On the Soul and the Spirit

I just finished reading “This I Believe II:

More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women.”  It was the Common Book for Virginia Tech in 2012.  I’m not quite sure how it came into my possession, but I do believe we are often sent what we need sometimes without knowing we need anything.

So, today, I am wondering what do I believe? The “remarkable men and women” referenced in the title I believe are actually ordinary men and women, talking about how to get through this thing called life that Prince sings about with love, integrity, courage, faith, kindness, caring, faithfulness.  Embodying virtues.  Through very small short stories, lessons learned are shared.

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, shares, “information must be transformed into knowledge, knowledge into sensitivity, and sensitivity into commitment.” (p. 222).   He underscores the importance of telling stories, sharing experiences.  Ultimately, there is a message about the power of education and the responsibility created by education of doing more and being more.  Yet, today I question what it means to be “educated.”  For me, it is no longer a “taken for granted” explanation.  It can’t mean a college degree, because many with degrees aren’t educated and many without degrees are educated. What is a college education?  What other educations are important?

What do I believe?  I kept asking myself the question while reading and continue to ask even after.   I used to be able to provide a list – perhaps what I felt I needed to say to others, maybe even myself.  Yet now, I don’t have a list.

I do believe that there is an energy in the universe that we should seek to understand, to know, to love, to live in harmony with, to help transform for good.  As Bill Nunan (p. 172) said, “Physics does not explain the difference between sound waves and a song, or the difference between sex and love.  Physics explains my body, but not my soul.  I believe my soul inspires me to make decisions to diminish pain and increase love in the lives I touch.”

I’ve always been intrigued by the question of the soul and the spirit.  What are they? Where are they?  How are they connected to others? What are their roles in the question of humanity?  What makes us human – our soul and our spirit? I believe that this is an important question.  Somewhat existential, but about existence and purpose.  Why us?  Why here?  Why now?

As Sister Helen Prejean (p. 185) says, “I watch what I do to see what I really believe.”  What do I do?  Work, being a mother, being a wife, being a friend.  These seem to be a consuming part of my life journey. That seems to be what I do.   Simple, routine.  But, is it?  And is there more?  Certainly, there must be more…more for me?  But what?

A deeper look reminds me that work is the work of social justice, of working at an institution on the cusp of actualizing its potential.  I like what I do and I really like my colleagues and friends at Virginia Tech.  But the work of addressing inequity, inequality, bias, ignorance, and trying to shift a ship to steer differently is exhausting, time-consuming, leaving little left at the end of long days.

So, what is left at the end or the beginning of long days, time outside of Virginia Tech?  What do I do with that time?

I’ve had an uncanny ability to push limits of productivity or actually to be pushed to the limits of productivity, or perhaps potential — the result of one parent whose grandmother was a slave and another parent who immigrated out of poverty in a small West African country founded by former slaves.   Embedded within my DNA must be the spirit of struggle, of sacrifice, of long hours of labor, of pushing boundaries and barriers, of days of discipline. Full days since I was a child and now grown…an entire life of seeking to meet the internal push inside to actualize my potential before my spirit/soul, whatever is in me, ends.  A strange sense of urgency…an intensity that is almost uncontrolled. … almost.

Today’s reading reminded me of the power of resting in the work.  Phil Powers (p. 183) writes of the “practice of slowing down” with a rest step.  A technique learned from a mountain climber that enables climbers to go further and faster by actually resting “in the middle of each step completely, but briefly”  — a “rest step.”  It is a way of stepping that shifts weight away from the legs to the skeleton, forcing one to slow down, pace oneself, while yet in motion, while still stepping and moving forward, yet resting.  Almost an oxymoron and contradictory…resting while stepping.

I like that – a rest step.  That’s what I believe right now.  I believe in resting while stepping; I believe in the siesta in the struggle; I believe in the semicolon in the sentences of life; I believe in pausing while pushing; I believe in shoring up and sustaining the spirit and soul (whatever they are) for the long journey ahead, while still walking, moving, growing, caring, sharing, and transforming.

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