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From self to soul

Posted by Simon Parke, 11 September 2020, 11.02am

There is a theme in many different teachings that invites us to forget ourselves, to do away with ourselves – as if who we are is somehow getting in the way.

The truth is, we cannot do away with ourselves for much of the time, for there are things that only our selves can do – like organising a baby sitter, or planning a trip, or sorting out the shopping, paying the gas bill, sending that birthday card, structuring a sermon, negotiating a change in our work patterns or reorganising the company.

The self knows its way around the world, knows how to do these things. We couldn’t function without it.

So the self is no demon – and it’s doing its best.

But its best is quite limited and the self can drift easily into self-importance which is where the trouble begins. ‘I’m so busy/indispensible/right etc.’

Behind and beneath this self, holding it discretely, is our soul; and it’s best we visit our soul as often as possible.

We can’t always be there, as we’ve noted. But is a homely place for the self to retreat to, when the moment allows.
Meister Eckhart wrote helpfully, if ruthlessly, about this.

‘The soul is a strange land, a wilderness, being more nameless than named; and more unknown than known.

If you could do away with yourself for a moment, then you would possess all that this place possesses in itself.

But as long as you have regard for yourself in any way, or for anything, then you will not know what God is.

As my mouth knows what colour is! And my eyes what taste is! This is how little you will know what God is!’

It is generally unwise to start with God. Better to start with our selves and our relationship to our soul, this nameless place, more unknown than known, arrived at with a few deep breaths and a letting go of labels, achievements, diaries and dreams.

If we can do away with ourselves for a moment, a deeper adventure begins.

We find we possess more than we imagine.

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