What is The Soul?


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"Cosmos" 1984
Oil on Board 52"x48" © Robin Baring

"The Sleeping Beauty, the Prince and the Dragon"
An Exploration of the Soul

Seminar 1
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Seminar Main Page What is the Soul? this page
Seminar 2
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Seminar 2 The Origins of the Concept of Soul click here
Seminar 3
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Seminar 3 The Myth of the Fall
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Seminar 4
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Seminar 4   Myths, Fairy Tales and Dreams  click here
Seminar 4A
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Seminar 4   Animals in Dreams 
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Seminar 5
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Seminar 5  The Roots of Depression click here
Seminar 6
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Seminar 6 The Care of the Child
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Seminar 7
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Seminar 7 The Great Web of Life   click here
Seminar 8
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Seminar 8 The Brain and the Neuro-psycho-immune System  click here  
Seminar 9
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Seminar 9 The Dragon: Integrating the Archaic Psyche and the Shadow click here
Seminar 10
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Seminar 10 Rebalancing the Masculine and the Feminine click here
Seminar 11
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Seminar 11 Base Metal into Gold: The Process of the Soul's Transformation click here
Seminar 12
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Seminar 12 Individual Soul, Cosmic Soul and Spirit
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Seminar 13
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Seminar 12 The Wisdom Texts
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Seminar 1

Our Cosmic and Planetary Roots

©Anne Baring

The soul is not in the body; the body is in the soul - Meister Eckhart

In the soul of man there are innumerable infinities - Thomas Traherne

These twelve seminars have grown out of my quest for a deeper meaning to life - a meaning deeper than that offered by either religion or science or by philosophy as it stands today. The general thrust of our culture is immensely exciting in some respects but it is also ruthless, brutal and predatory and these characteristics increasingly dominate political life, business concerns and the media, not to mention relationships between individuals. In these seminars I attempt to show how a deeper understanding of the psyche can offer insight into the reasons for our present difficulties and solutions to them, based on a different perspective on life. This perspective has evolved over the course of my own life which has seen immense changes, political and social, over the last fifty years.

It seems to me that we are living in a mythic time of choice and that this possibility of choice is focused on bringing into being a new kind of understanding of what life is about. It could be said that theology, philosophy, psychology and science are converging at the point where each is seeking to answer the central questions of our existence: what is the purpose of our existence on this planet? What could explain us to ourselves? What is the true nature and potential of our consciousness? How could we develop a new morality related to a different understanding of life? Just as we are now discovering that consciousness is distributed through every cell of the body, soon we may discover that it is distributed in every photon or particle of light throughout the universe. As it dawned on the early Portuguese explorers that the world was not flat but round, so the realisation is dawning on us that the universe may not be dead, insentient matter but may be conscious in every part of itself. Our own human consciousness may be a manifestation, an epiphany of that greater consciousness: like fish in water, like birds in the air, we may be immersed in a sea of energy so inconceivably fine that as yet its existence can only be inferred by science. This sea - which some are calling the Metaverse - embraces or perhaps connects all universes; it is beyond what Jung called the collective unconscious yet contains this within itself. It is paradoxically at once "greater than the great" and "smaller than the small," co-inherent with the great galaxies of space and with the tiniest particle of matter. Older traditions named it Spirit or Soul or Cosmic Consciousness - the greater psychic reality to which our own life belongs and of which, for the most part, we are tragically unaware.

"I want more ideas of soul-life. I am certain that there are more yet to be found. A great life - an entire civilisation - lies just outside the pale of common thought. There is an entity, a Soul-Entity, as yet unrecognised…There is an immense ocean over which the mind can sail, upon which the vessel of thought has not yet been launched. There is so much beyond all that has ever yet been imagined."

Richard Jefferies 1883, The Story of My Heart

This Course in twelve seminars is about:

Recovering the lost feminine dimension of the divine.
Healing the split between spirit and nature, including the split between mind and body.
Discovering that we have never been outside an ensouled universe, outside the containing matrix or womb of being.
Discovering that the soul is not only in us. We are in the Soul.

