Sacred geometry

Dukkha and Emotions in Soulmaking Practice

This retreat was jointly taught by Rob Burbea and Catherine McGee. Here is the full retreat on Dharma Seed
PLEASE NOTE: The talks, instructions, and guided meditations in this set are from a retreat, led by Catherine McGee and Rob Burbea, for practitioners already familiar with Soulmaking Dharma. The teachers strongly recommend that you also have an understanding of and working familiarity with practices of emptiness, samatha, mettā, the emotional/energy body, and the imaginal, as well as basic mindfulness practice, before listening. Without this background in practice it is possible that the material and teachings from this retreat will be difficult to understand and confusing for some.
Date25th March 2019
Retreat/SeriesRoots into the Ground of Soul


Are you tired? Yes. Is there enough light then? No? When you're tired, it's important to do something about it, okay? It's really, really important. It's not something to just put up with. So there's a whole interesting thing about why we feel energized sometimes and why we feel tired. It has to do with the emotions. It has to do with inspiration, has to do with eros, has to do with closing down, opening up, all that stuff. So it's actually a really interesting investigation. But it's good to know how to galvanize the system, how to catalyse things, how to inject energy, how to find energy sometimes. It can change like that. [snaps fingers] And if you don't know this, it's something we need to discover. Why does it suddenly change? It has oftentimes much more to do with the heart than we realize, or the mind -- the mind in terms of certain ideas or reactivities, etc. But that's a whole other subject. Is there enough light now? Yeah? Having said all that, I'm extremely tired. [laughter] And I really didn't know whether I could, I still don't know whether I can do this right now, so we'll see how it goes. I apologize if I'm not firing on all cylinders and not so coherent or whatever. We'll see.

Okay, so we invited some questions on dukkha and soulmaking, and then it occurred to me that perhaps wasn't the wisest thing to do, because at least the way I feel about it currently is that that particular nexus, that particular interaction of dukkha and soulmaking is extremely complex. As if the whole thing wasn't complex already, this dukkha and soulmaking is really complex. And as Catherine said, there's already quite a bit out on the web. I think I gave a talk at some point, I think it was thirteen or fourteen hours long, on the subject of dukkha and soulmaking.

So there's a lot, and we could say more, but it's complex. And I think, more importantly, if I just speak for myself, if I'm working in an interview with someone and there's dukkha there and we're addressing that, I don't feel like I have any kind of formula or preconception of how to approach it, or what's going to happen, or how it's going to unpack or unfold. So to me, a lot of these kind of practices, but particularly when it comes to working with the dukkha, it's very improvised and kind of opportunistic. So I don't know, either with myself or someone else, working with them, and it takes a while, I feel, in an interview, if I'm in the teacher role in an interview, to let what needs to be heard be heard, to let what needs to be felt be felt, to see what the different aspects of body, mind, heart, situation, history, propensity, capability are at present, and then what windows, what doors are open.

So to me, it's all quite opportunistic, and it takes time. Usually those kinds of interviews where we're working with dukkha in a way that's related to the imaginal, they're not quick interviews. They're, you know, an hour or something like that, to feel. Some of the questions [today], it feels like I don't have nearly enough information on what's going on for a person, or what's there, or what's possible, or the history. That makes doing this kind of thing right now a little bit difficult.

It's also the case for me as a teacher, if I'm working with someone and there's dukkha there, I don't automatically assume, "This needs to become soulmaking." It's one option that may or may not present itself as a window of opportunity at some point, but it might be that actually what needs to happen is there needs to be some other approach that just eases the dukkha in some way or other. So it's not always where there's *dukkha, "*Okay, let's make this soulmaking." There may well be other needs. A little while ago, I was talking with someone, and there was really, really a lot of dukkha for them, and asking them a little bit about what was happening. They expressed that there was some rage, some anger at a certain situation. They were not allowing themselves to feel that anger, and what happened instead? As is so often, not always, but so often the case when anger is not allowed to be felt, it can turn inward against the self, and it turns into a very nasty kind of depression, very self-destructive, very hateful, sometimes suicidal.

