Saturday, January 31, 2009

Kurt Barstow - The Difficulty of Following the Soul's Guidance

Another good article from Kurt Barstow at the LA Examiner. Here he talks about the need, and the challenge, of exploring our deepest selves in a quest for personal growth and evolution. It's never easy to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves, but all of the world's great wisdom traditions tell us that is exactly what we need to do.

The difficulty of following the soul's guidance

By Kurt Barstow

In her book on how to become a "modern mystic," Entering the Castle: An Inner Path to God and Your Soul (Free Press, 2007), Caroline Myss uses Saint Theresa of Ávila's sixteenth-century The Interior Castle to structure a meditative itinerary for gaining an understanding of the soul. She quotes Theresa's description of the soul as a "castle made of a single diamond or of a very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms...and in the center and midst of them all is the chiefest mansion where the most secret things pass between God and the soul." She then goes on to say, "But you have a major obstacle to overcome in order to communicate with God: your reliance on your mind in matters of the spirit. Usually, for instance, you pray for help or guidance about everyday matters, such as your health, your career and finances, or your romantic, familial or other relationships. And you generally look, listen, feel, and think your way through the guidance: You tend to intellectualize it... The mind, as Theresa would say, is simply not strong enough to make the journey. Coming to God is the soul's task. And the awakened soul will agitate and pull at you until you wade in and begin to reach out toward the divine... You never know what you will uncover when diving into the unknown--your subconscious and soul."

In some ways, soul can be a rather difficult thing to discuss, for it is talked about under different descriptions, For some it is a thing with a specific location in the body. Some might use the heart as the organ of the body that best represents the soul. For some it is that part of us that survives the body and has an afterlife in Heaven. For others it is that part of us that survives the death of one body and is reincarnated in another. It can be thought of as something that becomes more refined as we go deeper and deeper inside, as in Theresa's imagery, or it can be seen as part of the progressive layers of energy sheaths that surround the body, the ten bodies of Kundalini Yoga (the first of which is called the Soul and relates to the root chakra, the ninth of which is called the Subtle and carries the soul when it leaves the body, and the tenth of which is called The Command Center from which all the other ten bodies are directed). In Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga it is the psychic center that is connected to the self, which coordinates the body's three sheaths of Vedanta: annamayakosha, pranayamamayakosha, and manomayakosha, which correspond to body, heart, and mind, which in turn correspond to the reptilian brain, the limbic system, and the neocortex. For some it occupies a very distinct place in the developmental progression from body to mind to soul to spirit. For some its mystery and autonomy can be found especially in prerational and prepersonal phenomena like myth, while for others it is primarily transrational and transpersonal. For yet others it is a kind of emotive, expressive, creative quality that comes from the depths of one's being and transcends the normal surface qualities that we might reveal to one another. It can also be seen as a kind of perspective, a view toward a certain way of being or relating to the world, one that can even hold within it all these different accounts of soul. And, finally, from an integral perspective, although the various versions of soul might fit within a developmental scheme, they would all carry a certain amount of truth. For one thing, these are all mental constructions meant to communicate to others about something that is at once ineffable and at the same time a deeply felt aspect of our human experience.

Despite the richness and variety of different conceptualizations of soul, we have a sense of what Caroline Myss means when she says the mind can get in the way and that the "awakened soul will agitate and pull you." For we think of soul as operating at a higher level than the rational, calculating aspects or conventional thinking of mind. As soul comes into play, which it naturally does to a greater extent later in life, it can feel as if it is the most intimate part of you and yet also not of you as you have previously known yourself in a more circumscribed form. It becomes a new kind of guidance system, something which clearly challenges us to develop new capacities to meet a new perspective. But if you're like me, someone who doesn't have a single life-changing "aha" moment but rather little realizations that I can't always apply immediately to my life (which I suspect is most people), there will inevitably be conflict. Sometimes that conflict is based in my own weaknesses or even delusions about myself, but sometimes it is also based in ways I have adopted conventional thinking about any number of things that I also know don't correspond to my most deeply held beliefs (elements of superego, aspects of conventional morality, etc.) but to which I am giving the weight of soul guidance. So how does one discern? How do we know when we are congruent or in alignment with our soul? How do we determine what is a nagging doubt based in our insecurities or worry about what other people will think and a more fundamental incongruence between what we are becoming and what we have been, between a new and an old perspective? Since soul is something more individualized than spirit, which is the same in all of us, how do we know when ego and/or personality is operating in the service of soul or serving to undermine it? How might our very conceptions of soul come to bear on our understanding of ourselves in relating to the world? For example, if we are thinking about issues through the filter of a soul model that is essentially about purification, do we lessen the importance of ecstatic states that might be more in evidence as a matter of soul in a mythical model that might more comfortably include Dionysian elements? If we see soul primarily as an instrument for moral development of a puritanical nature, might we ignore or neglect parts of our life that are important to soul?

One of the reasons the soul can "agitate and pull you" is that it has to do with growth and development. Like all growth, an encounter with soul is a movement into the unknown.
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