A few years ago, a friend read me a passage from Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul, A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life.
To care for the soul of the family, it is necessary to shift from casual thinking to an appreciation of story and character, to allow grandparents and uncles to be transformed into characters of myth…
I was so moved, I immediately went to our local used bookstore and restaurant, Revelations, to find a copy. A second home to many residents of Fairfield, Iowa, Revelations has become a community icon, offering both new and used books in all genres, and an especially diverse, eclectic selection of spiritual and self-help books. The bounty of fascinating books isn’t surprising considering Fairfield, a small town in the middle of cornfields, is abundant in spiritual seekers and avid readers. In fact, in 2012, Opera Winfrey flew into town on her private jet to meditate with other TM mediators on the MUM (Maharishi University of Management) campus.
So I was delighted, but not surprised, to see several used copies of Care of the Soul on the shelves. I keep a copy of this book close at hand and refer to it often. A contemporary philosopher, activist, and intellectual, Thomas Moore lived as a monk in a Catholic religious order for twelve years, has degrees in theology , musicology , and philosophy, and has authored many extraordinary books.
“Disappointments in love, even betrayals and losses, serve the soul at the very moment they seem in life to be tragedies. The soul is partly in time and partly in eternity. We might remember the part that resides in eternity when we feel despair over the part that is in life.”
― Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul: Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life
At the time, I was scheduled to fly to Washington state to visit my brother and his wife – my brother and I were in the process of mending many years of estrangement. Our relationship had been heavy baggage and I was releasing years of anger, resentment, and fear. I had even considered canceling my trip because I was concerned we would resume old patterns of behavior and our egos would become locked in battle. However, I was highly motivated to heal myself and to offer my brother the opportunity to heal as well. We’d had many phone calls and our talks held the promise we were on the brink of a breakthrough. I was feeling the need to come to terms with unresolved issues and find peace with the brother I’d demonized. I’d been preparing myself to experience forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. And, after years of meditation and talking the talk of love, it was time to transcend my attachment to my judgement and pain.
As I sat on the airplane, I pulled out my copy of Care of the Soul and opened a page to these words:
“At a certain level, it doesn’t matter whether one’s family has been largely happy, comforting, and supportive, or if there has been abuse and neglect. I’m not saying that these failures are not significant and painful or that they do not leave horrifying scars…In my practice I’ve worked with many men and women whose families were intolerably violent and abusive, and yet all of that pain has been redeemable, able to become the source of much wisdom and transformation. When we encounter the family from the point of view of the soul, accepting its shadows and its failure to meet our idealistic expectations, we are faced with the mysteries that resist our moralism and sentimentality. We are taken down to the earth, where principal gives way to life in all its beauty and horror.”
In that moment, I experienced synchronicity – the certainty these words were a gift from the universe. I was being presented with the insight I needed to propel me forward on my “hero’s” journey. The journey wasn’t about finding a false experience of perfection. It wasn’t about righting past wrongs. It was about being open-hearted, trusting that an intelligent universe was guiding my soul, about my willingness to see myself and the characters in my life as evolving beings full of complexity. I understood, we’re not entitled to perfect sentimentalized versions of idyllic family life. It’s more common for families to express both a “facade of happiness and normality, and the behind the scenes reality of craziness and abuse.”
I was clear this was a path toward greater awareness and consciousness. I understood we’re all pilgrims on this earth playing many roles – we’ve all been perpetrators and victims, and none of us are without stain. We’re complicated composites of many archetypes – some roles we judge to be praiseworthy and others cause us shame. Our families are made up of flawed people born of other wounded people who also struggled with their demons and pass their pain on to us. We’re part of it all – the mess, the chaos, the guilt and also the opportunities for reconciliation, forgiveness, and love. My job was to be present, not a slave to history – to see we are all in this together.