Body, Soul and Spirit 2: The Way of the Soul

3614955279_1404b6dde5_oaIn my second posting (1st here) on this beginning exploration and reassessment of what I’ve come to see as true, beautiful and good I’m going to look more into what Soul is and does. And again, I’m just going to go with my meanderings and contemplations; I’m not trying to be comprehensive and go through the history of that idea, or into explaining what distinguishes it from psyche etc. Much of that you can find by googling it and looking it up in the wikipedia and similar.

There are a couple of aspects of Soul that are important to me, now, aspects that can be put into these questions:

  • Reincarnation being a reality (will get into that a bit in just a minute), what is it that becomes – or is embedded in – flesh?
  • Given the very long duration of the Soul’s existence (don’t want to call it eternity until I’m sure it is), why would it incarnate in the first place? What is so interesting about hanging out in an embodied and matterful dimension?
  • And what about evolution, oneness, enlightenment in the light of the ‘never ending story’ (at least from an incarnated point of view) of the Soul?

I already mentioned my friend from Basel, Switzerland, who does remember a long line of incarnations and can actually see those of others as well. I haven’t mentioned that I’ve not taken reincarnation serious for most of my life – actually I considered it off and on, but I didn’t think it was relevant for this life. I rather liked the metaphor of Alan Watts, that an individual life is akin to a vortex in a river that can stay there for a very long time. And then it dissolves again. As long as it exists it evolves and even develops a sense of unique and separate existence, whereas it obviously is simply water whirling in a very particular way…

I’m not reconsidering because of the fear of dying and the desire to last any longer than my allotted (if it is allotted) time on earth. Some years ago, when on the Czech country-side, all alone by myself, I felt like I was having a heart-attack and seriously thought, “This is it!” And apart of not being able to say good-bye to my family and friends and telling them that “all is very good, and thank you for hanging out with me,” I felt very fine with dying, and was at peace with the what I then believed to be true – that I would end definitely; no further existence, an absolute end from my point of view, and a slow fading into oblivion in the larger context of the people who live on. There was no desire to stay and hang on to life or survival of my person or soul in any way.

graveThis is the conviction my father died with in January this year. But spontaneously, at the ceremony before his cremation, I said, “He’ll be surprised that death is not the end. Actually, they’ve got specialists in the next dimension for souls who were sure that there was nothing after death, to help them overcome the shock of post-mortem existence.” I don’t know where that came from, but I do tend to trust such matters. So I guess that was the beginning of opening up to the possibility of – at the very least – ‘surviving’ death in some way or other.

Looking into the research by Ian Stevenson and seeing some interesting videos on the topic it’s now quite clear to me that, as professor Dr. Robert Almeder puts it, “It would be irrational not to believe in reincarnation … if you have a very commanding argument that you cannot refute, not to accept the argument is irrational.” But, whatever the case may be, the material I’ve seen has convinced me that reincarnation is a matter of fact. But why does that matter?

It talks to me about what a human person is, at least what a person is giving expression to. It tells me that it is the Soul that reincarnates and sounds through you and me (old Greek: per sona, through sound). Obviously this gets me into philosophical trouble with materialists who believe that a person, consciousness and mind are phenomena caused by and utterly depend upon an embodied brain… but frankly, I don’t care. I go with the evidence as it presents itself, and then discuss, if one of my monist friends wants that.

underwater15aAfter this ground work on why reincarnation is obviously real I can come to my first question, “What is it that becomes – or is embedded in – flesh?

I will try to illustrate my thinking with two metaphors, music and character.
Imagine an orchestra. We hear a few instruments, then more, tuning to a common note, and when all instruments are tuned the conductor ticks on his desk and everything goes silent. He looks at the score, just to be sure, and starts conducting. The first notes of the music break through the hushed expectations and off we go: A new life, a new self is born, a new orchestral work sounds.
In it’s first notes it might be remniscent of some earlier music, some melodies half forgotten, and somehow – if we knew what came before – we might recognise a theme, or the way the composer goes about writing his music, or the style of the conductor. But then we embark upon the new work’s opening sequence and we are taken by the polyphony or symphony, or whatever our destiny sounds like.
In this metaphor reincarnation is like moving from orchestra to orchestra. Does it depend on the orchestra, how the sym-/polyphony sounds? Certainly it does. Do the instruments and voices matter? Certainly they do. Is the score, the music created by the orchestra? No; it has been written by a composer. Does the orchestra determine what is played? Not really; it is the conductor and the leadership of the orchestra that does that. In our metaphor it is the Soul and whomever the Soul consults with when it chooses the particular incarnation for this musical work.