-----What is the Soul? The Soul is the matrix of consciousness and the archetypal principle of:


The innate faculties in us which mediate the experience of the Soul are the following: Instinct
The capacity to imagine

The Feminine Image of Soul carries the Values of the Heart. These may be defined as:
The instinct to heal, nurture, protect and cherish
The capacity to love

Rose Window with the Virgin, Chartres Cathedral

The root of the concept of Soul as a feminine, containing entity is the Great Goddess or Great Mother of the Bronze Age (see Seminar 2). The Soul in its widest sense is the underlying gossamer-fine invisible web of relationships which connects the life of the universe with the life of this planet. This web connects our human lives in ways which are not yet understood by science to the matrix of planetary life and beyond that, to the immensity of the life of the universe, perhaps to many universes or dimensions as yet undiscovered. I find that the great rose windows in Chartres Cathedral offer me an image of this marvellous web of life.
-----What connects us to this greater web? It is the instinct in all of us that seeks relationship, that responds to the attraction of people, ideas, mythic images. It is the capacity to imagine, to feel, to make intuitive associations, to bring things together that are felt to be related. Creativity comes from the deepest recesses of instinct and feeling. It is through our longing to understand, our capacity to feel and to imagine that we are most closely connected to nature and the cosmos. Feeling and intuition make the connection with a reality initially beyond the reach of mind, acting like a plug connecting us to the socket of that deeper reality. Later, we can reflect and attempt to understand what we have been attracted to, what gives deep meaning to our lives. What part of the body do you touch when someone asks "Where is the seat of your feeling?" Most people instinctively touch their heart or the centre of their chest .
----- To the Greeks, the soul was the air - the breath of life: they called it psyche. The Romans called the soul anima. Both of these nouns are feminine. The Oxford Dictionary defines the personal soul (old English sawol, sawl) as:

the animating principle in humans and animals .
the principle of thought and action in man (distinct from the body).
the seat of the emotions and feelings. (The quintessence, core or heart of a person or a place).
the spiritual part of our being.
the part of us which survives the death of the body and can experience happiness or misery in a future state.
the disembodied spirit of a deceased person.

The word 'unconscious' was used by Jung in order to move towards a scientific understanding of aspects of consciousness not yet fully recognised or understood. It was not a new concept but had already appeared during the nineteenth century in the work of certain writers and philosophers. Today, however, it is often used in a limited, clinical sense, related to the personal psyche alone. Even among Jungians, the word "unconscious" may lose the wider dimension of the meaning that the word 'Soul' as anima-mundi or the soul of the world once had, as it was once imagined by poets, visionaries and philosophers.
----- However, it is the wider concept of Soul as a universal containing and connecting matrix that I am concerned with here and this needs to be placed in the context of the story of planetary and galactic evolution. To understand our relationship to this great cosmic matrix we have to go back to the beginning of evolution and follow the whole process of cosmic, planetary and human evolution coming into being over some 12-15 billion years. (this material is not included in this seminar. I would refer those interested to The Universe Story by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry). But I would say here that it is important to know that we have come from the stars, the we are, in our essence, even in the composition of our physical bodies, starry matter - stardust.

The Sleeping Beauty

Fairy tales are very old, certainly as old as the Neolithic era, perhaps as old as the Paleolithic era. Fairy tales speak with the voice of the soul and carry many levels of meaning. In this story the prince I believe, stands for the solar principle of consciousness expressed as the questing human mind (logos) seeking always for meaning, seeking to explore every aspect of the universe but also, ultimately, seeking reconnection with his feminine counterpart - the soul - in the same way that Odysseus sought to find his way back to his wife, Penelope.

