Staring at the Sun, Mawgan Porth, October 2015

21st Century Soul in the sight of crisis

The Soul Makers Gathering at Selgars Mill at the end of August was such an amazing, soulful weekend. Everyone contributed their energy, trust and creativity in exploring how our practice, art and presence can be aligned and integrated. And it felt like there was a real possibility of something growing that can be sustainable and nourishing for people in these times of turbulence and transition — a community and a series of events that will be, as my great friend Sarah Jewell puts it, “about forming ‘soulful’ but practical workable responses to the crisis of contemporary living”.

So, what is this crisis of contemporary living?

Well, though there have been signs of hope in our political culture this year — fundamentally there’s still no real sign that we modern humans are able to grasp the full implications of irreversible climate change — in terms of the climate itself, what it means to us, and the ways we will have to live in the future.

It seems as if the forthcoming Paris Climate Summit might be one of the last throws of the dice. Although I’d like to be hopeful about the outcomes, and the potential for us to innovate our way out of trouble, I’m resigned to more of the same. I — like many others — experience periods of doubt and despair when this inconvenient truth breaks through the rhythms of my everyday life; it faces me with the ultimate existential challenge and erodes the very roots of my psychological, spiritual stability and wellbeing.

Truth be told, modern civilisation erodes our psychological wellbeing on a number of levels — and this is a crisis in itself, one that overlays the social and ecological tragedy.

First, our disconnection with the earth — and our awareness of the damage we are causing it — leaves us with an underlying, yearning despair. Second, our relational selves are stunted by the narrowness of cultural expectation. We love our families and stick to our ‘tribe’, but are cynical (or fearful) about wider connection and suspicious of the stranger and the ‘other’. Third, our inner life is neglected amidst the digital, commercial clamour — our souls become sick and lose direction, energy and beauty.

So this raises a question. Against a background of such terrible truths, is it really possible for us to live joyful, sustainable, soulful lives? And in the face of such an ecological, economic and spiritual crisis — can we learn to live and work in ways that are mutually respectful, peaceful, sustainable, elegant and grounded in integrity and awareness?

If the answer is yes — then this will mean us accepting new assumptions about personal happiness, economic growth, our relationships with the earth (and with each other); and will involve us in finding new paths for human development, that are grounded and contain the potential for love, creativity and imagination.

This energetic spirit in the midst of crisis is at the heart of what we might refer to as the 21st Century Soul — one that does not turn away from the truth that changes everything; one that does not shrug off modernity and the amazing creativity that humans are capable of; and one that embraces the deep wisdoms and connections that lie in the earth and emerge from the legacies of our ancestors.

The task of those of us who recognise this is to first face it with courage. It is no longer enough to retreat into comfortable little compartments — even though it might be very tempting to focus narrowly on our family or work project or piece of art. We owe it to ourselves (and to those we love) to begin to join all these things up — our work, our life, our loves and our art — so that the future can be less like the present and more like a world we would REALLY wish our children’s children to live in.

This, then, is a project that the 21st Century Soul community might concern itself with. A project of soulful living and working that, in Sarah Jewell’s words, will take: “a wide multidisciplinary approach, incorporating education, music and mental health as well as creative writing and art; a network that can potentially offer skills and tool to those looking for support and guidance in picking their professional and personal way through the minefield of environmental and spiritual apocalypse”.

This talk of apocalypse might sound a long way from your perception of where our culture is right now — a gloomy, dystopian viewpoint that you don’t share (or want to share!). However, such a vision is not hope-less. Sarah and I, and many others like us, might be pessimistic about the future of our environment and civilisation — but we’re not pessimistic about the potentiality of human nature to adapt, create, imagine and evolve.

And we’re not pessimistic about the kind of beauty that can make change in the world — nor about the power of art, science, healing, design, music and imagination to tell new stories and take us to new places on the human journey. And this might sound just too optimistic — surely a poet’s dream in itself isn’t enough, but when combined with the voice of the singer, the vision of the shaman, the knowledge of the scientist, the eye of an artist, the hands of a healer, the wisdom of the teacher and the grounded connectedness of the earth — then it may be more than enough to make the shift.

I guess this joining up and integration is what I mean by ‘soul making’ It is less a journey of personal development than a collective conversation about making sense of what ‘soul’ might mean — in the world, in our selves, in our relationships and cultures, in this strange and potentially pivotal twenty-first century.

This big conversation will be engaged in coming months. There’ll be events planned, workshops offered and partnerships embarked upon— and there will be another soulful gathering to attend in the summer of 2016. And there will be opportunities to join the conversation by contributing and responding to this Unpsychology Medium publication— an online, creative space for people to explore how the twenty-first century human soul can evolve, live and thrive in times to come. There’s also a Facebook page where you can find more about events and ideas at: https://www.facebook.com/twentyonesoul.

Unpsychology Magazine in Print

Unpsychology Magazine is now in its second printed edition and it includes wonderful writing and art by Robyn Woolston, Helen Moore, Roselle Angwin, Caerwyn Allegra Hawksmoor, Toby Chown, Jack Paris, Steve Thorp and Marian Bruce. You can buy it for £5 (plus p & p) at http://www.21soul.co.uk/shop/4584116245

We are also down to our last few copies (literally less than a dozen!) of the first printed edition of Unpsychology Magazine. I was really proud of that first foray into the world of journal publishing and we had some amazing pieces from Alicia Cole, Lesley Carty,Alex Lockwood, Denis Postle, Daniel Crockett, Luigi Russi, Christian Dada and others.

If you’d like a copy of issue 1, you can still get one for £4 (including a free digital download version) OR EVEN BETTER, buy UNPSYCHOLOGY ISSUES 1 & 2 for only £6 (a saving of £3) at: http://www.21soul.co.uk/…/unpsychology-issues-1-2-…/1021294 6.

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