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Working with the Subpersonalities – An Essential Step to Self and Soul Discovery (Part 1 of a 5-Part Series)

 

In our own self-discovery and soul work – and in the work we do with others – things come naturally and easily when we are grounded, truly present and in our wholeness. Which is to say, when we express those qualities that define the Self, the facets of human wholeness that are found in all cultures, and that are recurring themes in mythology, dreams, and the creative arts. When we act from the heart, for example, and model an uncompromised or unconditional love for others and the world we are accessing one facet of the Self. The problem, of course, is that we are all undone more often than we’d like to admit by our subpersonalities, the wounded or fragmented aspects of our psyches. Bill Plotkin describes it well in his path-finding book, Wild Mind:

“…one inevitable and heartrending feature of being human is that we do not              live every moment from or as the Self, no matter how mature, gifted, or lucky                   we may be…All too often we’re in a fragmented or wounded state –                 physically, psychologically, socially, spiritually.”    

In this post, we briefly introduce the subpersonalities, using Plotkin’s four cardinal directions as an organizational frame. Subsequent posts will examine each subpersonality in detail and highlight the ways in which we can heal these wounded aspects of ourselves to facilitate greater self and soul discovery. And as ever, we must bring compassion to this work; the subpersonalities are not “bad”; they have played an essential role in our lives in keeping us safe, especially in childhood. Failure to acknowledge them and work with them in a healthy, mature way as we get older has, however, stunted our ability to grow into healthy adulthood.

The subpersonalities of the North, frequently called “loyal soldiers”, try to keep us safe by encouraging us to act in such a way that we secure a “place of belonging” in the world. They do this by avoiding risk, by making us nonthreatening to others – especially authority figures, by making us useful or pleasing to others, or by urging us into unhealthy positions in which we exert immature power over others. If you think of your interactions with family members, or people with whom you work, it is often telling how pervasive the influence of the north subpersonalities can be in shaping the ways in which we show up for others.

The South subpersonalities, the “wounded children”, try to keep us safe by using immature, emotion-fueled strategies to get basic needs met. They encourage us to appear as if in need of rescue, or to be harmless and socially acceptable – to “fit in”. The south subpersonalities can also influence us to be coercive or aggressive, or arrogant or condescending. If you observe small children using emotion to draw attention to themselves and their needs, or “adults” use histrionics to get what they want, you are witnessing one expression of the south subpersonalities.

The East subpersonalities are the “escapists and the addicts” and they keep us safe through evasion. If you have ever “checked out” of a meeting, workshop, or counseling session – or perhaps even physically left – the east subpersonalities are active and are “helping” you avoid emotional engagement with a potentially challenging situation.

The subpersonalities of the West, the “shadow and shadow selves”, try to keep us safe by repressing (making unconscious) certain characteristics or desires that are unacceptable or incomprehensible to our Ego. Plotkin notes that the shadow can be either “negative” (what the Ego would consider morally beneath it) or “positive” (what the Ego would consider “above” it and out of reach).

While we never eliminate or grow out of our subpersonalities, we can mature to the point that they don’t hijack us quite so often and instead we live most often from a place of wholeness. Over the next 4 weeks we’ll explore each subpersonality in greater detail.

Our next “Wild Conversations” workshop, where we do experiential work on the subpersonalities and facets of wholeness, will be in Red Deer, Alberta on July 22. Visit soulquestcanada.ca to learn more and to register.

Finding Healing and Transformation in Job Loss or Other Personal Challenges

As we survey the economic and social landscape of our lives – or those of our friends and loved ones, there is a good deal of fear, frustration, confusion, and anger at the seemingly capricious nature of things. For many people, their lives, at least in a material sense, had been on a steady upward trajectory. They got a good education that enabled a desirable career that fueled the acquisition of material goods and services – and the feathering of a retirement nest. In short, they had done everything right, and were living the “good life”. Until they weren’t; until they were let go or had a contract terminated, or encountered an extended run of “bad luck”.

In our experience, people in these situations pretty quickly start to ask some searching questions: Why is this happening to me? How much longer can I last? And most importantly for our purposes here: Who am I in the absence of the work that has defined me, and the material possessions that work has enabled me to buy?