The Sleeping Beauty symbolises the lunar principle of soul, the feeling values (eros) which have not been considered rational and therefore essential to our perception of reality. At the same time she symbolises another dimension of reality - that mysterious other world, intermediate between the physical one and the deep ground of being - the world which is the origin of our world, its archetypal ground, as it were, recognised by the mystics of all religions traditions. In essence, this fairy-tale is a myth about the marriage of the sun and the moon. The ancient lunar imagery of death and regeneration lies at the heart of the story: The moon is "the most beautiful princess in the whole world". The dark phase of the moon is symbolised by the sleeping princess and the court. The solar prince awakens the sleeping princess to life as his bride (the crescent moon) and, as this happens, the whole court awakens. We can understand the appearance of the 'new moon' as a metaphor for a new phase in the evolution of consciousness.
----- The ancient imagery of the story of the Sleeping Beauty is woven into the fabric of myth and fairy tale and has its origin in Bronze Age rituals - rituals of the sacred marriage and rituals which mourned the annual death of the life of the earth and its regeneration in spring. Who can say where this story originated and how it was transmitted for centuries from generation to generation? The sacred marriage of king and queen, prince and princess is also an image transmitted from the ancient myths and rituals of the Bronze Age to Alchemy, Gnosticism and Kabbalah.
----- In today's world, I feel that the Sleeping Court symbolises Western civilisation or perhaps the whole modern world, where the feminine value - the Soul - has lain under a spell for many centuries. In this seminar I would like to explore the awakening of the Soul and the awakening to awareness of the Soul during the last fifty years and the search for the new values which will need to replace the ones that currently direct the culture if we are to survive as a species. In a later seminar, I will explore the mythology and meaning of the dragon whose unconscious archaic reflexes present such a threat to our survival on this planet.
----- I see this magical story as a metaphor for our time and the urgent need for a marriage between our head and our heart, a marriage between our solar thinking and our lunar feeling - between our rational mind which knows nothing of a deeper dimension and has become sterile and rigid, and our imaginal, instinctual, creative soul. From another perspective, I also see it as a metaphor of the reconciliation of spirit and nature or the reunion of the masculine and feminine aspects of spirit which have been progressively sundered during the last four thousand years.
----- So the story gives us the image of two aspects of our being that need to be brought together. We need to recover the lost feminine value. Until we do this, life cannot be seen as it truly is nor can we know who we are.
----- In ancient cultures people imagined the whole cosmos as a living being and felt that the visible world was the manifestation of an invisible causal one whose eternal life continually flowed into it. Everything - plants, animals and humans; planets, moon, sun and stars - was sacred because all were part of a universal soul, a great web of life.

