and untamable. It demands freedom, loves darkness and stillness, and speaks of unimaginable layers and levels of connections and creativity. It is unencumbered by time.

The soul is ignored in the modern world of consumerism, greed, shallow self-centeredness, fear and anxiety. Most modern religions, east and west, are so into controlling the behavior of their followers, that the soul terrifies them, and they do all they can to demonize it. Most of the modern political structures are so bereft of soul as to be not only useless, but dangerous to the world. Same with the corporate structures.

But!  But but but!  The time of the Soul has come. The human soul, the planetary soul, the cosmic soul is awakening. There is no turning back. Find the stillness and rest there. Tada drshtuh svarupe avasthanam. Heed that inner voice, the voice that you ‘recognize as your own’. Not the other voices around you ‘shouting their bad advice’. Be willing to be lost, confused, melancholy. Find your spirit guides, your animist helpers, your higher selves, and ‘stride deeper and deeper into the world, from atom to galaxy and beyond, all right here and now, in this sacred space, in this sacred moment.

Blessings to you all on this special day.

“The Journey” was originally published in Mary Oliver’s book “Dream Works”.
Much thanks to poet and soul guardian David Whyte for bring this poem to my attention.

Re-Birthing Yourself

Every morning (unless you are a night-owl), you awaken to a new day and a new set of possibilities to unfold. As we look more deeply into the nature of reality, we begin to see that not just every day, but every breath offers the same opportunity to give birth to something new. In our work with pranayama over the previous few blog posts, we have discovered that breathing, when relaxed, arises from, and dissolves back into Stillness. Thus breathing is a major factor in our ability to ‘realize’ that the limitless mystery that is Stillness (or Silence, Buddha Nature, Purusha, Atman, etc) is the source of all that arises moment to moment. We are developing a proficiency in staying grounded in Stillness. Keep it going!

But what are the factors that shape what arises? How can we overcome habituated responses to life that drain our energy? How can our own unique creativity participate in the moment to moment unfolding? Lets look at some of the layers available to our investigation.

  1. The Cosmic Fields: 13.7 billion or so years ago, the manifest universe emerged into being guided by what we may call the laws of physics. Energy, particles, atoms, stars and galaxies burst into being and variations of these continue to be self emerging and self sustaining. The sun, moon, planets and stars continually move around, but we can guarantee they will be here moment to moment.
  2. Our Geological Fields: Mother Earth emerged into being some 4.5 billion or so years ago and continues to re-birth herself moment to moment through her movements, weather patterns, geological upheavals and water flow. If you have chosen to be here, Mother Earth will appear moment to moment in your reality.
  3. Our Biosphere: The 8.7 million living species currently on the planet re-birth themselves moment to moment. Individual members die off and new ones emerge, species die off and new ones emerge, in an extraordinary dance. Where ever you go, the biosphere will be with you moment to moment, including you own living body which includes 30 trillion cells that have your DNA, and 300 trillion more bacterial cells which have their own DNA. Moment to moment there is a lot going on!
  4. The Noosphere: A term coined by Teilhard de Chardin, noospere refers to the energetic fields generated by human thought and carried through culture in various forms. Science and religion are just two of the more obvious aspects, but educational, judicial, political, and artistic and many other social systems are also included. Every moment we awaken to the collective field the humans give birth to through their thought driven behavior.
  5. Our own inner world: You wake up and your ideas, beliefs, memories, habits and patterns of emotional energy, likes, dislikes, plans and schemes are all there re-emerging, or lying latent for the right input to activate them. Habits are a two edged sword, as they can liberate the intelligence to look into more complex processes, but they can also keep you unconscious. This is the level where we can choose to give birth to something new, if we are awake, paying attention, and resting in the Stillness. The Upanishads offer some insight on some of the structures and possibilities available to us to help in our transformation.

A yogi’s model of reality, from the Taittiriya Upanishad:

We are are composed of 3 bodies, further divided into five nested sheaths or layers known as koshas. These extend inward from gross to subtle. All emerge from the Luminous Emptiness of Stillness. What is false dissolves into emptiness, (shunyata). what is real, the ground of all that arises, remains as light or luminosity.

The Gross Body (Sthula Sharira) has one sheath:
the Anamaya kosha: the body of food. We have weight and mass, as does all the matter in the universe. We study anatomy to make sense of how our structures interact. The known universe has a gross body we all share. Realizing that the whole universe is my body is an awakening that can arise in any and every moment. Feel this! Nurture this!