This last question strikes at the root of a fundamental problem that has been cast into sharp relief by the economic and social dislocation that is affecting so many people now. Namely, the propensity for people to find themselves living lives marked by individualism, materialism, hyper-competition, greed, over-complication, overwork, hurriedness and debt. There might be a surface veneer of beauty or “success”, but levels of real intimacy, trust and friendship are lacking or absent. These are lives that can be seen truly only when the economic fuel that powers them is removed. Take away the means to accumulate material goods and otherwise “play” or “recreate” and many people find that they have been living adrift from themselves as well as others, becoming fragmented and dispirited.

Make no mistake; we know from personal experience how uncomfortable it can be, how vulnerable it can make you feel to lose a job or otherwise suddenly find yourself in suspended animation, not sure what to do or how to move forward. We also know that everyone needs a survival dance, a way of earning income that meets basic needs. As we strive to replace or restore income to meet those needs, however, we believe it is important, even vital to consider if we have placed too much emphasis on the acquisition of material wealth to define us. There is powerful healing and personal transformation possible if we learn that our worth, our sense of self has virtually nothing to do with the labels or brands we wear, how big or fancy our home is, or what kind of car (if any) we drive. When we die, all of that quickly falls away and what remains is a sense of the person. So, what kind of person do you want to be? Where do you want to direct your life energy, your talent? By all means do what you need to do to meet your basic needs, and as you do that, seize what you might otherwise see as a descent into darkness as an initiatory experience, an opportunity to “lean in” to the dark in yourself as well as your situation.

When you’re out of work, worrying about life, you can experience a soul discovery process and find a place deep within yourself where real life purpose and meaning might be revealed. A place that might enable deep reflection on the path you have been traveling through life. From this place of reflection it is not uncommon to discover that our sense of self has been shaped by a set of assumptions undergirding our existence and actions. And so it’s a good practice to question and unravel those assumptions, and see if we still identify with the values, goals and aspirations of mainstream society. In particular, it’s a good idea to question our allegiance to consumerism and materialism as markers of “success”. Pankaj Mishra writes eloquently of this phenomenon in his startling new book, The Age of Anger:

                  For nearly three decades, the religion of technology and GDP and the crude 19th-century calculus of self-interest have dominated politics and intellectual life.  Today, the society of entrepreneurial individuals competing in the rational   market reveals unplumbed depths of misery and despair; it spawns a nihilistic      rebellion against order itself.

                  With so many of our landmarks in ruins, we can barely see where we are        headed, let alone chart a path. But even to get our basic bearings we need, above all, greater precision in matters of the soul.

We are not arguing here to forsake possessions; we are suggesting that allegiance to them as a measure of success, worth, one’s standing as a person, is unhealthy. Among other things, it holds us back from “the initiatory journey that culminates in true adulthood” as Bill Plotkin describes in his path-breaking book, Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche. This matters because as Plotkin explains “true adults — visionary artisans — are the generators of the most creative and effective actions in defense of all life and in the renaissance and evolution of generative human cultures.” Viewed in this light, we think job loss or some other life challenge can, if approached in a healthy way, a way that unearths the larger story or meaning of our life, create the potential for real healing and transformation. There will inevitably be a letting go of some things – and the beliefs that animate them, but in the letting go there is a freeing up of space for something new and important to come in. Our hope is that what arrives for everyone brave enough to live this way is true adulthood.

 

Working with the Archetypes to Gain Greater Awareness of Self and Soul

In several of my recent posts, I have noted that working with dreams or deep imagery is an especially powerful gateway to self and soul because the images and symbols in our dreams are something of a personalized “map” that can guide us to self-discovery, personal growth, healing and integration.  To make the job of working with these images and symbols a little easier – or, if not easier, more impactful, it is useful to understand some of the most prevalent archetypes that often show up in dreams and deep imagery work.

The word archetype, generally defined as “original pattern from which copies are made”, first came into common use in English in the 1540s.  The root words are archein, which means “original or old”; and typos, which means “pattern, model or type”.