Black Madonna

Notre-Dame de Saint Gervazy,
Puy de Dôme, France. XIIc

However, for almost three thousand years in Judeo-Christian as well as Islamic culture, the image of the goddess, who carried this principle of universal Soul, has been missing. Almost everything which the image of a Divine Mother stood for in Bronze Age cultures - most importantly the feeling of the immanence of spirit within nature - was lost. The effects of this loss on civilisation are incalculable because what was once imagined as a Great Mother - all nature and her mystery - came to be seen as separate from spirit and desacralised. There is a deep sickness within our religious traditions which have excluded the feminine principle from the god-head, and have looked upon nature and matter as something inferior to spirit and emptied of divinity. Because of the repudiation of the goddess and the belief that spirit was something completely separate from nature, we gradually lost the feeling of containment in nature and the feeling that life on earth was sacred because it was animated and sustained by spirit, that it was a manifestation of or epiphany of spirit..
----- The Hedge of Thorns shows what an impenetrable barrier has grown up between our head and our heart and how difficult it is to accomplish this task. I see the Hedge of Thorns as the body of religious and scientific beliefs which currently offer a fixed and incomplete view of reality. On the one hand there is the Christian religion which, in its emphasis on belief and service, has neglected the need for an inner and direct relationship with spirit and has never regarded the world as intrinsically divine. God has been presented as a creator beyond nature and ourselves. Man is fallen and sinful through the very act of procreation; he is not intrinsically divine, but is redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, the Son of God - provided he belongs to the Christian Church and adheres to its beliefs.
----- One of the main features of the last two centuries has been the "death" of God, or the loss of the transcendent value and containing belief-system that has structured Western civilisation for nearly 3000 years. The moral values associated with that belief system have been jettisoned - creating moral anarchy. The vacuum created by the absence of a transcendent value has been filled by secular belief systems which have inflicted enormous suffering and sacrifice of life, creating a dark night of the soul for millions. Yet the deconstruction of the old system invites the formulation of a new vision of reality that would include the essence of what previously had been neglected by the old religious traditions.
----- There is a second aspect to the Hedge of Thorns: the belief system of scientific reductionism which now dominates western secular culture. I see this belief system as the end-result of the long-standing dissociation between spirit and nature, mind and matter. Ours is the first culture which recognises no principle transcendent to the human mind, which does not believe that a non-visible dimension orders and influences the visible world. Instead it believes that the universe is indifferent to us and that we are the products of impersonal forces operating on inanimate matter. Atoms are lifeless particles, floating randomly in a random universe. We are simply the products of genetic, social and environmental conditioning. In scientific reductionism (not science per se), the idea of dominance and control gradually overlaid and suppressed the instinct for connection and participation. (Descartes gave us the concept of the self as subject and the world as object and said that he wanted to make man master and possessor of the Earth). According to this reductionist belief, the Earth and its resources are there for us to manipulate and exploit as we choose. When we die, that is the end of us. We are only body and brain. There is no such thing as the survival of consciousness after death. There is in this belief system a strong fascist element, since any belief system outside of it is ridiculed and dismissed as irrelevant and out-dated. There is more than a suggestion of a totalitarian ideology once more raising its head which is having more and more influence on our current secular culture. This reductionist science or scientism has little to do with real science although it claims to present the 'truth'.
----- The story of the Sleeping Beauty says that at the right moment, for the right person, the hedge of thorns turns to roses and a way opens through it. I think we are, at the millennium, at this moment of breakthrough. A deep human instinct is attempting to restore balance and wholeness in us by trying to articulate values grounded in a different vision of reality. A gradual restoration of a sense of the sacred has been taking place beneath the surface of our culture. In a deeper sense, we are awakening to awareness of our relationship with the greater planetary organism on which our life and the life of all species depends. A new consciousness is being born - an awareness of interconnectedness, an awareness of our involvement in a great hidden web of life.
----- The last hundred years or so have seen a gradual process of death and regeneration taking place as a few individuals - a minute fraction of the world's population - have responded to the instinct that we must relinquish the old pattern of domination and control of nature if our species is to survive. The small seeds of change sown by these individuals are slowly bringing about a change in the culture as a whole, even though it is still difficult to see clearly what is happening. Some of us are gripped by a sense of hopelessness and despair, feeling powerless to alter the course of events. Others fall into a blind fanaticism and a desire for absolute power. Still others are so immersed in the daily requirements of their lives and in blindly following the superficial goals of the culture, that they have no time to think about anything at a deep level.
----- Fifty years have seen the foundations laid for a transformation of our relationship with the planet and the emergence of many groups of individuals who are focused on protecting it from the effects of human ignorance and greed. These form a new collective entity, no longer tribal in character, which is held together by shared values and a shared commitment to implementing them. This global community of concerned individuals is what I would call "the Prince". In their world-wide collaboration on behalf of life, the foundations have been laid for the development of a contemporary image of both women and men acting as sacred custodians of the earth - sacred because they are participants in a universe that is increasingly rediscovered as sacred. Wherever violence is used to promote these new values, one can be sure that people are still thinking in the old polarised and oppositional way rather than in the new way of reconciliation, dialogue and integration.
----- As this deep soul-impulse for change and transformation gathers momentum, the integration of the emerging feminine value with the ruling masculine one has begun to change our perception of reality. I would like to suggest twelve areas where this transformation of consciousness is taking place, called forth by the many individuals responding to the need to articulate different values and a deeper perception of reality - to awaken to the soul.

The Awakening of the Sleeping Beauty

1. The Recovery of the Lost Feminine Image of the Divine and a new definition of spirit, not as something remote from and beyond ourselves but simply all that is, both invisible and visible. Creator and creation, Processor and process cannot be separated. We are beginning to realise that in exploring matter and ourselves we may be exploring a manifest aspect of God or Spirit.
----- In 1950, in response to a document signed by eight million Catholics, a Papal Bull declared the Virgin Mary to be assumed, body and soul into heaven. Four years later she was named Queen of Heaven. Interpreting the symbolic implications of this event, Jung anticipated that the feminine archetype or principle, personified by the Virgin Mary, was being raised to the level of spirit and that this hieros gamos or sacred marriage of the masculine and feminine aspects of life heralded a profound transformation of human consciousness which would soon be given visible expression in the collective life of humanity. In further confirmation of this rising impulse in the collective psyche, a petition was presented to the Pope in August 1997, asking for the Virgin Mary to be made co-redemptrix with Christ.
----- The "goddess movement" was mediated by women deeply concerned by the absence of the feminine dimension of the Divine in the Judeo-Christian god-head and the need to recover a sacred image of the Earth and of themselves. They have made an immense contribution to the recovery of the soul.

