Soulfullness and Threshold
What I’ve been describing in this program is a vision of life that I’ve termed “soulfulness”. Soulfulness describes a way of living that integrates the spiritual or quotidian or everyday, mundane lived aspects of life in a way that enriches and gives significance and meaning to everyday, ordinary existence. Soulfulness can be seen not simply as a warm, fuzzy idea but a description of a profound reality that needs to be understood and lived if you want to experience and express your full humanity in the world. Soulfulness is a way of being that begins by leaving the mundane, everyday reality, at times momentarily and at times for longer periods, and entering into a new domain of existence where the world of actions, objects or relationships are rendered, in a sense, sacred. It is the place where, from the vantage point of your new position, all of life in all its varied aspects gains significance and meaning.
A threshold inaugurates the domain of existence to which I’m referring and have been describing in this program as the soulfulness of everyday life. A threshold is a metaphorical doorway, an entrance to a new place. The word comes from the literal meaning of “threshing” which is the action of sorting grain. A threshold is a place where one stands holding oneself in place in the motion of someone who is threshing grain. The action of threshing is the motion of moving the legs as if walking on the spot in order to kick the talks of wheat into the air and thereby separating the wheat from the chaffe. Threshold refers to the way that we stand at the entrance, at the doorpost or gate, waiting to enter some new territory.
Usually the territory that we are referring to when we speak of a threshold is the territory of our lives or our relationships. It is the place where we stand as we contemplate a new phase or a new experience or new role or position in the world that we’re about to enter, step into, occupy, to inhabit for the first time or as if for the first time. The threshold is the place where you stand and prepare yourself for an experience or frame of mind that is different from the ordinary, everyday way of being. It is the place where you stand in preparation to make the transition from the mundane, everyday, quotidian reality to the realm of the sacred.
If we are entering the place beyond the threshold for the first time in the actual sense, at the threshold, it feels as if we are entering for the first time because each time we enter, we bring with us new intention, new feeling or attitude to the relationship or experience. We experience the threshold when we move from the territory of the mundane workday reality into a sacred place or one might term the “festive reality”. We experience the sense of standing in the threshold when we are about to enter the place of sanctity or a place where we feel uncertain. The sense of threshing in order to separate the wheat from the chaffe is like the sense of gathering ourselves by sorting out our thoughts, feelings, actions and demeanour as we stand in anticipation preparing for our entrance into the new experience.
As we metaphorically thresh at the entrance of the place, we prepare ourselves for an encounter with a mysterious other. We raise our consciousness after the purely physical reality of objects and self-centred existence to the sacred, honouring and having a sense of reverence for the other. What we sort out is who is myself, the person I experience myself to be, and who is the other with whom I’m about to participate in this new or fresh, novel encounter. We simultaneously reflect on our own experience and, at the same time, watch intently the other person or object in the encounter as they reveal their inner truth, inner essence, inner being.
You may recollect the experience when you are about to enter the office or room of someone for whom you felt real awe borne out of deep respect and admiration like, for instance, a spiritual or religious leader or guide. Imagine the feeling of walking into a great place of worship or waiting for some important ceremony to begin where some object or costume that is normally concealed or seldom used is about to be revealed, or some special ritual is about to be performed. What I’m asking you to get in touch with is the sense of mystery and anticipation, the feeling of awe and of being small in the face of something much greater than oneself, the sense of being very separate drawing into one’s inner subjective experience and, yet at the very same time, feeling profoundly connected in the most intimate way to what is happening and to the other participants present in the circumstance.
The attitude and feeling that is associated with the experience of standing at the threshold of a sacred space where you wait and prepare before entering what feels like holy ground is called reverence. Reverence is a way of being. It is a particular way of being. It’s a way of being at the threshold. A sense of reverence guides your body language and your behaviour and speech in ways that add to your sense of the place or experience being extraordinary, special and sacred. The reverence of which I’m speaking is the reverence that one feels as a guest waiting to guided as to what is expected and appropriate in the context into which we have been invited by the host.
The one role, like the role of guest, cannot exist without the other, like the host. One cannot be a guest and a host at the same time. The two roles are distinctly different and complementary to one another, each involving a different way of paying attention and of being. Host and guest meet at the threshold.
