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Leading with Soul

January 17, 2017 By F. F. Content
Flower by Universal Hall Findhorn Foundation

An exploration of Self, Soul and Purpose through Shakespeare’s The Tempest

I first remember coming across the Tempest, or should I say the influence of The Tempest, when I read TS Eliot’s The Wasteland many years ago. In both ‘A Game of Chess’ and ‘The Fire Sermon’ Eliot picks out lines from the point when the young Prince Ferdinand, washed up and alone on a strange island having survived the terrible storm, is drawn forwards by Ariel’s beautiful and mysterious imagery of transformation.

With Eliot, the feeling in the poem is one of ennui, despair and hopelessness; we are, after all, in a wasteland – one moment in the company of a desperate and neurotic woman and then fishing alone beside a dull canal;

On a winter evening round behind the gashouse
Musing upon the king my brother’s wrack
And on the king my father’s death before him

The Wasteland, as Eliot portrayed it, took an archetypal motif found in the Grail Romances of the Middle Ages and applied it as a characterisation of our own times.

“In the Waste Land,” wrote Joseph Campbell, “life is a fake. It is the land of people living inauthentic lives. Doing what they think they must do to live, not spontaneously in the affirmation of life, but dutifully, obediently, even grudgingly.”

In Eliot’s poem, the real possibility of transformation that Ariel sings about is lost in a sea of ‘broken images’ and the opportunity for healing that is implied through the Wasteland motif is lost entirely – the hero cannot find his way to the castle, the king remains sick and consequently, the land remains waste.

Transformation and the possibility of new life …. does require some kind of death, some sort of threshold crossing, a surrender into the unknown.

If the wasteland represents the inauthentic and the fake – if indeed this is a motif that seems troubling and true for our times – then the question of what represents the authentic in our lives becomes urgently important for many reasons both personally and culturally. How do we embrace and take on our lives fully as the unique persons we are, how do we live spontaneously as an affirmation of life itself, how do we express ourselves more fully?

In the play, Ariel – the spirit of Imagination – sings the song that Eliot borrows, and it is pivotal to our understanding of the real nature of transformational change.

Full Fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made
Those are pearls that were his eyes
Nothing of him doth fade
But do suffer a sea change
Into something rich and strange

Had Ferdinand understood Ariel’s words he would have realised that his father the King was not dead but was undergoing a kind of death – a liminal experience, a rite of passage absolutely out of the ordinary that might result in something utterly new and unexpected coming forward.

Transformation and the possibility of new life, Shakespeare seems to be saying, does require some kind of death, some sort of threshold crossing, a surrender into the unknown.

Each of us is confronted at times by the experience that some part of us, an attitude, behaviour or way of sense-making, is no longer sufficient to the world we find ourselves in and we are called, pushed or pulled forwards, to become more fully who we are. This sense of calling towards the unknown is compelling; it can be exciting but is also often troubling, challenging and uncomfortable because it threatens the image of who we thought ourselves to be; it challenges the plotline of our lives. Often we recognise it as a time of importance because it bears certain ‘wasteland’ qualities – a feeling of being betwixt and between worlds that marks us out as potential candidates for meaningful change. Of course, nothing is guaranteed. When the ‘auspicious hour’, as Shakespeare describes it, arrives, we must be ready to move and to act but we do so without foreknowledge of how things might play out. Such is the nature of real transformation.

What is it that you feel called to do with your life now?
What purpose came with you into this life that is yet to be expressed fully in the world?

In the context of The Tempest, a great storm causes a ship to split and sink and the crew and passengers are thrown into the sea. The adventure begins with chaos and disarray – the splitting apart of an old way of living and a fateful archetypal movement from the conscious masculine (the ship and male crew and passengers) to the unconscious feminine (the sea). What follows is an extraordinary exploration of the processes that provoke and lead to lasting and transformational change, a journey of loss, grief, suffering, death, rebirth, joy, love, wonder, redemption and reconciliation populated by some of Shakespeare’s greatest and most well-loved characters.

The psychologist James Hillman once described the soul as the ‘imaginative possibility of our natures’. In a provocative and experiential six-day retreat in April, Leading with Soul will evoke the power of Imagination to explore the processes of personal transformation and the work of soul-making through the key themes and motifs that populate this richly symbolic and alchemical play.

What is it that you feel called to do with your life now?

What purpose came with you into this life that is yet to be expressed fully in the world?

The retreat is ideally suited to individuals who are seeking an authentic voice in wasteland times, who are reflecting deeply on future direction and work and/or who feel themselves at a crossroads where an old attitude to life needs to change.

We look forward to welcoming you on this powerful journey.

Nick Ross