I have two books that I turn to regularly, pictured below, for seeking some wisdom for the day: Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations by Richard Wagamese and Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue.
I open a book and a page at random, then scan the page for something — a word, a phrase — that resonates with me. And I’m never disappointed. Some might consider this bibliomancy (the use of books in divination) and it could be, but for me those words act as a prompt in many ways: to examine my world in a different way, to raise my awareness to new possibilities, to meditate or journal on, to approach problem solving in a different way or, perhaps, to challenge my assumptions.
When I first read the words above from John O’Donohue, they definitely resonated with me but in a revealing way. My first thoughts were how I might remind others to raise their awareness, to recognize their filters, and to look at the world in a different way — smugly overlooking the possibility that those words also applied to me. And of course they did!
We each carry unconscious filters — or blinders — that colour how we experience the world, that inform our choices and actions. Those filters may come from our wounds, our wins, or our shadow side.
And then I received a sharp reminder, an insight, on how easy it is to overlook those filters and accept what we see or experienced as “truth”, or a partial truth. And to recognize when ego — or limited viewing — might be at play. I recognized that I had attributed the possibility only to others. And also that I was, in fact, currently experiencing that now, and not recognizing it.
Let me tell you a story… Usually, I’m outdoors every day — taking a nature walk, going to the beach or a seaside outdoor pool, cycling on a local greenway, or running errands in the neighbourhood — observing the changes in nature around me: the opening of flowers, the shift to berry and fruit harvesting season, and now the subtle (and sometimes bold) transformations of Autumn that come with the September equinox.
But since mid-August, I’ve been observing the outside world only through the sliding door to our balcony, due to a bout of acute sciatica that has lasted much longer than I expected. Despite my urban surroundings on the third floor of a small apartment building, I still felt close to Mama Earth. We have a lovely view with lots of light, a glimpse of our window boxes, frequent visits from hummingbirds and chickadees, and several large maple and chestnut trees lining our quiet street.
I continued to observe my outside world from this new perspective. It seemed that things looked much the same during these last two months. After the Autumn Equinox, sunset arrived noticeably earlier each day but the trees looked the same, lush with their green foliage, except for one small lone maple tree across the street which was slowly transforming from green to gold and vermilion. “Autumn is arriving late”, I thought. That was my truth as seen through the frame of my window.
But it was not the whole truth. A few days ago, I had my first outside experience in four weeks to visit my physiotherapist. Fortunately, the sciatica pain had abated enough for me to grab my walking poles and hop in the car (as a passenger!). And what a surprise! The neighbourhood was ablaze with the autumn transformation: the Katsura cherry trees with their gold and purple leaves, the larches shifting to yellow, the chestnut conkers falling to the ground, and the maple trees turning to crimson. A day later, through the same window, I finally saw one or two leaves gently releasing and fluttering to the ground… then minutes later, another leaf, then another. Yes, autumn was slowly manifesting in the microcosm seen through my window view.
So, what did I really see each day? I witnessed a daily unchanging familiarity seen through my balcony door, and had determined that autumn was late this year. But really I was witnessing only one small aspect of my neighbourhood, of Vancouver… of BC… of Canada… of the world. I hadn’t raised my awareness to what else might be happening beyond the microcosm of a few trees.
And if truth be told, I also saw much more. The pain of sciatica was unbearable at times, giving me an insight as to what it’s like to live with chronic pain: how debilitating it can be physically, emotionally and mentally, and how dependent one can be on others for support. Thankfully my husband is working from home, so I had full support at all times. But even with that, conditions for those with physical challenges can be fragile — the elevator in our building broke down a few times at critical times for me, causing the cancellation of several treatment appointments because I couldn’t navigate those steps.
So much of what we see is on the surface only, but what is hidden? Masked? An illusion?
In my daily own soul work, I also came to recognize that I had experienced the world through the filter of privilege, of many kinds. I had the privilege of overall good health, knowing my condition was temporary. I had the privilege of income and savings, which allowed me to take off several weeks from work, and being able to afford medical treatments (due to the Canadian universal healthcare care system) and medication (due to our supplementary healthcare benefits). And I had the privilege of support, knowing my husband was making my care his top priority, as well as preparing meals for me, driving me to medical appointments, and more.
For me, soul work is anything I do to connect with my deep inner wisdom (my medicine), to shine a light on my own essence, and perhaps to uncover the shadows that may be submerged within. It is a way of connecting to my Soul, and then living from that place, from that medicine.
I do that through meditation, journeying, moving, listening, dreaming, journaling, sensing — and you will find that you may have a preferred way of connecting to your soul.
And my sciatica experience had definitely called out to me for more active soul-searching and soul work.
Perhaps soul work is already part of your spiritual practice. Perhaps it’s not. However you choose to examine your life and your beliefs, do consider asking your Self the question John O’Donohue suggests:
“What did I really see this day?”
Ask what else you might see without your existing filters, or with different filters. Perhaps consider how privilege (or lack of) might be informing your view of the world, or your choices, your actions. The world might look quite different. If that difference is something you desire, consider how you might manifest that new world… or extend it to others.
Perhaps Shakespeare said it best in his tale of the Danish prince, Hamlet:
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5
What might you be dreaming into existence?
As I look out my balcony window today, as I publish this post, the view has changed! The local trees are catching up with others in the neighbourhood, and are now displaying much more of the autumnal transformations I love and anticipate each year.
And perhaps there is a lesson or medicine for me in this . . . perhaps we all can “catch up” with the right conditions of light and nurturing, however that takes its form in both giving and receiving.