THE SOULCRAFT WAY
This blog is a reflection for everyone interested in seeking the meaning and the WAY of the SOUL. Bill Plotking’s book mentions the word “Soulcraft”. This is a description of what I call “Soulwork”. I found that very few people really know about the part of us called The Soul. Therefore, I am offering here a summary of Bill’s book: Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche. New World Library. Kindle Edition.
So, what is this phenomenon called SOUL? We can easily identify with our body and our mind, but the soul is an enigma for many. Here is a definition of what Bill is describing as SOUL and then followed by his process of working with the craft that helps us to discover our soul.
“The Soul is a person’s unique purpose or identity, a mythopoetic identity, something much deeper than personality or social-vocational role, an identity revealed and expressed through symbol and metaphor, image and dream, archetype and myth. Some other ways to say this: Soul is the ecological niche, or place, a person was born to occupy but may or may not ever discover or consciously embody”.
Plotkin, Bill. Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche (p. 13). New World Library. Kindle Edition.
SOUL POETRY, MUSIC, CHANTING, AND THE BARDIC TRADITION
Given that the soul prefers to speak in images and symbols, poetry — our own and others — is a natural pathway to soul. Poetry, “soul speech,” brings together the linguistic, linear part of the psyche with the imaginal, holistic part, enlisting the thinking mind in the service of soul, image, and feeling. By immersing ourselves in the rich symbols of verse, we enhance the ego’s ability to converse with soul. The subject matter and style of some poets resonate more with the spiritual descent than do others. David Whyte, Rainer Maria Rilke, Mary Oliver, Jelaluddin Rumi, T. S. Eliot, and others, are extraordinarily soulful. The soul is enlivened and emboldened by poetry such as theirs.
The wound is the place where the Light enters you.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.
When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.
Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion. RUMI
Poetry, dreams, nature, and soul weave through one another. Dreams are the poems of our souls. Soul is our deepest human nature, the under-dream stream of our lives. Wild nature is the ongoing dream of the earth, and our souls are essential components of that dream. Our individual night dreams are strands of the earth’s dream, just as our bodies are part of earth’s body. Nature offers herself to our senses in images, and poetry conveys those images. Immersion in nature is as effective a way as any to uncover and recover the soul. Soul-resonant poets are visionaries, people who have recovered their soul’s desires and strive to make those desires visible to others. Each one of us has this visionary capacity to sing the song of our souls.
There are several body practices, found in cultures the world over, that alter consciousness by shifting the body’s physiological state. These, too, can serve as pathways to soul. Consciousness-altering breathing techniques — from ancient practices such as yogic pranayama to modern disciplines like holotropic breathwork as developed by the transpersonal psychiatrist Stanislav Grof — act literally to inspire us. As we breathe in fully and rapidly, our biochemistry shifts, and we take in and join with the essence of the world. By altering the depth and rhythm of our breath, we can alter our relationship to the world and to ourselves. In addition to their use of breathing techniques, the many schools of yoga offer a great variety of physical postures (asanas) and movement (vinyasa) that not only stretch our bodies but also alter consciousness, thereby providing a doorway to soul.
Fasting, as part of a vision quest or not, is another ancient and common method for altering consciousness. Literally emptying ourselves, we become a more receptive vessel for the gifts of soul. There are at least three ways that fasting works its magic on us. First, fasting (with or without water) for three days or more profoundly affects our nervous system and thus our consciousness. Most people report by the third day an astonishing clarity of perception, thought, feeling, and imagination. For many, hunger disappears, and a refined physical energy and alertness arise. Second, frequent hunger pangs remind our wandering minds to refocus attention on soulful intent. Third, as we grow weaker physically, our ego defences weaken as well. It becomes more difficult to maintain those everyday boundaries separating us from the vast mysteries within and without, the mysteries through which the soul might speak.
