Adam Blatner, M.D.

(This is the 5th in a 6-lecture series (given on October 27) to the Fall 2008 session of the Senior University Georgetown.) Revised a little and re-posted 11/4/08. See Lecture 1 (9/29/08) ; Lecture 2 (10/6/08) ; Lecture 3 (10/13/08) ; Lecture 4 (10/20/08); . . . and  Lecture 6.

One of the more interesting aspects of deep maturity is the development of the soul, defined here as the individualized form of spirit, the life force plus your own makeup of temperament, abilities, weaknesses, unique interests, and creative subconscious. That last gives you again the uniqueness of your dreams and whatever your individuality contributes to your poetry, song, dance, and other expressions of imagination.

Part of deep maturity is deepening your connection with this part of your mind. It goes beyond the stuff you’ve learned in school, and the point is that you are invited to more deeply respect and make a connection with these deeper currents in your psyche. Developing these dimensions might even be recognized as cultivating something that’s deeper-than-deep maturity.

For some this cultivation happens with meditation, or prayer, contemplation or engaging in contemplative arts. Those are activities in which your conscious will and intention are at most only slightly operating, and much of the expression flows freely from the subconscious mind with a minimum of censorship. It may come out as poetry, or free-writing in your diary or journal, it may come out when you dance or sing. Your choice of music to listen to can express some of these elements, if you’re choosing not because you want to impress anyone, but rather because there’s something in the music that strikes a deep chord.

For me—and also for Carl Jung, as I shall note—a channel for this soul-making work has been a type of drawing: the Mandala. That’s a Sanskrit word for circle, and making and contemplating mandalas have been an important spiritual practice in Tibet and India. Mandalas are instruments for contemplation, both for gazing at and meditating on their form, or for allowing these shapes to be felt by actually creating them, constructing them, coloring them.  Other examples of mandalas can be found on the internet. In general, mandalas involve circles with an indicated center and some degree of symmetry. Sometimes they are enclosed in squares.

And here is a Tibetan mandala titled “the wheel of life.” It is full of symbols, and it could take a semester just to explain the symbols in this picture. In some ways it resonates with the Tarot card about the Wheel of Fortune, but really it reflects a Tibetan belief that we are reincarnated many, many times, and indeed, to the extent that we become greedy or attached to this or that desire, we will never get off the wheel of reincarnations. Only by realizing that we are in that kind of system, by meditating on the nature of illusion—this is all rather Buddhist—can one escape that karma, that destiny.

Integrating Symbol Systems

Our focus is on a type of depth psychology that can’t be organized neatly in ordinary rational categories. Instead, I have alluded to other symbol systems to present some basic principles, systems such as the major arcana of the Tarot cards (in Lectures 2 and 3) or the types of processes used in the ancient semi-magical art of alchemy (Lecture 4). Numerology and geometry have also been viewed as sources for contemplation.

 In this illustration (to the left), the creation of the “philosopher’s stone,” the lapis philisophicorum, is presented not as the result of either quasi-chemical or other symbolic operations, but as the result of a subtle operation of geometry! The instructions are: "Place the man and woman (male and female principle) in a circle; put the circle in a square; in turn, put that in a triangle; and again inscribe a circle around the whole." (Originally in Latin.) These are symbols for not-fully-specified operations for creating the catalyst that will transform the impure (e.g., lead) into the pure (e.g., gold).

Astrology was also represented as a mandala: The cycles of the heavens and the cycles of the seasons all seemed to be

pervaded by mysterious patterns that could give hints to our lives and destinies. It was an era, around 500 years ago, when astrology and medicine were closely linked. In psychological terms, the lower signs of the zodiac represented the first half of life, from the budding seed and energetic sprout to the blossoming of the flower (as hinted at in the first picture in lecture 3). Deep maturity is suggested by the esoteric significance of the progression of the zodiacal signs and their associated psychological principles from Virgo through Pisces, in the autumn and through the winter of life.

Alchemy, numerology, geometry, astrology, the magic of letter-forms, such as in the Hebrew Letters or the alchemical symbols, all these were considered meaningful. Our scientific culture has broken things into departments, fields, and things tend to be viewed as only coincidentally corresponding. These weren’t coincidences back then, but meaningful connections, as I noted last time when relating alchemy to astrology.

