All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer. ~Niccolo Machiavelli
The soul is constantly in danger of being smothered. Or worse, undeveloped. By soul I mean it the way Bill Plotkin describes it: “The 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.” Or the evocative image David Whyte’s poetry offers: “That small, bright and indescribable wedge of freedom in your own heart.”
Our soul calls us to what is most primal and unique within us. But discovering it requires a lot of work. Soul is a given, actually. But it is not a given, perceptually. To become aware of it requires getting out of our own way (overcoming the uninitiated ego), and then embracing the path unique to each of us (the ego’s initiation into soul-work). This process is summarized in the article Swallowing the Jagged Red Pill.
There are many ways to get stuck in uninitiated egoic patterns. After all, our culture is predicated upon egocentric one-upmanship and immoderate over-consumption. Likewise, there are many ways to get stuck with a rough and clumsy soul.
There are ways to remain stuck in just one holding pattern, all our eggs in just one basket, clinging to our basket for dear life. But there are also ways to polish the rough diamond of our soul. There are ways to smooth out the clumsy kinks and ignorant delusions. And they all require pressure.
As with all diamonds, pressure is needed to polish them. Not comfort, or security, or safety, but pressure. So it goes also for the rough diamond of the soul. Pressure is needed to smooth out the edges. To make it more robust. To make it wise.
The same thing applies to those stumbling through life with undeveloped coals (uninitiated egos) for souls. Pressure is required to transform coals into rough diamonds and then more pressure is required to transform rough and naïve diamonds into polished and wise diamonds. Here are a couple ways how…
The power of standing on the shoulders of giants (plural!):
Our best chance of understanding nature, society, and ourselves is to open our minds to a plurality of imperfect depictions that together allow us to manage and interpret our world. ~Kwame Anthony Appiah
Understanding the world is more about opening our minds to a plurality of imperfect depictions than it is about settling our minds on a particular ideal. If, as Isaac Newton suggested, we aim to see further than others, then we must stand on the shoulders of giants – plural, not singular.
To settle on the shoulder of a single giant is to become a wart on the skin of history. Our soul’s journey ends. We’re locked into the idealistic construct of the giant. We have no chance for further growth or further transformation. Let alone a chance at becoming a giant ourselves.
The key is not to concede to facile orthodoxy, but to allow our deepest curiosity and intuition to guide us instead. The important thing is to remain circumspect. Take all the information into consideration and then weigh it against reality. Take it in, process it, and then let it go. Don’t cling to it. Learn from it. Then we move on to the next giant’s shoulder with our humility intact. Like Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
If we can manage to make this a daily practice, jumping from giant’s shoulder to giant’s shoulder, then we have a better chance at plurality, at achieving a diversity of minds that have the potential to become our own unique voice and vision. Diversity becomes paramount. Quality has a better chance at manifesting from quantity.
Best of all, we never get stuck. There is always more to explore. Some giants are smaller than others. So be it. There are always more giant’s shoulders to sojourn for a time, and then onto the next one. Into the next box that we’re daring enough to think outside of. Into the next comfort zone that we’re courageous enough to stretch. Onto the next answer that we’re brave enough to question. So that our souls can breathe.
The power of harnessing beginner’s mind
In all affairs, it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have taken for granted. ~Bertrand Russell
The purpose of questioning reality isn’t sharpened by answers, but by further questioning. So too is it with soul-work. The purpose of polishing the rough diamond of the soul is sharpened by the pressure of questioning our perceptions.
Again, pressure is the thing. Questioning things is the most efficacious pressure there is. Especially when it comes to questioning things we’ve taken for granted.
The leap of courage taken between the shoulders of giants is the harnessing of Beginner’s Mind. In such an act we are proactively leveraging open-mindedness. All at once we are leaping from the comfortable known into the risky unknown.
We are updating the system, despite having mastered a previous giant’s perspective, and despite how comfortable, secure, and safe it may have made us. We are trading in our stagnated mastery for updated re-mastery. In short: we are recycling self-mastery.
This is always an act of rebirth. Which is the epitome of Beginner’s Mind. The Beginner’s Mind sees the Master’s feet of clay. He sees how the Master has become complacent, stagnate, and lazy in his mastery. He sees how the Master has settled into the prison of his answers. As Milan Kundera says, “The stupidity of people comes from having an answer for everything. The wisdom of the novel comes from having a question for everything.”
And so the Novel, the Beginner’s Mind, in a leap of courage, upsets the applecart of mastery, sending dogmatic texts and rigid paradigms clattering onto the hard cobblestones of uncertainty. All the precious wisdom is released. Not erased, mind you. Just surrendered to muscle memory, so that new knowledge can be negotiated.
The Master is left behind on the previous giant’s shoulder. His wisdom is not forgotten, but taken into deep consideration, integrated, and then surrendered to the past. There is more to be learned. There are more questions to answer. There are more answers to question. There are more wisdoms from ever-more giants to be learned, mastered, integrated, and surrendered.
Indeed. On the Path of Polishing the Soul it is giants all the way up. The Master Complex must be sacrificed to Beginner’s Mind, lest we drown in the yolk released from all the broken eggs we crammed into just one tiny basket, having forsaken all the rest.
At the end of the day, what looms before us is an endless forest of giants just waiting to have their shoulders ridden into further wisdom, into further robustness, and thus, into the further polishing of our soul. With enough robustness, with enough wisdom and polishing, Eudaimonia becomes the reason to constantly self-overcome. And before we know it, our own shoulders are being ridden into the ever-changing, ever-rebirthing, horizon of self-mastery.