We cannot avoid divine messengers. They fly in like that trickster Hermes across the landscape of the soul heralding the next chapter or cycle of life.
If we are wise, we will pay attention or at least climb aboard the lens of hindsight in our quest for a soul-centric life – one that with both eye and ear for initiation seeks to take our life not further into the world but deeper into the Self. What Rumi called ‘the root of the root of your own self’.
I didn’t know it at the time, but a divine messenger came to me on my 18th birthday. Her name was Sian, and she was sitting A-levels with me. She was quiet, slight and ephemeral; I did not know her well. We didn’t mix in the same crowd. Whereas I was wild and untamed, already a drinker and fighter of some repute, she exuded a subtle soulfulness. We had never really noticed each other, or so I thought.
She stopped me in the corridor and gave me a present, a copy of John Fowles’ book The Magus. It was a pivotal moment in my life and started me on a journey back to the no-thingness I longed for. But her greater gift was in seeing me. I mean really seeing me, the soul that resided beneath all the hurt and pain I carried.
Within a year or so she had died from a rapacious cancer, which made our meeting all the more poignant, but not before she had delivered her gifts.
After I devoured what was a mesmerising novel about the de-thawing of the anti-hero’s shutdown soul into a real humanness, I returned to the quotation from Little Gidding by TS Eliot that started it:
‘We shall never cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. ‘ We come from oneness, are born into twoness, and return to oneness at death or, if we are very blessed before, if the divine wills it.
Of course, our own dissolution both stalks and terrifies us. It is coming for us and cannot be escaped – a shadowy grim reaper opening a door filled with light. And yet we hold on to what we know, a small character trying to be big in the endless drama of the soul played out on a stage filled with what indigenous people call the ten thousand things.
Yesterday, discussing these things with a friend, it occurred to me I had started a website supporting the soul’s descent because as a natural underdog and outsider, I like to champion those at the fag end of things.
And it seems that soul currently languishes as spirit’s poor cousin at a time when those who have no roots into their unconscious, no true wholeness, want only love and light and banish the blackness that soils all of us further into the dingy recess where they have it tightly locked up.
As Carl Jung said, it is not in the shadow but in the denial of the shadow that evil finds fertile ground. It seems then that we have to embrace our twoness if we want it to morph into oneness, to love it rather than hate it, to declare it rather than to defame it.
In emptying ourself of ourself we have to face what we don’t want to look at, the taboos, the disavowed and disallowed. The hateful, violent, rageful Medusa within. That means facing some pain knowing we have divine backing.
The Sufi mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee put it this way: ‘The divine awakens our heart with the memory of union and our job is to make this conscious.’ He goes on to point out the emptiness we fear, the nothingness that will consume us, loves us with an intimacy, tenderness and mercy beyond imaginings.
When the mind bows to the heart and takes its proper place as a bridge between the conscious and unconscious life, the veils that obscure our experience of oneness are lifted. For those of us who are not gifted with sudden and permanent spiritual awakenings, such an experience is, as Alcoholics Anonymous says, of the ‘educational variety’.
The story of Majnun and Layla in the Sufi tradition illustrates why: when Majnun saw his beloved Layla and caught a glimpse of her ankle he passed out. See, said God, if that makes you faint, don’t come running to me! Walk and you may just have a chance of surviving.
Don’t we need both soul and spirit, masculine and feminine, up and down? And don’t we need to slowly cook and synthesize the pairings as the animals aboard Noah’s Ark had to give birth to the world?
We can see this merger of the human and divine everywhere. Sometimes it goes wrong. The giant Nephilim, said to be the result of the lovemaking of fallen angels and humans may be a case in point. In the story of Eros and Psyche, the youthful god, son of a jealous Aphrodite, is sent to kill the mortal but – as is his wont – seeks instead to merge.
Although we relate solely to this asteroid’s erotic longings, he represents the life force that drives us all, and seeks to penetrate and impregnate us, getting past our defences so we can experience the bliss of the conjoining of our divine and human selves. He sits up in the heavens, in our astrological charts, waiting for the opportunity that so often brings devastation.
Psyche, the adored mortal, lost him by disobeying a divine directive, and had to go through many trials set by the envious Aphrodite before she could win him back. This is our own story, the story of the soul, and the story of our journey to merge with the one we love.
Those we love the most, are bound to trigger our most labyrinthine defences and so often we separate without working for the rewards of healing and togetherness.
We are also a bridge in this generation; a bridge between divine and human realms. We wrestle and struggle, oscillating between oneness and twoness and this is as it should be. In years to come, those who come after will have a different experience no doubt. But we are the transition team. It is both our burden and our blessing to be so.
Perhaps it is time to stop being ashamed of our humanness, our ‘mistakes’, our rage and pain, and realise we are brave pioneers, going where no man or woman has gone before.
As Pema Chodron, the Buddhist nun says, it is human to prefer Samsara or Nirvana, but there is something about embracing both to realise they are in fact one.
Someone else whose work I admire reminds me that liberation is not liberation without acceptance of that which appears to be non-liberation.
Amen to that.