2. The Resacralisation of Nature: The awakening sense of responsibility towards the natural world. The recovery of the ancient instinctive awareness of the interdependence and interconnection of all things. The Newtonian legacy of viewing matter as something separate from ourselves is being replaced by the idea that we are inextricably involved in what we are observing. The sense of responsibility towards other species is emerging and strengthening, helped by the spectacular programmes put out by the great biologist, David Attenborough on the BBC.
----- Many influential books set the agenda for a transformation of our attitude to the Earth and to nature, grounding this in the realisation that life was an indissoluble tissue of relationships and that the observer is an inseparable part of what is observed. The biologist Rachel Carson was the first to sound the alarm in 1963 with her book Silent Spring.. She drew attention to the inter-dependence of the human, animal and plant orders of life and the danger of contaminating air, soil and ocean with the dangerous chemicals that were at that time being used widely and indiscriminately to control insects. She challenged the scientific myth of the control of nature, born, she said, of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy when it was supposed that nature existed for the convenience of man. "It is our alarming misfortune," she wrote, "that so primitive a science has armed itself with the most terrible weapons, and that in turning them against the insects it has also turned them against the earth." The furious anger she aroused showed both the depths of human ignorance about the interrelated systems of life on the planet and also the power of entrenched attitudes which resisted any impulse for change. Rachel Carson warned us of the dangers of interfering with the balance of nature. In the preface to the 1961 edition of The Sea Around Us first published in 1950, she warned of the effects of disposing of nuclear residues in the sea:

In unlocking the secrets of the atom, modern man has found himself confronted with a frightening problem - what to do with the most dangerous materials that have ever existed in all the earth's history, the by-products of atomic fission. The stark problem that faces him is whether he can dispose of these lethal substances without rendering the earth uninhabitable.

3. Woman's Growing Sense of her Value and her increasing participation in the culture - to its enormous enrichment. However, women enter and try to adapt to a world created entirely by men and there is a danger that they may try to copy the male model offered to them and lose touch with their own unique values. At the other end of the spectrum, particularly in those areas dominated by fundamentalist Islam, millions of women still lead lives blighted by abyssmal poverty and are denied access to education and a free exercise of their great gifts.

4. The Changing Relationship between Men and Women. The ancient archetypal relationship between men and women is changing with a new emphasis on partnership instead of control and subservience. Men are no longer so contemptuous of women. Women are no longer so dependent on men for financial support. Yet this applies to only a tiny proportion of the total female population of the planet. Millions, if not billions of women live lives of servitude, misery and oppression, subject to persecutory tribal and religious customs and beliefs.

5. The Recovery of the Soul: reflected in the growth of interest in psychotherapy and the many ways to heal human suffering. A deeper understanding of the psyche and the development of insight into where we are still controlled and driven by unconscious complexes. The uncovering of the appalling suffering of children and the realisation that much of the violence we deplore in society is due to our neglect of their emotional and spiritual needs. There are five fundamental questions the soul asks:

Who am I?
Why am I here?
Will I see my loved ones after death?
How can I heal my suffering?
How can I discover the true potential of my being? These questions are being addressed by many individuals.

6. The Interest in the Body and Healing the Mind/body Split: Ancient traditions of healing have been brought to Europe and America from China, Tibet, India. Indian (ayurvedic) and Chinese (acupuncture, herbal medicine) medicine have formed the basis of what is called Alternative or Complementary Medicine. The focus of this medicine is the treatment of body and soul as a single organism and the prevention of disease.

7. The Integration of Different Races, Religious Traditions and Ethnic Groups. This is an immense change on a planetary scale and is far from complete. As global warming accelerates, there will be huge movements of population and an ever-greater mingling of races.

