Soulshaping: A Journey of Self-Creation
The following article is from Soulshaping: A Journey of Self-Creation, published by North Atlantic Books.
Everywhere I look I see people who are walking a false path. Their obsession with “security” at the expense of their callings compels them to do jobs they hate. Grin and bear it, until I turn sixty-five, and then my real life will begin. What if our soul-scriptures only give us fifty years to actualize them?
By the time we retire at sixty-five many of us cannot even begin to access our real self. With our God-seeds planted in the wrong fields, we have become too tired and even ill from carrying the weight of the lie to really touch the moment. Forty years encased in stone will do that to you. And that’s if we survive until then -- many of us die from the lie. If we don’t shape up, we may be shipped out.
If we do what we really love, there is no such thing as retirement. The soul beat goes on. If we love our work, we may well make less money before sixty-five, but we are much more likely to live longer and healthier, and to actually want to work well past sixty-five. Is wholeness not the only retirement plan worth saving for?
Somehow it all comes down to truth, or consequences. There is something seemingly safe about living falsely. On one level everything remains unreal, even suffering, because we are walking a false path. Our choices are holdbacks, hiding places, escape hatches. If we don’t get what we want, we don’t really care. It wasn’t our real path anyway.
But the consequences of our falsity are profound. When we live our truth, there is no dissonance along the mind-body-spirit continuum. We flow in the river true. Yet when we lie to ourselves, we corrupt our inner world. It takes an enormous amount of energy to self-distort. The lies get into our cells, and we suffer for it. The convenient fictions we tell ourselves to keep the truth at bay -- “I’ll live my truth later … after I pay off the house” -- become inconvenient factions that congeal and ultimately undermine our very existence. We should be more afraid of avoiding our path than living it.
If thinking of our own death doesn’t motivate us, it may help to think of those who never made it down the birth canal. Think of those little ones who tasted but a few breaths before succumbing. Think of those who died on battlefields so that we would have a chance to be free. Remember how hard they fought for this life, how badly they wanted it.
No matter what others have mistakenly told us, we are all needed here for our gifts, however small or humble they may outwardly appear. If not, the universe would take us back in the blink of an eye. No matter what we may have done in our lifetime, no matter how uncomfortable we are with our past actions, there is always the chance of growing our soul a little bit more.
Dear Reader, please walk your own way while you still can. The truth is that there is no escape from reality. There is only postponement. When it comes down to it -- and make no mistake, it does come down to it -- all you are is your soul’s journey. What else is there? What else is worthy of the time that you have been given?
Shtuscle and Flow
Soulshaping is very much the artist’s journey. Our inner world is soul art; our lives its canvas. Like true artists, we have to be both willful and surrendered at the same time. We have to allow our form to change as intuition demands. Home is where the art is.
Let there be no doubt, this is no easy creation in a challenged world. The world is still a care-less place. Heartfelt glimpses of the God within are discarded as corny and impractical (pray to schmaltz!). Brief crackopens get glued over for fear that everything that holds us together will come unglued (let it unglue!). Interactions with like-spirited others that hint of the deeper ocean get misplaced, buried below the weight of survivalism and distraction (rise from the shallows!).
To craft the truest image, we need to make soul-tracking fundamental to our daily consciousness. And we need to develop and utilize our inner tools. The most important tool is shtuscle -- inner muscle, the soul-driven determination to overcome whatever obstacles come our way. Without shtuscle, and lots of it, we’re not getting home. At the heart of the challenge is the courage to be vulnerable. Although the world rewards insensitivity with the spoils of war, it takes more courage to surrender than to numb. So often the most damaged people are the most advanced and feeling souls. They feel everything and are more strongly impacted by the disparity between an authentic life and the falsified energy of the world. We have to never surrender our right to surrender.
It is good to be patient with ourselves on this journey. Growers are inchworms. Transforming the shape of the soul is a lifelong process. Profound experiences can accelerate the journey, but much of the real change happens at slower paces and the places in between. It also helps to “soulebrate” our little victories along the way rather than waiting until we reach some illusory perfection. Although the journey can be difficult, there is something wonderfully gratifying about the processes of change. A new set of eyes each stage, a new soul-skin at every turn. What an honor and a wonder to self-create.