In Jungian psychology, archetypes are viewed as highly developed elements of the collective unconscious. Being unconscious, they are often deduced indirectly by examining behavior, images, art, myths, religions, or dreams. Carl Jung saw archetypes as universal patterns and images that are the psychic counterpart of instinct.  Importantly, he believed that universal, mythic characters or archetypes reside within the unconscious of all people – these are truly universal motifs that can inform self-discovery.  It is therefore useful to know which archetypes are most active in one-self and others, especially loved ones, friends and co-workers, in order to gain personal insight into behaviors and motivations.  For the purposes of the work we do at Soul Quest Canada, an awareness of archetypes is useful to: (i) dive deeper into personality (the characteristic patterns of behavior that Ego engages in); and crucially (ii) to connect with the terrain of soul, that shadowy interior landscape that pulses with life beneath the layers of the personality. Although there are many different archetypes, here are a few that we focus on in our Wild Conversations stream (based on Bill Plotkin’s seminal book, Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche):

Facets of Self (Wholeness):

  • Elder/Healer
  • Sage/Trickster
  • Wild Man/Woman
  • Magician

Subpersonalities (Fragmented Parts):

  • Caretaker
  • Puer/Puella
  • Orphan
  • Hero

In working with archetypal images it is useful to consider the ways in which the image is saying something about us. Learning about our subpersonalities and how to manage them, is a vital component of working with archetypes. These are formed from wounding experiences, often in our youth or childhood, and their primary purpose is to keep us safe – essential in childhood, but a barrier to mature growth later in life.  When our Ego operates from the perspective of a subpersonality, we are taken out of our Wholeness.  For example, the Caretaker archetype is active in those who meet the needs of others; however, such “caring” behavior is often driven by the need to satisfy the Ego, such as to keep the caretaker safe from abandonment.  As long as we (our Egos) function from the Caretaker archetype, we experience a superficial acceptance with or by another that provides little fulfillment, where we feel needed for what we do, not for who we are.  Alternatively, when we function from the archetypes more closely aligned with the facets of Self, we can achieve greater well-being and meaning in life.  If we can connect with the Elder archetype, for instance, we can engage ourselves, others, and the systems to which we belong with compassion and wisdom – and our motivation is not to satisfy the Ego, but rather, to provide leadership and care in the world.

Uncovering and fostering the facets of Self is necessary for us to actively heal our wounds, create the conditions in which we can better open the gateway to soul and, ultimately, contribute to society as mature adults. Working with the archetypes is a powerful ways of doing this work.

Soul Quest Canada’s upcoming Wild Conversations programs on Vancouver Island (May 6) and in Edmonton (May 27) offer an opportunity for Self-healing and wholeness practices, as well as working with the archetypes.

 

 

Dreams as a Gateway to Self and Soul – Part 2

A dream…is a product of the total psyche. Hence, we may expect to find in dreams everything that has ever been of significance in the life of humanity – Carl Jung

In my last post for Soul Quest Gateway, I suggested that to reawaken our sense of self we must grow our presence and awareness to the animate world around us – and the vital interior world of our psyche. In this way, we can create the conditions in which our life is not merely the outward expression of our ego’s wants, but a manifestation of our soul’s deepest longing. I further noted that working with dreams is an especially powerful gateway to self and soul because the images and symbols in our dreams are something of a personalized “map” that can guide us to self-discovery, personal growth, healing and integration. If we learn to work with our dreams in this way we can start to see ourselves more clearly and to identify and heal wounded aspects of ourselves – leading to greater wholeness and maturity. In this post, I’d like to focus in a bit more detail on the process of working with dreams. In particular, I want to talk about soulcentric dreamwork.

Dreamwork can take many forms, and I suspect many readers will be familiar with the popular approach of “interpreting” dreams; an enjoyable – if questionable – practice in which images and symbols are taken literally and drawn into the everyday life of the dreamer to (largely) assuage the ego. Soulcentric dreamwork is different. Firstly, it is a key arrow in the quiver of soulcraft practices, and as such, is part of a nature-based approach to soul encounter. Bill Plotkin, author of Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche, and the guides at the Animas Valley Institute, put it nicely:

Soulcentric dreamwork has the distinguishing purpose of initiating the ego into its soul path through a familiarization with the nightworld or underworld.

