Excerpt: Biodesign Out For A Walk.
On an unscripted whim, I had them close their eyes and asked them how many of them had a soul? Every hand shot up. “Hands down,” I said. “How’d we vote?” someone asked. I answered, “One hundred percent positive. I guess this class has a lot of soul.”
“The soul is the name for the unifying principle, power, or energy that is the center of our being. To be in touch with soul means going back to the sacred source, the site of life-releasing energy, the activating force of life, the god-grounds; to venture forth and confront the world in all its marvelous and terrifying forces, to make sacred our hours here; to learn to pay such supreme attention to the world that eternity blazes in to time with our holy longing. Soul-making this.” The Soul of the World, by Phil Cousineau and Eric Lawton.
One year, shortly after we reached the top of Yosemite’s Half Dome, a group of rock climbers were completing climbing up the face. They were surprised to be greeted by a welcoming party of excited young adults. I was setting up our camp area about 200 yards away, but voices often travel clearer and farther in the mountains.
Climber: “What are all you guys doing up here?
Student: “We are all in a high school advanced biology class.”
Climber: “You’re bullshittin’ me!”
Student laughing: “No it’s true.”
Climber: “So, your biology class just happened to wander up here?”
Student: “No, our teacher led us up here.”
Climber: “Damn! He must have big balls!
I laughed out loud, but was suddenly embarrassed by what I considered to be a crude metaphor and that I had been eavesdropping. More importantly, however, I was tempted to hurry over and tell him that it was the students who were the courageous ones. I wondered if he had read Carl Jung:
“Whenever there is a reaching down into innermost experience, into the nucleus of personality, most people are overcome by fright, and many run away…The risk of inner experience, the adventure of the spirit, is in any case, is alien to most human beings.”
Jung etal, described the spiritual journey as potentially far more scary than any physical or mental challenges. On the other hand, maybe the climber was acting out Joseph Campbell’s purpose of life; “The Soul’s High Adventure.”
Perhaps it didn’t matter. After all, The Class was not only experimental, but experiential and existential. This meant that any discoveries that students made would be their own and not of my doing. Over 24 years there were many books that I discovered that would have been very helpful, but they also would have altered the many paths of discovery that were vital to the students’ spiritual growth. The best example of this (and now one of my favorite treasures) is a small (but powerful) book, “The Soul Of The World.” Phil Cousineau paired amazing quotations with Eric Lawton’s spectacular photos into a breathtaking book. It has been a deep source of inspiration for me since it was released in 1993. Cousineau included profoundly inspiring “poems, prayers and promises” from men and women from all walks and major religions, including people who are Red—Yellow—Black—White. He paired the inspirational lines with photos of some of the most beautiful and or sacred places on planet Earth. The book proved to be a powerful validation of the collaborative journey that about 500 students had shared with me. I was able to draw freely from it for the last five years of the class.
Nearly 15 years after the Biodesign Class of 1979 decided to embark on a journey of the soul, Cousineau and Lawton confirmed just how spiritually aware those students were. Jung, Thoreau and John Muir were correct when they noted that many people will live their entire life without probing their own spirituality. John Muir wrote: “Most people are on the world, not in it—have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them—undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone; touching but separate.”
The rock climber demonstrated tremendous courage climbing the face of Half Dome, but I wonder if it equaled the courage that it took for each of the 700 students to follow Loren Eiseley, Carl Jung and John Muir by embracing wonder and terror and thereby discovering that “Going out For A Walk was really going in.”
Christmastime is a wonderful time to awaken us to the fact that the journey we are on is a “spiritual journey,” a journey that would not be possible without the gift of Soul.
Wishing all of you a soulful, merry Christmas.