I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history.
– “The Truly Great” by Stephen Spenders (as read by David Whyte)
Two colleagues pass each other in the corporate hallways and one exclaims, “Good morning! How is your soul doing today?” If the other had a moment to think, he’d respond, “To be frank, I have neither words nor time to express my soul, and you?”
It’s a shame that daily life is bereft of the language to describe the immortal part of us. We leave it to poets, prophets and story-tellers to find the right metaphors for our connection to the transcendent. But why take our soul for granted? Why not find our own expression of it?
At some point in my life while struggling to understand other people’s conception of immortality, I decided that our spirit lived on in the impact we had in the world. Therefore if we lived a good life, then our thoughts and acts would live on if invisibly in others. Immortality is possible, but only if what we have died keeping the human story going with dignity, courage and intelligence. I reasoned that karma and heaven were ways of expressing our responsibility to future generations.
I think I came to this conclusion working backwards. Look at any idea, any understanding, any object you possess and ask, where did it come from? Where did this computer come from? How did I come to be? Who am I really? And you will at once touch a web of influences that reaches back to the beginning of human existence. Socrates or Confucius, immigrant relative or cultural ancestor, they live on through us just as we will live on in others.
While all this might seem abstract, it has real consequences on how I live my life. It determines where I invest my energy and resources. More importantly it also determines how I go about expanding my understanding of my human heritage. Was this why David Whyte asked us to “Remember your true inheritance, the struggles of your grand parents, your parents, your family, the inheritance of your school system and water systems.”
It’s not just about remembering of course. It’s also about inquiring. We forget to inquire into our soul’s history. We take it for granted that everything is as it should be and shall be forever, and consequently cut ourselves off from the most wonderful part of being alive. Instead, open a history book, investigate the working of things, discover your genealogy, become aware of current events and our inheritance reveals itself. When you think about it, it’s impossible to know who you are unless you know where you come from. Like building a bridge, you can’t design who you are without understanding the forces underlying who you are.
Ignore the soul’s history and we become preoccupied with our individual successes or the success of our small tribe. Emerson encouraged us to not just be “man” thinking, but “Man” thinking. Our society divides its functions so that they can better help the whole. But if a business forgets about the society it serves, it devolves into a money-making machine, just as any job we perform becomes boring routine if not seen in its widest context. We should be “Human Beings” thinking not a mere human thinking.
Although our entire human soul knows more than we do, we also have to remember it is filled with horrible mistakes and missteps. It would be a fatal mistake to assume our souls are immortal and infinitely wise. We can hide the oil spill with dispersant and cap the poison being injected into our life systems, but we can only deny reality for so long. This would not be the first time in history where we lived in denial and skirted with our own mortality. Surely, we can do better!
Step one is remembering. How do you go about remembering and inquiring into your soul’s history? Is it open or closed to the millions of years of the human journey? Does it connect with our current understanding of the fundamental life forces? And ultimately how does it effect how you approach life?
Like responding to a big question in the hallway, there is no quick easy answer, but isn’t it a worthy question spend your life answering?
Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC