By Patty Speier, DMin
Here we are mainly concerned with the “soul” as the shaping spirit within any vital process. These, the inner spirit and the outer form, are two distinctive ways of a single mode of being. In considering the soul of the future, I am concerned with the inner vision that we need if we are to make the intellectual, social, economic, and religious adjustments required for a viable future.
Thomas Berry, The Great Work: Our Way into the Future
The simplest answer to the question above is awareness. To live a soul-centered life we must be awake to the inner dimension of our life. We must be aware that we possess an inner spirit as well as an outer form. “Yes, yes,” you may say. “Yes of course I know that I have a soul.” But how much time do any of us spend tending to our soul? It is so easy to take the knowledge of soul for granted; to know you have one but then to tuck it away somewhere in the attic of your consciousness and forget about it. We live in a culture that is overwhelmingly centered on outward forms and empirical data. And a soul is not some bright, shiny object, like a piece of jewelry or a sporty car that we can show off to one another. Yet, the soul defines who we are, so we best be aware of it.
What is the inner vision that informs your life? You undoubtedly have one, but you may not have taken it out of the attic of your consciousness and examined it lately. After all, inner spirit is not something you casually discuss with your co-workers, unless you are a clergy person and even then the quotidian business of running a place of worship can clamor for your attention constantly. Perhaps one of the benefits of Covid quarantining is that we have more time to be introspective: however, life in a pandemic requires lots of attention to details so it’s not necessarily a given that we have the time and inclination to be tending to our souls along with everything else we have to do.
It is easy to stay caught up in the illusion of the “separate self.” But to have a soul is to be aware of our deep connection to each other. We certainly have separate bodies and personalities but we share the same life force. There are many names for the life force–Source, God , Spirit, Big Mind, Big Heart– to name a few. Emerson called it the OverSoul. Soul is the place of presence where ego drops away. Some theologians define soul as the spiritual organ that helps us navigate the “imaginal realm” to use the term of theologian, Cynthia Bourgeault’s, or Jesus’ “the kingdom of heaven.” This is a deeper level of conscious awareness; it is a level of knowing that transcends reason and logic. It is the source of our wisdom and compassion. Jesus, the Buddha and other spiritual teachers were constantly trying to awaken us to this Source of which we so often are unaware. We can be like the hungry beggar, walking around with a precious jewel in his pocket but totally unaware of it.
Thomas Berry quoted above, was a priest, cultural historian, and ecologist. He spurned the title theologian and instead called himself an “ecologian.” He used the phrase, the “Great Work” to describe the task of “moving modern industrial civilization from its present devastating influence on the Earth to a more benign presence.” And Berry emphasized, “the Great Work of a people is the work of all the people. No one is exempt. Each of us has our individual life patterns and responsibilities. Yet beyond these concerns each person in and through their personal work assists in the Great Work . . . while the alignment is more difficult in these times it must remain an ideal to be sought.”
Such work calls for “soul-centered life and leadership”—that is, leadership that is attune to both “the inner spirit and the outer form.” It requires the tending of our souls. That is why my neighbor and colleague, Hillary Geisler, and I have created The Institute for Soul-Centered Life and Leadership (soulcenteredleaders.org) a cooperative of teachers, coaches, consultants and spiritual companions who believe that life and leadership that is centered in the soul radiates out from one’s deepest, truest self, and becomes a force for deepening relationships and positive changes in all facets of our lives. Hillary and I met when she was my student at Seminary of the Southwest. Our passion for living and leading from our Source brought us together in this current endeavor.
We both believe transformative life and leadership requires an ability to move, as economist Otto Scharmer says, from “ego-system” to “eco-system.” Transformative life and leadership must be grounded in practice that fosters one’s ability to listen to a deeper, wiser and more creative voice than is usually accessible to us in the rush of our daily lives. The Institute for Soul-Centered Life and Leadership provides experiential practices that help leaders to be more in tune with what Scharmer calls the Source. These awareness practices facilitate the work of answering the two questions all of us should constantly be asking ourselves: “Who am I?” and “What is my work?”
Like Thomas Berry, we believe that we “have been given the intellectual vision, the spiritual insight and even the physical resources we need for carrying out the transition that is demanded of these times.” But too often the external demands of living crowd out the tending of our souls. Our busyness can result in a kind of sleepwalking that dulls our awareness of our true identity. Awakening to the mystery of who we are requires tending our souls. At the Institute for Soul-Centered Life and Leadership we hope to provide community and resources to help each other live soul-centered lives.