Living by the sword

soul-making

‘I want you to acknowledge that your anger is un-fucking-justified. I want you to acknowledge that he who fights by the sword, fucking dies by it, Tommy. ... If you pull that trigger, right? You pull that trigger for a fucking honourable reason. Not like some fucking civilian that does not understand the wicked ways of our world, mate.’

– From Peaky Blinders, Season 3, Episode 6: Alfie Solomons speaking to Thomas Shelby as Shelby holds a gun to Solomons’s head, enraged at his betrayal which led to Shelby’s son having been abducted by mortal enemies.

‘The wicked ways of our world ...’ Wish there was a rulebook that would spell it out for us. But, ‘the Tao that can be spoken is not the true Tao.’ Thank goodness for that, for if such a rulebook was possible, there would be no true journeying. Ironic and tragic then that so many expect others to live by their rulebooks. ‘Judge not that ye not be judged.’ Another rule? Or a statement of truth? Truth? What truth? Whom or what does it serve? Is judging, ‘living by the sword?’ Is it possible to live meaningfully without judging? ... The wicked ways of our world ... The best journeys are those that are hitched to our earnest and sincere questions. But ... is journeying ‘the truth’, or even the one thing that we can hold onto as ‘real’ or ‘true’ or ‘good’ or ‘right’? Can we hold ‘the journey’ as sacred? And why would we want to hold to what is ‘real’ or

soul-making

‘true’ or ‘good’ or ‘right’? Or sacred? Is it not more fun to follow the wicked, to ‘do the wrong thing’, to get our teeth and nails into some sexy flesh? And why would fun be the thing to follow? ... Perhaps all these questions are ‘being too much in the head’ and we should rather journey by hitching ourselves to our instincts and act on them without asking too many questions. And yet, following that path, are we not in danger of eventually finding ourselves looking into the cold morning mirrors of our world and discovering that we pretend we don't see that the person looking back at us is a complete stranger? Staring back at us with big deadpan eyes.

Maybe it was while being tormented by similar thoughts that the poet John Keats ‘saw’ the meaning of William Blake’s idea that the purpose of our life is ‘to make soul’. Or perhaps he was just one of those fortunate spirits to know the ‘true truths’ of living. (Or, perhaps not ...) An important thing we learn when we consult those alchemists, Taoists, and other wise ones who gave us the immense gift of tracking their journeys often during times of persecution and when writing was not as straight-forward as it is today, is that there are no rules when it comes to soul-making. And yet, perhaps even more importantly, neither does soul-making consist of following the easy motto that ‘everything goes’. And what makes soul here, now, will likely not do so there, then. Soul can be made on all the stages of the world. We can make soul in the shadows. On the mountain tops. On sunny beaches and in the darkest caves. In our living and in our dying. Alone in the forest, or on the stages of the business world, or amongst fellow gangsters and thieves. And perhaps, as the quote above suggests, even in our killing. (But then, they who live by the sword die by the sword ...) The thing is, at the same time, depending on where we’re at right now in our soul-work, it entails containing, kindling and nursing specific soul-processes. And so, no matter which worldly stage we’re on, soul-making demands that we follow ‘thy will rather than my will’. In other words, it demands that we prioritise our soul-work rather than what we want and desire for ourselves on our worldly stage, while also taking full responsibility for what happens to us in our world.

Don't we all live by the sword? Is living by the sword incompatible with soul-making? What is clear is that in our world today, most people do not prioritise making soul. Which is to a large extent a case of choice. We choose, whichever stage we're on, whether we're making soul, or whether we live for other reasons. We choose through our many everyday choices. We choose through the questions we ask. Those choices matter. And not all questions are the ones soul need

asking right now. Every choice reverberates ripples into eternity. More often than not we choose by simply going along with the waves we're on and we tell ourselves that there is no such thing as choice. We say, ‘it is natural'. And, ‘all will work out for the good, for we are all rivers flowing to the sea.' But this attitude only justifies keeping ourselves as much as possible to the stagnant pools of life where we have comfort. We justify not entering the live streams that do flow, quite chaotically at times, beyond the rules of civil life, to the ocean. Furthermore, to keep those warm stagnant pools intact, we use swords, quite violently, to keep danger at bay. That is, outside the bay. This violence is often hidden behind ‘good intentions’ and the blind spots that come from the cocoon existence of stagnant pools. And rulebooks are often the sword by which violence is implemented from inside our tranquil, safe pools. It is ironic then that the air around these pools are often artificially air-freshened by the sweet and sickly smell of ‘our own innocence and goodness’.

Yet, at the same time, in the flowing streams of making soul, swords are often used as well. Who survive and who die and how they die do not depend on whether they make soul or not. ‘Perhaps,’ some say, ‘these things are determined by the cast of the dice or by the whims of the gods who sit up on high and revel in the show we enact for them, until one of them lifts their elaborately ringed index finger in an emotional moment, point, and say “be done with you”.’ So the gods play dice? Maybe, but while we’re in the show, we are already dead anyway. What is significant is that somehow, how we act, what we do – how and whether we engage our own inner world, those others present in our world, and the ups and downs of our world – in every moment of our lives, matter, eternally. Every. Moment. Matters. That is the unbearable lightness of being. Paradoxically, despite its weight, accepting this and working with it makes life immeasurably beautiful. And terrifying. Yet, if you choose to numb out the terror you numb out the beauty, and then you are not already dead, but ruled by your fear of death. And paradoxically, no longer alive. There is an important difference between these two kinds of existences – that is, between being alive yet already dead, and being one of the walking dead. This difference makes all the difference. It is one of the fundamental choices we make, gradually, throughout our time in this world. Maybe the gods are watching to see which way these dice will fall?

Perhaps there are other worlds? But there are no guarantees that we will ever get another shot at any world. Nor does a rule exist for how to earn such a further chance at life. The world we live in makes no sense. And thank goodness for that, for it is this truth, more than most others that opens the gateway to the infinity of imagination. In trying to live only along the tracks of what makes sense, we deceive ourselves and our deception squeezes every ounce of juice out of us until we are dried out as if in a straitjacket. Some say soul makes the crazies crazy because that is one way she can rebel against the strait unspoken culture exuded by the accepted ways of civil society. Others have pointed out that if we consider these things consistently, seriously and deeply enough, we start finding the one in the mirror looking back at us, smiling endearingly as we struggle to wake up on a rough morning.