What's the need there? Not immediately to jump in and make this soulmaking -- maybe, maybe not. But we talk about roots or foundations or bases or steps. There may be a gap. And I think I touched on this a little bit when we were talking about energy body. There may be a gap for some of us in relation to some emotions that we actually don't let ourselves feel. We do not have the permission to feel that emotion. In this case it was anger. In someone else's case it might be whatever. Sometimes it's even a positive [emotion]. Sometimes it's even joy. It's not okay in our society somehow to actually feel deep joy. It's not okay to share it, whatever. But the important point is that there's an intermediate piece there, and this often goes unrecognized. And of course in certain contexts -- for instance, a Dharma context, where anger is basically, it goes in the box of, "It's a kilesa. It's an affliction. It's a defilement." And so sometimes people talk about the Buddhist shadow or whatever is a person who actually doesn't really feel much anger. And it might look, and it might look to their teachers, "Oh, this is a good practitioner. Maybe they should be a teacher one day. Look how equanimous they are, and how even," etc. "They seem to have a good understanding. They're kind. They're mindful." It seems that way. Something is not allowed, and the person doesn't even recognize that they're not giving themselves permission for X or Y emotion.

So when we talk again about these words, roots or foundations, sometimes -- I don't know what to call it -- basic emotional work, there are gaps there, basic psychological gaps that need to be rehabilitated, drawn back into the fold and the field of psyche, drawn back into the hearth of psyche, and allowed, and given a minimum degree of respect. If I feel anger -- it's partly why I said that thing about ranting in the popcorn thing [Catherine's inquiry exercise] today -- you know, something that looks like a defilement can actually be a signal of soul. It's the flame of soul, and it's coming up in a way that most people would go, "Whoa, that's kind of not okay." I've come to recognize that if I can be a bit patient with this ranting mind -- so for instance, in terms of ecological crisis; I'll try not to get into that now [laughter] -- that there's actually a lot of soul there and I feel like something is coming through me. Of course that could be a grand delusion, and there's always that danger, but the point is that even just for psychological health, before we even talk about soulmaking and its possibilities, there may be gaps that need addressing. There may be basic building blocks that need filling in and given some solidity.

So it might be I need to give myself permission, I need to allow myself to acknowledge, to feel, to maybe at some stage express in some way or another, and that's a whole journey if we're talking about anger. Something's dead in the being, and it needs to be able to come alive, yeah? I'm assuming this all makes sense. When we did on the last retreat, some of you were here, and we did some of that movement stuff, and there was some -- I can't even remember, some sort of ogreish kind of things -- it wasn't so much, and I explained, it wasn't so much, "Oh, now we're trying to cathart," if that's a verb, "we're trying to release something." We're interested in opening up the pathways neurologically, physically, energetically, emotionally, psychically, mentally, cognitively, that are closed, so that they can become roots. If you think of a root of a tree, it's a living thing. Things flow through that root, those roots. And if they're blocked or if they're cut off, or if they're starved or withered, you can't even have a healthy tree, let alone the blossoms of soul, yeah?

So it may be in some cases that certain basics, certain foundations, need to happen first. What was interesting with this person was then, talking actually over a couple of days -- and so that was my immediate sense, "Oh, this needs to happen first; it doesn't need to become imaginal yet." And then [they] came back and reported already some images. So the images were coming alive, and the images had to do with power and rage, and they liberated something. It's tempting to think, "First this, then that, then that. Now you're ready for the image or the soulmaking." And oftentimes that will be the case. That will be so. Catherine and I have talked a lot about this kind of thing. But I've been too struck by the kind of non-linearity of things sometimes. So what does that imply? I don't know -- to be open-minded, and again, opportunistic, improvised. Here's this knotted ball of string. What if I just pull on this one? No, wrong one. Okay, ah, that's a bit better. That starts loosening something. I don't know which one to pull on first necessarily.