As a guest, we wait in anticipation, being acutely aware of and separating the thoughts and feelings inside us while at the same moment waiting to discover the nature of the context or encounter into which we are about to be invited. There is a sense of anticipation, mystery and, in some situations, awe. It is a reflective, contemplative state of waiting to meet and join the host for the next step in a mutual shared process rather than taking independent action or trying to act upon the other in terms of our own motives or agendas. It is the state heightened consciousness or awareness where one becomes open to oneself and also to the other in a way that honours the inner subjective world of each participant in the encounter.
As I said earlier, the two roles are distinct and cannot be combined or lived simultaneously. These two modes of being in the world or in relationship are shown by G-D in the Bible in the story of creation. On each day of creation, G-D engages in various acts of creation as each aspect of the world is brought into being. At the end of each day, G-D, in a sense, reviews what he has completed and upon review, makes a statement and evaluation of what he has accomplished in the day and blesses it, sanctifies it. On the seventh day, G-D desisted from all creative work and rested, thereby giving the seventh day a special sanctity. In the biblical description, we see outlined the two ways of being in the world, each with his own distinctive modes of action, atmosphere and special tasks. The rest, in a sense, used to describe the way G-D rested on the Sabbath, means resting, as not doing anything creative or showing mastery in any way over the creation. This informs us of a special of being in the world, not as a creator or one who has mastery over the world but as a guest relinquishing all mastery and creativity in order to inhabit fully, appreciate and enjoy the world that you have participated in creating during the week.
In the workday reality where we create control and share mastery over the world, the world appears to us like a series of objects that need to be managed or manipulated in ways that allow us to live in the world and get done what needs to be done. We have to appropriate the world or modify aspects of the world in order to meet our own needs or to fulfil our desires and complete the tasks that we need completed in order to continue living in the world.
In the workday quotidian reality, tasks and people appear to us like problems that need to be solved, obstacles that need to be overcome in order for life to proceed in that way that we want it to unfold. This is the world of work. In the world of work, we exercise control over the world and therefore, all that we perceive are the results of our own control. Even in our relationships with others, if we control or manipulate them, we never see who other people really are but only their reaction to our controlling or manipulative behaviour. In this dynamic, no intimacy is possible because only one person in the relationship gets to have a voice or truly show themselves in the relationship. There is no time or space in the workday mode for people to experience or explore or share their subjective worlds because so doing would stand in the way of getting the job done.
For example, you cannot, in good conscience, hard sell something to someone if you know what financial strain they are under or that they are reckless spenders about to make to a mistake and purchase. You cannot push someone to work harder if you are emotionally aware of the inner suffering or pain that drains their energy and preoccupies their mind if you really deeply care about them. The examples are endless.
In the world of work, it is necessary in the sense to pretend that all of people’s subjective lives and experience do not exist. People can therefore be expected to perform according to the demands of the tasks or in the way that you need or expect them to behave and not as an expression of who they really are and what they really need on a personal level at any given moment. Work environments often make the subjective or personal aspects of self explicitly unwelcome. It is as if to deal with people on a personal level wastes too much time, expends too much energy, detracts too much from the task and therefore reduces productivity or profit. In the workday reality where we consider ourselves the creators of and central feature in our own world, we perceive objects and people when we objectify them merely in terms of what we need them for or how we intend to use them or benefit from them.
When a pickpocket sees a saint in the marketplace, he sees only his pockets. His perception of the saintly person and his relationship with the saint would be formed in relation to the saint’s pockets and to the task of obtaining access to the pockets and the other person’s potential awareness of allowing a resistance to having his pockets picked. All the pickpocket will be able to get from the saint is money because his commitment to his own motives and intentions will prevent him from seeing any other or more valuable opportunity in the relationship.
