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).