Jung’s Mandalas

Carl Gustav Jung, who lived from 1875 to 1961, was for a while a student of Freud and went on to develop his own theories that added to, revised, and extended our thinking about depth psychology. I’m rather sympathetic with many of Jung’s ideas. He studied not only his clients, but also cross-cultural religion and art, and he himself partook of the psycho-spiritual exercise of making mandalas.  Here’s an example of one that he painted:

Jung felt that mandalas represented the deep self, the source of wisdom and inspiration in deep maturity. The psyche had a natural tendency to unite and balance itself. Most folks aren’t very integrated or balanced, but the unconscious senses this and works through dreams and symptoms to send clues to help those who will listen to their inner promptings.

The City

Here’s another drawing of Jung’s, in his own self-analytic work. It’s a dream symbol, or product of active imagination:

 A fortified city. There are many of these, and the symbol also represents the ways that of necessity we need to build walls and gates. We need to filter out those with whom we are more incompatible; and admit those who with whom we are more compatible. I confess that learning about this process has been a real issue with me in the last few decades.

Stone Carving

As Jung was getting older, he found a sense of slow work to fit his concentration. Here is a mandala of wisdom—you see the four parts, and in the middle, his inner wise old man archetype, whom he had encountered in active imagination—he had even named him: “Philemon.”  Note also, incidentally, the astrological signs: Saturn at the top: A cross surmounting a crescent; Venus at the right, a circle surmounting a cross; Mars at the bottom, an arrow surmounting a circle; and Jupiter to the left, a crescent adjacent to the side of a cross. These symbols suggest various relations of basic principles.

As we move into deep maturity, find what honors your deepest instincts. If you garden, don’t just go for pretty, but go for what seems meaningful, expressive for your deeper vision. If you paint, write poetry, write your memoir, it’s a call to express not what is conventional so much as a vehicle for discovering your own inner truth.

Mandala as Cross-Cultural Archetype

An archetype is a fundamental tendency in te mind to imagine in certain ways. (See my paper on the relevance of the concept of archetype.)  Many peoples made art based on the circle. Here is one example, the Aztec calendar. Calendars, as with astrology, expresses the cycle of seasons, and the symbolism often indicates auspicious and inauspicious days. , and so forth. I’m reminded of the folk song taken from Ecclesiastes 3:1: To every thing (turn turn turn), there is a season (turn, turn, turn), and a time for every purpose under heaven.


The Tibetan Wheel of Life (Reincarnations)

 The symbolism in this picture is too rich for a full description. At the top left are more peaceful and enlightened reincarnations, then at the top right, more turbulent lifetimes in a world much like our own sad state, full of politics and war. Moving clockwise, we see a realm of  "hungry ghosts" (with big bellies); then at the bottom, various hells; and in the lower left portion, lifetimes as animals. The point of Buddhism, of course, is to realize the tendency to identify with certain qualities tends to land you in this or that realm, and to learn instead to contemplate to the point of deep absorbtion, as soul lessons, the illusory nature of desire and the clear mind that liberates you into the no-thing- ness of nirvana. .

Sri Yantra

One of the most interesting diagrams is the Sri Yantra, taken from the tradition of Yoga.

 (Sri is pronounced Shree and means sacred; and yoga is the discipline within Hinduism---and also in Buddhism---in which people seek to make a deeper connection with the sacred Source, however that be named or conceptualized. Yoga is related to the word "Yoke," because Sanskrit is related in the evolution of language four or five thousand years ago to the same type of language that gave rise to the northern European languages---and from thence, English.) This picture was made around three hundred years ago. The Sri Yantra is a diagram that symbolizes through the interpenetration of the downward-pointing triangles---the feminine, "yoni" energy---and the upward-pointing triangles, the masculine, "lingam" energy, the power of the conjunction of spiritual and earthly realms to generate many associated forms. This meeting of opposites resonates with the conjunction of sun and moon, the male and female, the yin and yang principle in taoism (that's that curving drops within a circle at the center of the astrological picture above), and these conjunctions---also in alchemy---also represents the need in deep maturity to integrate the different dimensions of our deep minds, our souls. This is also alluded to in the discussion of  the tarot card of the Lovers near the beginning of the 2nd lecture.

Various things may be used to foster an opening to the depths of the creative subconscious, from movement and dance to poetry, drama to music. The “mantra” is the recitation of a simple phrase that focuses the mind. There are simple chants or prayers in Western religious traditions, also. A yantra is to the eyes what a mantra is to the voice and ears, another type of focus for contemplation.

The Sri Yantra as represented here is complex and each item has its own meaning, such as the outer squares indicating the distracting desires, the outer petals being the senses, inner triangles as layers of more subtle psychic functions. This diagram represents the influx of spirit, represented by the downward pointing triangles, into the earth, the mountain, the upward-pointing triangles. It suggests that, like a drop of water in a still pond, the initial point, “bindu,” in the middle of the central triangle has outward-radiating resonances. This mandala like figure is a more multi-dimensional representation of what in the West is symbolized by the simplicity of the cross.

Adam’s Mandalas

Like Jung, I, too have found it useful and deepening to draw mandalas, among the various other kinds of drawings I do. Some folks construct mandala-like sculptures, as Meredith Mitchell did. Some of my mandalas may be viewed by clicking on the following link to Blatner's Mandalas (another webpage here on my website).

For me mandalas might be seen as representing the emanation from the spiritual source in layers or levels. (In a number of religious traditions, including the Christian, there are writings about the presence of hierarchies of cherubim, seraphim, archangels, angels---in other words, levels of wisdom and guidance that operate as expressions of the Divine Source but yet between the primal One-ness and our own multiplicity. These may be imagined as dimensions of existence beyond our own three-dimensional world. Thie diagram to the right is a kind of sketch that shows how, though the mandala-as-picture may occupy a two-dimensional form on paper (in the center), this is in-formed by the influence of many  archetypes (represented by the little circles at the top), other examples that I've seen, and the picture as a whole symbolizes the way the human psyche is really the nexus, the point of coming-together, of many different interests, abilities, ideas, fantasies, artistic inspirations.

Slight digression: For reasons of political control, Western culture---mainly in the forms of church, state, and industry, had narrowed human nature down a single spectrum: How obedient is one to established authority? To the extent one obeyed, one was adjudged moral, good; disobedience, even slight, was tantamount to rebellion, and even daring to think thoughts that were not officially sanctioned) was adjudged bad, sinful, or immoral---if not criminal. We are still emerging from this traditional culture insofar as our identity or criteria for evaluating ourselves tends to be narrower than it need be. In fact, our life expresses scores if not hundreds of different values, many of which cannot be quantified, and certainly should not be subjected to judgments as to their moral value. (For example, whether one sings in the shower or not, however "good" that singing is, should not be judged. The whole realm of play---a realm that represent much of what is most human about us---similarly expands our image of what life is about.)

That there is more to this world than may be obvious to the crude senses (or measurable by our current scientific instruments) is not just a new-agey idea. In ancient Greece the famous philosopher Plato offered what is sometimes called the "allegory (or parable) of the cave."  This story suggests the idea of there being a rich kind of existence beyond our ordinary sense-world? Mystics, seers, shamans, and prophets envision this and try to express these visions. (Ezekiel's vision of the chariot and the wheels within wheels is a good example.)
           The implication of this idea is that it behooves us to open our minds to our own soul-potentialities, the possibilities of not just deepening, but also inspiration and mystical insight. The point is that our life stories can have far more to them than mere chronology, a dry description of one event following another.

Humanity in the Middle

In the last two centuries, the idea of levels of organizations in systems, hierarchies of complexity, has emerged as a way to think about our place in the cosmos. When I was a kid and learned about the concept of postal addresses, I imagined a full address---and I think I read about it, or at least have encountered the idea elsewhere---it wasn't original just to me. (and this could also be represented as a kind of mandala:

        Your name 
           Street Address
               City, State (and later on, Zip Codes were addressed)
                    Nation (for us, USA)
                              Planet: Earth
                                   Solar System
                                          Galactic Region
                                               Milky Way Galaxy
                                                     Galactic Cluster
                                                           Universe... etc.

   We have also discovered microscopic realms, and again, we discovered that we are in turn a system made up of numerous sub-systems who are made up of... well, it's kind of like the little funny poem,
      "Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,
      And little fleas have littler fleas, and so ad infinitum."
  Centuries ago people didn't know about the astronomical and sub-microscopic realms, but our understanding of their organization reinforces the metaphor of the mandala. We are also situated in the midst of many other collectivities—family life, political life, social life, recreation, spiritual, economic, hobbies, vocational interests and so forth, as described in another paper on this website titled "Our Social Being-ness." Again, the many-dimensional quality of the non-material mandalas of our lives may be thus portrayed.