To achieve the greatest clarity, it is essential to construct a spacious and flowing inner world -- if you build it, you will come! Without breathing room inside the body temple, it can be difficult to identify our soul-scriptures. Triggered by old material, we expend all our energy putting out internal fires instead of channeling it to higher considerations.
Creating space is often a question of clearing emotional debris. I cannot overstate the importance of doing this work as part of the spiritual journey. Divesting ourselves of our emotional holdings is the greatest investment in our future. Remember, we don’t need to get everything in place before we move our feelings. In fact, we may need to move them before we can get everything in place. Things come a lot easier when there is more space inside.
At the same time, we have to be very gentle with the ways we protect ourselves. Our defenses were the third arm that appeared at the most opportune moment, just as we were about to fall into suffering. Severing them with harshness only keeps the suffering that birthed them alive. As Mark Twain said, “Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs one step at a time.”
Be conscious of the role that gender conditioning may play in holding you back. For example, many men were conditioned to be rigid and focused. The very thing they need to grow -- a heartlong plunge into their own confusion -- is internally unacceptable. Also, many men were trained not to be profoundly vulnerable in relationship. Yet many of our soul’s lessons come through connection. Similarly, many women were conditioned to live everything through relationship. Yet many of our soul’s lessons demand that we walk the path of the lone wolf from time to time.
A final word on shame: If there is any one thing that can hold us back, it is our own self-loathing. If we move through our lives ashamed of ourselves, it is very difficult to imagine and believe in our highest possibilities. Unfortunately we often don’t know how much shame we carry. Droplets of shame get behind our eyes and blind us to who we really are.
We need to get to know our shame. We need to track it and understand its insidious impact on our inner life. And we need to help one another to bring it into the light. We need to share those things that we are ashamed of with each other, thereby freeing ourselves and giving others permission to be liberated as well. Self-admission is the first step on the road to self-acceptance. Every deep dark secret we hide is fundamentally human. How can it be any other way?
Shame is rooted in the shame pit of generations before, perpetuating the self-hatred of the collective unconscious, still lodged in dark energies and imaginings. Your shame has nothing to say about who you really are, never did, never will. In truth, you don’t need anyone else’s permission to show yourself. God gave you all the permission you need.
A Good Psychotherapist Never Hurts
To accelerate our healing, it is often useful to work with a psychotherapist. Be careful with your choice. The relationship between client and therapist can profoundly impact the healing process. You want to find a therapist with whom you feel a genuine resonance. When you first meet them, see it as an interview. Ask questions about their own journey: What is their core healing philosophy? What called them to this work? What issues have they struggled with? How far have they come on their journey? How far do they still have to go?
All too often, clients don’t move forward in therapy because they are working with a stuck therapist. Therapists are essentially tour guides. They can only take you through terrain that they themselves have walked. For instance, if a therapist has not reached a place of personal joy, they may keep you over-identified with your pain.
In the same way, be careful that your therapist is not perpetuating your own victimization. A good therapist invites you to accept and express your victimization, and then guides you to a place of self-responsibility, where you can take adult responsibility for your future actions. I have seen many clients stuck in the victim mode by therapists who are themselves stuck there.
The good therapist also understands the difference between guiding and taking over. Telling the other what I think happened to them sets up a disempowering dynamic. I become the parent and they remain as children, directed and defined by the omnipotent other. You want a therapist who takes over only when necessary.
A word about mainstream psychiatrists. They are the perfect people to visit if your only hope is medication. But if there is still a chance that you can be healed (and there almost always is), stay away from them if at all possible. In many cases, they are more analytic than therapeutic. Knowing why you do something is not enough to heal you.
With respect to psychotropic medications, it is good to be cautious when we walk down this road. Many of those medications are feeling-stuffers. They deaden the system and block its natural flow. All the held emotions that want to thaw and move out of us get blocked at their source. All the new life experiences with the potential for creating new associations cannot get inside. We have to be emotionally liquid before we can flow.
In the same way, be careful with the labels psychiatrists use. For example, calling someone a “manic depressive” often shifts the focus from a psycho-emotional experience to a categorical description. Instead of focusing on the source spring -- Why does the client go manic when she feels her pain? What pain is she trying to get away from? -- the label invites the psychiatrist to take the client on the drug trip. There is a fine line between stabilizing someone for therapeutic purposes and embedding their pattern further.
