Monday 19 September 2022

Falling Leaves: Loving What is Mortal

Each morning when we awaken we do not know what the day will bring, there will no doubt be some kind of ying and yang to it, there will be blessings and curses, joys and sufferings. Last Saturday was one of those such days. I spoke with my auntie Lynne, she told me that my cousin Cheryl’s life was coming to an end. I then met with friends. An hour or so later the news came through that Cheryl had died, I was fortunate to be with those friends. Although we knew what was coming, it was still a shock to the system, losing dear Cheryl.

An hour later I set off on a long car journey, alone. I was going to pick up a puppy dog, the lovely Havanese Molly. It was a day the reminded me so powerfully of the impermanence of life, although of course not of love, that always lives on. Physical life though comes into being and sadly comes to end. Those that remain are left to grieve. Of course as a nation we are currently grieving the loss of Queen Elizabeth II after a 70 year reign.

Each morning when we awaken we do not know what the day will bring. So how do we prepare ourselves for the unknowable? This is a question that brings to my heart the following poem by David Whyte

“What To Remember When Waking”

In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?

By David Whyte

When we awaken, we have no idea what the day will bring. The day is a blank page. It is in that first hardly noticed moment, when you open your eyes again, that the sacredness of life is born; a sacredness which we lose when we make plans that deny that things are always changing. In that moment we close the moment, the reality, of what it means to be human, to be alive.

I have been watching the leaves falling these last few weeks. They have fallen earlier this year, no doubt a consequence of a hot summer. Watching those leaves falling reminds me of the impermanence of life, something that is hard to accept for most of us, including myself at times. Marina Popova has described this as ‘that perennial heartbreak of beholding the absurdity of our longing for permanence in a universe of constant change’.

It brought back to my mind the first of those Delphic Maxims “Know Thyself”, to know yourself of course meant to know that you are mortal, that your life will come into being, but will also come to an end. Mortality is the beauty and energy of our lives, it reminds me just how precious life is. I have watched my new puppy Molly come to life and confidence these last few days, she is a great responsibility. Being a dog it is likely that I will watch her grew and develop and become who she is, but I will also have to live with the knowledge that I will one day witness the end of her life. It will break my heart. For now I will enjoy her and my responsibility for her life. She is the most joyful of blessings.

This brings to my mind one of my favourite Mary Oliver poems “In Blackwater Woods”. I have named my puppy Miss Molly Malone. Now everyone has assumed that she is named after the Irish folk song. Well, if truth be told, she isn’t she is actually named after Mary Oliver’s life partner and wife “Molly Malone Cook”.

Here is the poem:

“In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
to let it go.

I love Mary Oliver, she had such a real spirituality, connected to the ground in which all being exists. She saw the beauty in life, without ever hiding from the shadow, the darkness. In many ways she found God just as much in the darkness and suffering of life as the beauty of the natural world, expressed so beautifully in this poem, as she reminds us here “that, thankfully, the other side of the river of loss is salvation”. By the way she was in no way sentimental about the natural world. She was a very real observing and writer about life and at the same time truly soulful.

This poem reminds me how vital it is that I follow her instruction to “love what is mortal, to hold it against our bones, as if your life depends upon it (because I have learnt my life does) and when the time comes, to let go.” Sounds simple doesn’t, but it is far from easy. That said I agree with her, it is the only way to truly live in this world. I will repeat again her final words: “To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”

It brings to mind some other words from another hero Forrest Church:

“The fact that death is inevitable gives meaning to our love, for the more we love, the more we risk losing. Love’s power comes, in part, from the courage required to give ourselves to that which is not ours to keep: our spouses, children, parents, dear and cherished friends.”

It takes courage to love what is mortal, to hold it to your bones as if your life depended upon it and when the time come to let it go, it takes true faith and courage.

The falling leaves remind me of this. They are letting go of what is mortal. Why do we find it so hard? Why do we wish to cling on forever to what is mortal.

The Buddhist say that life is dukkha, that there is suffering in life, that nothing last forever, is permanent, that everything in life is impermanent. I was thinking of this as I looked at those fallen leaves, as I watched Molly playing with them and noticed how many we were accidently carrying into the house. I thought of the cycle of life, how this time next year it will have gone full circle. There will be loss, there will be new life, there will be suffering and above all there will be love.

Remember as Mary wrote:

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
to let it go.

I am holding these words in my heart at the moment. They teach me how to live spiritually alive. They teach me a beautiful reverence for life, how sacred life is, how vital it is to recognise this. To love as deeply as you can this life, to love fiercely and hold those you love tightly to your heart and when the time comes, when they breathe their last breath, to let them go. You have to in order to love this mortal life that we are all a part of. This is the only way to live spiritually alive.

This is what we are here for, to live and to love what is mortal, our lives depend upon it.

Below is a devotion based on the
 material in this "Blogspot"

Monday 5 September 2022

If We Could Meet Soul To Soul


“Soul Lifts” by Tess Baumberger

Wouldn't it be great if you could take a picture of your soul?
Then when your mother wanted to brag about you
she could show people the picture and say,
"That's my daughter, doesn't she have a beautiful soul,
all sparkly and many-colored and flowing all around her?"

