Saturday, January 26, 2008

Reclaiming the Soul

photo by Carla Royal, © 2006

by Carla Royal
Mindful Living Guide
January 26, 2008

Wherever I am, the world comes after me. It offers me its busyness. It does not believe that I do not want it. Now I understand why the old poets of China went so far and high into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.

The Old Poets of China, Mary Oliver

Carolyn Baker invited me to write an article for her website quite awhile ago after the interview she did with me. I have been dragging my heels unable to even begin. What do I have to say, after all? She has all these amazing writers and articles featured on her site. What do I have to add? After weeks, I have finally realized that I don't have anything to say. There's nothing I even WANT to say. I really don't. I just want to be quiet and still. I want to be with the birds and the trees. I want to play my new Native American Flute. I want to disappear into the mist like the old poets of China. I don't want the busyness the world thrusts at me. I don't want it. I am clear about that. But the world, this culture, insists. Says something's wrong with me if I don't want it. Says I can't possibly survive like this. Says I'm lazy or a freeloader. Says I'm selfish. Says I'm wrong.

I want to disappear into the mist. The ancient Chinese poets did. Why can't I? I'm tired of trying to convince others. I'm tired of trying to convince myself. What if I simply gave myself permission to disappear into the mist? I don't want to be a part of this culture, but this culture is all around me, above me, below me, in me. I can't escape it. It permeates all. It touches everything...and destroys. There is no escaping it, only navigating it, only preparing for its collapse and it IS collapsing. I long for its collapse but I know that I'm not ready for it. I don't know how to grow my own food, treat my own water, build an adequate shelter, make my own clothing and shoes. Civilization has taken that from me and left me as helpless as a child, completely dependent upon it. I live daily with PTSD because of this culture. And the trauma continues daily. I can't escape it. I feel it in my body and soul. I suffer as do all others; my nature friends included.

I had a rough summer. I was traumatized by some folks in a way I've never quite experienced before. I carry that trauma in my body. I am working on releasing it. Because of the nature of the situation I am unable to completely remove myself from the trauma at this time so occasionally I re-experience it. When I re-experience it I go into flight or fight mode. So this is how people walk around in the world. Traumatized by this culture. Traumatized by traumatized people. In constant flight or fight mode. What are we to do, those of us who long for sanity? Culture isn't like a relationship that one can simply choose to leave, and even leaving a relationship is no simple undertaking. But this culture extends into every corner of the earth and every corner of our minds. It is insidious. It is unrelenting. It devours. It will even take our souls if we let it, and we do let it. But surely our soul is the one thing this culture can't take from us unless we allow it. We don't have to allow it. We don't have to surrender our soul, and if we have, we can reclaim it. Perhaps in this culture the most we can do is to reclaim our soul. Reclaim it from the machine, from the institutions, from the busyness, maybe even from God. And perhaps in the reclaiming we will learn something about how to negotiate this culture and its collapse. But how can one go about reclaiming one's soul?

Maybe I have something to say after all. Maybe I want to shout from the top of the mountain: Wake up! Wake up people! We must wake up. We must get still and quiet. We must move up the mountain and into the mist. We must stay there a long time. We must gather with others who are doing the same. We must spend long hours with one another. We must listen to one another and hear of the trauma. We must hold one another and walk with one another. We must ask for help from Turtle, Trees and Boulders. They know something of being still for long periods of time, of taking all the time it takes to be.

You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting- over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
Wild Geese, Mary Oliver

I want to tell people that we CAN reclaim our souls; we can creep into the pale mist. We can make a conscious and intentional decision to reclaim our souls despite the insidiousness of this culture. This reclamation can be as simple as turning off the television and stepping outside to notice what's around us. Many have grown up with little connection to the natural world. Becoming acclimated to nature if you haven't spent much time there can take a little getting used to initially. You may notice at first that things move more slowly (unless of course you happen to see a hawk swoop down on an unsuspecting song bird, or a deer bound into the woods, or a chipmunk scurry to its burrow, or a hummingbird chase off the competition!). You may feel a bit bored or that things are too quiet. Notice your boredom. Notice your discomfort. Notice your curiosity.