THE POWER OF SOULCENTRIC RITUAL
Vision quests are grand and complex rituals. Much of their transformative power arises simply from the fact that they are rituals. Several features of rituals support the encounter with soul. Rituals are bodily enactments in real time and space, engaging us not only verbally, cognitively, imaginatively, and emotionally but also through our bodies, by way of symbolically rich gestures. As ritual participants, we are thoroughly active, not just listening, observing, or imagining but also living our deepest questions and truths, embodying our sacred symbols and life themes, and physically interacting with the archetypal qualities of the earth and the universal human experience.
Immersion in the ritual process draws from us more than we anticipate. The vision quester, for example, is not sitting in a room, feeling, imagining, and thinking. He is out on the land, in the wind, heat, and cold, exposed to the storm and the cries in the night. He is setting stones in the four directions. He is dancing her prayers, singing her heart out, crying to the earth and shouting at the sky for a vision, talking to the trees, the hawks, the moon, and the mountain. He is dressed in sacred robes, tying prayers into cloth bundles, adorning himself with flowers or thorns or mud, all in accord with the counsel of nature and her own soul. He is out on the land and fully embodied there. He is as fully present to his body and the breaking wave of his life as he has ever been.
Rituals are rooted in deeply meaningful symbols and the sacred objects that embody those symbols. The quester is in conversation with the quadrated circle, the wounded heart, images of the butterfly or dragonfly, the broken stick, the prayer arrow or God’s eye, the ancestor’s blessing, the parent’s ashes, the family’s coat of arms, the religious icon, the wedding ring, the medicine bag, the mask, the drum, the sacrificial fire. These symbols arouse the deepest desires of his heart, his greatest griefs and fears, the archetypal possibilities of the collective human unconscious, and his religious and spiritual yearnings. Through numinous power absorbed and emanated, they uncover sacred layers of his humanity. And they effectively awaken suppressed feeling, often provoking a profound healing crisis.
Through the practice of solitude, you, too, will discover the ways you are alienated from yourself and the world. You will come to grips with one of the most profound and implacable facts of the human condition: that in an essential way you are, in fact, alone. You were born alone and will die alone. In solitude you will learn how to live as a mortal human. You will learn to more deeply comfort yourself. You will learn how to move your attention from one place to another, neither avoiding nor indulging in the painful places. As a Wanderer, you must develop a relationship with your aloneness that is as profound and sacred as any other relationship in your life. You will come to belong to your aloneness as much as to any place, job, or community. “Solitudo” is Latin for nature. In true solitude, you remember yourself as a part of everything, a part of nature. You rediscover ease, inspiration, belonging, and wisdom in your own company.
Archetypal forms and patterns exist not only in the human psyche but also in the outer world of nature. Wind, water, fire, mountain, rain, rainbow, bird, bat, butterfly, fish, snake, bear: earth archetypes. In the shamanic traditions, the apprentice learns his craft by using the refined powers of his imagination to become the various animals and qualities of nature, by merging with the earth archetypes and “re-membering” as he remembers he has always been nature. Moving from one archetypal nature identity to another: this is the genius of the shape-shifter within each of us. By becoming earth, through her forms and forces, we regain our souls.
The earth archetypes illuminate the edges of our understanding. We see the rainbow, and if we allow our imaginations to be generous, we discover the possibility of realizing our fondest dreams, the longing for treasure, the enchantment of the world, the thinness of the shimmering veil that separates us from the sacred, or the bridge to this world for the gods. We experience earth archetypes as significant, evocative, emotionally captivating, enchanting. Why are different individuals drawn to different elements of nature? Why those? Possibly these are the earth archetypes to which our (unconscious) psyches already attribute meaning, that resonate with the deepest possibilities within us. In its attempt to be made manifest, the soul takes every opportunity to resonate with any element of nature that stirs it. As we offer our attention to the world, we discover the beings to which we are most drawn. Our fascination with a facet of nature is how our souls say “Yes!” to an earth archetype that we, as individuals, especially tune to. As we open ourselves to that element of wildness, we discover a quality of our own soul that longs to be embodied in the world, sung to the world, danced, cried, celebrated. The earth provides us with not only the means to be physically born into this world but also the spiritual means to recognize our deeper identities.
