The Grandeur of the Soul- Francis Weller

During the Renaissance, when the world still possessed a sense of enchantment, when animals and the dreaming earth spoke and were worthy of our attention, poets and philosophers conjured an image to depict the grandeur of the soul. What they came upon was the night sky. That is how vast and mysterious we are. That is how unfathomable and beautiful we are. Pause and think about this. Breathe it into yourself. This is our true inheritance: the wild, undulating majesty of soul. When we let this larger reality fall upon us, we drift into the grand expanse of the soul. This is what we long for and it is nested in the heart of our ancestral memory. Soul as root, as well as heartbeat, the perennial ground that binds the human and the more-than-human worlds together.

The emphasis in our time, however, is upon the self. The “me” that we most often identify with inside our definitions. It is curious that we often feel small and isolated when embedded solely in this identity. That may be because the self is experienced as insular, interior, segregated and partitioned off from others in the world. Matters of boundaries and individuation abound. Specialness, mastery and self-improvement flood the psychological landscape. And yet, for all the offers of psychological development, the feelings of separation still linger. We have forgotten the grandeur of the soul, our innate inheritance, and have been reduced to trying to keep ourselves afloat in the boat of self.

I am not denying the presence of a self, an identity that gives each of us a bearing in the world. What I am calling our attention to, is that without soul, the self remains marooned in its isolated hut of interiority. It is soul that leads us into the wild interplay between self and world, between self and ancestors, the Dreamtime and spirit, and the profusion of images arising continuously from psyche. Soul is there, betwixt and between, eliciting connections and intimacies. We fall into the world via soul’s erotic desire for this sensuous life.

Soul offers continual intimations of belonging. And isn’t that what we need in these times—a sense of belonging that is entangled with melting glaciers, cedar waxwings, the cries of families separated at borders, whispers shared deep in the night between lovers. To step into the domain of soul is to enter a rich and vibrant terrain riddled with images and eruptions of affection. It is to step across a threshold and find ourselves enraptured by the deep story of the soul displayed in myths, metaphors, and mystery.

Soul is a shape-shifter, wearing many coats. While the self prefers definitions and structure, soul is too rambunctious to be contained in one simple story, particularly our biographical narrative. That is, in part, why there are so many variations of fairy tales and myths. Soul requires a multitude of ways to express its full nature. The extensive array of images found in these wisdom tales reminds us that the ground of our being is wide and deep. We are part wind, part track of moonlight on water, part dreaming coyote, part slumbering bear. To attend these wider strands of soul life binds us with the dreaming earth, the soul of the world. Loneliness abates and the edges of our identity thin and become permeable. We remember our expanded self and find ourselves at home.

When we look up into the bowl of night and take in the exquisite beauty of the stars, we are catching a glimpse of the eternal and a mirror of our own immense lives. We have been gifted with this stunning life and along with this comes an innate responsibility to live it fully. And since the soul is at home with all the manifestations of this world, from joy to sorrow, despair to astonishment, and everything in between, let us risk seeing ourselves as part of the grandeur of the soul. 

Exercise: Take some time one of these nights and lie out under the canopy of stars. Let your imagination go and let it invite you into a reverie that suggests that what you are seeing is also a reflection of your own vastness. What if that is true? What if you are large and contain multitudes? How might you walk differently in the world? How would your story of yourself change to account for the larger and wider sense of identity? Write about this for 15 minutes or share with a friend. 


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Francis Weller, MFT, is a psychotherapist, writer, and soul activist. Author of The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief, The Threshold Between Loss and Revelation, (with Rashani Réa) and In the Absence of the Ordinary: Essays in a Time of Uncertainty, he has introduced the healing work of ritual to thousands of people. He founded and directs WisdomBridge, an organization that offers educational programs that seek to integrate the wisdom from indigenous cultures with the insights and knowledge gathered from Western poetic, psychological and spiritual traditions.

Francis’ writings have appeared in anthologies and journals exploring the confluence between psyche, nature, and culture, including “The Sun” magazine, the “Utne Reader”, “Kosmos Journal”, and “Ruminate”. Francis is currently on staff at Commonweal Cancer Help Program, co-leading their week-long retreats with Michael Lerner. He is currently completing his fourth book, The Alchemy of Initiation: Soul Work and the Art of Ripening.

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