That question, “What would happen then if we all became mystics?”, set me spinning, layered as it was on top of all that had been set in motion by the combined experiences of our conversations in the sessions and the ways I was responding body, spirit, and soul to the simple fact of being on retreat. I have spent most of my adult life living and working in the realm of ideas, operating on the presumption that the most important things are those that go on in my head. It intrigues me however now to see that each stage, Soul also was working, although in ways I could not fully grasp or duly respect.
As a graduate student in Comparative Literature, I hoped to find the Answers in the volumes of literature, philosophy, theology, and social theory I consumed. Towards the end of that time, I became convinced that scholarship was not the appropriate point of departure to find what I was seeking. My dissertation on the poet Friedrich Hölderlin’s novel Hyperion pointedly compared the visionary (and I would now say soulful) poetics expressed in it with the monumental philosophical prose of his university classmate Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit, to the disadvantage of the latter. My willingness to go there then was helped along by a fortuitous bump received when I stumbled across Dame Frances Yates’ The Art of Memory and Edgar Wind’s Pagan Mysteries of the Renaissance, and learned for the first time about the Hermetic tradition and alchemy, and about Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, John Dee, and an array of other remarkable explorers of channels for the most part since then emphatically ignored.
I went on to spend 18 years framing pictures, which on the one hand is soulful work, but which also gave my head ample opportunity to noodle away on every matter my voracious curiosity laid before it. The Spirit creature in me justified me in response to the nagging question: “How the heck could I, multilingual Ivy League graduate with a Ph.D., allow myself to fool around day after day squeezing dollops of glue into frame corners and making tidy mats to go around not-all-that-significant, albeit often pretty, objects of luxury?”, with the argument that I was running a micro-community economic development project in a town where the smart money had all left already. I was on a mission from God. Unsatisfied, finally, because my poor city of Hartford did not seem to be getting any better from my devoted efforts to run a nice little frame shop / art gallery in it; as any self-respecting Hero would do I turned my attention to trying to fix it more directly, by providing help of the teaching-them-how-to-fish sort to its hurting residents and neighborhoods. Not surprisingly, when the next opportunity came along, I had few results to point to with pride – though I will say I discovered much about the powerful soulfulness of the tenacious people who continue to make lives there all the adversity notwithstanding, and of those who struggle mightily on their behalf to be the change they want to see.
The next opportunity I stumbled into was by what I’d like to dismiss as a fluke, though I’ve lately become enough of a believer in synchonicities that I no longer hold with the idea of flukes. It was the role of Executive Secretary of the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Board. It was fun while it lasted, supporting the advancement of clean energy. If like me you dread what climate change is likely to do to our children and other living things, you’ll think this was a good thing to be involved in. It was while I was there, firmly and respectably ensconced in the Spirit realm, regularly addressed as Dr. Cole, that the big wake up call happened. I discovered, incontrovertibly to my way of thinking now, that there truly is more to life than meets the eye. When, without advance warning an acute myocardial infarction took me to the borders of the Great Beyond and allowed me to look into the Promised Land, I discovered what Love is, and what a miracle Life itself is. These are things only Soul can make sense of. There is nothing rational about it. Passionately dedicated, kind, well trained, and highly experienced medical professionals worked their own special brands of magic on me, and to their surprise I miraculously returned with a heart far less damaged or compromised than they had any reason to expect. The science on which they depend has no reasonable explanation for it. Go figure. (See below.)
It took me a year and half to live into the consequences and extract myself from a realm which, for all its dedication to making the world a better place, leaves little space for what I now know and for what I now know I need. This summer it finally happened. I stand now on the threshold of the next chapter, about which only two things are clear to me: I will be living consciously in love and writing will be happening. It will be love that is soulful in all respects, that touches all I encounter and that I will receive as passionately as I offer it. And it will be writing that opens and allows ample space for all that is mysterious. It will be writing driven by the inborn curiosity that came with me when I arrived here some 64 years ago and counting. I will begin to pull back together all the bits and pieces that are lying around in the rag and bone shop of my heart. I will look for and gather up the hidden soul scraps that were left by the wayside, unacknowledged, as I trudged along my way, looking always ahead for the Answer I thought for sure was out there somewhere, maybe just over the next horizon.
Little of what I have told here and in the preceding sections of this extended post is news to me, nor was it news to me on Friday last week when I drove up to Copper Beech to meet and spend time with the Thomas Moore I had long admired. New, though, is the awareness I now hold of what fine things I may do with all the pieces I carry with me, and of how I must be cared for, if those aspirations are to be fulfilled. On Friday afternoon Soul was an appealing idea in a bunch of books that had captured my attention for reasons I never quite could grasp. By Sunday afternoon I had learned to live it. For which I am eternally grateful. That’s it. No fooling.