Reconnecting to Soul
How does your soul want to express itself in this beautiful world? What does the word soul mean for you? There are many definitions available regarding soul. This is my view of what is my soul. My soul is what is unique in me, it came into this world for a specific purpose and is a giant in itself. It dwells in me and all around me, it wants to be nourished and desires me to facilitate its work on this earth. It demands time and attention.
My view of soul growing up in a Catholic household in the north of Ireland was to view it as a type of white soft cloth in the centre of my body. When I sinned black marks appeared on the cloth which only confession to a priest could remove - and only partially at that. The authority figures in my life were my parents, God, and the Church. Perhaps it was not surprising that I decided at an early age to become a priest. I was ordained in 1981, a very happy, committed and naïve young man.
Working with young people in the area of faith development was part of my ministry and I was always struck at the number of beautiful young intelligent and gifted people who had a terrible self-image. I longed to find a way to help them see their own beauty inner and outer.
My own journey continued with Church as my main point of reference until depression forced me to look at how I was living and I slowly discovered another voice which grew stronger as I began inner work in therapy and which has continued ever since. My decision to leave institutional priesthood was slow and very painful. Sixteen years after leaving I came to a gradual realisation that my particular calling or gift to this world was actually to be a priest albeit in a different way. The challenge had been to find a delivery system to offer my gift as a priest to the world.
One of the prominent barriers to the expression of soul is the inner critic who whispers and shouts in my ear ‘Who are you to think that you can be a different sort of priest?’ and ‘will you give over and get on with life in an ordinary way?’ These voices come from what I can describe as the wounded parts of Peter, the good, law abiding little boy. I have come to discover however that this way of being does not serve me or the world well.
There is a world within me and a voice that I have never heard or seen but which is now coming to life. One way of knowing what stirs the soul is the strong emotion which we experience now and again when we come across a poem, song , piece of writing or a person on our travels and we marvel and wonder at what is going on.
Material which has really stirred my soul recently include the poems Know Thyself (Paul Murray OP), I will not die an unlived life (Dawna Markova), and The Journey (Mary Oliver). The wonderful books The Untethered Soul and A Hidden Wholeness and meeting and working with Bill Plotkin. Recording and working with my nightly dreams, spending time alone walking, and being in the wilds of the west of Ireland, and working with a wilderness guide have all been and continue to be of invaluable assistance in my journey of discernment and adventure.
A core question is how we move away from searching for the leader and teacher outside ourselves? What gets in the way of listening to your deepest truth? Why are we so restricted and enslaved to the approval and opinion of what others might think?
‘Ah well I am surviving’ is often the answer we give when someone asks how we are. Wouldn’t it be great to answer ‘I am thriving’. I ask you, is that why you were born - to survive?
Perhaps we are afraid to admit that we are thriving in case some evil befalls us. Maybe we are afraid of what the reaction would be from our colleagues. I would suggest that we are of more assistance to humanity if we are thriving, and are able to give from our abundance rather than out of guilt or a wish to be praised for doing so? Acting from what we can freely give means our yes means yes, and our no offers someone else an opportunity to give.
In his brilliant book Wild Mind, Bill Plotkin outlines his Nature Based Map of the Human Psyche, and I believe that Plotkin offers a useful model which can bring clarity to the exploration of these questions.
He refers to our hidden resources as ‘the four facets of the self’, or ‘the four dimensions of our innate human wholeness’. He notes that wisdom traditions from around the world have looked to nature’s seven directions for a model of wholeness: north south, east, west, up, down, and centre. He contends that the four cardinal directions are the four facets of our innate human potential, and that they also reflect the qualities of the natural world which we observe in the four seasons and the four times of the day: dawn, noon, evening, and night.
‘Wholing is the foundation for true healing’ he tells us and he wonders if common difficulties that humankind experience, such as anxiety, depression, phobias and personality disorders are not necessarily problems in themselves: ‘Perhaps we exhibit psychological symptoms not so much because we’re disordered but because we’re deficient in an embodiment of wellness or wholeness’. He suggests that the way forward is to cultivate our human wholeness and learn to embrace our fragmented sub-personalities that are created during childhood.