Character is an ambiguous word as it refers to both persons and letters and words. Which is why I like it as a metaphor for what is embedded in flesh, what is incarnating. A body of writing, a poem, a story comes as characters on paper or screen (or sounds in the air, but let’s stick with the written word as we’ve already covered music and sound). Are the characters causing the poem? No, they embody it. Their embodiment certainly influences the reception, but that’s about it. It is the way the story is told, or the poem is composed that makes all the difference in the world, not what are its constituent letters – except, maybe, that a well readable typography is a good thing…

symph1Both these metaphors illustrate two aspects of reincarnation and a Soul’s Way – we cannot hear a symphony or polyphony without voices and instruments embodying it, and neither can we read a story or poem without the use of letters or ideograms. I’ve used both metaphors as if the embodied music or poetry pre-exists, but that doesn’t need to be so. Not being a composer I just know a bit about writing. Writing, in my case at least, develops as I’m writing and re-reading what I’ve written. And so our metaphors do not only answer what it is that incarnates but also if there needs to be a pre-existing fate or destiny. Does the end of the story already exist when we start with the first lines? It depends on the writer. In reincarnation it might depend on the maturity and artfulness of the Soul that composes the life; maybe it is already quite accomplished and has composed enough previous lives to be confident enough to ‘free-style’ in this life. Maybe it already knows the plot, and maybe not. I think we’ll know in the very end…

So does the Soul incarnate? Well, I’d say as much as an artist incarnates in a piece of art. While s/he’s in the act of creation, s/he’s absorbed by creating; maybe once in a while taking a few steps back, but that’s all there is for the time being… (Writing this I suddenly understand why great art touches us so deeply; the Soul is very much of an artist.)

Which brings us close to a possible answer to, “Why incarnate in the first place? What is so interesting about hanging out in an embodied and matterful dimension?” The richness of using a restricted palette is fascinating – matter, 3 space dimensions and 1 or 2 time dimensions, first-person perspective, impermanence, fallibility, spirit etc.
The view from a mountain top is amazing. We can see very far. We’re above the clouds. We can breath free. All is clear. This is very different from moving about in the valley, the jungle were we can see just a couple of meters, maybe. We’re right in the middle of the blood, sweat and tears, the parties, joys and beauties of deep immersion.
It seems to me incarnation expresses the unending creativity of Soul and it’s fascination with limits, impermanence and diversity.

Which brings me to the third and last question for now, “What about evolution, oneness, enlightenment in the light of a ‘never ending story’ of the Soul?”
Since a human life, a given incarnation, is very much akin to a symphony or a poem, a piece of art, it doesn’t make much sense to insist on the bourgeois imagination that the Soul is learning and moving to some superior state of enlightenment, divinity or some such, taking reincarnations to be a kind of school where with every life we have to learn some lessons or repeat them in a next one.
Obviously, in life, there is learning. And, obviously again, the orchestra and instruments have been evolving on this planet since it came into existence billions of years ago. And, even more obviously, human kind has been developing as a society in a more or less wholesome direction in spite of the numerous challenges we face. But to take that to mean that there is a goal to the Soul’s incarnating activities, and that this goal is some sort of unembodied existence as a post-enlightened being seems to be much more part of a heroic story-line than connected with the ‘goal’ of reincarnating.
Every piece of art is the artist expressing hirself – and possibly getting better at doing that with the given medium of expression – so a human person and particular life is the Soul’s expression, it’s writing in flesh and behavior, dreams and visions, joys and fears and everything else that comes with being alive.

Tat tvam asi! That thou art!Keizaburo Tejima, Swan Sky, 1983a

My Father’s Cremation

Some days ago my son and l participated in the cremation service of my father who died on January 20th, at approx. 9am. That was 48 hours later then he wanted, really. As he had done in his life so he did in dying, trying very hard to have things work out exactly as he wanted it. And he got his way, more or less.

Sunday 18th, around 4 pm my half-sister had called and told me, “This is it; they gave him one of the special rooms in the hospital. Tonight, most likely, our father is going to die.” And then she passed the phone over to him. I was crying, my heart breaking, saying, “I love you, Dad. I want you to know. Whatever might have happened in the past, there are no hard feelings left. Nothing hinders what is between us anymore. There is just this love.” He reassured me that he had had a wonderful and fulfilling life. “I am really happy that I can finally go now, and I want you to be happy too.”
In dying as in life he couldn’t tell me directly what he felt about me and about everyone and everything, really. In all of the life we shared he only expressed feelings indirectly, except when he was cynical, ironic or angry. This inability to express most other feelings has been family-tradition since time immemorial until, l think, it finds its end with me. But then again, who am I to tell?
At the cremation hall, where the casket was adorned with flowers, candles burning, behind the curtained windows, half invisible, cars drove by fast in the medium distance on a highway. Later, sitting there and listening to some of my brothers and sisters, and 2 of my Dad’s friends, I was imagining the people in these cars, driving somewhere fast, knowing nothing about what went on here and what we felt.
The close family had been ushered in to have a last look at my father. Stepping up to the open casket I cried, my hand on my mouth which, when I noticed the shock that expresses in this gesture, I let drop again, weakly, and crying. Yes, this was indeed his body, but he was gone, my father was not there anymore. Being almost a week dead his eyelids and hands had weird colors, the rest of him very pale.
Yes, this body had been my dad. And as I went to take a seat, through my tears I saw one after the other stepping forward when they felt ready to greet him one last time.