In addition, most psychiatrists (and many other psychology “professionals”) do not understand the relationship between the body and the psyche. For example, when they look at “projection,” they only look at it as a habit of mind. But projection is a body defense as well. As spiritual intuitive Abraham noted, “When we contract, we project.” Projection emanates from and directly reflects a fearful, contracted emotional body. If we do not address the emotional body itself, there is very little chance of healing our defensive patterns. For this reason, a good body-centered psychotherapist can make all the difference.
Turning the Soulular Phone On
As space opens up inside, we often turn our attention to identifying our callings. To help us with this, it is essential that we spend a lot of time inside. So much of soulshaping is about the subtleties of inner design. Inside is where we separate the gold from the dross. Inside is where we do the work to uncover our original face. We have to sit down inside ourselves often and do our inner homework. When man walked on the moon, we attuned to every step with bated breath. Now bring the same focus inward and pay exquisite attention to your inner steps.
At other times, it is good to adventure outward and explore new possibilities. Call them depth charges, call them crack-opens, call them shots in the arm. Like swashbucklers of the spirit, we bravely seek out any experience that might inform our path. When we are afraid of something, we live it fully and see what floats to the surface in the doing. We participate in our own revealing.
I want to really emphasize the value of retreats and workshops, particularly those held away from home. Because we are often adapted to our roles in our daily life, it is difficult to try new ways of being on for size. On retreat we have a wonderful opportunity to let go of our local framework of perception and adventure into broader realms of possibility.
Soulshaping also means not being afraid to do things that feel weird -- weird your way to God. There can be something very helpful about doing things that feel strangely unlike who we think we are. Many of the things we resist contain the seeds of our unfolding.
It is also important to keep the quest for Essence alive. Even an occasional dip in its pools will expand our soul’s consciousness. It is like gazing at the valley from the top of the mountain instead of the bottom. We see more than just a few localized trees and a small part of the river. We see the bigger picture. The monkey mind feeds on “small peanuts”: tireless anxieties, petty jealousies, fearful imaginings. Starve it by swimming in a vast ocean of delight.
If we swim here often enough, we won’t need harshness to wake us up. We will already be awake. There will still be suffering, but it will not be as malicious in its intention. Now we learn from sweeter experiences: the change of a season, the touch of a cat, and the old friend that we bump into right after thinking about her. We enter a more subtle and sophisticated understanding of God’s world.
Do not be dissuaded if your call begins quietly. It may be in hiding, but it’s still in there, still breathing, still with a soulbeat. When the soulular phone finally rings, answer it! It’s the divine Mother calling to remind you of why you are here. You are one of the lucky ones. Most never hear it ring.
God is IN the People
At the heart of Soulshaping is a profound faith in the human experience, in the karmic significance of our personal identity. This stands in real contrast to some of the detachment models that are gaining favor in Western culture. These models present true-path as something distinct from the emotional body, as though our usual self-identifications are inherently inauthentic, as though our physical forms are inferior. At the extremes, they seem to suggest that God made a mistake when she placed us in human bodies. These models worry me and present an image of heightened consciousness that often feels more robotic than human, more heady than hearty.
Soulshaping is not a detachment model. It is an immersion model. It is about jumping into life, immersing ourselves in our feelings and experiences in an effort to learn what we need to expand our soul’s consciousness. It is about “feeling” God, not “thinking” God. It is about honoring our personal identity and our physical form as not only the “vessel” for the soul, but as the embodiment of the soul as well. Embodied spirituality.
To be sure, there are times when detachment is necessary: when the suffering is too much, when we need a peek into a vaster reality. Indeed we are far more than our monkey mind, our neurotic attachments, our linear lens. But to live in perpetual detachment is to miss the moment altogether. It is to trip out of the body that carries the karmic seeds for our transformation. It is to leave Earth before our time.
The most inclusive answer is to work on eradicating our misguided notions of “I” until our notions of I-ness become directly linked to who we really are, to a conscious awareness of our soul-scriptures for this lifetime. To do this we may have to become initially effective at detachment techniques. But then, when we are ready, we come back down to Earth and work with what lives inside us. This means learning how to cultivate our bodies as gardens of truth. This means calling ourselves on our detachment from our shadow. This means doing the often-difficult work to clear our emotional debris and gain control over our relational patterns.
