Soulstice is a thorough examination of the spiritual life from a trusted author. It offers guidance in dealing with four aspects of life to enrich one’s spiritual journey: the Journey of Exploration, the Heroic Journey; Pilgrimage and the Journey Home. Drawing on her sixteen years working in palliative care, more than a decade in chaplaincy and pastoral care, Sharonne Price offers valued insights into enriching the soul (our essential self) as well as guidance for counsellors and helpers in tending the soul and facing life’s challenges. Soulstice is chock full of stories, analyses from history and personal reflections.
Life is a journey – or so people say. Journey is an enduring metaphor – indeed the journey through the wilderness and God’s saving of God’s people is the core narrative of a whole nation and at the heart of two of the world’s religions. Whether it’s Gulliver’s Travels, or Thelma and Louise’s epic road movie, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, or Brydon and Coogan’s The Trip, we humans have described the building of experience on experience as journey.
However, this is not another saccharin-filled self-help journey book. In fact, I’ve come to feel quite ambivalent about the metaphor of life as journey, as if from birth canal to dying day we meander our way through life trying to find meaning where we can. After twenty-five years in social work and chaplaincy in hospice and hospital I know that life is much more demanding, more exhilarating and more essential (of the essence) than that.
So much so that, when in a palliative care clinical team meeting, I was moved to exclaim, “Stop talking about journeying – it’s trite, overdone and meaningless!” The look of shock on the faces of my colleagues prompted further thought. Perhaps the concept of journey allows us so many elaborate embellishments – danger, lost-ness, guidance, company and extremes – that it will continue to endure. It deserves closer attention. As I reflect on the hundreds of people I met on their journey of living as they approached death, I am struck by how unique and sacred each journey was – how much each person’s responses were a deeply personal engagement of the soul. And yet … they were also remarkably the same. What can we glean from these experiences? Understanding them helps us to understand the journeys of living better. What if we could choose our journey more than we think we do?
Hence, this book and its title. It is both a record of life lived and an invitation to live more fully into life’s solstices.
A solstice is a turning point in the journey of the earth as it revolves around the sun, year by year, beautifully enriched by the tilt of its axis and the change of the seasons. The light begins to change and earthlings perceive the new seasons that are before us as we journey, the earth beneath our feet. This is true of our lives as well.
It is possible to choose journeys that will bring us dis-integration rather than integration. How could we avoid making mistakes like that? How do we gather together all that makes us whole and good? How are we propelled further along the way?
Here we will consider four types of journey: The Journey of Exploration; The Heroic Journey; Pilgrimage and The Journey Home. Each has its time and place in every life. Each has the potential to be right for us or destructive for us. Each is common to every life and, to one degree or another, inevitable. Considering the essence of our goals and values will assist us choose the stance we take as, step by step, we make our choices and tread out our life’s stories. This is the work of the soul.
Thomas Moore in The Care of the Soul wrote in 1992, just at the re-emergence of our comfort with talking about soul:
“The great malady of the 20th century, implicated in all our troubles and affecting us individually and socially, is “loss of soul.” When soul is neglected, it doesn’t just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning.” “Tradition teaches that soul lies midway between understanding and unconsciousness, and that its instrument is neither the mind nor the body, but imagination …We have come to know soul only in its complaints: when it stirs, disturbed by neglect and abuse, and causes us to feel its pain.”
In this book we will be tracing understanding and unconsciousness but we will pay particular attention to following imagination, “midway between understanding and unconsciousness”. We will use intuition and image, metaphor and story but this will require of us considerable effort too.
The word ‘traveller’ comes from the French ‘travail’ meaning ‘work’. Each of these journeys involves work – not just physical effort, nor just emotional resolution, but the spiritual ‘work’ of reflecting on our place in the universe; the strength of our relationships and our openness to love and be loved; the exercise of faith and trust in the choices we make whether we are religious or not and our capacity to perceive and weave meaning and purpose through the narrative of our lives.