But if we talk about basics, some of those basics, some of those foundations may -- as I think we said in the opening -- may take quite a while, you know? If I think about my history working with anger, it was really some years in psychotherapy back in the late eighties and early nineties, really working with that, and learning how to express it, and getting it completely wrong, and overdoing it or underdoing it, or not being aware. So just that journey around anger and recognizing that I actually felt angry in some situations, learning how to tolerate it, learning how to understand it, learning what my needs were, learning how to express it -- it takes a while, just that, and we haven't even talked about soulmaking possibilities there. So this is a long term trajectory for all of us, really, and in that, there's open-mindedness and humility. And it may not always be linear.

So on the theme of non-linearity, some of you will know the teachings about the twenty-eight elements or nodes of the lattice and all that business, and some of you may not. We may get to it this week. But very briefly, there's a way of kind of pointing to what's characteristic of what we're calling 'imaginal' or 'soulmaking' or 'sensing with soul,' but there's no order there. It could be, if you go back to the knotted ball of wool analogy, that each one of those is an end of a thread of wool, and I may jiggle or pull or wiggle any one, and it starts unravelling the whole thing. Or if we use a different analogy, I ignite one and the rest ignite. So what that means in terms of working with dukkha is there's this openness to which of those elements might be available and might be ones that actually can implement some leverage, and start to move things, and start to ignite and open things, and I do not know beforehand. I've no idea, dealing with my own pain and situations and whatnot, or with someone else. So is that good news or bad news? [long pause, yogi says "good news," laughter]

I agree! [laughter] First of all, I mean, while a part of us might like simple formulas and then we know, I think these kind of practices are too rich to be just formulaic. It's a bit like this thing that I said about you as a practitioner and your ideas: you can become a playful improviser, someone who has that confidence, someone who is just, you know, able to do that without a formula. In time it will come. So I don't always know in advance, but I do have the trust. At this point, I have total trust that it might not be this person right now that this can be made soulmaking, but I pretty much believe at this point and sense that anything can be made into soul. Soul can be made in relationship to anything, and that transforms and transfigures it.

But, in a way, thinking about those different elements, and just kind of being with something and seeing which might suggest themselves or be possible -- and it might just be the energy body. Just opening the energy body and coming into relationship with dukkha or whatever it is already makes a difference, something as simple as that. But it could be something, one of the ones that we don't usually think about, or something else, all kinds of things. That word, 'opportunistic,' I think I said it once in a talk years ago, the root is porta, which is 'a door' in Latin. So to be opportunistic means to be on the lookout for what doors are not locked and one might just slip through, or what doors are open and just obviously beckoning us. Yeah?

When some more of these elements -- which by the way, I always forget what they are, and people say, "I'm not very good at number eighteen," and I think, "Number eighteen? What on earth is that?" [laughter] Anyway. When some of them start to ignite, it's as if they start to create. They already start to complexify what's happening in a good way. They give anchor points or vantage points. What's it called when you rock climb, and you put one of those things in? [comments from yogis in background] 'Crampons'? Are you sure? Well, you know what I mean! You know when -- what's her name? -- Tomb Raider, Angelina Jolie ...? I'm too tired. [laughter] Anyway, you know what I mean. These things give footholds and vantage points. Another way of looking at it is they start throwing something out and connecting things, and in that connection it's as if a wire goes between here and there, and then another wire goes between here and there, and then another wire goes. And soon you've got a kind of net, and you've got a kind of structure, and that structure can make a crucible. Everyone know what a crucible is? It's a vessel, I think from alchemy, where you put whatever material you were working with, and it gets heated in this crucible.