 As for deep maturity, there is yet another implication, a little bit like Buddhism, but more down-to-earth. Consider that the choosing part of you can and should learn the skills of governing your many sub-roles, even as you open to general moral and aesthetic guidance from the "higher realms." And not only should you choose, but further, feel yourself choosing, to notice the feeling of yourself as the chooser. You may choose according to your inspiration or guidance or submission to a higher power, but it’s that noticing of your own responsibility that is the key sensation. In bicycle-riding metaphor, this is the equivalent of noticing your sense of balance, and in terms of soul lessons, it has to do with really getting the deeper sense of responsibility.

The Quaternity

I did this drawing on the right to illustrate how so many things can be viewed in terms of their four divisions:

   There are the higher suits of the tarot cards, the four humors, the four instruments of the Magus, the four Aristotelian elements, the directions, seasons, symbols of the writers of the Gospels, and so forth. The line part of the drawing was based on the labyrinth on the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France. (The symbols of the life path as a labyrinth---examples below---or as a spiral are related to the mandala.)

Although mandalas can have any number of points---mandalas with six directions, nine, twelve, seven, etc.---perhaps the four-fould division, the "quaternity," is most common.  Jung wrote about this archetypal tendency (see link to a related website about this) to discern the four aspects of phenomena---rather than seventeen, for example. There are also moderate tendencies to lump things in groups of three, six, five, and other numbers. Indeed, each of the most common numbers seem to have their own symbolic associations.

Mandalas, then, are attempts to apprehend the whole---a subject far greater than our minds can in fact encompass---using some grid or symbol system that we can understand to some degree.

Some other Mandalas

The mandala structures below were created by Dr. Meredith Mitchell, a Jungian  Analyst who now lives in Sun City and also teaches at Senior University Georgetown. To see more of his fascinating sculptures and other art work, go to his website,   www.herovictim.com  , and from there, click on the link on the left side that says, "View my sculptures and paintings.


   As for me, I have posted some mandalas I've created elsewhere on my website, and also have another webpage that explains more about mandalas. The idea really is to stimulate some of you to draw either in a more spontaneous style or carefully with a compass and straight edge (e.g., a ruler), making interesting designs that please you. Or you could color mandalas that have been created by others. (Email me if you would be interested in coloring some of my mandalas.)

Soul Lessons

One of the problems with this class is that there are so many different principles, it can get overwhelming. The following is my own synthesis, after thinking and writing about philosophy for a goodly number of years. I find I can boil it down, mainly, to love, faith, critical thinking, and responsibility. These are like primary colors, and other principles might be derived from them. I mentioned similar principles in the first lecture, talking about the tarot card of the Magus. We are all potentially magic in that humans are gifted with imagination, and to the extent that we utilize wisely the four tools of the magus, to that extent we become skilled in this master role as governor of our living.  (The four tools correspond as follows: Cups = hearts, love, compassion; Swords = intellect, discrimination, critical thinking; wands = imagination, hope, faith, the envisioning of future possibilities, intuition; and coins = practicality, responsibility. The point here is that there are so many component skills and learning in each of these categories that it could take many lifetimes---perhaps thousands upon thousands---to fully master them. Second, the learning of these kinds of skills goes deep, way deeper than ordinary learning.

These four kinds of "soul lessons" represent a dimension of deep maturity that goes beyond what most people think as ordinary depth (is this an oxymoron?). Love, discrimination, faith, and responsibility resonate at a level that is deeper-than-deep, at what might be imagined to be a "soul" level. There are different levels of learning: We’re most familiar with the first kind: the child development psychologist Jean Piaget called this kind of learning “assimilation,” and it refers to simply plugging new information into your overall psychological map of the universe. The names of the states, their capitals, that sort of thing. This is what they teach in school and what you tend to forget after the exam. A little deeper is stuff that you forget after some years, such as the phone number of your home before moving here.