8. The Influence of Eastern traditions on the West: Hinduism, Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism; Sufism. With these has come access to the idea of a direct path of communion with a transcendent order of reality. Many Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu and Sufi texts have been translated by individuals from the West as well as the East. Many teachers from the East, including many from Tibet, have established centres in the West. Influence of Yoga, Chi Gong, various approaches to meditation.

9. The Recovery of the Shamanic traditions of the First Peoples - North and South America, Australia, Africa.

10. The Awakening of Compassion for the poor, the deprived, the exploited of the world. Growing pressure on governments to act ethically and with the welfare of the planet in mind. Participation (through witnessing on television) in the suffering of people remote from ourselves. Awareness of the outrageous suffering of the victims of war, often referred to as "collateral damage". An immense work still to be done.

11. Extending the Boundaries of the "Rational" to include the "Non-Rational". The interest in the Near-death experience. The question of the survival of consciousness after death. The fascination with UFOS and crop circles. Einstein said: "The paranormal is the normal of tomorrow." This interest reflects something that is essential to our spirit of exploration and cannot be censored or repressed however much there are attempts to do so.

12. The Emergence of a New Paradigm of Reality formulated by a group of concerned scientists and philosophers - among them: David Bohm, Frithjof Capra, Rupert Sheldrake, Danah Zohar, Brian Goodwin, Amit Goswami, Candace Pert, Thomas Berry, Huston Smith, Richard Tarnas, Brian Swimme, Ken Wilber, Deepak Chopra, Ervin Laszlo, Elizabet Sahtouris.

All these influences and many more which there is no time to address in this seminar are contributing to healing the dissociation in the human psyche and the culture between mind and soul, spirit and nature. They cannot really be separated from each other because each is intrinsic to a psychic impulse that I would call the recovery of the feminine principle. I mean recovery in two senses: first, the sense of something that was ailing, diminished, or crippled being restored to health, and secondly, the sense of something of great value that was lost and is now being recovered. It is to be expected that, this impulse for recovery will be fiercely resisted because old habits of thought and behaviour are so deeply established. It is for the most part carried by individuals working in relative obscurity. It is not yet recognised and welcomed by the culture and particularly by the media as a conscious goal. There are still countless millions of people who are not aware of these issues, who may feel nothing for the Earth, for the pollution of the oceans, for vanishing forests and species, for the well-being of animals. They have not recovered the lost instinct for participation in the life of nature. They may ridicule or resist those who speak up in defence of another vision of life.
----- Yet we are becoming more concerned to protect the delicate ecological balance of the earth, more aware that we are poisoning the earth, the seas and our own bodies with chemicals and pesticides, that we are inviting our own destruction through our continued aggression towards each other and our degradation of the environment. Climate change is becoming a confirmed reality.

The Awakening of the Soul reflected in all these different events is creating new values:

A growing sense of responsibility towards the planet.
A new concept of spirit as the life process itself.
A recognition of the inter-connectedness of life.
An effort to heal the mind/body split and the realisation that the emotions are the factor which connects each to the other.
A deeper understanding of the psyche and the growth of insight into where we are still controlled by unconscious complexes and what Jung called "the shadow"..
The emergence of a different quality of relationship between men and women.
A new awareness of the suffering and needs of children
An awareness that we need to treat animals and all species on Earth with greater respect.

The activation of the Feminine Principle is discernible in all these different avenues of collective effort but I would like here to connect the image of the Feminine with the image of the Holy Spirit of Wisdom.
----- Awakening to the presence and guidance of this Holy Spirit means becoming protective towards the whole of creation, dying to the old divisive ways of looking at life and each other, and being born into a radically different way of living through the creation of a relationship with an immanent Divine Presence. Some people call the intelligence or consciousness of the universe Sacred Mind, or Cosmic Intelligence. Some prefer to call it God or Goddess. During these seminars I prefer to call it Cosmic Soul or Holy Spirit because to me these words reflect both the universality of the Presence and the feminine quality of it.
----- Under the guidance of this Holy Spirit what we have seen in the last half-century is the growing contribution of many concerned individuals to answering the question: "What can be done to change ourselves and our culture in time to avert a catastrophe of our own making?" I will end this seminar with these words of Einstein:

A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

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