And when we come to talking about dukkha and soulmaking, in a way, what we want is this here to be a crucible, but we could also say that we want our emotions or our dukkha to be in a crucible. We need to have a certain kind of stance, a certain kind of relationship with them, and all these other elements start forming a kind of structure that holds something in a way that the flame can come alive. I didn't explain that very well. Does that sound incredibly abstract, or no? Okay, good.

So in relation to emotions, part of what we want is that there's a crucible of emotions, and in that crucible, with the fire, and sometimes the heat and the painful fire of the emotions, image is born, or soulmaking is born. If we're relating to our emotion in a way that's not 'crucibilic' [laughter], then it doesn't happen, okay? We might either spin into some kind of meltdown of dukkha, some kind of craziness, etc., or we might relieve the dukkha through the many traditional Dharma pathways that are available, and there's a dissipation of dukkha, and there's the letting go.

But without the crucible, there won't be the soulmaking. So the golden question is: what makes the crucible? And as usual, it's not so simple and not so easy to articulate, and I still don't feel like I can just go boom-boom-boom-boom-boom. But partly, these different elements of the imaginal -- so, for example, humility, or, for example, as Catherine mentioned this morning, the idea so often when there's dukkha in the back of my mind or in the forefront of my mind, "This dukkha is caused by this. It's because of this in my past, or my parents, or that person, or me being a loser," or whatever it is. It's got a cause, and explicitly or implicitly, the mind is reducing it to one cause. Even if I say it's craving -- because the Buddha said it was craving, right? -- I've reduced it to one cause, and that element of the imaginal, that node is dead. It's not alive. It's a damp wick. And the closing of that idea, the closing down of that idea, will close down the possibility of soulmaking. Catherine already said this this morning.

So let's linger on this a little bit. I have, probably most teachers have, but I've dwelt quite a lot over the years on working with emotions in different ways, a lot way before the soulmaking teachings. It's so easy to be imprecise when it comes to emotions, so we just hear a vague-feeling, "Oh, kind of be with it, and try and be with your body, and just be open to it, and watch it come and go," or something like that, "and try not to identify." Oftentimes what happens is a person then takes that sort of vague instruction back to the cushion, and it just kind of stews for a while until something else comes along that gets their attention, and it doesn't necessarily really become fertile. So even within traditional Dharma, I feel that there's a real place for a precision of what I'm actually doing in relation to an emotion at any time, whether it's a beautiful emotion of joy, love, or a difficult emotion, despair, hatred, whatever it is, powerlessness. If I can be really specific and try different things, that tends to open a lot more doors.

So one of the things -- and again, Catherine mentioned it this morning -- is that when there's an afflictive emotion, there's often a lot of energy wrapped up in an afflictive emotion, even if it's depression. Depression has an enormous amount of energy, but it's in lockdown (or certain kinds of depression). Anger, certainly, rage, grief -- there's a lot of energy. And what tends to happen is then we hear, "Oh, kind of be with it," or "Just open to it and just soften," or whatever, and the mindfulness that goes with that actually doesn't have a lot of energy in it. It's (A) not very specific, and (B) the energy in the emotion is more than the energy in the mindfulness. If I can find a way (and it's interesting we started with this energy thing), doing that, really bringing an intensity of mindfulness, an energized mindfulness to bear with this emotion, then something has shifted, and the energy doesn't overpower the mindfulness, and then things can start to move.

In typical Dharma, or rather in mainstream Dharma practice, that would be one of my suggestions, you know -- very sort of straight, normal -- among many others. In a way, we want the mindfulness, the awareness, to be bigger. Not just spatially. That's an option. But also in terms of energy levels, if that makes sense. Bigger than the emotion. Also in mainstream Dharma, what we tend towards is, "Let go of the story," and with that, "Let go of the self," because self and story often go together. So you want a kind of brightness of mindfulness and a kind of diving under or letting go of the self and the story. Does this sound familiar? Really, really skilful, really helpful, so good to have that in your toolkit as just something one can go into at any time. And because dukkha is dependent on self-sense and identification, and in a way it's also dependent on an absence of mindfulness or an absence of energy in mindfulness, when we bring the energy of the mindfulness up, and when we let go of some self-story and sense, well, the dukkha goes down, right? It's all swings and levers, dependent arising.