Wouldn't it be great if we walked around
surrounded by our souls,
so that they were the first things people saw
instead of the last things?
Then people would judge us by who we really are
instead of how we look.
Imagine no more racism, ageism, sexism, fatism, shortism, homophobia.
Imagine falling in love with who a person is,
just by looking at them.

It would be a kind of cloaking device,
hiding physical faults defects or even perfections.
I'd want it to be mandatory.
Then people would work at making their souls more attractive
instead of their bodies and faces.

Imagine people knowing by your soul that you really need a hug.
Imagine people helping each other and their souls changing colors
or growing.

Imagine soul gyms
with exercises to get your sagging soul in shape.
Imagine the long lines forming for soul-lifts
at churches, temples, mosques, synagogues
or nature's grand cathedrals.

Well would it be great if we walked around surrounded by our souls, if they were the first things we saw?

Last Tuesday evening. During “Living the Questions” we explored three of Delphic Maxim’s inscribed on the Temple of Apollo, these were “Know Thyself”, “Nothing in Excess” and “Surety Brings Ruin”. As always it was great conversation, it ran deep. During the conversation around “Know Thyself” it delved into how we may know the essence of ourselves and others, not so much our surface selves but our souls. Is this ever really possible? Can we truly see each others souls?

Well, I believe that we can; I have discovered that you truly know some people and that they can know you. It is not common, but it does happen. What fascinates me is that you can know some people in a short space of time. Whilst you can know some people all of your life, or at least for many decades and not really know them at all, the soul of them at least. There are some people that you resonate with almost immediately, kindred spirts, and others far less so. I can count on one hand the people who I can say I truly connected with on a deep soul level, true kindred spirits, soul friends, what the ancient celts named Anam Cara. A couple I only knew for a few years, a couple for many years and recently someone I have known just a few months. That said they do feel like a soul friend. Such people awaken you deeply as you do them.

All of these people come into my life at times of deep soulfull change and lit up my life up in weirdly wonderful ways.

Brings to mind the following quote by Albert Schweitzer:

"At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."

We can meet many people throughout our lives who see our souls and who’s souls we see, who understand us fully and who we understand, people who know us and who we know. They help bring about transformation and transfiguration as we do to them. I do give thanks, and with deep gratitude, for those who have lit the flame within me, as I have in them, kindred spirits, soul friends.

As I have already said the ancient Celts named such friends “Anam Cara”, which means “Soul Friend”. An Anam Cara is a teacher, companion or spiritual guide. They are someone who you can share your inner most self with and thus unearth some of those hidden gems that we rarely let out in life and let shine. As you break through the usual human barriers to a deeper soul level, there is a deep sense of belonging and recognition involved in the relationship, both in the present moment but also the eternal. Such relationships have the capacity to transform and take us to deeper experiences of who we are and what life can be.

An Anam Cara is a loved one who awakens your life in order to free you to the undreamed of possibilities deep within you. I am blessed to have known some of these souls in my journey through life. Some have been with me a long time, one for just a short time, some lived for many seasons, one for but a few. Some were old and wise and some were oh so young, their light shone for only a short time. Most are no longer physically with me, they are “as the other side of the air”, but their soul is still alive in my soul, I know this to be true. A couple are still physically here. Such soul friends are a really blessing.

I call these people “Soul Friends”, but what do I mean when I speak of soul, you may well ask? A good question indeed. Like when people speak of the Divine or God often they not mean exactly the same thing. I suspect that the same can be said of soul. I supect that folk understand soul in many and varied ways.

I would call the soul the essence of a person, that which animates our being, that which enables us to be touched and to touch the world in deep and profound ways. Parker J Palmer in “Hidden Wholeness” describes it this way.

"The soul is generous: it takes in the needs of the world. The soul is wise: it suffers without shutting down. The soul is hopeful: it engages the world in ways that keep opening our hearts. The soul is creative: it finds a path between realities that might defeat us and fantasies that are mere escapes. All we need to do is to bring down the wall that separates us from our own souls and deprives the world of the soul's regenerative powers."

Without soul I would say that really we aren’t anything but material that moves. Soul is an important word to me, it is how I know the world and the world knows me, but I find it impossible to fully define. We try of course we do, but we never quite reach what we truly mean. It is a mystery. Again as Palmer has pointed out “ Secular humanists call it "identity and integrity." Hasidic Jews call it "the spark of the divine in every being." Thomas Merton called it "true self." Quakers call it "the inner light." Buddhists call it "Big Self" and "No-Self." If there’s a universal word for it, perhaps it’s the “being” in “human being.”

What we name this essence does not matter, at least not to me, but it is vital that we recognise it in one another. That we recognise that we all have this essence within us, for if we do not then we will fail to recognise our sacredness and that of one another. If this be the case then anything goes. We treat others as commodities to be used and abused, for thus nothing matters. It is vital that we recognise ours and others sacred beings.

Soul is vital to me. That I recognise it in myself and in others. I have come to believe that more than anything else it is soul that animates my whole human being. This though is just my view, what about the great traditions.

