06/01/2010 11:22 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Cycles and Seasons of a Soulful Life

To everything there is a season, and
a time to every purpose under heaven.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

As we know, all things in the natural world go through change cycles repeatedly throughout their lifetimes. In the plant world, these changes take place like clockwork. Life renews itself every spring, comes into full bloom and expression during summer, renders its harvest in the fall and dies away in winter.

We don't question this process in the plant world as we tend our gardens. We cooperate with it. We water and fertilize and pull the weeds, and thus help the garden grow and achieve its full potential. If we give the garden what it needs, it will reward us with luscious, strong, beautiful plants that bring us great joy. And come late fall, the plants will begin to wither and die and no amount of water and fertilizer will change this cycle. It is time for them to die, and we accept this season of death.

A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up
that which is planted

Ecclesiastes 3:2

The seasons of most human lives take place over a much longer arc of time than that of plants, yet many a child has been born and lived its life within the cycle of one rotation of the earth on its axis. Or less. Some human lives come in and out of existence on this plane in only a matter of moments; a breath here, and gone. And no amount of medical intervention will change this. Apparently, it was time for them to die.

What we can never know is just why that was so. We can never know what purpose was served by this short-lived life. We can only have faith and trust that a purpose was served. Perhaps the purpose was to teach us about such things as faith and trust, hard lessons for the ego. For the soul however, these lessons are a piece of cake. This is the very "stuff" from which the soul crafts a life.

A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and
a time to build up.

Ecclesiastes 3:3

Other human lives enter this realm, already seeming to carry the weight of many lifetimes in their bones. These are the ones we call the "old souls." These are the ones who come with a wisdom, already known and expressed in the youth of their seasons. The marriage of youth (in the body) and elderhood (in the soul) and the sweet possibility of a life lived all the way out to its edges, a full on, full out, full volume life. A long human life lived right from the beginning with a rich appreciation for imagination and beauty, for love and loss. A rich appreciation for every kind of theme and harmony life itself, offers itself to the world.

A time to weep, and
a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and
a time to dance

Ecclesiastes 3:4

These lives of ours; these souls of ours, cycle through their seasons, but to the one who lives a mindful life -- a soulful life -- change cycles will take place within an aware consciousness that embraces the process and cooperates with it.

Awareness of the soul's process and how to nurture it greases the skids and makes for a much less bumpy ride. The aware humans will not fight the natural order of the soul, which in order to be true to itself (and it must always be true to itself) does not hesitate to shake things up, empty the container, slough off the toxic wastes of being human and start over.

A time to cast away stones, and
a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and
a time to refrain from embracing

Ecclesiastes 3:5

Lacking this critical awareness of the soul's seasons, we'll suffer our journey through the slings and arrows, resisting the process and creating suffering. But to the soul, even our resistance and suffering is purposeful, more grist for the mill. The soul is patient. It has eternity to get this right.

Modern religions might have adopted the idea of the soul that lives on, but the eternality of the soul has been celebrated throughout human history. From the ancient drawings of the cave dwellers in southern France, to the temples built to guard and ferry the souls of the pharaohs in ancient Egypt, to man's earliest creation mythologies in Sumeria, the human story has always included the story of its soul.

Some people have a hard time with this idea. Some say there is no such thing as the soul. Some say it is only the electrical and chemical changes taking place in the brain, or it is only behavior, or memory or conditioning. Some argue that the soul is a flight of fancy, some are turned off by an association with religion, calling it a kind of "supernatural ghost". Some dismiss the soul as irrelevant in today's world. Some make room in their belief systems for "something" that is beyond the human realm, but have a hard time calling it "soul".

My own idea of what the soul is and how it operates has been deeply imprinted by my study of archetypal psychology and the work of Dr. James Hillman, the father and founder of archetypal psychology and an approach to working with the psyche that addresses the primacy of the soul and its process in shaping our human experience.

From Sanford L. Drob's interview with Hillman in the New Kabbalah on the the soul:

For Hillman the classical problems of philosophy, theology and psychology "what it is to be truly human, how to love, why to live, and what is emotion, value, justice, change, body, God, soul and madness in our lives", as well as the more immediate problems of sex, money, power, family, health, etc. are all insoluble, their eternal purpose simply "to provide the base of soul-making" (Hillman 1977, p. 149). "There is a secret love hiding in each problem, problems are 'secret blessings' that sustain and deepen our souls (Hillman, 1983, p. 181). This view is also Hegelian. Hegel, following Fichte, based his entire philosophical system on the idea that the conflicts, contradictions, puzzles and enigmas of the world serve the single teleological purpose of providing an arena for the development of humanity's, and hence, the world's spirit. Hillman's view hardly seems different, except that in place of Hegel's 'Geist' (mind or spirit) we have Hillman's 'soul'. The view is also Jungian as well, for it holds that the essence of psychological life is the deepening of the psyche's own experience, which for Jung is tantamount to the process of individuation."

So whether or not you agree or can even remotely align with the idea or concept of a human soul, there are thinkers throughout human history who, while not necessarily agreeing on the word, have given the subject of that part of human existence which transcends body and mind, which is more than the sum of its parts, a great deal of thought and consideration.

This is what I'm calling "soul". And as such, it has its seasons.

A time to rend, and a time to sow;
a time to keep silence, and
a time to speak

Ecclesiastes 3:6

Some of those seasons will be characterized by silence. When a soul winter has set in for what seems eternity, like the plants in the garden, the soul goes dormant and we're called to enter the deep, still, inner silence. In an earlier post, The Soul of Winter, I wrote:

The soul continually calls us to make the journey to the farthest reaches of our own interior, to places the light of awareness has never reached so that we too, might be rewarded with the riches of renewal and restoration. However to do so, we must be willing shed the skin of the ordinary world in order to enter the darkness. We are being invited to go deep and journey through darkness into those inner realms. A journey that is both frightening and empowering.

And the soul has a season to speak out. In last week's post, Social_Construct commented:

I'm not going to even hazard a guess as to what a soul is. I'm not that smart, or enlightened, or possessed with, what might be termed, the particular intuition required to resolve such matters as souls and all that may encompass. Perhaps, at some time, all the questions that filter through my mind, regarding the smallest elements to the largest expanses this universe holds, will be answered. But, for now, I find myself contented with my curiosity and my place here amongst my fellows. And I do take comfort, delight, and knowledge from those willing to share their wisdoms and insights. Thank you.

Thank you, Social_Construct. This is why I write here, and this why I give a personal response to almost everyone who leaves a comment, so that we might be in a dialogue together, a process in which we learn from each other what life looks and feels like where the rubber meets the road.

A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war; and a time of peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:7

Personally, I would not want to live a life without a generous portion of soul on the menu! Without a conscious awareness of my own soul's process, life for me would be colorless and dry. And so there is something calling my soul to be in a collective discovery process by writing about this topic right now and sharing it here. Hopefully, it serves you as it's serving me. I'd love to hear from you, how all this resonates.

If you're up for it, next week, let's begin exploring the "soul" of things. What would YOU put in the hopper for such a discussion? What do you want to know the soul of? Food, beauty, money, sex, power, love? I'm up for this if you are.

If this is your thing, come pay a visit to Rx For The Soul, my personal blog and website, where you'll find more thoughts and offerings about the soul and about beings learning to be human.
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