Thus, a central feature of soulcentric dreamwork is letting go of the reigns of dream interpretation and focusing instead on the atmosphere and landscape of the dream. Think of it as taking a vacation in the landscape of the dream. What does it feel like? What do you see, or hear? Is there a kinesthetic sensation – a felt sensation – in your body as you dwell in the landscape of the dream? By lingering in and with the dream, and resisting the urge to interpret it, you allow the dream to have its way with you. Every image, every symbol, every felt sensation is a coded message meant only for you. The dream maker has delivered this dream to you at precisely this moment. Are you going to rush past its deeper meanings in your quest for literal interpretation? Or might you commit to a numinous or spiritual dialog with one or more characters from your dream? This can be especially powerful if you do so while in nature, learning from “greater nature” as well as your own human nature.

When we approach dreams as an opportunity to engage with soul, we are crossing an important threshold; we are apprenticing ourselves to the mystery held within our dreams. The results can be life-changing. Toward the end of his life, Carl Jung reflected on certain dreams that visited him in his youth and said:

My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream…Everything later was merely the outer classification, the scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then.

Indeed. The essence of the dreamwork we do at Soul Quest Canada is rooted in the tradition of Jung’s depth psychology. We don’t ask “what does the dream mean?” Rather, we ask “in what ways does the dream want to change or shift me?” This is important because those changes or shifts are an opportunity to draw what was previously “hidden” in our unconscious into conscious awareness. And when we do that, we are better able to heal ourselves, integrate our woundings into a more psychically complete and mature persona, and touch the bottom of the pool that contains our unique gifts – the gifts that we were born with but which have been lying dormant in our unconscious.

Our ego has an insatiable appetite for meaning, which is useful in navigating dayworld concerns, but it can get in the way of deep nightworld learning. We’re interested in guiding people deeper into their dreams, and in doing so, helping them step across the underworld thresholds that mark the trail to soul.

Dreams as a Gateway to Self and Soul

Imagine that the soul ceaselessly yearns to dream itself into the world

– Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft

All of us are buffeted by the demands of family and work, and increasingly, the feeling that the larger social and political landscape in which we live is shifting in unpredictable ways. The election of Donald Trump is just the latest – and most dramatic – example. Against this backdrop, it is easy to lose our connection with our sense of self and soul – that larger and more sacred life purpose that pulses beneath the surface of our everyday busyness. To reawaken our sense of self we must grow our presence and awareness to the animate world around us, and the vital interior world of our psyche. In this way, we create the conditions in which our life is not merely the outward expression of our ego’s wants, but a manifestation of our soul’s deepest longing. There are many practices, rites and ceremonies that can facilitate this, and working with dreams is especially powerful. The landscape of our dreams is filled with symbolic messages that can play a powerful – even vital – role in self-discovery. Viewed in this light, dreams are a potent gateway to both Self and Soul. Carl Jung describes it well:

            The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret       recesses of the psyche, opening into that cosmic night which was psyche long before there was any ego-consciousness, and which will remain psyche no matter how far our ego-consciousness may extend…in dreams we put on the likeness of that more universal, truer, more eternal man dwelling in the darkness of primordial night.  There he is still the whole, and the whole is in him, indistinguishable from nature and bare of all ego-hood.

Dreams emerge from the mysterious depths of the unconscious, and as such, are an opportunity for our conscious self, our ego, to be initiated into this deeper stream of our life story and purpose. To work with dreams in this way is not to interpret them, but rather, to treat them as a wilderness to be explored, an experience to be received. Regardless of how strange, wild, or mundane the dream seems to be, a soulcentric approach to dreamwork invites you to step into the arena of the dream carrying nothing more than an open and available heart and a few powerful questions as your compass:

  • Can I track the images and symbols, the atmosphere, the felt experience of the dream?
  • What might these images and symbols mean for me, and tell me about my soul and my soul’s journey?
  • How might my ego be changed by the dream?