We clear our emotional debris because this creates space inside for our authentic self to emerge, and also because inherent in those feelings and memories are the lessons we need to grow in our spirituality. Our thoughts are only illusions when they do not reflect who we really are, our emotions only wasteful when we are not seeing them all the way through to the spiritual lessons they contain. When we are aligned with our authenticity, our feelings and thoughts become instruments of true-path, direct expressions of our highest intentions. In this more authentic state, we become much more effective at attracting what we want from a universe that is only interested in authentic expansion. Nothing feigned will do.
Our humanness is the “I” of the soul needle. It is our soul clay. It is the heart of our magnificence. God is in our humanness, God is in our connectiveness, God is in our broken hearts, God is in the people. I-God.
A Warning about Gurus
Some of us turn to gurus to help us home. In the Hindu tradition, a distinction is made between two types: (1) sat-guru, and (2) upa-guru. A sat-guru is a realized master. She is the way. Amma and Neeb Karori Baba are said to be examples of sat-guru. An upa-guru is a door opener. They influence a shift in your consciousness. They show you some part of the way. Anyone -- your mother, your cat, the homeless guy who tells you to get out of your head -- can be an upa-guru.
When someone presents themselves as a sat-guru, or when we project sat-guru onto someone, we tread on dangerous ground. To be sure, some individuals are worthy of our devotion, but we have to be very careful. The legacy of the exploitative guru is a long one, and it has caused undue suffering.
There are many signs that we are dealing with an ungrounded and potentially untrustworthy spiritual teacher. For instance, they have one set of rules for you, one for them. They deny their unresolved issues. They see the body as substandard or entirely distinct from the soul. They reframe painful life experiences only in terms of spiritual learning. They see the world of emotions as illusion (except when it is convenient not to). They rely on their so-called purity as an excuse for not forming adult boundaries. They defend their behavior by reference to a higher knowing. If you complain about their actions, you are told that your complaints are emanating from the mundane world and that you just can’t grasp their lens.
They may also re-frame their own dysfunction in heightened terms (“I quit the world because I had a higher calling”) rather than facing their shadow head-on (“I had too many issues to deal with the world”). A giant warning sign is the use of “the mirror” as a defense against wrongdoing. The guru claims that his (questionable) actions were not actually for his own benefit but done with the conscious intention of reflecting back to you the unresolved aspects of your own consciousness. If you felt betrayed, it was because you have issues around betrayal that you need to look at.
If we do choose to sit before someone, grounded spirituality demands that we check in as to our motivation. If we are lost in the perfection projection, we need to own that. If we are looking for the good father or mother, we need to own that too. In most cases, the guru is just a travel agent for the particular trip that helped him to become more aligned. With only rare exceptions, he cannot tell us our truth. He cannot tell us what to know. The most he can do is call out to our knowing and remind us of what we inherently knew all along. Anything else is usually a misappropriation of karmic funds. Be careful.
If we just see everyone as an upa-guru, then we can avoid many of the pitfalls that come with the sat-guru projection. Better yet, chase ourselves down the way we chase down the guru. See our own lives as guru. Sit before it as student and teacher. What a thing -- to be teacher and student both!
A Soulful World
In my imaginings, I see a world that makes the journey of the soul its most important priority. Here, we adjust every aspect of our lives to its authority. If a forty-hour work week takes us out of attunement, we change the work week. If too much stimulation alienates us from the source spring, we consciously limit it. If fifteen hugs per day keep us connected, we insist on them. Our environment and our terms of reference are shaped from the soul outward.
In this soulful world, we would pay homage to the steps that we have taken to find our way home. We would honor the same in others, recognizing the courage it took to live in truth. People often talk about living in the moment, but it is my experience that we do not live in the moment if we are not living in truth. Truth is the gateway to the moment. It doesn’t matter how much we achieve, or how many things we master, if it is not our true-path. The moment we lie, we leave the moment. The work we do to separate false-path from true-path is not just spiritually beneficial, it is our best and only hope.
Lately, I have been imagining an international holiday called “True-Path Day.” We have holidays to celebrate our battles for outer freedom, but few that acknowledge our fight for inner freedom. On True-Path Day, we would soulebrate every effort we have made to excavate and embody the soul-scriptures that live at the core of our being. Every calling that was explored and every essential lesson that we learned would be held and seen in its highest light. The ramifications of such a day would be profound, particularly for the younger soulshapers. Instead of being conditioned to play it safe, they would be encouraged to live in truth as a way of being. Later in life, when the little voice pipes up in their inner world, they would happily raise it to the rafters of consciousness.