What we perceive in the mundane workday reality of objects and obstacles is our own motives, needs, intentions and desires reflected in the other. It is clear from this metaphor that the festive space, the threshold or luminal space becomes unavailable to those who place themselves, their needs, goals, intentions and motives at centre stage and make no space for the other to show who they really are through the interaction. The attitude of reverence makes it safe and opens a space for the other to manifest to step into, to reveal themselves as they manifest their inner essence in the relationship because it opens a space a where personal agendas are excluded and the other is honoured and invited in as a guest in the sacred space. No intimacy can exist where control or power issues intrude in the relationship where one person attempts to act upon the other or manipulate the other for selfish motives and does not invite the other become a co-participant in a co-created, shared moment.
In many instances, the world of work has much in common with slavery. The slave, like a person who has been objectified or who objectifies themselves by treating others as objects, has no identity, no personality or life of his or her own because the slave is owned by another and therefore an object rather than an subject. Thus, in the workday reality where we have to be task and goal oriented, our inner experience is rendered irrelevant or unwelcome. We lose our humanity and, in a sense, exist as slaves.
When people appear as mere objects, no one really cares how they treat each other because objects have no inner world, individual significance or humanity for which one needs to show or feel any real concern. The mundane reality of the workday world would lead, if not interrupted by another way of being, to people exploiting and ultimately destroying each other. The other reality or way of being, which happens as one interrupts the workday reality by creating space where one can reflect upon the workday and become attuned to the world as an observer rather than as a creator, is called by the psychologist [Ben Tiaga] who alerted me to the ideas about which you are now hearing – the festive reality.
The festive reality is the luminal space that is inaugurated by entering the threshold as a guest awaiting the presence of the host. The guest prepares for the encounter in the ways that I’ve described preparing your emotional, mental and physical attitude for the encounter. You wait with a sense of anticipation, curiosity or excitement to discover what this new encounter will bring. You open yourself to the encounter between your own subjective world and that of the other. Through this encounter, each person’s humanity is brought forth to be shared, witnessed and honoured by the other. Each person waits for the evocation of the other and then is responsive rather than reactive to the other. What I mean by this is that when you react to the other person, you are in fact reacting to your own internal cues, your own agendas that the other person is merely triggering. When you are non-reactive but rather responsive, you are allowing yourself to really hear, see, feel and taste the expression of the other and be moved by that and respond to the other as you encounter them.
In the world of objects and obstacles, people, even loved ones who thwart one’s desires or needs or motives, are seen almost as adversaries because our perception of the other is filtered through and informed by our own motives and intentions. Simply put, when the other person is not doing what we want or hope or expect them to do, or being what we want them to be, our expectation results in us experiencing frustration or disappointment that we blame on the other and, in so doing, construe them as an enemy at that moment. We then feel justified to counterattack the other or diminish them, not realizing that we are simply being reactive to our internal dialogue, our own beliefs and assumptions which have nothing to do with who the other person really is.
In the festive domain, when we allow the other to fully participate with us and have a shared voice in the moment, we allow them to be who they really are and appreciate their real expression of self with reverence and respect for their difference and their humanity. The reverence for the unique expression and humanity of the other leads us to the appreciation of the other person’s shared equal right to be themselves in the moment. This reverence makes the relationship intrinsically safe and leads to deeper and richer expression of self which leads, in turn, to deeper and richer intimacy. Reverence allows you to experience the immense privilege of another person opening their inner being to you and this, in turn, deepens your sense of awe and gratitude to the other for their contribution to your life.
Through the encounter that happens after crossing the threshold and entering into the festive realm of the other, we become real, human and vulnerable to each other. We become subjects, each with unique and personal significance, each with a subjective world to be mutually recognized and possibly opened and shared with the other rather than being object merely acting upon one another, each in the selfish pursuit of our own ends. It is through encounters with another person or other persons in the festive domain that we are able to give and receive love and live in love, in an intimate relationship with others and with the world. The festive reality is an intimate way of being in the world. Living soulfully, therefore, can also be expressed as living in love, living in an intimate relationship with the world.
The world was, in a sense, created through love. Love is the primary energy or force that G-D used to create the world. In our human understanding, we could say that the essence of divine energy through which the world has manifested is love. As human beings, we contain this energy inside us as part of our true essence because we are connected to the divine source from where this energy emanates. We thus have the power to bring more of this diving energy, this love into the world through our actions and ways of being in the world and, in so doing, we become partners with G-D in the creation of the world. The more we express our love in the world through kind, loving deeds or ways of being, the more expansive we become as channels of love, like opening an artery through exercise in order to in order to increase the flow of blood. The more love you express, the more love you bring into the world, the greater your capacity to love becomes.
