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.

Accept the Weak You

Cliff Sunset

Let’s face it – none of us are how we want to be.

Dang it, we could be fitter, richer, wiser; could have traveled the world more; could met more people; but we aren’t, and we haven’t.

So what to do about it? Not all of us are as privileged to be born in high society, or given great education, or granted opportunities to network with high-fliers.

No, a lot of us in fact, are very normal people. Although sometimes, there are days when we think we are actually less than that even.

Yet, there are people, who are almost as ordinary as us, if not more, who managed to get there, whatever it means to us. Perhaps they are living off a great passive income now, or they’re in a beautiful, committed relationship with a wonderful, loving person, or their bodies are so fit, they can eat anything and burn it off it the next 10 minutes (I wish I had that!).

But whatever level of living it is that they have attained, which means just so much to us, we aren’t there yet. Maybe we’ve got a taste of it, or a glimpse, or a hazy reflection. That’s the thing that got us going in the first place. But from our standpoint, if we look forward and upward to that goal, we gulp at the amount of work to do, and we think – hell, how will we ever get there?

And a harder question to ask: if they got there, why haven’t we?

The answer is painful, but simple.

We’re weak. We cop out more often than we care to admit. We skimp on the finer details, and give up on the higher benchmarks more frequently than we should. We reach for the stars, stretch our limits, and dig to our depths much less than we know we ought to. Looking at the mirror of what we’ve done and who we are, we hate ourselves.

We hate ourselves because we long to be much more.

And yet, is that our best decision? Pain is a prime motivator to move, and nothing gets us off our butt more than a fervent hatred of staying at where we are.

But what if we moved because we know we are weak? What if we did more because we accept that we are weaker? What if we worked harder because we embrace the fact that life has dealt us a difficult hand?

Thankfully life is so much more than a game of poker, because if we pulled our socks up and chipped away at the boulder blocking our path, we’re going to end up with a clear, clean road. We’re going to end up with a clear, clean road and more muscles than the guy who was born with a bulldozer. We’re going to end up with a clear, clean road and more endurance than the gal who had the road cleared out for her by a troop of men with power drills.

They may be blazing off ahead, but by no means are we actually behind them. By no means did we end up in a worse position, simply because we had no choice but to chip away the boulder with our hammer and chisel.

No, instead you emerge more than victorious, for by conquering your natural weakness, your natural fear, your natural roadblocks in life, by having done the low and dirty work, taking the slow and steady path, you have grown far stronger than yourself, if that were even possible.

You look in the mirror and you don’t hate yourself anymore. Why? Because you accepted the weaker you. You pulled your socks up and dug deep. You did the work. Your work.

Now accept the strong you.

The Necessary Cocoon

     Before a butterfly experiences the first flap of its wings, it must go through a very sacred process, so sacred that it occurs in a little room hidden from the rest of the world. From the start to the end, no one can tell what’s going on inside that silky shell. But one thing’s for sure: within the privacy of the cocoon, the wriggling, leaf-eating caterpillar is being transformed into a beautiful, nectar-worthy butterfly. Soon enough he will leave behind his squirmy ways to take to the skies! Well, maybe not the skies, but he won’t have to crawl that much anymore – flitting from flower to sweet flower will be his new way of life.

In all stages of life, whenever we reach the natural end of any cycle, we will have to go through a very similar process of metamorphosis. Leaving behind the slow, wormy ways of our past may not be an easy task for us, especially because to everyone else, we don’t seem to be doing anything! We’re just, you know, hiding in there, in the cocoon, sloshing in our own mess. We even ask if will we come out of it any better. But the answer already resonates within the fluttering wings of every single butterfly in the world; they go through it, and they all, like you will soon, emerge triumphant.

Spinning a Sacred Place

In the very beginning, before the transformation, we may have been hit by a sudden realization. Perhaps, an epiphany dawns upon us while we are in the showers, or your parents/spouse/children, say something that really jolted you to your senses Whatever the case, we are displaced, we are dislodged. A ticking in our clocks tell us that we are no longer going to survive if we continue in our current state. The caterpillar must transform. So we start spinning the cocoon. The first few threads are pure deceit. We lie to ourselves, saying in warm, soothing tones, that everything will be alright, that perhaps we don’t need to change at all. What do you mean change? We were doing fine all this while! And then come the threads of worry. But what if what they said were true? How will I cope?  Slowly, these threads become threads of faith. Perhaps I should embrace change. Perhaps at the end of it, I will come out better, stronger, more resilient. And so our cocoon is spun with the threads of all our various hopes and fears, combining and interweaving to form our sacred place.