To treat dreams in this way is to give oneself over boldly and vulnerably to the landscape of the dream and all those who live there. It is to mine the images and symbols that appear in the dream for their deep intelligence. This can be done in a variety of ways, including direct dialogue with the dream, deep imagery, experiential wandering in nature with (and in) the dream, and the expression of feelings evoked by the dream – in poetry, song, dance, or visual art.

The ecological and spiritual crises of our age require new forms of leadership. In particular, they require the creativity and collaboration that can flow from those who have undergone soul initiation. As Bill Plotkin and the guides of the Animas Valley Institute put it, “the inner wilds of dreams and the outer wilderness of the world are two of the most potent guides to soul”.

Jessica Rosin of Soul Quest Canada is convening a monthly soul centric dream group for those interested in following the tracks in the wilderness of their dreams. Contact Jessica (Jessica@soulquestcanada.ca) for details.

Poetry as Soulcraft

 

In my last post for Soul Quest Gateway I suggested that poetry has great importance and relevance in the modern world. In particular, I noted how reading – and writing – poetry deepens our connection to the land, to nature. I also hinted at something else; the ways in which poetry invites the patient reader to explore himself/herself on a deeper and more interpersonal level. Without using the expression “Soulcraft practice”, this reference to poetry taking us deeper into ourselves, beneath the layers of our personality, is exactly what I was referring to. And the value of this work, the value of approaching poetry in this way, is incalculable at this time of planetary crisis when we are cut off from ourselves, others and nature to an unprecedented degree.

In this post, I want to dig a little deeper into the idea of poetry as SoulcraftÔ. That is, the ways poetry can “shape the human soul toward its fulfillment in its unity with the entire universe”, as Thomas Berry put it. Berry’s language may seem highbrow or even esoteric, and there’s no denying that he was a formidable wordsmith, but his words are rooted in both basic biology and a respect for indigenous cultural traditions across the world. First the biology: soul is the primary organizing unit or principle of all living beings. It is soul, in its myriad expressions, that enables birds, fish and other migratory creatures to cross oceans of time and return to their birthing grounds, for example. With respect to indigenous cultural traditions, the universe has long been viewed as a presence and a teacher, not a collection of raw materials or “natural resources” to be plundered for pecuniary gain. If I might invoke Thomas Berry once more:

The winds, the mountains, the soaring birds, the wildlife roaming the      forests, the stars splashed across the heavens in the dark of night: these were all communicating the deepest experiences that humans would   ever know.

When we read poetry we can be transported to another time and place, taken deep into an imaginal realm of strange – or not so strange – scents, tastes, and sensations; a place of magical beasts and other presences that might remind us of our dreams.   If we follow this shimmering trail of images and symbols, we are beginning to engage with our soul. Bill Plotkin puts it well when he says that poetry is “soul speech” that “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”.

When we give ourselves the gift of time in nature, at an unhurried pace, and practice the art of listening with our whole body, our senses are often flooded with images – and poetry can convey those images that have revealed themselves, that have spoken to us. Are we willing to risk expressing that which might seem impossible to express? This is the opportunity, the joy, and the responsibility of the poet at this time of planetary evolution. What is being evoked in us when we listen to the earth? Might it be the world behind this world, the embodied conversation between the dream of the earth and our own soul? And if we linger there, what might we discover? What if we discovered our soul’s greatest desires? Even better, what if we had the courage to strive and make those desires visible to others? This is what poetry can do.

When we write poetry we are conjuring our own magic, a magic borne of the rhythms, textures, and felt sensations that we have experienced – in nature, in our dreams, in our imaginings. Our poetic expression of these is a way of passing experiential knowing, soulful knowing, to another. And there is no greater thing that we might offer to our people than to open a gateway to the essence of our experience.

The Value of Poetry in the Modern World

 

The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That is what poetry does.