When it comes to soulmaking, it's a little bit different. So I gave the example yesterday of, when Catherine suggested touching the body and I said, "Look," and I explained what was going on: "Look, there's self here. Look, there's narrative here." So I'm not going, "No self, no story." There's a certain allowing of some of that, to some degree, because that might come into the constellation of what then can make soul. When there's an image and when there's soulmaking, it tends to involve self-sense and some kind of narrative. It's more complicated and more diffuse in the elements of its constellation. So already there's a difference there. And some of us who have thoroughly trained in Dharma practice letting go of the self, just bringing the simple, bare attention, mindfulness, kind of being with an emotion almost as bare sensation, we've kind of dived underneath the emotion and missed it. It's actually happening at this level, and we've gone down here where it's just sensation. It's great. Maybe it just disappears. Helpful at times.

But again, there's this kind of modulation of the attention. And opportunistically, what actually feels soulful and soulmaking here? But it may well involve (and again, I've explained this before), when there's an image, or the thing that is to become image or in the process of becoming image -- might be my dukkha, might be my body, it might be something else, it might be something in the world -- there's an object there, and the image is object. But as things become imaginal, the self in relationship to that thing starts to become image, as well, and the world also, and my desire, too, and in fact all the elements. All these things start to become ensouled. What that means practically is that I don't always have to be fixated on the object at the expense of self and story and world-sense. Any of these can be picked up first, opportunistically. Is this sounding completely abstract? No? It's okay? All right.

[inaudible question] Whatever object we're working with. So it could be a dukkha, or it could already be an image. In the process of something becoming imaginal -- let's say, anything, this candle, it becomes imaginal for me. Well, if I stay with that and meditate with it as image, and allow it to do its thing, and allow the soulmaking dynamic, at some point what will happen is the self that is looking at that candle becomes imaginal as well. And then, not only that -- then it starts to spread, and the blue velvet, and the room, and the light, and the whole world becomes [imaginal], and then elements of my being start to become imaginal. I recognize eros, and it's not just my eros -- that eros starts becoming imaginal. In other words, it has dimensions and divinity, etc. So that process of spreading out and making a more complex constellation is part of what happens in soulmaking, part of what happens when something becomes imaginal, in time. But what it means practically is that I don't always need to just focus on the object. I might start to include more of the self, and see, "Oh, can that become more imaginal?", for instance. Yeah?

For example, we talked about the mindfulness, in sort of traditional Dharma, the mindfulness instruction, one of the instructions might be for the mindfulness to be, if you like, 'bigger' in some way than the emotion. Sometimes, of course, we don't feel that at all. We feel that this emotion is bigger than me. Now, there's a way that that can just be overwhelming and depressing: this emotion, the mindfulness can't get around it. It's bigger than me. I'm sinking with the emotion. But there's a way, too, in which the emotion can be bigger than me in a beautiful way, in a soulmaking way. There's a humility that arises. And that's a loaded word for a lot of people. What does that mean? What's a fertile, soulmaking humility? It's one of the elements. This grief, this pain, whose is it? And again typical Dharma, "It's nobody's. It's anattā." Soulmaking Dharma might be, "It belongs to soul. It belongs to the World Soul. It's from the divine. This pain that I'm feeling, this sensitivity that I have to the pain, is the divine sensitivity operating through me."

So already, you can see, well, that's an idea. And it doesn't have to be a big, like, my mind is churning with all this intellectuality. It's just like a little grain of sand there of a poetic idea, and I just sprinkle [it] there, and it does something. It's part of the alchemical process. In that case, the emotion is bigger than me. It's bigger than the self. I'm not even hoping to get bigger than it or handle it. But something has changed in my whole view of it and my whole relationship with it. These little sprinkles of kind of alchemical tinctures or materials can make so much difference.