What on Earth is Going On In There?

Whether it is that we begin to shy away from people, or we start to throw ourselves headlong into work and endless activities, the result is the same. We are hiding a tender part of ourselves in the sacred place, in the cocoon. And putting up the mask will ensure that no one can truly see the transformation. No, they can’t pierce the veil to have a good, clear view of what’s going on inside, so they might become prone to guessing. Oh, he’s becoming lazier and lazier He’ll never amount to anything. Or, she’s completely succumbed to workaholism. Really pity her children. Or, Just ignore that person, it’ll be better of for you. None of their guesses are entirely right of course, as they don’t have an inkling of the transformation going on within. Well, neither do you. So many parts of you inside the cocoon are undergoing tremendous change simultaneously so that it gets really difficult to keep track of yourself. It’s a state of chaos, a state of mess. Outside, you look composed, but nobody knows about what is going on inside of you.

Within the cocoon, a caterpillar’s organs and tissue break down into a primal soup of information and raw material. Slowly, as if following a grand, but hidden design, it re-assembles itself to form adult cells and organs. The new takes the place of the old in an elegant, sacred process, protected away from the rest of the world. But while it is still raw, still soup, it can’t figure out the head or tail of anything at all. And neither can the rest of the world. In the cocoon, it is completely vulnerable, yet entirely safe. While you may overhear your colleagues badmouthing you, it all seems to slip off somehow. While your project might end up in the drain, it doesn’t really hurt you so much to the core. You just pick it up and start over again. Somehow, you are in a weak position, yet completely immune. You are transforming, you are changing, you may be in the pit, cold, shivering, and afraid, but you aren’t shattered. You are merely reforming. You are recycling everything inside you, you are turning it around and upside down. All the failures, all the insults, all the negativity is being used as raw material. It is being transformed, and nobody knows how it works, but it does.

Out of the cocoon

And then nature justifies itself. All the time spent tucked away in a corner of the universe where nothing can really get in, or out, was for one specific purpose. And the revelation of that purpose would only come about when time itself has reached its point of ripening – the cocoon breaks, and from its broken husks emerge a fully grown, flight-capable butterfly. From a fairly immobile, slowly squirming caterpillar to a fluttering butterfly – who for once in his life could afford to feed only on nectar, thanks to the fantastic wings – the secret was in the time spent away in the cocoon.

But during that time, there is always a little bit of doubt: what if I can’t break out? What if the cocoon is too strong, or… I am too weak? The consequences seem fatal. The newly morphed butterfly would be trapped in his own shell; his means of transformation becomes his own casket, and stuck in there, it would be a very, very slow death. But despite this fatal possibility, when the time comes for the butterfly to break lose, it will break lose. At times, it could take hours. It could feel as if you were trapped in limbo. You are half-aware of your transformation, half-aware of the cool air that you feel for the very first time, half-aware of the breeze that will carry you to the nearest flower, if only you could get your wings lose. It feels like forever. But just like all the butterflies in the world that came before, this one will break free.

And when you are finally free, you experience a form of liberation that would change your entire life. No longer do the people around you wonder why you behave the way you do. The time you spent locked up in your cabin up the hill did after all produce that best-seller that everyone’s nephew is reading. All the cans of tuna you ate, while everyone else was splurging on fantastic restaurant meals, did help you make it through your company’s successful start-up. Every rave party you turned down did after all give you the time to build up the network you needed to take your sales project to the next level.

Even if all that didn’t happen, even if all your best efforts turned a failure, don’t forget that at the end of it you did break out of the cocoon. And that can only mean one thing. You have come out of it better, stronger, and more resilient. Not by the standards of the world, but by your standards. And fellow butterfly to fellow butterfly, I’d say, that’s not too shabby eh? 😉