The next level is what you learn by doing—Piaget calls that assimilation—and it involves learning how to ride a bicycle, or swim, or engage sexually with another person. You don’t really know what it’s like until you experience it, and though you might get rusty, it tends to come back if the situation comes up. A deeper level gets closer, it has to do with the attitudes you pick up, the feel for them, rather than the words. Consider that, mythically speaking, you die, and most of your identity dies, too; but these deeper attitudes stay at some magic afterlife plane. Alternatively, you might imagine that your basic attitudinal stances are most what people remember about you, at least those who have known you. At this deeper than simple deep maturity  you have been shaping your attitudes and ideas and habits of living so that they become unconscious. Things like "peace of mind" and real "self-acceptance" operate here.

Case Study

I came to recognize the value---if not the factuality---of thinking in terms of many-lifetimes-to-learn-the-deep-lessons in 1970, when I was doing psychotherapy in the U. S. Air Force. I was serving what was the equivalent to the draft at that time working as a psychiatrist, stationed at an Ar Force base in England. One of my clients was a bright woman officer who was struggling with layers of neurosis, suspicion, and memories of trauma, stuff. She was so earnest I found myself trying to hard trying to help her, which led to my talking too much. (You might guess that I can slip into this mode perhaps a little too easily.) However, I did recognize that this response on my part was a mistake, and examined my own attitudes for this counter-transference.  (That means that she was transferring on to me the role of the helper who can really do the job, and I was responding in my counter-transference by trying to do more than was realistically possible.) I was helped in recognizing my mild error by discovering a book that offered a different vision: In a theosophical theory of reincarnation, we have many lifetimes in which to learn our soul lessons. I didn't actually believe in reincarnation---and still don't in large part---too many theoretical problems---but still, the imagery of the book and the general sentiment was evocative. Basically, it broke out of the common Western view that we should clean up our act and purify our souls in one lifetime. As I've become increasingly aware of how complex life can be, I've come to doubt that even the most noble among us can make all that much progress. So the idea of "many lifetimes" has at least a certain poetic appeal.

So, let it be poetic, in the spirit of the "lunar" thinking symbolized by the tarot cards of the moon or the high priestess: Perhaps we all need many lifetimes to learn the deepest lessons of deep maturity, and perhaps that is the way it should be. It's an idea that is meant to communicate the idea of not being too greedy for full enlightenment, too grasping at "getting it (all)." This approach calls for a measure of humility, simplicity, and interest just in extending ourselves a bit, stretching our minds and imaginations in ways we hadn't previously.

Deeper Learnings

My criterion for a soul lesson is whether I have a sense that I will never in one lifetime advance more than a fraction of the overall potential of growth. There are some subjects that have to do not only with love, faith, responsibility, or critical thinking, that could easily consume a multitude of lives. For example, let's imagine a soul that has as a gift a profound sensitivity to music, and whose soul mission is to bring a bit more of this sensitivity to her fellow sentient beings. In one lifetime s/he becomes a drummer in a tribal culture; in another, s/he becomes Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Again and again s/he is reincarnated. The gender varies. And this soul explores not only different musical forms---operas, symphonies, jazz improvisations, but also different instruments, different cultural forms.

There was actually a fellow a bit like this, one who was spiritually so sensitive that he wanted to experience God through not only his own culture, but also through the world-view of other cultures! Ramakrishna was a born spiritual "genius," able to enter spontaneously into communiion with the Divine. He lived from 1830 to 1880 near Calcutta in east India. In some ways he was a simple soul, relatively uneducated in any formal sense. As he became more mature, he set out to study other religions—especially Islam and Christianity. He learned those religion's rituals and practiced the prayers until he had a vision that satisfied him that he was on track. He also sought to appreciate the Divine through other denominations within Hinduism. Ramakrishna's earlier connection was through the archetype of the cosmic mother, Kali, but he wanted to know more, so he studied the life of another god, the avatar Krishna, one of the most popular reincarnations of Vishnu, along with learning about the sacred legends and songs that expressed this facet or manifestation of holiness. He was said to meet visitors by asking in a rather naive way—he was noted to be both wise but also childlike— “Do you have a god with form or a god without form?” He didn’t care, as long as you wanted to explore this channel of the feeling of connectedness.

