Way back in 2007, I went on a very ambitious tour with my new book This Vast Being: A Voyage through Grief and Exaltation. Every day or two, I would blog about my experiences. I am busy retyping the entire collection from that summer, and. will create both e-book and audiobook out of the contents.
Here’s one of these precious gifts from the past that rises up to greet me during this even more ambitious, multi-year Recapitulation Project, wherein I am collecting my entire extended corpus, with the aim of archiving it online.
Friday, August 10, 2007
Soul, and Spirit
In order to launch myself on this ten-week journey through seven western states, I knew I would have to learn to “stay awake” continuously, or at least wake up a thousand times a day. Without a near-continuous state of presence, the journey might prove disastrous — from ill-placed keys, wallet, other belongings; from a sudden or gradual loss of the sense of groundedness that would throw me into internal chaos.
To a certain extent, I must admit that I decided to do this journey to see If I could. As a sort of experiment. Ever since my husband Jeff died, over four years ago, I have been gradually grounding myself into the little house that he bought in order to go to law school in Bloomington, Indiana (actually, in order to gift to me on his way out of body). This daily grounding process has been new to me, a double Sagittarian who, for most of my life, have felt most myself while in flight. Over these years, I’ve begun to recognize that what I have been caring for in Bloomington is “soul.” Through the smell of early morning as I step out to pick up the newspaper, through skin’s sensing of the variations of temperature and humidity in seasonal swings, through the routine of letting my kitties out, and in, over and over each day; through weekly grocery shopping, having friends in for dinner, yoga, chi kung and tai chi early. morning and evening — I have found myself immensely appreciating the sheer deliciousness of quotidian rhythms, these troughs and valleys into which the body sinks and relaxes.
So the question was very real. Would I be able to do this trip and remain grounded? Or would I be as before, a leaf tossed in the wind.
Then, on the third day after the trip began, driving through Wyoming during and after a hard rain, swooning into ecstasy — the aroma of sage, the endless wind-scoured vistas, the vast tumultuous sky — all this made me say, out loud, hands clutching the wheel, “Ah yes, my soul may be in Bloomington, but my spirit is here. Here in this wild, wild land.”
Soul and spirit. So very different! And to think that at one point in my life I wondered how, or whether, to distinguish the two. I even remember an astrology conference where some learned astrologer said that there really was no essential difference between the two, and cited sources, and etymological origins, to “prove” it.
I didn’t know whether to believe him. And now I realize that I don’t believe him. For in my experience, soul and spirit nurture two different parts of myself. Soul belongs to my Taurus Moon, and through it to the body, to earth, to the easy, comforting familiarity of routine that allows me to sink into the rich resonance of feeling. And spirit belongs, well, to spirit! To that Sagittarian part of me that rises, ascends, views from afar, finds meaning, links together in a conscious whole.
Soul, operating mostly on an unconscious level, inhabits the whole, lives at rest inside it; whereas spirit, the more conscious it is, seeks to remember what it has lost through its marvelous capacity for self-consciousness, what allows us to split off from the body and flee, fly, forget.
Yesterday, I spent the day traveling south from Hamilton, Montana to Twin Falls, Idaho, a journey that, beginning in the Sawtooth Valley in central Idaho. — those mountains where I had ridden horses on long pack trips with my friend Mary and her family as a teenager, where I had honeymooned, over and over, trekking deep into the wilderness with my second husband Dick (and first love, in high school) — all this sunk me into deeper and deeper recesses of memory. Continuing south from there: over Galena Summit where a bunch of us hippies once tried to push a bus uphill and over the crest; through Ketchum and the Wood River Valley, where I craned my neck as I drove past the entrance to the road up the east fork of the river where my first husband had designed and built “the cabin” for my family, only to see it now totally obscured inside a half-finished mega-mansion; through the tiny village of Bellevue where, as usual, I made a little detour to check on the little house where I had lived for about four months with my third husband Phil (a sick, scary, alcoholic former “Balck Beret” who taught me to take my power or die) and then escaped, in the early morning, in his old truck since he had surreptitiously pulled the spark plugs on my car; past the butte on the desert south of Shoshone where the Riding Club had trucked our horses for a ride one Saturday morning when I was a child; then to Twin Falls itself, my home town, where the pace of change into new “businesslike” buildings and strip malls has been do dizzying that I continually get thoroughly confused and lost.
I continued releasing and reinvigorating memory here this evening, driving past the large ranch house (which held eight children) where we grew up on Maplewood Drive (bigger trees, brick now painted white), past he little house where lived in my mid-30s while I published “OpenSpace” magazine, a utopian publication that brought out all the creative types NOT connected to organized religions (house very run down; sad); and the big square two-story house on the north edge of downtown that was once my father’s office and where I mowed the lawn one afternoon as a 9th grader, furious, and terrified that I had actually said “yes” to a boy who wanted to take me to the movies that evening.
All of it pulling me down, down, into a place of feeling that I don’t understand but do know instinctively that it is good for me. The feeling of “being at home,” that relishing in the delicious depths of soul, is not just located in my little house in Bloomington, Indiana, but also found inside the cells of my being, each one shaped by a myriad of impressions from the deep past and enriching life immeasurably now.
Then the final descent — into a little canyon, Rock Creek Canyon,
where I went for a walk this morning alone and found the creek gurgling like a baby in my arms, the russian olive trees and sagebrush waving to me as I walked by. And everywhere, the dark volcanic rock faces silently reminding me of my own volcanic, volatile nature — it was as if for the first time in my life I truly and consciously understood how soul was present in my early years — as I rode my horse, as I played in deserted, overgrown “empty lots,” as my friends and I explored canyons and deserts of. the Southern Idaho desert. I took it all for granted then, and longed for “greener pastures” literally — dreaming of Anne of Green Gables, and her much lusher world.
Last night, while in my ruminations about soul. And spirit, I happened to be sleeping in a bed that had Thomas Moore’s book, “Soul Mates” on the night table.I opened it to the introduction, and there he is, talking about the exact same subject, in the exact same way as in my recent ruminations. Soul and Spirit, what pulls us down, and what lifts us up. Below and Above. Both, together, not in a static “balance,” but as a continuously shifting, paradoxical whole connecting our lives to both earth and sky, the depths of. our memories to visions of the future, and all centered in a silent, nurturing , subtle presence that supports us unstintingly, at each and every moment of our lives.
A piece of volcanic rock, a sprig of sage, and a sprig of Russian olive now sit, tiny altar of soul, just above the wheel of the Prius.
Tonight: another book event, this one in the labyrinth in Buhl, a tiny town 36 miles from where I now sit in an internet care, downtown Twin Falls.