– Allen Ginsburg

       I first went camping when I was three months old; my cozy little basket tucked under the tent flap. And so began my education in, and love of all things wild. We lived I n the country, on the banks of the Oyster River on Vancouver Island. Even now, I remember the heat of the sand on distant summer afternoons and the smell of the river – that ecosystem is part of my DNA. I also remember discovering the poetry collections that animated my parents’ bookshelves and reveling in how the portrayal of nature in this art form deepened my connection to it. With this in mind, I want to dedicate this post to an exploration of the value of nature-based poetry in the modern world.

       We live in an age of extinctions, an age when every living system is in decline and the rate of decline is accelerating. Is this our grim legacy? Is this what we bequeath to our children? Or might we change course and forge a way of life defined not by consumption but by community, connection and satisfaction; an increased awareness of, and reverence for the natural world that creates the conditions for life; and a much stronger linkage of economic, social and cultural health with environmental health? I believe poetry can help us choose – and choose wisely. Further, I believe poetry can invite the patient reader to explore herself and the environment on a deeper and more interpersonal level. Consider the extraordinary short poem, “To the Insects”, by W.S. Merwin:

Elders

we have been here so short a time

and we pretend that we have invented memory

we have forgotten what it is like to be you

who do not remember us

we remember imagining that what survived us

would be like us

and would remember the world as it appears to us

but it will be your eyes that will fill with light

we kill you again and again

and we turn into you

eating the forests

eating the earth and the water

and dying of them

departing from ourselves

leaving you the morning

in its antiquity

       I am under no illusions; I know too well that the nexus between poetry and the environment is not self-evident to most people. Still, I passionately believe that in our time of environmental crisis, poetry has a unique capacity to restore our attention to our environment in its imperiled state. The writer, John Felstiner, puts it well when he says that the “pleasure of poetry” might tap our consciousness, and our consciousness might tap our conscience, leading us to become better stewards of the environment:

We’ve a chance to recognize and lighten our footprint in a world where all of nature matters vitally.

       Our well of deep knowing, our connection to the land, is not dry. I believe this. We are capable of hearing – and heeding, Wallace Stegner’s call for a land ethic. Poetry can help us get there; it connects us more deeply with the physical landscapes around us, as well as the landscapes of the mind. In particular, poetry can raise our consciousness about the relationship between humans and the natural world. In doing so, it can help refresh and renew our awareness that we do not exist outside of nature, at a remove; we are part of it. Nature is not something happening “out there”; it is not a diverting play that may attract our attention for a moment but is otherwise disconnected from our daily lives and concerns. Too often we forget that we are in the play, truly in it, shaping it, for better or worse.

       Ultimately, our destiny as a species will be shaped by the extent to which we effect a marriage between our head and our heart; between the forces of reason and those of soul. Our head should compel us to be smart; to make prudent decisions that are not irreversible and to improve our knowledge of the world around us. Our heart should compel us to honor the birthplace of our spirit and the children who will follow us. Poetry is a potent compass to help us navigate toward the marriage of which I speak.

Soul Quest Gateway: In Praise of a Poet and Painter of Light

In Praise of a Poet and Painter of Light

ROB ABBOTT

When the light is soft, you sense the volume of a place – Edward Burtynsky

Raffi Khatchadourian’s recent profile of Edward Burtynsky in The New Yorker shines a wondrous light on the Canadian photographer’s ongoing quest to chronicle in images our changing planet (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/12/19/edward-burtynskys-epic-landscapes).

We find ourselves at a hinge point of human history; all living systems on Earth are in decline and the rate of decline is accelerating.    Moreover, people, especially in the West, feel socially isolated, demoralized by the political process, and uncertain of their economic future. Against this grim backdrop, many have called for what Joanna Macy and others refer to as the Great Turning, a conscious shift in the relationship of humans to the rest of the Earth Community. While Burtynsky’s sweeping images of industrial projects have on occasion been criticized for beautifying the impacts of human ambition on the environment (for examples, see his Nickel Tailings #34 and #35), I believe his body of work does more to raise awareness and catalyze action toward sustainability than another book, journal article, speech or act of protest. His carefully choreographed images tell a story of how humans have shaped, and continue to shape the planet – and because he shoots much of his work from the air, there is a perspective to the images that accelerates comprehension of the vast scale of human impact that is on display.  As Burtynsky describes it:

                  What I am interested in is how to describe large-scale human systems that impress themselves upon the land…I am not out to tell people a unitary story about what they should do to save the earth but, rather, to give people a picture of what it takes to live the way we do.