I want to briefly summarise the four facets he speaks about. The North Facet he refers to the ‘Nurturing Generative Adult’, where our calling is to care for ourselves, others and the universe. Qualities found in the human who is well developed in this direction include: intelligence, leadership, competence, endurance and strength. These qualities will assist us in becoming aware of our gift while the darker side of this facet include behaviours which make us small, invisible or limited. We tend to play safe and run the risk of suffering from depression, anxiety and despair, and in our failure to heal these conditions our soul loses out.
Innocence, clear mindness, light-heartedness, and extroversion are all qualities of the East Facet while arrested development, social isolation, ruined relationships are indicators of this facet being under-developed. Addictions, alcoholism, gambling, over working are some of the ways people act out when they don’t face their deep pain. As one writer informs us the trouble with pain is that it demands to be felt. If we are serious about discovering our gift and using it, then we must go through the gate of pain.
‘The Wild Indigenous One’ is the name given to the South Facet of Self. This dimension of our wholeness reminds us or our unconditional belonging to the world, our native kinship and interdependence with every other creative place and thing on the earth. The blocks to our development occur when we try to get our basic needs met in immature emotional ways. So often we humans refuse to own our anger, fear or sadness even though they are the arms and legs of our emotional wellbeing. For example anger is a powerful emotion which helps us to stand up for ourselves, or another, or the universe but burying it or acting it out, can often result in extreme violence towards others or turned in on ourselves culminating in deep depression or suicide. Owning, feeling and using our emotions creatively results in healthier relationships with oneself, others and empowers me to do the work of my soul in a life giving and enjoyable way.
The West Facet invites us to tap into our personal resources and gifts. Imagination is the way of knowing fostered in this facet, it is the primary resource for recognizing the emerging future, and the possibility of creating a better world. Plotkin says ‘we would be much healthier if we could regularly imagine the impossible, be open to surprise, and unexpected discovery, and change course on a dime, especially when something alluring crosses our path’.
The blocks in this facet occur if we repress our inconceivable characteristics and desires. Carl Jung’s ‘Shadow’ shows up in this facet of self, but Plotkin suggests that our shadow can be a powerful resource in completing our adult personality. If we could for instance cultivate our wild natural self instead of unconsciously acting it out, if our leaders could acknowledge the ‘evil’ in themselves as opposed to projecting it onto the other, then our world might be a healthier place.
Our shadow - the part which is repressed and of which we are not conscious - could actually contain our deepest passion, and might include the desire to do a different job, to dance, to sing, to teach, to do something which was repressed as a child in the interest of peace and harmony. Accessing it now would be such a gift to the world and to ourselves. It would ensure that we do not die an unlived life!
I see part of my soul gift at this time in history which has been described as the post-truth era ,as facilitating people in discerning their unique gift to this world, encouraging them to find a way to deliver this gift and speaking their truth.
I plan to devote eight days during 2017, two consecutive ones each season to explore Plotkin’s intrapersonal view of the self and the subpersonalities. The plan is to identify the wounds which prevent humans from realising their gift and introducing them to practices which they can do in the pursuit of healing and wholeness. Details of dates and more information can be found on my website.
No longer playing small and being safe, imagining what might be, releasing the well of joy within and freeing our feeling and emotions are all possibilities paving the way for your light to shine. Mary Oliver has this to say in her powerful poem The Journey ‘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 that you could save’.
May you hear that voice and be blessed as you do what you must to offer your gift to the world.
Peter lives with his family in north Sligo and works as a psychotherapist mainly in the outdoors. He has a passionate commitment to dreams and focusing as a way of empowerment and soul facilitation. He also works as a clinical and pastoral supervisor, a wilderness guide and facilitates soul nurturing retreats.
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