Spring Equinox 2020
Dear friends,

Warm spring greetings to you all. We are living in anxious times. Uncertainty has come into our homes and found its way into each of our lives. What was once stable and familiar, has been shaken and we have entered a steep descent into the unknown. Here, the invisible world asserts its power, reminding us of the folly of control. In these times, it may not be the gods and goddesses affecting our fates, but something equally mysterious: something unseen moving through the air, rattling our deep psychic ground, affecting everything. 

Fear and anxiety readily appear in times like these. Our work is to turn toward these jittery guests and make a place at the table to offer tea and soup, a warm place to rest. Grief may also come knocking as our plans and expectations of normalcy fade into shadows, and we are left with our faith in the world being shaken. This too is a loss worthy of our attention and kindness. Coronavirus reminds us of something inevitable but strangely denied: we are vulnerable, interdependent animals, clinging delicately to our little thread of life. The old Zen phrase, “Not knowing, is most intimate,” rings true. We don’t know what will happen today or tomorrow, and this brings us into the intimate truth of our own tender existence.

In reality, we are tumbling through a rough initiation, * when radical alterations occur in our inner and outer landscapes. It is simultaneously deeply personal and wildly collective, binding us to one another. Everyone we meet in the grocery store, in line at the gas station, walking their dog, is tangled up in this liminal space betwixt and between the familiar world and the strange, emergent one. Hang on! 

Much is asked of us during threshold times like these. In my work with the Cancer Help Program, I often hear how lost someone feels once they receive the diagnosis, undergo treatment and become a part of the medical machinery that often consumes much of their daily routine. The frequent lament is, “I don’t know who I am anymore.” This is the deep work of initiation. It is meant to dislodge our old identity, the sediment of self that we affix to our sense of who we are. We are meant to be radically changed by these encounters. We do not want to come out of these turbulent times the same as we went in. That is the invitation in this moment of history. Radical change. 

There are shifts happening along the fault lines of this evolving crisis. The insane pace of modernity is being brought to a screeching halt. The dominant ideology of power/privilege is cracking, coaxing a more compassionate and heartfelt response to our mutually entangled lives. Suddenly, productivity is not the primary value, but connection, affection, love, encouragement. In the pause of sheltering in place, we remember neighbors and kindness, mutuality and empathy.

So now what? How do we navigate this tidal surge of uncertainty? Our first move could be to re-imagine social distancing as an experience of sanctuary and solitude, and not one of isolation. Social distance is a cold term, lacking any sense of the rich invitation that awaits us when we turn toward our internal worlds. Solitude is a state of hospitality, a welcoming of all that is in need of attention. Solitude offers a ground that is embracing and inclusive. Everything can be made welcome in the broad arms of solitude, even fear. For as long as humans have sought counsel with the sacred, much of it has happened in a space set apart from others. Here, in silence and a nourishing aloneness, we can become receptive to the influence of soul. As Rilke said, “I am too alone in the world, and not alone enough to make every minute holy.” As we shelter in place , may place become a shelter for each of us. 

What else? Can we coax a few words of praise from our lips? Maybe sing a song or two, like they are sharing across balconies in the streets of Italy. Perhaps recite a poem to the birds, plant seeds, call a friend, pray, read the great myths that tell us, again and again, how we might find our way through the impossible. This is a season of remembering the ancient rhythms of soul. It is a time to become immense.

To become immense means to recall how embedded we are in an animate world--a world that dreams and enchants, a world that excites our imaginations and conjures our affections through its stunning beauty. Everything we need is here. We only need to remember the wider embrace of our belonging to woodlands and prairies, marshlands and neighborhoods, to the old stories and the tender gestures of a friend. 

Fear can rattle us and activate strategic patterns of survival. These patterns enabled us to endure, but they cannot help us across this tremulous threshold. For that, we need to amplify the potency of the adult. As is true of any genuine initiation, it requires a ripening of our being and stepping more fully into our robust identity rooted in soul. We become immense, not in some grandiose, “I’ve got this,” kind of way, but in a way where we become flexible like a willow, taking into our open arms and offering shelter to all that is frightened and vulnerable. 

So, my friends, we return to simple things: stillness, beauty, compassion, patience. This will not resolve quickly. The art of repetition has great value in shaky times. Beyond frequent hand washing and bowing to one another, we can come back to practices that enrich the field we inhabit. Rituals, prayer, meditation, dance, are all ways to foster an intimacy with the ground of soul and the soul of the world. Stay safe. Stay well.

