In Nature and the Human Soul, Bill Plotkin defines ‘soul’ as a thing’s ultimate place in the world. All this year I have been intuiting that there is a ‘Helen-shaped hole in the kosmos’ that I no longer fit – and that my soul’s task at this juncture in my life is to resume my natural shape. “If your soul is your ultimate place in the world,” writes Plotkin, “and you need to live from that place to be fully yourself, then the world cannot be fully itself until you become fully yourself”.
David Whyte writes: “Why are we the one terrible part of creation privileged to refuse our own flowering?” Plotkin suggests – and this is a conclusion that I, too, have reached in my own way – that the “the soul of humanity is the conscious celebration of the universe’s grandeur”. While “every other part of nature takes its ultimate place instinctively, unselfconsiously, and without struggle, the hazard of possessing the capacity to know that you know is the vulnerability of becoming truly lost in a way that no other creature can – unable to find your place and therefore unable to flower”. But “without conscious self-awareness, there would be nothing or no one to appreciate the universe”.
For me, all this ties in with the power of witnessing. In essence, witnessing is the simple act of resting one’s naked attention on an object – be it a person, a scene, a thing of any kind. Without judgement, but with a simple intention to bear witness. During a constellation that happened during a gathering of Women Moving the Edge last year, the Earth affirmed that it was strengthened by our witnessing – provided it was not ‘about us’. At a later women’s gathering, we realised the power of witnessing to ‘listen the soul into disclosure’. In my own experience, the act of witnessing fills me with the numinous essence of that which is witnessed. I am given to understand, also, that being witnessed in this way calls any entity into greater ‘aliveness’.
I believe that witnessing is part of the work of the elders. Witnessing can happen at so many different levels – depending on where one’s psycho-social centre of gravity happens to be. So it seems we can practice witnessing at all stages of life, and what changes is the content of what we witness and, perhaps, the quality of awareness that we bring to the act.
What, then, is the function of witnessing, and what is the consequence of our systematic failure to practice it? Is this part of what has arrested our development as a civilisation? And will restoring this practice as a part of our way of being, alone and together, help to kick-start our collective evolution and help bring us to where we need to be as a species in order to be able to move through to what’s next?
I do sense that what is next for humanity will engage us in some truly novel dimensions of collective living, and that the practice of witnessing will be an essential element of that. The type of intentional collective inquiry that I mentioned in the previous entry is, to my mind, the throbbing edge as we move into the era of conscious evolution. It is a territory, I believe, that the individual intellect cannot enter. Nor is it work for the faint-hearted, but then, the faint-hearted do not feel called to engage in it. It challenges the core of our small selves and asks us to step out of our egoic clothes at the door, to enter the circle naked, vulnerable and authentic, humbly clothed only in our truest beauty, that no mirror can reflect back to us other than the liquid glisten we evoke in the eye of the other who witnesses us without judgement.
And that is just the beginning. This witnessing is like a rite of passage, after which we are ushered into an inner sanctum that scintillates with immanent magic, where synchronicity surfaces wherever one looks, like the coils of a very large serpent in a very small lake. But it takes the eyes of the circle to see it, and we must be content to sit very still, surrendered to the not-knowing, unable to judge and draw conclusions. Clarity will arise not out of the minds around the edge, but in the middle, blossoming in all hearts present at once. This is not a circle of human personalities, it is a bubble of kosmic consciousness that has seeped through from the invisible realms into the container we have lovingly formed and held, waiting in the not-knowing, focused not on each other but, as one, on the sacred mystery in the middle.