Sometimes one may be sitting, there's some dukkha or something, and there may be accessible just a fullness of intention -- which means sure, I don't like this dukkha and I want to get rid of it, but as Catherine was saying this morning, I want the fullness of soul here. I want what's right for soul. I want this to become soulmaking, in the service of soulmaking, even if that has some cost to it, even if that has some bite to it, even if not all the dukkha goes. That's one of the elements, as well, this fullness of intention. And maybe with that, there's a kind of humility, and I might not even know in relation to what I feel this humility. It may be just some vague sense of divinity that if someone asks me where exactly is it, or what is it, or certainly what's your theology, I wouldn't be able to answer. But maybe that's enough, that stance of just the fullness of intention and a humility that I don't even understand and that isn't even that precise, and it fertilizes things. It softens and opens and fertilizes things.

How are we doing? Is this (A) making sense, and (B) are you still awake? [laughs] [inaudible question] No, a lot of these words are sometimes used sloppily by me. Maybe not Catherine, but certainly by me. [laughter] But sometimes deliberately ambiguously, and sometimes to mean one or the other. So in that case, I meant both, yes. In other words, soul, the concept of soul, like everything else, will itself become ensouled. All of these concepts -- eros, soul, image, you name it. We start with some idea, and it may be like, "I don't know what the hell you're talking about, but it feels good sometimes, so I'm kind of hanging out." And then maybe, let's say, for someone it starts with this idea, "Well, it's my soul, and you have soul, and da-da-da." In time, because of the soulmaking dynamic and the eros-psyche-logos, it starts to get fertilized, it starts to get worked, and have more [audio cuts out], more shadings, more complexity, more dimensions, etc.

So I think for me sometimes, that word can mean both those things and more in a way that's, again, loose and elastic, and open-ended and unfathomable. The danger of that is it just gets too sloppy and kind of meaningless in the end, so we're always treading this line. Again, where do we stand, where do we position ourselves at any time between precision and openness? Well, it depends what we want. If we want soulmaking, then we have to feel in the moment, "Well, where? Is it the precision right now or is it the more open-ended?" So in this kind of practice, always the gauge is, "Well, what serves soul?" And how do I know? Well, it gives me those feelings, that sense of soulfulness, and that's my navigation. Is that okay?

So sometimes working with dukkha, you know, a certain amount of letting go in relation to the dukkha, a certain amount needs to happen before it can be made soul, and sometimes it's only through being made soul that certain dukkha is able to be freed up. Sometimes recently, especially with some of these medications I'm taking, and getting very, yes, confused, and under-resourced, etc., sometimes just having the thought -- as well, I should say, having so many conversations and researches about different possible alternative things that might help, etc. -- of course, once you're doing that research, it's goal-oriented, which is not to die. And so you're in a certain relationship and a certain track with the whole situation and with the information. And that track has the, "Well, no, it's not okay if I die, because we're trying to do something else, which is somehow miraculously survive." Sometimes just reminding myself: it's okay if I die. It's really okay, you know?

Just that much letting go, if I've been too much in this "Should it be this dose or that dose?" or whatever it is, sometimes that okayness is just enough letting go that then the whole situation can become soulmaking again. And it's not then that I go, "Oh, it doesn't matter," or whatever, but it's just a certain amount of letting go can liberate things, loosen things enough that then they can be soulmaking. And some of you in this room already know nothing else has helped with certain dukkhas, and intractable and long-standing dukkhas and deep pains, than when they become imaginal and when they're infused with soul. Nothing else -- not any of the other practices, etc., and no amount of years of psychotherapy, etc. So again, there's this opportunism and flexibility that's needed. A little less fabrication is one of the elements, as well, so when I say "It's okay if I die," there's a loosening of whatever clinging had built up there, and that loosening is a little less fabrication, and then some soul can be made out of the situation.