THE ART OF BEING LOST
The art of being lost is not a matter of merely getting lost, but rather being lost and enthusiastically surrendering to the unlimited potential of it. In fact, using it to your advantage. The shift from being lost to being found (in a new, unpredictable way) is a gradual and indirect one. The way to encourage that shift is to first accept that you don’t know how to get to the place you want to be and then opening fully to the place you are until the old goals fall away and you discover more soulful goals emerging. Then you are no longer lost, but you have benefited immensely from having been so.
Consider for example being lost in the woods, something few people can imagine enjoying. Suddenly, the world has shrunk; here you are, sitting beside a stream in a forest. You don’t know which way home is. You call out. No one answers; or, only the stream, the wind, and the ravens answer. Maybe you panic, maybe you don’t. It sinks in that you are really lost. Gradually, you become aware that everything you can count on now is right here, within reach, and there’s no guarantee there will ever again be anything else. You could have spent your entire life on a meditation cushion to get to this radical place of present-centeredness, and now you are here courtesy of dislocation! Like a shipwrecked sailor on a tropical island, this is your world. What will you do with it? You’ve lost nearly everything you thought was important; the old goals are irrelevant, and yet, here you are. Now what?
This is precisely where you must eventually arrive, psycho-spiritually, for soul initiation: you must be willing to release your previous agendas and embrace the soul’s passion as you find it here and now. By arriving more fully in the present, through being lost and accepting it, your life suddenly suffers a radical simplification. Old agendas, beliefs and desires fall away. You quiet down inside and it becomes easier to hear the voice of the soul.
CONFRONTING YOUR OWN DEATH
In order to bring your soul into the world, you must continuously loosen your beliefs about who you are. The realities of death will help with that loosening. Shadow work will help as well; in the process of reclaiming your wholeness, you will find many fragments of soul in the shadow, where the unconscious has hidden them to keep you from accidentally stumbling upon dangerous secrets. Romance, too, if you take it deep enough, will surely shatter the restrictive yet fragile shell of the ego. Discovering the mysterious core of your consciousness will do the same. And certainly, spirit has some things to say about your true identity. When it’s over, you’ll want to be confident you made your life something truly real.
You will, therefore, look Death in the face before IT comes calling for you. You will reach your trembling hand into the dark shadow behind you. You will say yes to the dying that is as much a part of romance as its joys. You will discover what remains of consciousness after the mind is quieted. And you will forge your own intimate relationship with the Divine.
Confronting your own mortality, intimately and bravely, imagined or vicariously witnessed in graphic detail, is a powerful soulcraft practice, possibly an essential one. The embodiment of soul that you seek is not going to go far if you are living as if your ego is immortal. Put more positively, your soul initiation will be rich to the extent you can ground yourself in the sober but liberating awareness of limited time. (this very moment may be your last). The confrontation with death is an unrivalled perspective enhancer. In the company of death, most desires of adolescence and the first adulthood fall away. What are the deepest longings that remain? What are the surviving intentions with which you might enter your second adulthood? The confrontation with death will empty you of everything but that kernel of love in your heart and your sincerest questions.
As Carlos Castaneda was taught by his teacher, the Yaqui sorcerer Don Juan: “ask death to be your ally, to remind you, especially at times of difficult choices, what is important in the face of your mortality. Imagine death as ever present, accompanying you everywhere just out of sight behind your left shoulder”.
In these ways, make peace with your mortality. One day you will find you are not so attached to your life being just one certain way. Then you will be better prepared to converse with soul and its outrageous requests for radical change.
Plotkin, Bill. Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche. New World Library. Kindle Edition.