Care of the Soul: Joyfully Adrift
Maybe, as we become more soulful, we drift into reality rather than away from it.
In recent weeks, I’ve been working on a video with my neighbor and friend John Van Ness. John is a thoughtful man in his 80s who has been a spiritual leader and a psychotherapist. When you look at John’s face, you understand what it means to be in love with life and fully alive. The video is about John’s wife, Pat, who died more than a year ago after a long and progressive experience of dementia.
John tells how his wife’s drift from reality led her to remember abuse in her childhood, a discovery that helped her understand some smoldering anger and allowed her to leave this world with considerable peace. In other words, her dementia enabled some healing.
I remember that when I first published Care of the Soul, I went on book tours and reminded people that when you live from your soul you may become eccentric—very eccentric. I hadn’t found this observation in ancient texts, my usual resource for insights, but had discovered it in my practice of therapy. Over and over, I saw people whose life-giving passion and individual creativity were hidden behind a fearful need to conform and be accepted by others on their terms.
As they discovered their own natures, especially through dream work, they became less concerned about approval and could allow some activities and behaviors that were just waiting to be released. Several quit their numbing jobs to pursue skills and interests that had been sidelined. Some abandoned old family morals and beliefs and became a scandal to their friends. A well-adjusted personality is not one of my goals as a therapist.
As many therapists discover, practicing therapy is being in therapy. As the people I worked with went off happily into their new eccentric lives, I began to shed my own inhibitions. In my early years especially, I lived two lives. Outwardly I was a conventional, quiet, unremarkable scholarly type, while inwardly I nurtured all kinds of weirdness and personal tastes and passions. Once in a while, the inner devils would creep out into the world, as when I published a thoughtful study of the Marquis de Sade, presenting him as a particularly sane and perceptive artist instead of the creepy, twisted, and psychotic figure that history portrays. One publisher rejected my idea, saying it was obscene to place de Sade in the context of serious theology and psychology. My book ended up receiving an award and an excellent review from a pornographic magazine. While surprised and pleased by that, I felt pushed further to the edge of polite society.
As I grow older, I feel liberated in many ways, as if my soul is shining more. I pursue my interest in UFOs and aliens, develop my skills with the scrying mirror, and use my intuitions as the main guide of my life. I find personal strength in those eccentricities and a joy in life that was muffled in earlier years of conformity. I feel that as I drift further from reality I draw closer to the infinite and the absolutely mysterious, the object of my lifelong studies in theology and my idiosyncratic spiritual practice.
Modern psychology sometimes urges us to have a strong ego, to be normal and adjusted. I’d rather live from my soul, as deep skills and interests that even I don’t fully understand or control come into play. Admittedly, this is a crazier way to go about life, but it has its rewards.
In therapy I’ve learned that the world is often upside down: What you thought was right and reasonable turns out to be harmful and limiting. What you thought was crazy and maladjusted is revealed as the most sane and creative. As you become a more soulful person, you drift further from what most people would call reality.
At its best, I see the drift as a movement toward the divine, which is more real than reality. It’s a deep and hidden factor in every cell throughout nature, culture, and personality. Maybe, as we become more soulful, we drift into reality rather than away from it. We discover that what we thought was real and reasonable isn’t so at all. And as we make these unexpected discoveries, we ourselves become less adjusted and normal, and we find delicious freedom in our eccentricity.
I appreciate my friend John’s open mind that allows him to see value in his wife’s drift away from reality. He looked at her through the eyes of his soul, a soul that turns everything upside down, which ultimately is right side up.