I stood on the cliffside of the Baltit Fort in Hunza, Pakistan, as the wind howled and whipped snow flurries through the peaks of the towering Hindu Kush Mountains surrounding me. It was off-season, so I had that barren rock face to myself. My family had moved on inside.
The boom of an avalanche broke my reverie, its cracks echoing through those peaks of upwards to 20,000 feet. Mesmerized, I watched it slide—from a safe distance—and felt the ice crystals hit my face as it crashed and plummeted down that valley.
This was no deliberate avalanche so humans could safely ski, but untameable wildness.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Mary Oliver
Bill Plotkin, author of Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche, says that, “Spirituality is that sphere of experience that lies beyond the commonplace world of our surface lives and that opens our awareness to the ultimate and core realities of existence.” He says there are two realms of spirituality, distinct but complementary, and that either one alone is incomplete.
One form turns upward toward the light. It aids us in overcoming our ego’s insistence that the world be a certain way, it helps us quiet our cognitive tendencies so that we can be fully present to the moment, and connects us cosmically to all that is. Our monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as Buddhism and Hinduism—focus on this transcendent aspect of spirituality.
Plotkin’s other idea of spirituality does not go upward toward the light, but downward toward our individual selves and into the rich mysteries of nature.
Plotkin says we descend into our soul (2), which he defines as that “vital, mysterious, and wild core of our individual selves, an essence unique to each person, qualities found in layers of the self much deeper than our personalities.” Our tribal and pagan religions, depth psychology, and nature point us to this descent.
What is precious inside us does not care to be known by the mind in ways that diminish its presence. David Whyte
Our soul is our inner wilderness, our psychic territory we know least about. And just as our society has eliminated wilderness in nature, so we are conditioned to avoid the wilderness of our soul, the deepest mysteries of who we are, our shadows. We fear and avoid the wild outdoors—such as the snakes, the insects, the animals that prowl in the dark.
And so we avoid our inner wildness through addictions, consumerism, and rigid belief systems that keep those wild questions at bay, that keep those inner doors tightly locked.
But nature breaks in on us in all her wildness: wild calls to wild. Mindfully remember those times when nature drew forth a physical or an emotional response from you. Ask your higher self what within you was responding to that wildness. What wanted recognized within you? What power? What mystery? In those moments, our souls short circuit our brains, our thinking apparatus. We are made of the same stuff.
This wildness does not mean we harm ourselves or others around us. We still set boundaries to protect our health.
Spirituality is less about doing and more about being our truest, most authentic self everywhere we go. People House Philosophy
Powerful ocean waves pounding the shore; a snowy, windy whiteness; hiking in a canyon; mountains marching endlessly into the horizon—what is it that makes your skin tingle? When nature floods your being with all its awe-inspiring magnificence, trust the process. Let the experience change you; don’t analyze it but delight in it. Ask yourself what dark or scary path you avoid that your soul is pushing you toward. Or what soul-inspired endeavor you are meant to explore. Remember that in the depths of who you are, you are responding to kinship.
Sit mindfully with these memories and any spiritual transformation they may be pointing to. Jon Kabat-Zinn has defined mindfulness meditation as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.”
Notes & Sources:
1. Plotkin, Bill. Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche. New World Library; 2003. pg. 24.
2. Following Plotkin in this, I am not using the word soul to refer to a substance that exists independently of the body, that may be reincarnated, or that might leave the body after death. That’s not to say those actions don’t occur. I’m just not using the word in that way.
About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her spiritual connection at People House and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.