The darkness can be deep. I lie in bed at the end of the day, one hand on my heart and the other on my solar plexus, feeling into the jumble of sensation longing for attention. My mind is meaninglessly scanning its usual stories for some quick resolution to my discomfort and doubt, grasping at the most socially acceptable, yet elusive comforts. I know that security will only soothe me for a moment, but on nights like this, the vision to deeper fulfillment once so clear is now nebulous and obscure, and the shadows threaten to consume me.
What is at the center of our longing? What is it that keeps us reaching through the dark night toward a new life even though we don’t yet see how to make it a reality? What motivates us to risk, to step away from the familiar, to dive into the center of our fear for the jewel we trust lies inside? The thing that is wild within us cannot be suppressed. It finds a crack in our foundation and wriggles through, like weeds flowering through a broken sidewalk.
- Personality is the part of us we develop to navigate our human society and culture. It experiences truth as relative to time, place, culture, and circumstance. It is our vehicle for learning how to keep our bodies healthy and nourished, find work that meets our primary needs, and have satisfying relationships. Traditional counseling, coaching, and mentoring address skill gaps or wounding within our personalities that block us from becoming fully functional in the world we were born into.
- Spirit lies completely beyond our individual identity in the impersonal, transcendent, and eternal elements of existence. It is the realm of absolute truth and universal qualities of peace, love, compassion, and unity. Spirit is completely unconcerned with the details of our lives, but we can be nourished by it through spontaneous experiences or intentional practices that uplift us, expand us beyond our sense of individuality, and merge us with universal rhythms of nature. Religion and spirituality provide various belief systems and practices that help us build a relationship with Spirit as God, Divine Mother, Gaia, the Universe, the Void, divine flow, etc.
- Soul is a vehicle for the universal qualities of Spirit to express through our personality in a manner relative to our culture and individual perspective and gifts. Soul is what enabled each prophet to express timeless spiritual principles tailored to era in which they were born. Bill Plotkin compares the soul to an acorn – holding the blueprints of the oak longing to mature within us. The hero’s journey identified in myths across time and culture by Joseph Campbell, outlines this growth process as a descent into the wilderness of our psyche during which we are dismantled, reassembled, and reintegrated back into to the world to express our deeper purpose. Traditional rites of passage and shamanic practices, Jungian and depth psychology, shadow work, and dreamwork all support this journey of uncovering and embodying what David Abram refers to as our “unique ecological role in the biosphere.”
Because our soul is the essence of who we truly are, we cannot be fulfilled without unearthing and sharing it with the world. And because our manifesting it is as important to the flow of life around us as a bee carrying pollen or a tree nourishing the ground with leaf debris, forces are continually supporting our soul’s unfolding. Once we have developed an adequately functional personality, our soul will begin longing to take root in that fertile soil. We often experience this call through moments of deep inspiration and grounded clarity, despite the fear, grief, and doubt that usually accompany it. If we are able to take even the smallest step towards answering this call, we are supported by the appearance of new friends and mentors, new opportunities, a deepening sense of connection or intuition, and encouraging synchronicities. The process of each soul’s development is as unique as our personality, but there is ancient wisdom that outlines the path and several modern guides if we are fortunate enough to find them.
I understand better now how each loss and transition I’ve experienced revealed a flash of my soul in the dark, like a beacon calling me home over stormy seas. My soul’s longing to surface led me into a stable marriage that supported the development of my confidence in a career, and then dissolved both attachments through a call to be more expansively creative and adventurous. It brought me to the Ananda community, where I learned to work with my energy, set boundaries, and embrace being a teacher, and then burned it all down so I had to find ways to express my gifts in the wider world. In a way, I have spent years wandering aimlessly in the wilderness. But I have also been gifted crucial training for my personality accompanied by whispers of my soul’s purpose. Each time I readjust my course to align with it, the shadows get darker, the light gets brighter, and I get bolder.
Bill Plotkin’s work has shown me that each thing I have been deeply moved by has been a thread of the same tapestry. Psychology strengthens our personality as a vehicle for soul work. Spiritual practice invites sources of universal nourishment for our soul. The “more than human world” provides both a connection to Spirit and a mirror for finding our soul’s unique place. The true center of my longing is not for comfort and validation, but for prioritizing the hero’s journey to unearthing and expressing my soul. I have committed to an ecopsychology apprenticeship program that will weave all the strands of this longing together and take me deep into literal and metaphorical wilderness. Despite the loss and fear running feral within me as I contemplate the upcoming solo vision fast, the challenges of finding a home and work in the Bay Area, and releasing limitations around developing my business, I know the there is no other path for me, and I will find a way. The roots of my soul will always break the concrete to flower in offering, so I clear some ground, plant some seeds, and wait for the seasons to come.
“I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
the center of your longing.”
– David Whyte