A Sri Lankan peace movement’s motto is “We build the road, and the road builds us”. Those of us who like to make things happen choose building roads as part of the journey. That is, instead of merely leaving a footprint on an already set path, we are steadily forging new journeys for ourselves and for others, as the sweat trickles into our eyes and our muscles ache with exertion. This is the work of living leadership.
“Are we there yet?” All journeys have a sense of destination even if we don’t know quite what it looks like and quite how it should feel. It is my hope that by the end of this volume, you will have a sense of destination that resonates with your own deepest longings.
The challenge of every journey is deciding when to put one journey behind us and when to set a new course. That is, when do we realise that our life demands of us a new journey, a new destination, new challenges, new comforts and most importantly, a new attitude. These are the turning points, the solstices, when exploration turns to heroism, heroism turns to a patient doggedness that reaps treasures “old and new”, and finally, or at least for this time, we turn our face towards home where we take sanctuary in belonging and acceptance. These changes of heart mark the maturity of the soul – a preparedness to dream and a preparedness to set aside old dreams for the sake of the new. Holding on and letting go, taking opportunities and letting them pass, clinging to love and releasing it, adopting great passion for a cause and handing it on, choosing a pathway and setting it aside – this is the ‘getting of wisdom’.
The themes are as ageless, yet spontaneous, as truth itself. They reach their fullness and then turn back, folding over and around in perfect harmony – just as the earth revolves around the sun and the seasons of growth and fruitfulness, withdrawal and renewal bring harmony and wholeness.
As we concern ourselves with the four journeys we will see that there is a natural chronological progression from one life-stage to another. Each grows from the former, consolidating and developing complexity and maturity. They follow some of the predictable changes that come with the stages of development through which we all progress. The richness, however, comes when they don’t – when an old woman leaps into a new voyage of discovery, or a young man takes time out to take the stance of the pilgrim, or a weary traveller makes the hard decision to head for home, or another decides to change the world against enormous odds.
The first two journeys – exploration and the heroic journey – have an element of the soul as an ‘unmeasured self’ where all seems possible and desirable; where we follow rabbits down rabbit-holes and like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, we find ourselves not always where we intended. Some of it is magical and some of it can be scary. Sometimes life draws from us a heroism that we never considered for ourselves. We are embroiled in efforts and causes that make a difference to us – and to the world – and we cannot turn away. There is a major turning point when we turn from heroism to pilgrimage. Here the soul’s relationship with the external world changes, and we focus our attention on the inner self as it matures, realising as we all must do, that life is not all about us. For pilgrimage and the journey home, the human soul begins the work of measuring and shaping itself rather than being shaped by the world. None of these journeys is separate from the others. Sometimes the distinctions blur, and we find that adventure and exploration become, in truth, full of suffering and sacrifice. We may find ourselves on a journey home into wholeness because we have been jolted and shunted there by a life-changing crisis. Nevertheless, every journey has much to teach us.
Every type of journey has its pioneers, its poets and its personalities. You will find them here.
Every journey has a starting point and you can step into a new journey here.
Maybe you will find that you thought you were on one type of journey but your posture and stance seem all wrong. Each footstep seems to bring more pain and less joy. It may be that you can choose a different type of journey for covering the terrain that is before you. You can make that choice.
Perhaps the old season is done and a new one dawns bringing with it a lighter step and a sweeter horizon. A new season brings new fruit, new light and new tasks.
In this volume you will find:
An overview of the journey
Reflections for helpers – those who accompany the traveller
A soul story
Questions and reflections for the traveller
This book is intended to provide ancient yet new insights for all of us but especially for those who would help others through the sometimes painful, sometimes joyous issues of living into the soulstices of life, with their turning points and re-direction. All of them are integral to who we are and how life is best lived.
May blessings go before you, follow you and envelop you as you embark on your own personal road trip!