And perhaps that is why I so admire his work. To date, most of the arguments in favour of sustainability have followed a scientific, technical or engineering “script”. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is a good example. Lots of numbers dutifully fact-checked and verified. Maps and graphs showing how much of a particular resource has been lost, and so on.   Burtynsky’s work eschews this approach and uses “art” to flip the script and invite people into a visual conversation that lays bear the consequences of choices we make everyday in how we live.

Khatchadourian joined Burtynsky in the Niger Delta, the most contested landscape the Canadian has photographed. For more than three decades beginning in the late 1960s, various military dictatorships dominated the politics of Nigeria and created conditions that tilted the metaphorical playing field in favour of the oil industry. In particular, a lack of oversight in how the oil resource was developed, at what cost, and how the benefits of this patrimony were shared typified the region. Owing to the lack of rigorous monitoring and other checks and balances, millions of barrels of crude oil were spilled into the Delta, hemorrhaging ruin of all kinds, most poignantly the farms and fisheries that were the foundation of the regional economy long before the oil companies arrived. Ken Saro-Wiwa, executed by the government for his passionate activism on behalf of his people and the land he loved, described the devastation wrought by the exploitation of oil resources thusly:

Human life, flora, fauna, the air, fall at its feet, and finally, the land itself dies.

The running shoes you’re wearing, for example, contain an astonishingly high petroleum content that may well have originated in the Delta, and as Burtynsky’s images show, the true social and ecological cost of that petroleum is very high. This is the message of this poet and painter of light; he shows us visually what it takes to live the way we do now. He likens us, not inappropriately, to “a predator species run amok”. The question that fills the space between us and the ethereal light of his photographs is this: When confronted in the starkest manner possible with incontrovertible evidence of the meteor-like impact of our consumptive lifestyle, will we change before it is too late?

Soul Quest Gateway: Why Does Soul Work Matter?

 

       In my previous post I suggested that modern western culture has been racing toward a rendezvous with a psycho-spiritual crisis. I further suggested that to forge a future in which the political process, economics, work, notions of family, and the environment are meaningfully addressed we must dramatically increase the number of people who have tended to their inner or soul work. It is a regrettable feature of modern life that to use the word soul is to invite skepticism – or worse. For many, soul work is viewed as non-essential; something of a frivolity that one or one’s partner might explore at a retreat or on a vacation, or perhaps something that is the reserve of religious or spiritual scholars. In short, something that isn’t relevant and useful to life as we know it and live it. And yet, the signs of disengagement, disillusionment, depression and worse are all around us and the root cause of this is a lack of connection with soul. The poet, David Whyte, speaks of this in The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America:

This split between our work life and that part of our soul life forced underground seems to be at the root of much of our current unhappiness.

The unhappiness to which Whyte refers has been building for a long time, and the pace has accelerated dramatically in recent years. This is why I believe that soul work, the rigorous looking beneath one’s personality and connecting with the unique gifts that one might carry into their life – and the lives of the communities of which they are a part – has never been more relevant and useful than now.

       Inner work or soul work – paying attention to what is alive in our unconscious and bringing that into conscious awareness – has either been forgotten or, at best, marginalized in mainstream modern culture. This is a shame because it is the closest thing to a map we have as we seek a path out of the dark wood that is our present psycho-spiritual crisis. Bill Plotkin, author of Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche, puts it well:

The experiential encounter with soul is the key element in the initiatory journey that culminates in true adulthood. And true adults — visionary artisans — are the generators of the most creative and effective actions in defense of all life and in the renaissance and evolution of generative human cultures.