Okay, so some of the questions, as I said at the beginning, I would need way more information. I would need to be with the person for a while and get a sense of what might be possible or what else is in the field. But having said all that spiel for an introduction -- this isn't going to be a thirteen-hour [talk], by the way. [laughter] But I'll see if I can say something a little bit helpful. So we'll see. Is that okay?

I don't have that long at all. Okay, so I have to choose now of these questions. Well, there are a couple about the ecological situation, and the tremendous pain of that, and is it even possible for that kind of level of dukkha to be soulmaking, to be ensouled? Here is where I would go, tie it to what I was [saying]. There was a reason I gave all that introduction. I wasn't just getting lost. [laughs] So here's a situation where there's an object, and the object is [audio cuts out] unprecedented species extinction and the heartbreak of that. Not just that, actually, because part of the object there is not just, let's say, species loss; it's also the (sorry if I'm clumsy) almost complete absence of commensurate response from humanity in relationship to it. So the object is already a complex one, right?

And then if we go back to what I said before, so there's this object, and then there's also self in relation to the object. Now, it may well be too much to ask -- and someone wrote a note, "Can the rape of a child be ensouled, etc.?" So it's not your business to tell that child, "Oh, come on, you can ensoul this." That would be ridiculous. But it might be then that the imaginal and the soulmaking goes more to the self-sense: who am I, and who will I be, and how do I sense myself with soul in relation to what is happening in the world? And that's, in this self-other-world constellation, it starts there, and I might arise as the warrior, or like Joanna Macy talks about the midwife of whatever might be new, or the hospice worker. But these are imaginal roles, the self in relation. And then the question: can that fill out? And again, that's going to take a lot of emotional work and imaginal work. And then what does that mean in terms of my duty and how it manifests in the world? If my image is a warrior, what does that mean? How does that refract into my actions? Does it mean I then go become an ecoterrorist or something like that? Or does it refract in a more subtle way, but that image is driving me?

Another important point here is that images are eternal, they are timeless, and that's one of the elements of the imaginal, as well, which means in relation to something like climate change or the ecological crises, it's natural, it's normal to want to think about goals and time and ending, but in a way that warrior is always fighting, is always available, impassioned, dedicated, the imaginal warrior. And that awareness of that eternality, as one example, gives the whole thing another level of resource less dependent on the temporal outcomes. We can still care. I've probably said this in a talk before: I heard that when the Titanic was sinking, the ship, cruise ship, whatever it was, was sinking and there weren't enough lifeboats -- they really hadn't planned very well, and there weren't enough lifeboats. I don't quite know the story. Either the rich people got in the lifeboats, or the women and children, or the rich women and children. I don't know what it was. But a lot of people were left onboard, ship sinking into icy waters, all the lifeboats gone. They knew they were dying, and they started singing hymns. What year was that? Okay, so not quite the complete eradication of any sense of religiosity in the culture. So they sang hymns.

You think, what the hell is the point? You're going to be dead in a minute. What good is this going to do to sing a hymn? But it matters for soul. Were they singing a hymn in the hope that maybe God will let me into heaven? It had nothing, probably, to do with that. Of course it matters what happens with species loss. Of course it matters what happens with climate change. But there's something on another level that the soul needs, that it will do, it wants to express, it wants to reflect, it wants something to come through. If we go back to the bigger sense, soul is asking of the human being for something to come through that doesn't just have to do with outcomes and life and death.