Mourning is an amazing happening, and for those of my step-, half and brothers and sisters I’ve shared this with, it was very similar. Big waves of sadness and sobbing leaving us almost ‘not of this world’ in its wake. It is easy to do manual tasks, but intellectually demanding or creative work is not possible; there is a feeling of the brain and mind being in a mush. The inability to do much of anything seems to cover all things mental. And I have been amazingly tired without being able to actually sleep much, and then, once I slept, I slept long whenever possible.
Mourning is an out-of-control bodily/feeling happening, something totally natural, overwhelming the person with a sound sadness that feels very much in place.
Is there emptiness where my Dad once was? Maybe, but it doesn’t seem so (yet?); maybe because the relationship with my father had not been too tight, even though in his last year I visited him more often than ever before, not because I believed he was dying soon, but just because there was opportunity. It has been fated.

And then, after my step-brother had started up the ceremony with a song of one of my father’s old friends, a singer-legend in Sweden, and after he had read my sisters letter to the 100 or so people gathered in his honor, I was to say something. We had agreed on possibly 10 minutes and I honestly don’t know how much time it took; there was a deep quiet in me as I stepped up to the pulpit and microphone.
Just a few things I remember of what I said. As I was speaking freely — there were a couple focus points for me on a piece of paper — the flow came; and then I hardly remember anything. I had considered, for once in my life, writing down what I was going to say — wouldn’t want to choke in tears — but I thought that here, as every place I speak publically, it was best to let what is required flow from my heart and presence into the field of us.

I remembered the one and only time my father ever asked my advice; it was about restarting a relationship he had broken with some years before.
I also said, –I think, my father — being a non-believer in these things — will be in for a big surprise when he wakes up from this life to find a welcome committee waiting for him. Matter of fact, I think there is a welcome committee specialized for people for whom waking up in the next dimension is a big surprise.– Something like that.
I also remembered that he was a man with many mistakes, just like me, and spoke about how I felt only love, just like everybody in the family that could be present during his last days and hours. All our wrong doings and mistakes in the end can be washed away by the love between us. It’s unreasonable, maybe even unjust, but it is true nevertheless, and most of all it’s beautiful. Everybody was full of sad love and no grudge held against it.
No matter what goes before, in the end what counts is love.

Afterwards some of the core family stood shaking people’s hands and hearing condolences — looking into all these people’s eyes with the clarity of a love-bathed sadness I could see what the confrontation with the passing away of our close ones opens up: the soul shines through, colored and filtered by the many facets of a person’s character — but, it visibly shines. A blessing.

During all this time my son had been going through his feelings; not being too close to his granddaddy he could be safely sad, the distance cushioning his sadness. To me it was great to have him by my side. Once there will be a time when it’s my time to go, and he might be part of a ceremony honoring my passage. As parents, we not only give life to our children and educate them to be able to live a happy life, we also give them the most intimate taste of death when we go in the end.

The way my father left this world has been an inspiration to me. May I be able to — in the end — go in a similar way; a way where we all feel that we can let go, were actually, letting go is quite natural to us. Passing away like this is a blessing, as is giving life.
It’s amazing, shaking so many hands and/or kiss left-right-left, as is customary with people of a certain proximity in Holland (mostly inter-gender, and not so often with men; with them kiss-kiss-kiss is close relatives only). Some people were holding up the people cueing up behind them. With some people you don’t mind at all, with others you see that they do this because they need the comfort of special attention; this takes some energy but it is a natural part of such things.

Finally my father’s last wife, the mother of my youngest half-sister (4 wives, 6 children, that’s the patchwork my Dad created, 4 of them present + many of the children that came into the family with their mothers), took us all to a place for a drink with closest family and friends. Is it wrong to say that we had good fun? Maybe, but we had. It was good to see all of them in good cheer.

Some time in Spring we will be putting ashes of my father under the tree he used to play under and climb around in when he was a young boy, joyously, so joyously that he was imagining, he told me when we spoke about this a year or so ago, “When my life is over I want to be put at his roots.”