As you tune in you will find that life if buzzing all around you. Notice the stream gurgling beside you, inviting you to play. Notice the birds singing their songs to you. Notice the trees swaying in the wind speaking to you. Notice the wind and its many different moods. Notice the earth beneath your feet supporting you. Notice the vultures above you majestically soaring on the wind. Notice the sun on your face warming you. Notice the squirrels collecting their nuts playfully preparing for the winter. Notice the bright yellow mushrooms clinging high in a tree. Notice the fallen leaves pretending to be small exotic animals making you swerve your car in an attempt to avoid them. Notice your dog's nose twitching in the breeze, taking in countless scents. Notice. This is the beginning of reclaiming your soul. This is the secret to holding onto your soul.

In We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World is getting Worse, James Hillman recounts "As Sendivogius, an alchemist, said, 'The greatest part of the soul lies outside the body.' If [the body of the world] is not kept healthy, we go insane. The neglect of the environment, the body of the world, is part and parcel of our personal 'insanity'. The world's body must be restored to health, for in that body is also the world's soul." The world's soul and our soul are one. Noticing the world reconnects us to that world. Noticing strengthens that connection and keeps it strong. That connection may be our most important relationship in helping us navigate and prepare for collapse. If you do nothing else, notice. Laugh, sing and dance as you notice or sit as quietly as you can.

And while you are noticing the life all around you, you will inevitably begin to notice the death, the destruction. You will notice natural death (the hawk swooping down on the snake or the tree releashing its roots to the gusting wind). You will notice unnatural death (song birds crashing into man made windows, rain forests being felled for human consumption, mountain tops being blown to smithereens). This, too, is imperative to reclaiming our souls and the world's soul. It is impossible to see life without also seeing death. In our culture death is quickly swept away. Can you look? Can you stand there with death? Can you look into its eyes and see the gifts there, see the truth, see the lies? Notice the death. This will increase your love and your connection to your soul and the world's soul. Cry. Grieve. Embrace the natural death. Rage against the unnatural death. But notice. Above all, notice. And feel what you notice.

Yesterday I was sitting on my front porch writing in my journal pondering these things. I couldn't help but notice the female Red-bellied Woodpecker making attempts to feed on the suet nearby. Apparently she was a little too nervous to land on the feeder because I was too close. Over the course of an hour or two she made many fly-by attempts but never landed. After awhile I decided to play my flute. I sat in the same chair I was in while journaling. I was, in fact, making more movement and noise while playing than while writing. Amazingly enough, she immediately came to the feeder while I played. No hesitation, no fear...fully confident. I found myself wondering about this phenomenon. What does this mean? Could it mean that we are to quit struggling and live in art? Is this part of reclaiming our soul? And earlier while I was writing, the crows were making such a ruckus that I had to pay attention. They had much to say. In the Native American traditions Crow often symbolizes magic and creation. In the midst of all this culture's death and destruction do they know something that we don't? The birds are my friends, my familiars, my teachers. I listen for their wisdom daily. What do they have to say to you as you listen?

I see or I hear
that more or less kills me with delight,
that leaves me like a needle in the haystack of light.
It is what I was born for-
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside the soft world-
to instruct myself
over and over in joy, and acclamation.
Nor am I talking about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant-
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise with such teachings as these-
The untrimmable light of the world,
the ocean's shine, the prayers that are made out of grass?
Mindful, Mary Oliver

So, yes, I have something to say after all. Wake up! Notice! Feel! Reclaim your soul and join with the world's soul. Fall in love with the life around you. That love, that connection, may well sustain you through collapse. But I am not here to convince you, only to invite you.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life l saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth--that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way--an honorable way--in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, 'The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.
Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl

I grieve daily the destruction caused by this culture. The natural world is my beloved and contemplating my beloved sustains me and brings me deep joy. I believe this connection to my soul and the world's soul will be invaluable to me during the coming collapse. I invite you to explore your connection to the natural world and reclaim your soul. Join me high in the mountains and together let's creep into the pale mist.

— — —
Carla Royal, M.Ed., therapist and mentor, currently lives in Blacksburg, VA where she has her mentoring practice, Beyond Therapy. She works both face to face and via the internet. You can learn more about her and her services through her website at or by emailing her at

© copyright 2007 by Carla Royal.

1 comment:

  1. Came across your blog for the first time. Your posts are very refreshing. Will be back for more.