Care of the Soul: The Place Beyond Seeking
I used to be a seeker, looking for answers to all sorts of questions, wondering which religious tradition was right and best, concerned about the nature of the afterlife, wishing I knew exactly what Jesus was all about, hoping I would make good decisions in my life. Seeking is a good thing. Your mind and heart are open as you earnestly pursue matters of importance to us all. You’re not stuck on any given way. You’re on a journey, an odyssey, a search for truth.
But now I’ve given up seeking. It could be old age, but I think it’s closer to the old adage that the questions are what is important. Rilke says, Live your questions. That’s what I’ve done.
I remember a turning point in my life when I had left my beloved Catholicism behind; in the form I had known it, anyway. I didn’t know where to turn, what to read, who to trust. That’s when I began my doctoral studies in religion at Syracuse University. In the first seminars with David Miller and Stanley Hopper, two highly imaginative and broad-minded theologians, I discovered that I had the whole of the world’s spiritual teachings, its secular literature and arts, mythology, and depth psychology to study and make my own.
Later, one day when I was a university teacher and friend and neighbor of James Hillman, I gave myself five years to learn how to deal effectively with images, images from art, dream, and religion. Hillman was saying that to get close to the soul you have to think imagistically and poetically.
I’ve given myself some big projects over the years, and along the way my craving for answers kept growing weaker. Today the seeker is gone, and perhaps coincidentally, so are my dreams of flying. Having lost the seeker compulsion, I feel a deep peace and comfort, a quiet that affects everything I do. I’m not interested in achieving happiness. I think of happiness as an important but fleeting sensation. I want the calm of not having to get anywhere or know anything. I enjoy the end of a certain kind of craving, not for things but for thoughts.
With the end of the odyssey motif in my life has come another kind of peace. I used to feel a need to teach and give talks, hoping to persuade people of the value of lessons I had learned. There was often a short gap between my learning something and the need to profess it. Now I do a lot of teaching and public speaking, but I have no need to convince anyone of anything. I don’t want converts or followers. I enjoy walking out on a stage or up to a podium with a mind completely empty of an outline or list of ideas. I let the talking commence without any purpose or intention. I look for no outcomes. I have no goals.
It goes without saying that I hope no one adopts my way of doing things. I don’t recommend it. If I can write about it like this, I probably haven’t learned the lessons deeply enough yet. I suggest that you do what you’ve always done, pursuing goals and making plans, but exposing your mind and heart to deep and worthy ideas that eventually might transform you in your own way, just as my resources have fashioned me. As your questions move deeper, you may discover your own route to a life without seeking, a life of deep comfort and peace.
Don’t think that I’m not busy. I travel, teach, speak, and write more than ever. The peace I’m talking about is compatible with a full and active life. It’s the calm core beneath the frenetic exterior, the loss of the existential anxiety about being correct, knowing it all, living properly and not being judged badly.
Recently I gave a talk in London, and I told my friend there, Chris Robertson, that people didn’t know what I was talking about and some walked out. You must have enjoyed that, he said. Yes, with a calm at the center I don’t need approval and understanding. I thrive on the eccentricity of my imagination. Outwardly, I’m conventional and boring. Inwardly, I can’t keep the wild thoughts from flowing. That’s my peace. In that wildness lies my creative and comforting stillness.