Classic Christian theology sees the soul not only as eternal and immortal; it also sees it, following the teachings of the Greek Philosopher Plato, as unchanging and separate from the body.

This is distinct from the Jewish understanding, if there really is one. What they would refer to as soul is really spirit or life breath of God bestowed on creation. There certainly in no concept of a separate soul in Judaism.

These words from Genesis 2 vv 7 certainly suggest this.

“The LORD God formed the man [e] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

It is spirit that is really being talked about here, ruah, which literally means wind. It is this that creates all life, including human beings. It is important to realise here that this is not unique to humans; it is stating that all creation is formed from spirit.

In Hinduism the soul, Atman, is understood to live many lives. The purpose of these lives is to unite the soul with the one God, the Brahman, this is known as the Brahman Atman synthesis.

It is generally thought that Buddhism rejects the concept of the eternal soul.

During his long night of meditation under the Bo Tree, the Buddha found no evidence for the basic Hindu doctrines that he was taught. Through his ESP vision the Buddha looked high and low for the Hindu Godhead Brahman and the eternal and unchanging soul that was our share of the Brahman. What the Buddha discovered has been confirmed by contemporary physics: no thing, not even an atom, endures; all things come into being and then go out of being; all things flow like a river.

Many later Buddhists assumed that because Buddha did not find the Hindu immortal soul that he did not believe in a soul or even a self. But this is correct only if you define the soul as eternal, immortal, and unchanging. While the Buddha rejected this idea, he still believed that every human and animal still were "living beings", much like the Jewish concept found in Genesis.

For myself I see no distinction between soul and spirit. I am yet to find an adequate explanation for this essence, which comes into being, and yet is so much more than mere material existence, whatever name we give it. Nor do I agree with the pure materialist who reject any concept of soul or spirit.

I do not believe soul is restricted to humans either. I say this because I have known and know deep connects with both animals and nature at times. I know that little Charlie knows me, deep in my soul. There is soul, there is spirit in everything. Everything matters.

Mary Oliver beautifully extends the soul beyond human confines in the question she asks in the following poem.

“Some Questions You Might Ask” by Mary Oliver

Is the soul solid, like iron?
Or is it tender and breakable, like the wings of a moth in the beak of an owl?
Who has it, and who doesn't?
I keep looking around me.
The face of the moose is as sad as the face of Jesus.
The swan opens her white wings slowly.
In the fall, the black bear carries leaves into the darkness.
One question leads to another.
Does it have a shape? Like an iceberg?
Like the eye of a hummingbird?
Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop?
Why should I have it, and not the anteater who loves her children?
Why should I have it, and not the camel?
Come to think of it, what about maple trees?
What about the blue iris?
What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?
What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?
What about the grass?

Here's a little more Mary Oliver, soul was clearly important to her, it is from “Red Bird” and is titled “What is the Greatest Gift”

“What is the greatest Gift” by Mary Oliver

What is the greatest gift?
Could it be the world itself — the oceans, the meadowlark,
the patience of the trees in the wind?
Could it be love, with its sweet clamor of passion?

Something else — something else entirely
holds me in thrall.
That you have a life that I wonder about
more than I wonder about my own.
That you have a life — courteous, intelligent —
that I wonder about more than I wonder about my own.
That you have a soul — your own, no one else's —
that I wonder about more than I wonder about my own.
So that I find my soul clapping its hands for yours
more than my own.

This is what fascinates me, this is what animates my soul, to truly know the soul of another and that they know mine, what animates, what brings a person to life, what allows you to connect with their true being, in their human being. This is what I live for. I’m with Mary I wonder about your soul, your essence more than I do my own. My soul claps its hand for yours, or in my case it probably sings for yours.

I am very blessed to have known a hand full of people in my life, that I can call soul friends. I am also blessed to have known others in deep and wonderful ways. I am blessed by the people I have known and who have known me. They have touched me so deeply. They have become good friends, sometimes soul friends.

I’ve been thinking about this these last few weeks, as I have connected once again in a soulful sense, someone who on the surface I am not that alike and yet soulfully it is like looking in a mirror; looking in mirror in the sense that Baumberg described earlier, if you could see a person’s soul on the surface. No doubt it will happen again and again and again, perhaps more frequently, I hope so. I commend you to do the same, to meet one another, to truly know one another, soul to soul.

Something I’d like you to do, a little homework. Think about those people who you have connected with in a deep way, even if it was just for a very short time. Think about the people that have awakened something deep within you, or who you have awakened deep within them. Think of those who have helped you know that love that is Divine, God’s love. If it wasn’t a person, perhaps a place, or an animal, or nature itself, something or someone that awakened your soul, that helped you to know yourself. When you have done so, sing a song of praise.

There are encounters that can shape us and change us forever. Some are for a reason, some for a season and some for a lifetime. We cannot know this when first begin communicating with someone, although sometimes instinctively we do. Such encounters can lead to unknown transformations, for they reveal the love that is Divine. Let us stay open to them. You never know the next person you meet may become the “Good Friend”, “A Soul Friend”, an “Anam Cara” someone who transforms your life and you theirs. An encounter soul to soul that brings about transfiguration.

Below is a video devotion based 
on the material in this "blogspot"