A PARADOX OF SOUL
Individuality, connection, ecology — a meditation
The soul calls individuality to itself – claims it as birthright – creates a ‘self’ to represent it in the world who is entirely unique, yet is not special in any way that could claim to be above or beyond another. Or, otherwise, each person – self – soul is special, but none has any more value than another.
Every self is connected to every other self; every soul to every other soul. And ‘self’ is an other-than-human thing; if we accept that we are selves connected, then this must include connection with the individuality of the other myriad lifeforms we encounter and engage with throughout our lives.
In these troubled times, it is more important than ever to be open to this deep spiritual truth. There are challenges ahead for humans bigger than we have ever faced before. We may meet them if we draw the best from our individuality and connectivity — though there will be shadows cast, and endings to be accepted and mourned.
In a garden, there was a tree I spoke with this past summer, a few weeks after my Mum had died. This tree had smooth peeling bark that it shed in wide parchment-like swathes. It was the only tree — the only self — I could have spoken with in this way at that time. I would not have been able to share these words with any other being.
Was this tree a ‘self’; did ve* have a ‘soul’?
*“Not a tree. Tree. Not it. Not she. Ve.” — Alex Lockwood, Noni, 2018.
In his story, Noni, in Unpsychology Magazine #4, my friend Alex Lockwood wrote about the deep time of the tree-self and how to connect with ver:
“Be with tree; ve is sensitive to the lightest impression — and deepest contusion. Forbearance. Ve doesn’t respond immediately. What is fleeting isn’t concerning; how you demand is not ver petition; what stays matters. It takes time for tree to notice you; remap what you thought of as time; don’t rush…”.
If soul calls individuality to itself, and self, in turn, is about connection, then the paradox of soul-making is held in the tension between the two positions, creating for each of us an ecological web in which we are all held (me, you and Tree), and in which we all evolve, grow, develop and die. And the time in which this soul-making takes place is also subjective.
My mum was an old woman when she died, but her time was not the slow time of the tree — nor even the flickering animal quickness that we humans find difficult to follow, and therefore often overlook.
These are the small selves we fail to notice, sitting alongside the big selves we are in awe of, but still — paradoxically — try to control. At our worst, we dismiss the self and soul at the heart of all other-than-human life. And yet, how can we be changed, how can we grow to become truly our-selves, if we do not engage with all ‘selves’ as if they are soulful?
I think that we take things too literally, we humans. We want there to be things to believe in or dismiss; for there to be answers to questions that have humans — even certain kinds of humans — at the heart of things. And yet, there is really only existence and experience and the truth held in the subjective individuality of all things. There is no centre — only the network of selves in which we are all dancing…or dreaming...or held deep in conversation.
When an old woman dies we feel loss and grief (even some relief in some cases). When a young person dies before their ‘time’, the grief is harder and we feel the pain of it. When a tree or a bird dies…what? We don’t really know what the tree feels or does when death slowly comes upon it or its relative after countless years, only that it dies as the old woman does; ceasing to exist as an individual self. But all dead lifeforms — human or otherwise — leave something behind. This might be a memory or a mystery — or it may be as simple and mundane as a handful of soil.
So, be a slow soul with a tree, or a quick soul with a bird. Be an individual and be the connection. Sit in your place in the web and talk to the world:
“Speak to me and tell me what you grieve for; tell me your slow and ancient longing”.
Then you will have made a soul. Your soul, and the soul of all things.
Steve Thorp works as a ‘soul making’ therapist and coach at St Davids Wellbeing Centre in Pembrokeshire. He also works online — via Skype and Facetime providing one-to-one support and development, and also provides organisational training in soul making and support in developing ’tools for troubled times’. Contact him for details.