Warrior of the Soul Part 2: To See the Soul

Gushing water
To see the soul is an art that requires utmost patience. Indelible stillness, like the water’s surface, is your goal. And yet, a body of water is hardly ever still; the wind blows and it ripples forward, a vortex within churns, and the water swirls – currents deep beneath under the surface ebb and flow in endless undulations. There is always movement, whether seen or unseen. But – and this is where the secret lies – waters always move unhindered.

Look at the brook, the river, the sea; they are ever-moving in sync with nature. When there is no perturbation, water is still and unshaken – as in a quiet lake, a genteel pond. But as the world buzzes with motion, water follows.

And water is powerful indeed. At great heights, falling water can crush rocks. Over time, rocks are ground to pebbles, and then fine sand, washed away by the current. There is much to fear about water – while it is essential for life to flourish, in excess, it crushes, drowns, and kills.

Because of fear, our instinct is to resist. When we resist the moods of the soul, we place dams in the streams of our heart, and our emotions cannot flow as they normally would. Waves gush against the artificial barrier, and try to find another way around. At times, the waters ease away safely; excess seeps into the ground, a new outlet is found without much fanfare. But when the currents are too strong, dammed up rivers are trammeled dangerously against our walls. They pound with all of nature’s might, and when they finally break free, it is with an explosive burst that comes at great cost. At times like these, our bodies, the ones we love, and the life we live – these may be the first casualties.

About a week after I wrote the above paragraph, I got into one of those funky moods where I was being intensely self-critical and completely closed-up to all kinds of interaction. Just as I was at the peak of this emotional perturbation, a family member unintentionally spoke some harsh words – all of which were intended to release steam rather than to hurt anyone – and I took it too personally. In response, I reacted with an uncharacteristically angry outburst that stressed my body, distressed my family member, and upset myself further.

On hindsight, I realized that I was seething with self-critical rage, and instead of processing it properly, I suppressed it and tried to get on with my day. I was essentially constructing dams that impeded the natural flow of these powerful, negative emotions. If I sat myself down, if I stilled myself and felt my emotions, I would have been able to realize that all the internal discomfort simply came from my inner critic gone haywire.

With this knowledge, a number of options would have been available to me. I could call out on my crazy inner critic, taking the edge off its bite. I could rationally consider if some of its observations were sensible or just exaggerations. For the sensible observations, I could re-channel the anger I felt at myself to fuel productive pursuits.

Indeed, by understanding that torrent of uncomfortable emotions and feeling it instead of blocking it, I would have been able to transform it into power – power to change my circumstances by taking proactive measures. Instead of being crushed by it, I would have had a source of energy. Negativity could have turned into positivity, and frustration could have become fuel.

Armed with this observation, I decided to practice stilling myself, and then watching my inner turbulences during the weeks after that event. I was quite surprised to notice that there was a lot more going on under the surface than I was expecting – supressed anger, grief, anxieties. Being able to stay still and bear the discomfort and fear of dealing with strong emotions helped me to see deep beyond the surface. From there, I could begin to do work on the soul. So long as I practiced this discipline of seeing the soul, I noticed that I was better able to brush off my family member’s negative moods, or even diffuse it, instead of allowing it to affect me. By being still myself, I was able to help still others.

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