The Subtle Body (Sukshma Sharira) has three sheaths:
Pranamaya Kosha: the body of energy: we are also energetic beings, bubbling over with electrical, thermal and kinetic energies that are gifts from the dynamic energies of sun, moon, stars and galaxies. We embody this individually in our physiology, or the 5 pranas. Live well, stay healthy, give birth to health moment to moment.
Manomaya Kosha: the body of mental activity, including perception, memory and learned behavior patterns, and our personality structures. The universe is also imbued with perception and memory. Healthy use of this realm greatly eases our lives and deepens our capacity to dive into the unseen psychic/shamanic realms. Unhealthy use locks us into inflexible beliefs and patterns of behavior that perpetuate suffering through the generations through the Attachment process and other social and cultural fields. Healing comes from awakening the next level and integrating:
Vijnanamaya Kosha: the body of intelligence, also known as Buddhi. We can discern and discriminate. We can imagine. We can choose to change our actions, if we stay present, patient and alert. These conscious changes come from Stillness. But habits can carry on unconsciously and imagination can lock onto pathology. The intelligence is greatly nurtured when in can be integrated with the next level:

The Causal Body or Karana Sharira,  has one sheath, the Anandamaya Kosha,  the body of ecstasy or bliss. Here is Divine Revelation as the intelligence finally dissolves into wholeness and every atom and molecule, every form and pattern sings and dances in a Cosmic symphony that is ecstatic. We miss this because we are distracted by the confusion and delusion generated in the other layers when they are less than conscious.

As the anandamaya kosha awakens, the cosmic fields of the anamaya and pranamaya koshas are felt by the enhanced perception of the manomaya kosha. The vijnanamaya kosha can then recognize confused ideas, beliefs and patterns as seed forms in the manomaya kosha and, through imagination creativity and surrender into the cosmic fields, transform their energies into further spiritual growth and participation in the cosmic unfolding. All five levels function together as they arise and dissolve moment to moment.

The Practice: Sama Vrtti Pranyama

Remember, pranayama can be done as a kriya or cleansing, healing physiology, calming nerves, transforming the soft tissue structures of diaphragm, inter-costals, organs and spinal canal. Or, we can use it as meditation, to deepen our ability to stay in luminous emptiness. Sama Vritti is a meditative pranayama, as we are not specifically looking to expand the chest or stretch the diaphragm, having done that previously in asana and other pranayamas. We are looking to bring a deep sense of balance which can reveal the mystery of luminous emptiness.

In a comfortable sitting pose, or a supported reclining pose, spend several minutes settling in and observing the flow of the breath. Notice that the inhalation and exhalation probably do not have the same qualities of length, quantity and ease. They might, but… Be curious and attentive.

In sama vritti part 1, we will look to balance out the length of time of the inhalation and exhalation. You can count, like in music, or just feel it through. If you inhale to a four count, allow the exhalation to also have a four count. Back off on the easier phase, rather than trying to push to more challenged one. If your inhalations are generally easier and longer than the exhalation, let the inhalation be shorter to help balance. Same if the exhalation is easier. Let the pauses be soft and natural. You can spend years just on this level.

Part 2. We add a pause after inhalation, antara kumbhaka. In ‘Light on Pranayama” Iyengar suggests you start with a shorter retention, so the ratio of inbreath – retention – outbreath would be 1 – 1/4 – 1. With more experience (and much more space and elasticity in the chest), you can move to 1 – 1/2 – 1, 1 – 3/4 – 1, and finally 1 – 1 – 1.

Iyengar also suggests, and I agree wholeheartedly, that if you are not experienced in the retentions, only add them to sama vrtti part 1 every 4th or 5th breath. This is true for all levels of pranayama practice. When adding something new, allow several normal breaths to come between each pranayama breath. That will minimize strain and allow you to see how the relaxtion can deepen when this is natural and not forced. There is always some level of awkwardness when learning something new, but your intelligence can monitor the overall feeling and keep you on track.

Part 4: add the retention after exhalation. Start with smaller pauses until a relaxed ease is felt in the transition. Gradually work toward a 1 – 1 – 1 – 1 rhythm. The inhalations and exhalations will be naturally shorter to accommodate the longer retentions. You will begin to feel the that the antara kumbhaka is just continuation of the in-breath, without the gross breath moving, and the bahya kumbhaka is a continuation of the exhalation, with the further letting go internal.

Part 5: after any and all practice, savasana. Digest and rest in the luminous emptiness, drashtuh svarupe, avastahnam. Be born again, with your original face, radiant and free.