The Only Solid Ground in the Universe
In the twenty-five years that I’ve been a spiritual teacher, I’ve learned an enormous amount about the nature of the human soul. Initially, this was not a subject I thought much about, nor did I have many preconceived beliefs or ideas about it. In fact, being a teacher of enlightenment, my early emphasis was on getting people to let go of and transcend any and all notions of self, including even most of the ideas we have about our souls. But gradually, I have come to understand and appreciate that the spiritual path is as much about the development of the soul as it is about the transcendence of the ego and conditioned mind. Indeed, these days I often wonder: Unless we have truly developed our own souls, are we ready or is it even appropriate for us to take that next step of transcending the mind? Unless we have developed our souls, will there be any solid ground from which to leap?
I’ve come to the conclusion that the most important reason to do spiritual practice is to develop the soul. A lot of us naively assume that our souls are fully developed, that our capacity for integrity, authenticity, transparency, conscience, goodness, and love is already there and just needs to be realized. But that’s simply not true. The soul—which I’m defining as our capacity for these deeply positive human qualities—is something that, in most of us, desperately needs to be developed. Too many of us live in a fractured state, deeply divided against ourselves—often far more so than we are aware of or able to feel. We exist in a self-generated vacuum of moral ambiguity, where everything is relative and our attention is focused mainly on our emotional state. Most of us know a lot more about what really matters than we are willing to live up to. Indeed, we are attracted to that which is beautiful, profound, and meaningful but find ourselves lacking the soul strength to really struggle, to engage in a life-and-death wrestling match with our own division, cynicism, and inertia. The awful truth is that it is just easier for us not to care that much. In order to care that much, we have to be willing to feel a connection with life that is so deep that it hurts. We have to be ready to step onto the field of our own experience in a way that is authentic, unconditional, and deeply committed—to embrace a kind of fearless vulnerability where our transparency is our strength and the living experience of connection is permanent, unbroken, and inescapable.
The life-embracing capacity of the highly developed soul comes directly from the transformative spiritual experience of oneness, wholeness, and completeness. When the self has directly seen that its own deepest depths are absolutely full to overflowing, all existential doubt is extinguished and we are freed to embrace the life process without reservation. But even then, our conviction and our surrender will be tested, again and again and again. How much love do we have in our hearts, even when we are being challenged? How strong is our integrity, even at those times when it seems that the whole universe is conspiring to tempt us to compromise? How alone are we willing to stand in what we know to be true? Soul strength is spiritual strength. It is the ultimate source of dignity and self-respect. And it is exactly this position of unwavering conviction that we so desperately need to cultivate if we’re going to change the very fabric of the emotional, psychological, philosophical, and spiritual field that we all share.
Nobody can do this for us. Others can lead by example, but we alone must develop our own souls. Interestingly, the aspiration to cultivate our capacity for integrity, authenticity, transparency, and conscience comes from the soul itself, the very part of ourselves that is crying out to be developed. The instant we surrender to the soul’s demand, we will find access to the oneness, wholeness, and completeness that is the source of all spiritual strength. But that strength needs to be cultivated daily, never assumed or taken for granted. Spiritual practice, undertaken in earnest, gives access to that source, and that is why it is the ultimate reference point for the evolving soul in a deeply divided world.
Once we have found this source and have consciously said yes to the noble task of soul cultivation, there is no turning back. If, after saying yes, we do allow ourselves to hesitate and fall prey to the powerful forces of inertia and cynicism, we may not only lose faith in that source but also lose access to it. That is why it has been said that it is better never to begin on the spiritual path than to begin and give up before one has succeeded unequivocally. Once we have said yes, we must succeed, because we have seen with our own eyes, felt with our own heart, and recognized with our own mind what integrity, authenticity, transparency, and conscience truly are: the only solid ground in the universe.