If you understand love merely as an emotional sentiment, you only perceive or experience love as a potential rather than a manifest reality. The mere emotion of love is like an artistic masterpiece that is kept in the cupboard. It may exist but it has no impact or effect on the world. That is why someone might accuse you of not loving them when you feel or believe that you do. Your feeling has no effect on the other and therefore is not really love until it becomes manifest through action in the world and affects the other who can then experience the love that you have for that person.
You’ve probably noticed by now that I love words and wordplay. Well, the word “verbalize” means literally to make verbal, in other words, to speak out. I’m going to give the word a whole new meaning which means to render something into a verb. A verb is a doing word. It implies action in the world. Love only becomes real when it is verbalized, when it is changed into an action – loved in the real sense in the world. If it is merely referred to in words as a commentary to your inner feelings, then it has little or no effect on others. To say “I love you” with no loving actions to back the statement is like telling someone about a wonderful painting that you stored in your cupboard that only you get to see.
I think that is why many times people need to hear that they are loved from someone repeatedly or often in order to feel reassured of the love. When they do not experience the love in action by the other person, they need repeated verbal confirmation because it’s the only tangible indication that the love actually exists. The reassurance does not last long because the person’s actual deep down experience is of not being loved because they are not really being shown the love through action. When love is verbalized, manifested in action, loved as a particular way of being in a relationship, then it is so obviously real that to speak of it is redundant except when it is used to enhance and make explicit the intention behind the particular action. A statement of love with no action that follows or accompanies it that verbalizes the love in reality is like an empty promise. The feeling of love is just a potential within one’s inner being for which you cannot expect to be given credit until you put it out into the world through deeds.
Living soulfully means living in love. Encountering another in the festive realm is about manifesting your love into the world through the reverential encounter with the world, fully open to the true nature of the other. Being soulful means being alive and open to the true meaning of every encounter which is that each relationship, each meeting is an opportunity to express the love that you contain inside you through your actions in the world. To be truly free, to be fully human means to have the freedom to express who you really are in essence, namely a conduit of divine love and to live with the awareness and to manifest that knowledge in every moment of your life. Through manifesting your love in action, your life can become soulful in the complete sense, namely full of soul.
To think in practical examples, think of gardening. When you garden, you are in the workday reality. Your attention is focused on the obstacles – the weeds, the bugs, the overgrowth or dead foliage that needs to be removed. You perceive the garden merely as something that you need to act upon, to modify in quite an aggressive way in order to get it to be what you want it to be, to impose upon it your role. Your perception of the garden is filtered through your intention to make into something that bears your mark, something that you want to be an expression of who you are.
In the festive domain, you visit your garden as a guest and simply encounter the garden as it is with its various colours and contours, its shapes and moods and smells. You become a guest in your creation. As a guest, you are not entitled to demand that the garden is different, let alone set to work on changing it. As a guest in the festive realm, the garden ceases to be yours and becomes another with whom you are communing. You and your garden are in a new relationship with each other, the relationship of host and guest. You honour that relationship by just marvelling and enjoying the garden, walking in it with reverence and appreciation. Through the encounter, you discover an experience what the word “garden” really means and what being truly, fully human is all about in the sense of being able to appreciate the significance and meaning of this experience. With the appreciation of the guest in the special place, there is no possibility that you could harm anything in the garden because you’re in touch with the significance of the garden’s existence, independent of your motives and your agendas.
Think of being with another person in the way that I have described being in your garden in the festive realm. Having true reverence for the other as a being of significance and worth equal to your own; containing the complexity and mystery that you do and having the right to be loved as they participate in the evolution of their being just like you do; approaching another sacred ground like a guest in a holy place alive to their subjective being and to their humanity; accepting whatever you encounter as a manifestation of the humanity of the other without judgement, with no intention or agenda to try and change or modify, let alone harm the other, is being in a relationship in the festive realm. This is true intimacy which is the experience of living soulfully in everyday life.