An engagement with the 21 Soul programme came to me through my decision to attend a writing weekend on the theme of animals at Wiston Lodge in April. Through that programme I met a new friend who put me in touch with Steve Thorp, who was opening up a trial on his programme with a few willing individuals. It began as a way to help me renew interest and passion in my writing/PhD. Since then it’s played an active, regular role in helping me come back to what’s important beyond that narrow starting point, with new ideas to think about in decision-making, and connection with new people thinking new things but, importantly, in similar ways to myself—a community of likemindedness and spirit.
I was very struck when a few weeks ago another of the participants put together a list of intentions for the process. That followed another moment earlier on when there was a bit of advice passed on from a friend—to be more intentional about what you want. I’ve felt and been very passive in the past few weeks (weeks? perhaps a year or so) which is very much related to a withdrawing from romantic relationships over the past two years. A good thing to do, but like most actions or decisions, it has consequences beyond the beneficial intention. I’ve always thought that practising any behaviour too rigidly means it loses its healthiness. While the withdrawal has given me much—the accumulation of peace, stability, security, more awareness of my behaviours, breathing space, time and energy to give to craft and to friendship—it has also developed a pattern of passivity that, through repetition, has now become the norm. It has brought with it some isolation, loneliness, sadness, letting go, loss, and facing hard truths about myself. However, as the dancer Deborah Hay says, and uses as a creative prompt, “Wherever I am is what I need.” (From her book, My Body, The Buddhist).
As I’ve written about before, as Judith Butler explains, this is how psychic life creates cultural life: through repetition. Psychic life is powerful, it is how cultures and worlds are made. And if we forget that, and that all culture and behaviour considered normal is merely repetition, we end up believing it cannot be changed. So I’ve ended up, I feel, believing in my position of passivity as a normal, as ‘me’ or my ‘true self’. I now feel much more stable but alone, much more craft-oriented, but lacking intimacy. Well.
Well. So I thought, it’s time to become a little more intentional myself. I sat down last night, after careering around the subject for a while, and grabbed a large piece of paper and just started writing a list of things, many of which I won’t bore you with (three weeks of green smoothies for breakfast, as an example, to get down to ‘race weight’ for the Great North Run!, suggested by Rich Roll, via my friend L, the barrister) but which helped me form a guide to my intentions. And this morning I began writing again. And last night I began creating found poems again. Creativity, freedom and writing (and relationships) is why I came to the process. So that was a good feeling.
The 21 Soul Programme, for me, is a process of recognising and experiencing three strands of self (soul, social, ecological… and in my mind, these are only the first three!) and then, with some healing, integrating those selves, (which are fragmented by the modern world’s damaging practices of living) with the body and with other bodies to be better prepared to create a safe, just, loving and on-going world, even in, especially in, the face of the growing crises and precarious systems that just seem to be getting worse.
There’s a sense that we’re soul adventurers, practitioners, people who are waking up. Steve calls us Soul Activists. I like that. (And it of course chimes with my writing and my research into early psychoanalysis, Otto Rank’s Soul/Will Psychology). I feel that this is true, without yet believing it for myself. Perhaps I am yet to really feel this in my body (one of the difficulties I am coming up against with talk of selves is that my body still feels a little excised from the process; or rather, I have not yet found a way to bring my body into the process, being so mind-oriented as I am).
But I hope it is true. The world needs people who are waking up. I come back to Paul Shepherd’s words in the film Sharkwater and my own experiences of leadership in knowing that it may only take 6-7% of the population to be integrated and compassionate leaders, creators and activists for us to change the world’s direction away from harm and collapse towards compassion, justice and renewal. That is, if just a few of us can wake up, we can change things. I would like to be one of that percentage awoken. I feel as if I have the potential. I’m hoping by becoming more intentional I can fulfill that which is within me, and the desire to see a more just and loving world.
But I also come back to basic Buddhist teaching too: you cannot wake up, you cannot help anyone if you are not integrated yourself; if you have not found a way to love yourself. (And to rest! Says Montaigne, while I’m about it: repose is the most difficult of all skills to master.) And I know that I have not yet fully accepted myself. Remain perhaps a little too restless. This is, therefore, where I begin, and where my intentions are focused. On my large piece of paper, the word accept was the only one I drew a box around. It’s where I’m starting from. (It may also be where I end. As I walked home last night I had the feeling that I had lived exactly half my life. This may not be in terms of chronology—I am not hedging a bet I’ll pass away at 76. Rather, if my life were to be divided in a biography at some time, around now would be the hinge… which makes it both an exciting and scary time. But like many Scorpio/Wood Tigers/with the Sun in the Fourth House of home, the second half of life is meant to be my most productive, so I’m told…!).
There are some practice areas of life (not running/breakfast habits, you’ll be glad to hear) where these intentions are necessarily interwoven with outcomes. Relationships, creativity (writing), the alleviation of suffering. And I think that’s okay, as long as one does not become over-attached, in the final analysis, to the outcome as all-important… Hmm… unsure about that, because, you know, I do want a safe, just, caring world. Isn’t that an outcome worth hanging onto?
Anyway, my intentions for myself in engaging with this 21 Soul Programme are not, yet, to save the world, but to use the 21 Soul process and materials:
- To see how good I can be as a creative writer, by which I mean develop my practice as an honest, open and soulful creative person, to create work and write about the things I care about with truth and integrity
- To accept more of who I am and to recognise the practices that are both positive and negative influences on my experience, and work appropriately with that knowledge being true to my soul [this sense of appropriate behaviour feels very important to me]
- To connect with and feel love for my purpose, and also to accept the different forms this can take and to let go of rigid expectations
- To be a good and positive integral part of the lives of others, human and non-human
- To be open to community and belonging; to seek, find, nurture and create the environments and communities that I long for and that make me vital and healthy, and to be a responsive friend, lover, carer, mentor, activist, teacher in those communities
- To develop a mindful integration of spiritual experience in daily life
- To be open to intimacy in healthy, mindful, passionate and accepting ways; this includes intimacy with myself, and with life in all its forms
- To be courageous and wholehearted in relationships, romantic and otherwise
- To be curious about the world and to instil that curiosity and wonder in others
And when I’ve committed to these intentions, then I’ll see how they help me work with others to ‘save’ (care for, nurture, steward, enjoy) our world.
These may, of course, take the rest of life to commit to and see fulfilled. Which is good and fine.