The Survival of the SoulApr 19, 2023
What more can we accomplish now than the survival of the soul. Harm and decay are not more present than before, perhaps, only more apparent, more visible and measurable….So much in collapse, so much seeking new ways out. Room for what new can happen.
- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letter excerpt from 1914
What strikes me about Rilke’s prophetic words are the phrases the survival of the soul and room for what new can happen, and their resonance with the transformative power of yoga.
The soul is often referred to in yoga as the Self, the atman, or the Heart. It’s envisioned as eternal, unchanging, and indestructible essence within the human being. In this most transcendent sense, there’s no question of its survival. Yet, in our human experience, our connection to it can become so obscured that it seems to be nonexistent.
The yogic texts offer many rich and colourful metaphors for the nature of this disconnection. It’s described as a state in which the Heart is encrusted by a hard, thick shell of our past impressions, as subtle knots that block our experience of inner freedom, and as layers of dross that cover the pristine essence of the Self.
Consider how your practice removes the crust, unties the knots, and clears away the dross for your soul to shine through. It might be movement or breathwork that increases your vitality and renews your enthusiasm, or meditation that quiets the chatter of your mind to reveal an underlying equanimity.
Maybe nothing on the outside has shifted, but inside you feel different. Perhaps you’re able to respond to life’s circumstances from a place of greater clarity and agency.
Yoga teaches that we don’t need to manufacture this experience or make it happen, we only need to create the conditions that allow it to emerge.
In so many ways, yoga revives our experience of a peaceful and expansive essence that can easily feel dormant amidst the challenges and complexities of life. It brings the soul back to life and with it, possibility and space for the new to emerge. Let’s keep going.