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Suffering and the Soul

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"When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something's suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful." -- Billie Mobayed

Can a soul lose its way or be broken? And if so, what can one do about it? These are some of the questions posed by readers of my last post: "Soul Stories: Discovering the Lessons of Your Soul's Journey."

Earlier in our discussions here, I suggested that when we talk about matters of the soul, the river is wide and the water is deep. There is so much more unknown than known. So as we consider the questions that inevitably arise when we wade into these waters, we need to be aware that there are no tidy answers, no place of universal acceptance or agreement. There is no Dept. of Lost Souls where one can go to reclaim theirs, or no Missing Souls papers to be filed. When we wade into the waters of the soul, we usually end up with more questions than answers, for that is the nature of soul.

Soul thrives in our living in the tension of the questions themselves, for soul is not as much about answers as it is about the seeking. The soul is interested in the journey for the journey's sake. To the soul, the journey is the destination, that being the discovery and recognition of its own truth, which can only be found in the depths of the experience of life itself.

Consider that in our discussions about soul, we are like Neil Armstrong, taking small steps onto a territory that is so vast and so far beyond anyone's comprehension that even though the idea of soul has been the subject of human inquiry since the beginning of recorded history, we still can only speculate about its nature.

The idea of a GPS for the soul suggests that the soul could become unmoored from its journey and lose its way. To the ego mind, this would appear to be the case for the ego is solely about the destination. For it, the journey is only a means to an end; getting from point A to point B by the shortest possible route.

If a soul appears to wander off the main road or spend time in one of life's cul-de-sacs, the ego is threatened by this appearance of confusion or lack of clarity and hunkers down even tighter. This contraction obscures our ability to "get" what the apparent "detour" is there to teach, and often causes us to spend even more time being "side-tracked." The ego is bound in time; therefore, time matters. Time spent in something other than direct pursuit of its goal is time wasted and considered a "mistake."

To the ego, mistakes are failures. To the soul, there are no mistakes and there are no failures. There is only learning. The soul is here for the distinct purpose of unfolding its agenda in its earthly expression. Whatever is required for its evolution is grist for the mill and is taken on without consideration of the ego's suffering that may result.

"How long the road is. But for all the time the journey has already taken, how you have needed every second of it in order to learn what the road passes by." -- Dag Hammarskjöld

One reader, LearnerLine, posed this question last time:

But what does one do with a broken soul?



You see it in our homeless vets, struggling on the streets to come to terms with what they've experienced. You see it in the eyes of abused children, and of those children who have become adults. You can feel it in the vibes of war refugees. See it in the faces of victims of domestic violence. It is there in a good number of people walking this earth.

One wants to rebel and say that this should not be possible. That the soul should not be breakable, that such a thing cannot exist. But it does. With it comes a constant burden and a disabling weight that can drive a person to homelessness, helplessness and total despair.

In response to LearnerLine's questions, even more questions arise: How does the individual soul relate to the soul of the world and how does the loss of soul in a human being reflect the loss of soul in the world?

We live in a world that does not recognize the aspect of soul, even as the world itself is an expression of our collective soul consciousness. In seeking answers to the "lost or broken" souls of individuals, we must also address the loss of soul in a world that provides little time or space for the kind of activities that nurture the soul, like time spent in solitude and silence, the appreciation of art and beauty and pursuits of the imagination and yes, even suffering.

It might sound cold and calculating to say that if a soul's journey requires great suffering to be included in the curriculum, it will not avoid that part of the curriculum. But we live in a world and in a culture that wishes to avoid pain at all costs, so the soul's ability to get to its truth, painful as that may be, is most often thwarted by those who think the solution is to "fix" or "cure" the conditions or symptoms we call "broken" or "lost."

Most cultures of the world pathologize an individual soul's descent to seek its own truth, sometimes only found in the depths of depression and despair. We medicate our symptoms instead of listening to them. We drown them out through the use of alcohol, drugs, anti-depressants and endless distractions, readily available in modern culture.

Rarely do we become still or silent long enough to be informed by the story attempting to be told by a soul that suffers. People are driven to despair when they cannot access their own truth attempting to bubble up into conscious awareness through the symptoms being expressed.

To paraphrase Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, there is no fixing or curing required for the soul, only caring. We must learn to live with a conscious awareness of what our individual soul requires for its full expression. This will most certainly require that we learn how to live with pain, both emotional and physical, for when a soul loses its way, it is because we, the human host, have lost our way. Pain is the soul's alarm system that we're off track and that attention and care are required.

I once knew a man who claimed with certainty that he was going to die young. His father had died of a heart attack at age 51 and Bill was certain he faced a similar fate. By the time he turned 52, Bill felt he was on borrowed time. Convinced of this truth, he paid no attention to the dizzy spells that came on with increasing frequency, and even managed to ignore blacking out several times. By age 53, he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and died before the end of that year.

Bill appeared to suffer immensely through the year before he died, becoming more and more disoriented and irrational. Yet he wouldn't seek medical attention or allow anyone to help him. He ended up in the medical system because a neighbor called the paramedics after finding him lying on the floor, unconscious, at home. By the time he was admitted to the hospital, it was too late. The tumor had completely enveloped his brain and he lived just a few weeks beyond his diagnosis.

To most anyone, Bill certainly appeared to be lost and broken. But who can say that his soul was? Perhaps his certainty about his ultimate fate was imbedded into his soul's journey from the very beginning. His very last wish was to have his ashes scattered in the mountains of Colorado. I considered it my sacred honor to fulfill those wishes. In this way, my prayer was that his soul could finally find the peace in death he failed to find while alive.

We can't possibly know the ultimate outcome of the souls that appear to suffer. There are those who have endured great suffering and who have emerged the stronger for it. We hold people like Viktor Frankl and Nelson Mandela in high regard because they point the way to an alternative possibility beyond victimhood and retribution. They used their suffering to expand our collective awareness of what's possible for humanity as a whole.

Seen through the filter of cultural conditioning and ego, suffering appears horrific. Seen through the eyes of the soul, pain and suffering are paths to deepening. Suffering can take us to our knees and strip us bare of all illusions. It is here that the ego is forced to give up denial and stand face-to-face with the driver of its destiny. It may be that only through a total surrender of ego, in which a person may appear to be completely broken or lost, that one can truly find one's way to truth.

We cannot know the gifts suffering provides to the soul's evolution. This is part of the mystery of the soul we must live with. Human nature abhors mystery. We want certainty and predictability. Cultivating the ability to live with uncertainty and learning to live in the mystery are ways of taking care of the soul for it thrives in the mists of uncertainty where all possibilities exist.

Sometimes the soul can only find release through suffering and ultimately, physical death. For the soul, physical death is not the end of its journey, but a passage to the next classroom. To the soul, there are no summer vacations. School is always in session.

I welcome your thoughts and comments on this topic, which is so immense that we can only scrape the surface in this space. So pull up a chair and let us know what's on your mind as we gather here weekly at this Wisdom Well.

I also welcome your visits to my personal blog and website at Rx For The Soul. And for personal contact, email me at judith@judithrich.com.

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Blessings on the path,
Judith

For more by Dr. Judith Rich, click here.

For more on GPS for the soul, click here.

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