In this more liberated world, we would be easier on each other. We would always strive to see others as souls, even those we profoundly dislike. We would recognize that each of us is a soul at a particular stage in its development. The most we can do is inch a little forward each lifetime. Even those of us who are able to make giant leaps are still limited by the developmental stages of the collective unconscious. We can only jump so far before the world around us limits our expansion. We are all in this together. We are this together.
My favorite dream is that of a soulshaping university. Soulshaping U is dedicated to the opening of the heart and the excavation of our soul-scriptures from the library within. Courses are experiential in nature and might include Depth Charges; Ego Shucking; Emotional Clearing and Integration; Money Management; De-armoring; Dream Interpretation; Methods for Shedding Falsity; Issue Spotting; Meditation; Shazam: The Inner Wow-Wow! Because only the individual soul can know how close it is to true-path, the individual gives her own grades: Did I courageously depth-charge? Did I soul-attune, or did I soul-distract?
In addition to honoring the PhDs of the outer world, we would also honor those inner world guides who help us to shape our own myths.
In this soulful world, there would be a profound emphasis on relationship as a path to God. We would place much less emphasis on gender, and more emphasis on the spiritual threads that bring us together. We would be encouraged to summon and identify members of our soulpod from an early age.
There would also be a strong cultural emphasis on foundation building, recognizing that we cannot hold soul love safe until we have worked through our own obstacles to intimacy. You can’t love another person if you can’t see them, and you can’t see them until you have clarified your own lens. At the same time, we would be under no illusion that all “soul-mates” are meant to last a lifetime. Some soul connections are meant to last but a moment, whatever you need to smooth the rough edges of your soul.
In this love-struck world, relationship would always be experienced as spiritual practice, a devotional expression of our God-self. We would all be taught to recognize those who had encountered soul love, and we would support the related processes. Rather than blindly characterizing the tumult as pathology, we would accept that the tumult is often necessary, and sometimes quite beautiful.
To stay awake to the sacredness, relationship rituals would be taught and practiced everywhere. Fewer would get up on Saturday and Sunday mornings and go to houses of worship to come to God. Many would stay in bed on those mornings, turn to their partners, and come to God in their own houses of worship. Employees would get time off from work not just because they are physically ill but also because they need to tend to an unhealthy relationship. Couples would go on regular retreat where they would be fed and housed, and where elders would be present to help them through difficult moments. We would structure our world and define our values so that love can stay at the heart of the matter in every moment.
Soulshaping (Un)limited seeks like-spirited others to join a profound and tireless revolution of the spirit. Without your participation, our world of glorious possibility is at risk.
Joining begins within. There is no job interview, no grand inquisition. You look inside and decide if you are willing to do the work to excavate and honor your innate image for this lifetime. Only you will know if you have that willingness. If you do, get to work on whatever it is that stands between the you of this moment, and the truest you.
At some point, you may feel ready to bring your soul energy outward. You may want to gift back. In Sanskrit, the word seva means to be of service. How can you help “seva” this mad world? That is for you to decide. It can be as obvious as honoring your callings. It can be as subtle as attempting more genuine contact with others -- “How are you? No, I mean how are you, really?” It doesn’t matter what form it takes, so long as it feels true to path.
If the revolution can really gain steam, we will need all manner of soul workers and spiritual activists -- unmaskers, initiators, excavators, humanifestors, lesson interpreters, energy workers, dream weavers, mystery mamas, handholders, ego-shuckers, boundary-makers, authenticators, guru busters, soulular phone operators, conscious flakes, masters of the heart. Whatever you have to overcome on the way home will prepare you to help others with the same challenges. I’ll see you on the path.
© 2009 by Jeff Brown. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
Jeff Brown is a practicing body-centered psychotherapist who studied Bioenergetics with founder Alexander Lowen. He is co-founder of the Open Heart Gang, and is currently working on a documentary film about Bhagavan Das. Read his Evolver profile here.
Teaser image by Miceeatcheese, courtesy of Creative Commons license.Tweet