Mighty blessings, Francis 

*In the coming days, I will be posting an article on rough initiation . The parallels between traditional initiations and what we are moving through are strikingly similar. Stay tuned.
The Values of Soul: #2 Repetition

Our exploration of soul values began with the often-neglected practice of restraint. We now venture into another underappreciated quality of soul, and that is repetition. Like restraint, repetition is not glamorous or sexy. It is ordinary and ebbs and flows through our daily lives in both conscious and unconscious ways. 

We struggle with the idea of repetition, anything that seems too familiar in this culture. We want things to be novel, new and improved, the latest. There’s nothing wrong with this. It does, however, tinge the old and traditional with a feeling of being antiquated and outdated. (It’s interesting to note that to many traditional people, anything new was approached with an attitude of suspicion. Where did this come from? Will it serve the people? How will it affect the land?)

We live in a society that prizes constant innovation and novelty. The singular focus on growth and development has provided us with many new devices and technologies, and granted us a degree of ease seldom known by our ancestors. It also casts a long and weighty shadow. Embedded in this ideology is an obsession with progress. 

Progress is holy scripture in this culture. It is the one-directional arrow of time and productivity that surrounds us and informs us daily. We feel it in the constant pressure to have more, be more, achieve more. There is something inherent in the concept of progress, however, that leaves a residue of discontent in its wake. The better life is always just beyond the horizon, awaiting the arrival of the latest product, accomplishment or discovery. We are taught to crave what’s next, the up and coming. The old and familiar are considered outworn and outdated. We are quick to discard anything considered old—including people—leaving us skimming the surface carried along on the swift moving current of progress.

This pressure is felt in our psychological lives as well. There is an ongoing focus on improving and being better. How we are is rarely good enough. We must constantly strive to grow. Growth and progress are the two primary imperatives within psychology. Consequently, discontent is built into the way we approach our psychological lives. The focus settles on what we don’t have, what we haven’t achieved, the progress we haven’t made. 

Soul, on the other hand, values repetition. Repetition is a form of sustained attention, returning us repeatedly to a place, a person, or a practice, that engenders depth and familiarity. It is in the very essence of repetition that we come to know something more intimately, whether a partner, a friend, or our own interior worlds. Any movement toward depth requires repeated contact. Gary Snyder, Zen poet and nature philosopher, wrote that “Getting intimate with nature and our own wild natures is a matter of going face to face many times.” There is no depth without excavating and digging into the marrow of what matters to soul and culture. Repetition is a form of courtship.

To read more of this article, click here .
Offerings to support the times ahead.
The Alchemy of Initiation:
Essential insights on initiation in a time of uncertainty
These five nights of reflection and wonder offered a rich exploration into the vast territory of initiation. We began with a premise:  initiation is not optional.    From there we tracked the ways in which psyche/soul persists in taking us to the edges of radical change. L osses, defeats, challenges, illnesses, are seen as the  prima materia , the material required to activate the movement into our adult presence. Challenging, provocative, and insightful conversations on the necessary work of ripening.

Session 1.  Cooking the Soul: The Alchemy of Ripening
Session 2. Fire in the Voice: Facing the Predator
Session 3.  Rough Initiations: When the Bough Breaks
Session 4.  Baptized by Dark Waters: The Call of Soul into the Underworld
Session 5. Love's Fierce Embrace: The Great Inducement to Ripen

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Living A Soulful Life
Recorded live over ten concentrated evenings, we granted audience to soul. We listened and leaned into an ancient cadence, a rhythm rooted to soil and place, ancestors and Dreamtime. There we found stories and tears, a rough and robust language that quickened our imaginations and strengthened our intimacy with the entire gleaming world. These were nights of wonder and poetry. We were enticed into the essence of an existence less confined by domesticity and more aligned with the soul's wild love of life.

These gatherings restored the old ways of working with soul. Through conversation, imagination, ritual, poetry, literature, and other practices of the soul, we built a community of the heart. In ancient times, this was the Convivium, a gathering of friends devoted to the care of the soul. We wrestled with central concerns in our lives: Loss and suffering; love and beauty; death and grief; our creative longings, our hunger for community and more. ​​
Distilled from over 35 years of study in psychology, anthropology, alchemy, mythology and poetic traditions, this series of talks offers an in-depth exploration of the practices and perspectives that enrich the life of the soul.

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Upcoming Events
As is true for many other offerings in the community, we are sad to say that all upcoming programs have either been postponed or are awaiting updates on the progress of the pandemic. We hope to be able to offer some online options to stay connected in these uncertain times. Stay tuned.

Francis Weller | WisdomBridge | 707-568-5803 | [email protected] | www.francisweller.net