To acknowledge the soul is to invite errancy and wildness, complexity and mystery. The soul follows no fixed schedule and subverts cultural orderliness with its passions and seeming confusions. Accurately interpreting its messages translates into a life infused with imagination and purpose; adopting this perspective cultivates self-knowledge in the client, and the soul’s utterance becomes not only discernible but translatable, and the courage to reach for what is worthwhile in one’s life blooms. On the other hand, the ego—the presumably rational, personalized psyche—assumes its outlook encompasses the whole and truth of reality. The ego draws its conclusions from strictly subjective experience, and since it lacks experience or understanding in unverifiable realms, finds it easier to disregard them. The rationalist movement ventured to free us from superstition, but has had the unforeseen result of disconnecting us from collective knowledge and vision. Trusting the ego-self unduly limits the holism of compassionate, inspired human experience as well as the individual link to personal joy and fulfillment. The changeable soul understands the changeableness of life itself. Soul calls for the embrace of life’s ephemeral nature, and remains committed to its crusade for a life fully lived.
In an ideological societal bubble which equates what we do with who we are, ego-consciousness becomes the tyrant king fighting to the death for his version of reality. Within the soul’s realm of dream, yearning and intuition, the ego defaults to distrust and suspicion for what it cannot readily classify. In order to avoid the discomfort of uncertainty, the ego creates a myth rife with
intolerable distortions and false conclusions (Jung, 1971, p. 461)
within which to function, then paradoxically claims all myth holds no more than a frivolous role in ‘real’ life.
Hillman (1989) advances the idea that the ego cannot be considered conscious but is instead “buried in the least-aware perspectives” due to its subjective nature (p. 33). In contrast, the soul is “more than personal” (Moore, 1989, p. 95) and reveals that we belong to a complex of unseen, enigmatic experience. While the ego aims to preserve its separateness, the soul longs and reaches for connection. The soul taps into the collective unconscious described by Jung—a repository of memories, images, and divine knowledge that both predates and extends beyond the life of the individual. The ego, frightened and dubious of this primordial realm, must be taught the language of the soul to uncover the cure for its neuroses. Through the True Self Coaching© process, a dialogue is created around what a client feels to be true in her/his life and how that “truth” has been informed by the world they live in.
In a recent coaching session, my client and I discussed his fledgling practice of meditation, central to quieting the ego’s voice while amplifying knowledge of the soul. My client had established in earlier sessions that he sought meditation as a means to observe his thoughts from a much-needed distance, a technique sometimes referred to as ‘witness consciousness.’ By developing such a perspective, one is temporarily freed from the drama the ego creates; awareness can then be cultivated around one’s avoidance mechanisms, tendencies to misinterpret situations, and, most importantly, the soul’s truth, which lies beneath convoluted egoic layers. Through developing the “seer,” as Patanjali (2002) terms in Yoga Sutras, it becomes possible to catch the ego in the midst of formulating and maintaining its mythical, inaccurate identity (p. 2). This fashioned identity conceals the “true self” (Patanjali, 2002, p. 2), while the soul’s wise questioning exposes the ego’s domination. In a coaching relationship, the coach stands as a kind of external “seer,” offering objectivity in areas where the client feels decidedly stuck or helplessly biased. In our initial work together, this same client declared his aim was to unearth the source of a puzzling and pervasive anger which caused him to pick fights with random contractors, restaurant servers or his daughter’s boyfriends. As our collaboration evolved, I asked if he had been able to detect his true self during meditation and he promptly described himself as “a kind person, fair-minded and intelligent.” I inquired further into what happened to that ‘true self’ at times when he was not being kind, fair-minded or behaving intelligently; would his declared ‘true self’ cease to exist? His ego had been able to convince him he possessed these qualities invariably. For a time he argued for the continued existence and legitimacy of his identity myth, but soon came to see its intrinsic faultiness. In subsequent sessions, he was able to recognize his particular patterns of avoidance and surreptitious myth-making, which contributed to his ability to move forward effectively. Keenly probing the myths the ego argues for, the soul feels received and will leave off its attention-grabbing mischief, allowing a sense of inner accord to rise to the surface. The more we understand what motivates our action or inaction, the more possible it becomes to move beyond the limitations of our thinking. Similarly, once we understand the motivation behind our expressed goals, we can take suitable action toward reaching them. Compassionately disassembling our personal myths may reveal that alternate goals are more in line with our values. As a result, we can make different choices about how and where we are spending our energy and elusive success and frustrated efforts can be resolved.
Culture is defined by the stories it tells. Individuals are characterized by the tales they relate about their lives, and the underlying meaning of personal story is often overlooked. Reframing and reflecting, two salient coaching tools, can reveal fresh ways to interpret events from the past or conclusions about the present. In another coaching session, a client lamented his lack of purpose and direction since retiring from a long career as an attorney and a journalist. I invited my client to dream aloud about what he might do if he faced no limits in resource or opportunity. He stated he would like to “run something,” his response noticeably lacking in energy, yet felt the world made this dream both impossible and impractical; among a litany of causes, he cited the wrecked economy and the apathy or greed of people in business. I echoed back to him that when invited to dream, he listed reasons dreaming was useless—the default function of a presumably practical ego. In his dawning awareness, he expressed with a certain wonder that his professed ‘dream’ was more a product of his ego than authentic desire. Unwittingly duped, he had surrendered his genuine, still unrealized dream. The ego then cleverly created a substitute dream only to invalidate that one as well. Moore (1992) explains,
We don’t believe in the soul and therefore give it no place in our hierarchy of values (p. xiii).
The ego categorizes through what it believes it understands, while regarding the movements of the soul as
elusive, capricious, vacillating (Hillman, 1989, p.89).
My client disowned responsibility for surrendering his dream and resigned himself instead to a ‘practical’ yet listless reality. His is a tale of a dejected hero with a fatal and unacknowledged flaw—the loss of soul. As we re-imagine our respective myths, we become inspired to write a more compelling story. Inspiration generates energy for change—a foundation of spiritual coaching. As we summon our forgotten hopes we reclaim our life purpose and the soul is contented.