       True adulthood is characterized by a strong sense of self, and equally, a vibrant connection to both other humans and the more than human world, as David Abrams calls it – the wider community of animals, plants, forests, plains, deserts, rivers, oceans and mountains. Those who have unlocked the door and stepped across the threshold to true adulthood can situate themselves in the context of this wider and interconnected system. Crucially, they are able to choose higher collective needs – the needs of the wider system – over the individual longings or wants of the ego. True adults, those who have undertaken meaningful soul work, have the maturity, the resilience and the emotional intelligence to make choices from a place of soulful awareness and aliveness; they connect to their unconscious and bring that into conscious decision-making. This is what the world urgently needs now. This is why soul work matters.

Rob Abbott is the Co-Founder (with Jessica Rosin) of Soul Quest Canada (soulquestcanada.ca).

Soul Quest Gateway: Trump is a Symptom of a Larger Psycho-Spiritual Crisis

Trump is a Symptom of a Larger Psycho-Spiritual Crisis

By ROB ABBOTT, Special to the Globe and Mail

It has become popular to speak of “The Age of Trump”, and while I identify with the sentiment, this catchphrase misses the larger point.  Namely, modern western culture has been racing toward a rendezvous with a psycho-spiritual crisis that is much bigger than the election of Trump.

The post-WWII economic boom was built on feet of clay – cheap oil facilitated the creation of suburbia, and with it, the ennui that comes with living in the “geography of nowhere” as James Kunstler trenchantly put it.  But the crisis of which I speak has deeper roots than the failures of the suburbs.  The pervasive consumer culture that emerged in the second half of the 20th century, and which has accelerated since 2000, is typified by individualism, materialism, hyper-competition, greed, over-complication, overwork, hurriedness and debt.  Individually, these are bad enough, but viewed as a collective they seriously undermine psychological health and social wellbeing.  It should come as little surprise then, that the levels of intimacy, trust and friendship in people’s lives have plummeted.  Against this backdrop of little substance and depth, seemingly adrift from themselves as well as others, people feel fragmented and dispirited.

Conventional wisdom would have it that such people are depressed, but this too misses the mark.  While depression is an undeniably serious issue – the average age for the first onset of depression is now 14 – the terror that grips far too many people needs to be understood differently.  Anti-depressant drugs have a paltry 28-per cent success rate in large part because the majority of people with a diagnosis of depression are actually suffering from something else – demoralization, a condition unresponsive to drugs.

Historically, demoralization was ascribed to very specific situations, such as terminal illness or survival in prisoner-of-war camps, but there is also a cultural variety that can express itself under the kinds of conditions we have created today.  It manifests as a psycho-spiritual crisis in which seemingly “normal” people begin to question the assumptions undergirding our existence and our actions.  As these assumptions unravel, it becomes difficult to identify with the values, goals and aspirations of society – particularly the allegiance to consumerism.  The consequent feeling of being forsaken and/or on the wrong life track is commonly seen to be depression, but is in fact a form of demoralization that affects more and more people in western culture.

So, how to move forward and address this crisis in a meaningful way?  Writing at the height of World War I, Carl Jung observed: “The great problems of humanity were never yet solved by general laws, but only through regeneration of the attitudes of individuals.  If ever there was a time when self-reflection was the absolutely necessary and only right thing, it is now, in our present catastrophic epoch”.  The grace and power of those words rings true all these years later.  If we are to forge a future in which the political process, economics, work, notions of family, and the environment are meaningfully addressed we must undertake what is sometimes called “inner work”.  Not to be confused with meditation, therapy, or the cult of bliss-ology, this work is an exploration where deeper life purpose and meaning can take place – a soul discovery process leading to increased awareness of personal qualities, abilities and gifts.

It is clear that in the face of our current psycho-spiritual crisis we need a conscious shift in the relationship of humans to each other and to the rest of the Earth Community.  To achieve this, we must dramatically increase the number of people who have tended to their inner work, who have looked beneath their personality and connected with their unique soul gifts that they might bring to the work ahead.  Only then can we stem the tide that has given rise to the Era of Trump.

Rob Abbott is the Co-Founder (with Jessica Rosin) of Soul Quest Canada (soulquestcanada.ca).

 

 

Soul Quest Gateway: Trump is a Symptom of a Larger Psycho-Spiritual Crisis