So there are other levels to this, and sometimes, especially, I know there are a lot of activists in this room, it's hard to not get pared down to the concrete level only. To allow those other dimensions of soul can be immensely resourceful for that kind of thing. But it might be more in the sense of self that the image arises, not in the sense of object, of the thing itself. Diesel pollution in the UK, is that a soulful thing? I don't know. It stinks and it's really nasty, but in relationship to it, I can become something. That may be easier. Also, in a way, the sense of the earth, the species as sacred, the responsibility of the human being to other species -- that's already a view that's a potentially soulful view. This is a sacred world. Can I prove that to anyone? No, it's a view, it's an idea, but it's a soul-view. Again, if we talk about self-other-world, I start perhaps with the world and a sacred world, and now this sacred world is being desecrated, and that can galvanize something.

I'm not sure which questions to pick up. Excuse me. I'll just choose one. I'm going to read this one. I'm not quite sure why I'm picking it. "I've been working with a particular manifestation of dukkha today with two images which feel to be on the opposite ends of some emotional spectrum. The first has qualities of compassion, tenderness, healing and vulnerability. The second personifies a kind of transcendent not-giving-a-fuck in a joyful, divine, punk kind of way. Previously you've talked about bringing images into relationship with each other. I feel called to explore that here. Any advice would be appreciated."

So again, I would need to hear a lot more here. My initial thought was, you know, some images are not really in relationship with each other. This is an interesting thing. Jung talked very much or seemed to stress very much in his teaching a kind of integration of the different archetypes and the different images with the self and with each other so that they come into balance, and into dialogue, and they kind of harmonize with each other. James Hillman, massively indebted to and respectful of Jung, but in the context of reacting to that a little bit, stressed this idea that we have a polytheistic psyche, which means we're called in multiple directions that often are not congruent with each other. They pull us in impossibly multiple directions.

I think I've shared this before: I have a monk in me, I have a teacher in me, I have a musician in me, I have someone who just wants to serve. They cannot all exist at the same time. So there's some impossibility there in terms of the soul's calling, and being pulled and stretched in different directions, and there's some grief there, there's some dukkha. A lot of the questions are about how dukkha can be made into soul and sort of helped that way, but there's also a certain amount of dukkha that we're assenting to by saying "yes" to soulmaking, and if we're not up for that, then we're limiting the soulmaking. It's possible that if we're not up for that, it's just because we haven't fallen in love with soulmaking yet. It's possible that it's just not our path.

But there's a certain amount of dukkha that soulmaking brings. And if I allow the fullness of these pulls -- so it's like, this god of music won't ever let me go. I haven't been a musician for years and years. It won't ever really let me go, and so there's grief sometimes with that, and I realize I can't do that and this. I'm pulled in two directions. I can work with it imaginally and it can refract into my life and my practice and my interactions in all kinds of ways, but there's a certain amount of pain for me in that impossibility. I'm being pulled by soul and by the powers of soul, which, going back to what we said before, are bigger than I am. This god of music is bigger than I am. The god of Dharma is bigger than I am. The god of teaching is bigger than I am. I am being pulled by gods in different directions. I'm not even trying to harmonize them or balance them or live some kind of balanced life where I do a bit of this and I do a bit of that and it's kind of nice. So my initial thought was I wonder if these two images that the person's alluding to need to come into contact with each other, or if there's just a certain incongruence and tension there, and that's part of what Hillman would call the polytheistic psyche. It's part of the dukkha of soulmaking.

So there's an enormous amount of freedom that comes from soulmaking. As I said, some freedoms that come from soulmaking won't get opened up any other way, and sometimes it comes with cost, it comes with a pain, a price. Sometimes the price is in the duty. It might not be this pull in different directions. It might be this image is asking something of me -- people were alluding to this with the meaningfulness popcorn that we had -- and that duty takes its toll in my life. It means a sacrifice. It means I can't do this or that or the other. It comes with a cost. But you have to decide what you want.

We should probably stop there, I guess. Apologies for the questions I didn't get to. Apologies if I wasn't so clear or bright or whatever. Hopefully it's helpful. Let's sit for a moment together, and then Catherine has an announcement.

Sacred geometry
Sacred geometry