First, Ramakrishna exhibited a relatively high level of faith, the natural capacity to feel the presence of the greater wholeness, spirit. However, the point here is that the subject matter in some realms---music, mathematics, poetry, spirituality, and so forth---may be open-ended enough so that you can imagine that you may have many future opportunities to learn even more about these realms in the future. Is it factually true? It doesn't matter; what's important is the attitude that you are interested in the future, in the intuition that what you are excited about, interested in, sensitive to, may continue to expand, progress, and develop in the emerging universe, even after you pass on.

It's also important to accept yourself as good enough. You must not compare yourself to others who seem more talented or gifted---not at this level of soul development. The point here is to enjoy whatever inclinations you have to develop not only your soul and your maturity, but also your various interests. At some level, this development matters in the Cosmos.


The human species may only be around 25% evolved. My point is that we individually and collectively may have a ways to go yet, and it’s worth imagining a future—maybe not an utopia, but perhaps in many ways, better—in which humans are nicer, more able to balance individuation and community, for example. Anyway, with this general idea, can you follow me when I say that it might be true that the true lessons of love cannot be learned in one lifetime? Love is such a big concept. I could imagine some people who have major difficulty with that process, some people afflicted with greater or lesser degrees of autism, for example, or maybe Vulcans, people like Mr. Spock on Star Trek, for whom loving doesn’t come that easily. (One of the sub-plots of Star Trek if you think about it is the way the mixed Vulcan-Human Mr. Spock, raised to be so logical, is helped through his captain and friend, Captain James Kirk---Mr. Spock calls him Jim---, to feel more human-like feelings.)

What if there are people for whom love don’t come easy—as in the song, “You can’t Hurry Love: it’s just a game of give and take–...? What if it might take twenty life-times of hard knocks, gradual learning experiences, for them to get about as good as most folks. And what if it took twenty lifetimes of purification processes, mental alchemy (as discussed in the last talk), to become as loving as a saint? Or a thousand lifetimes of learning to become more Christ-like?

What if during that thousand lifetimes there are some lifetimes in which we give in to our basest motives? Life has a way of tempting and stressing people to forget their higher selves and turn to the Dark Side, as Anakin Skywalker—Luke’s father—did when he was younger, thus devolving into Darth Vader. What if it’s all a bit of a game like chutes and ladders, you advance fifteen steps, then you slide back down twenty steps because you gave in to temptations to be mean and nasty?  So theoretically it might take twenty lifetimes of pure progress, but actually it requires hundreds, because life is multi-dimensional.

About this multi-dimensionality: It’s not just a matter of being good or bad, choosing the light over the dark. We play many, many roles. What if you are very good but on the other hand, you’re so busy being righteous that you fail to enjoy life?  That was a common theme among many who are associated with the puritan heritage. In the Orthodox Jewish tradition, hemmed all around with constricting thou-shalt-not-commandments, it is further a sin to neglect to enjoy whatever is not forbidden! Isn’t that an interesting angle. Don’t over-interpret! Don’t think that because it’s somehow moral to deny yourself ten fun things, it must be more moral to deny yourself an additional ten fun things that the forbidding authority forgot to mention. Not good clear rational critical thinking, more magical thinking. Sort of “If the doctor said that taking one tablet would help, maybe it would help more if I took two, or three tablets!”

So there are many dimensions of your life. What if what makes it a lifetime job and not just a course you take in college is that there are hundreds of soul-lessons to learn?

Nor are these just lessons you can learn by reading a book, or even memorizing it. Nor are they skills you can practice and learn in an ordinary apprenticeship. All that kind of learning dies off when you do. But rather these are deeper than the other skills, like learning the many-sided skills of, to begin with, the aforementioned love, or similarly complex, what is faith really about? Or what is responsibility about—that might entail a hundred sub-skills.

Let’s list some more specific candidates for soul lessons, beginning with the aforementioned love, faith, and responsibility. Like the merit badges, this list is meant to get you thinking, not meant to suggest that I have the final answers. What’s true for one may not be true for the other person.

Still, I’ve contemplated these matters a good deal, and have come up with a number of what I consider to be candidates for soul lessons.

I mentioned love, that a person could learn lessons of how to love others more effectively, and how to allow oneself to be loved in return. Some people are too good at one and not good enough at the other, so that balance needs to be fixed.


What then is faith? First of all, although belief may be associated with faith or a prop to it, and although some in the religious community actually use the two terms synonymously, as though not believing this or that bit of dogma means that one fails in the faith department, as I’m using the term, faith is a more generic, psychological action of moving the mind towards kindness, positivity, love, responsibility, renewed courage, and so forth, moving away from the dark side and into the light.

It’s constantly tempting to give into temptation—I guess that’s redundant, but there it is. Faith recognizes this and struggles against it, develops habits of cheerfulness and other positive qualities.

Truth is that these various soul skills overlap with each other to some moderate degree, so that more love helps more faith, and vice versa.

Faith is also not an attainment, so that once you have it or feel it, then it’s yours forever. On the contrary, it’s more like swimming, more like a skill that if you do it—it’s something you do, faith-ing, a verb— then you stay afloat, or whatever faith’s existential equivalent would be. And if you stop faithing, you sink a bit.

Faith, then, seems to me to be something you do, a turning towards the light, and my intuition is that like love, faith could be such a deep skill that it might take many lifetimes to develop it. As I say, it doesn’t matter whether there are lifetimes with an s, whether there’s any continuity of the deep self.  This whole soul lessons concept could just as easily be viewed as a metaphor for the kinds of learning that really operates at the level of habitual character.

Sometimes I get scared or angry and have to really take charge and discipline my mind to hang in there and stay positive. I am getting better at this, but it seems that faith could take many lifetimes to get the hang of it.


It seems that some folks step up to the plate and take responsibility more easily, more readily, than others; and some hold back, avoid, slack off. I think this is not only cultural, but also temperamental, and I don’t know where temperament comes from. Genes, past lives, who knows? If you say genes, then you have to ask, why did I get this particular set of genes? Destiny? I don’t know. That’s not necessary to know, though. More useful is simply to realize that just because you’re responsible in 4 ways or 40, there is always more that you can develop. Like faith and love, I think that the evolution of consciousness will enable people to be better at these soul skills than they were several millennia ago.

Critical Thinking

This is a big topic and I will probably give a series of six more lectures just about this---about semantics, rhetorical devices, logical fallacies, cultural tendencies to dumb-down and ways we can resist them, and so forth. The mind can balance the heart. No time today to talk more about this.   

Other Possible Soul Lessons

Aside from love, faith, responsibility and critical thinking, there are still others that run deep. I'm not certain, but am provisionally entertaining some of the following as possibly being types of soul lessons:
   - Humility and openness— acceptance of the need to grow, the need for help, turning away from temptations towards false pride.
   - Letting go, entering the here-and-now, centering. Letting go of any grasping of possessions, memories, future dreams or expectations. This doesn’t mean complete abandonment of daring to dream, but rather some expectation that the dream will emerge precisely as you desire it. Letting go of greedy-grasping.
   - Appreciation: A mixture of aesthetic pleasure, wonder, astonishment, receptivity, savoring, contemplating, letting it in. I continue to feel that I could let in at least a bit more a wide range of types of sensitivity. For this reason I take music appreciation classes.
   - Compassion: Maybe a refinement of love, a sharpened awareness of the reality and needs of others, a cultivation of empathy, understanding, caring.
   - Self-Love: Self-respect, self-acceptance, recognizing one’s gifts. Realizing that too much humility can be a subtle form of indirect false pride or defense against disappointment.
   - Patience: Developing an ever-sharpening capacity to assess how long things take to develop. Patience with one’s own development. (Is this a sub-skill of faith?)
   - Communion: People can’t do this by themselves, it requires the cooperation and co-creation of a group of people. Still, there are skills involved in knowing it can happen and knowing how to do what one can do to promote it rather than inhibit it.
    - Simplicity: Learning how rich life can be even without all the gimmicks and luxuries people tell you you can’t live without. I get a tiny taste of this by realizing that I’m too vulnerable to television addiction so since 1978 I have refused to have a television set in my house. I end up feeling a little out of it at times when folks talk about this or that great program; but I also feel free to work and write more and that I really didn’t deeply enjoy my addiction.
   - Self-Expression: Discovering authentic channels, discriminating away from what I have bought into that I should do, what’s fashionable, cool, impressive—even if it isn’t what I really enjoyed. So it evolves.
   - Playfulness: How to weave in the range or even a few of the elements of this wonderful quality in our lives.

Please add categories, send me emails. The point is that I am inviting you to add to the list, suggest other variations. So I hope these concepts of soul lessons or deeper-than-deep maturity can help stimulate your think about these matters.