Thursday, March 15, 2007

Finding Soul

and an

Experience of Living

in Everyday Life

A Personal Philosophy

By John Manning

A Senior Exhibition of Mastery

To those who desire to seek the experience of life, we have embarked on a great journey, a journey which will carry us through many failures and successes, tragedies and miracles. This is a paper about beginning a thoughtful journey, a philosophical journey. It is not a history of philosophy or religion, and it is not a well-rounded, mature reflection; it is not about value judgments. It is a paper that[1] seeks spiritual connections, that forces attention to forming a basic approach to living. How will I live my life? What works? What is important? The search is motivated by a curiosity, a desire to know and understand ÒmyselfÓ and my relation to others, to my society, and to the world around me. This is important because it seems harder and harder for young people to get in touch with the deepest part of our true selves, our souls. We seem to float without direction for so long- looking for direction. We have become disconnected, as Yeats observed,

"Turning and turning in a widening gyre, The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world ..."

Young people today are having a hard time recognizing and heeding their "falconer," their own inner spiritual selves. And things seem to be, indeed, falling apart for us. Why is it so hard to find a sense of self these days? What is "soul" anyway? How do you search for it? And where do you look? There are an infinite number of ways to go about this journey. There is no right way for everyone -- to each his own path up the same mountain.

Like my life, this paper is an adventure started, a work in progress, written from the perspective of a teen-ager who takes life and thought seriously and joyfully. If we pay attention, if we are aware, if we trust ourselves, the journey can be as deeply satisfying as it can be painful.

To be successful, to grow, and to achieve goals are all par

ýts of human nature and the human daily experience. How to live a rich, satisfying life should weigh heavily on our everyday decisions. Even pain and crisis can be opportunities for learning and growth if our attitude is right, because all experiences give our lives meaning, depth, and value. So, we should pay attention to our growth intellectually, physically, and spiritually to be well. Our minds are educated and our bodies are exercised; however, the most important part of our being is often neglected-- our soul. It is the soul that knows where the meaning lies and what the value is. Our soul is the true essence of our being. It is the pure good and godliness in us all. Our bodies move, our minds think, but our souls feel, intuit, and imagine. Soul has to do with depth, ingenuity, and the particulars in life.(Moore XII)

It is our soul that makes each individual unique. It is the part of us that was made in the image of God. It is our soul that connects us to the universe and to other people.

e Emerson wrote, " We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole of which these are the shining parts, is the soul." (Emerson 29) What he speaks of is the combined souls of all living things in the world, the "oversoul" (Emerson 531). This concept of interconnectedness runs through poetry and philosophy throughout the ages. William Wordsworth called it the "Divine Spark" that runs through man and nature. Joseph Campbell refers to this vital interconnectedness throughout his book The Power of Myth. This sense of connectedness connects us to our souls, and then to everything and everyone else. Lose this connection and trouble follows.

It is dangerously easy for teen-agers to become disconnected from their souls because they ignore or are oblivious to them. The soul seemingly has no place in our highly

œtechnological society anymore. It is rarely discussed. When the soul is neglected, it doesn't just go away; it appears systematically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning (Moore, XI). These are becoming common problems for many young people in our society. Without being in touch with one's own soul, there is no way to make sound judgments regarding what is valuable or important in our everyday lives. It is like being tossed about on stormy waters in a sailboat without a compass. You don't know what is right. Yet "...studies have shown that adolescent turmoil is not universal to all cultures..." and does not have to be a part of growing up (Tremblay 95).

Why are many teens having problems? For one thing, our major influences have changed. Western society has become generally disconnected from those things that sustain us and nourish our souls. For one thing, Western religions hav

õe largely disconnected us from nature and an inner life of spirituality; God and salvation seem to be "out there," or in a church, not within us and Creation. Our transient culture makes people move often, weakening group and family relationships. A sense of belonging to an on-going community is harder to keep, especially traditions like mentors and elders who would pass down important values in myths and group stories and by example. There is no American cultural road-map to maturity, no universal rite of passage, no clear-cut time that says, "Yes, now you are an adult." Is it 16, when you get a license, 18 when you can vote and get married, or 21 when you can legally drink? Without knowing where you belong, or if you belong, you can not find your own path and learn who you are.

A steady, secure environment is an important element to help your soul prosper. It thrives on the vicissitudes and idiosyncrasies of life (Moore 15). In other words, if our sense of self is secure, we can face anythi

øng. If not, we become vulnerable to everything.

Even the once secure, steady environment of home life has changed. Many parents are preoccupied with thinking about making enough money to support a family -- a search for physical, material success. They allow little time for their own spiritual search and growth, much less the spiritual development of their children. This sends an early message about priorities, reinforced by the media, an influence of growing importance.

The secrets of life seem to come in sound bites from talking heads on television, rather than around the kitchen table. Television and the entertainment industry send mixed messages that make it difficult to define just what really matters in life. Consumer-driven concepts like "money can buy happiness," and "image is everything" promote false values and build false identities. If you buy the right clothes, drink the right soft drink, and run with the cool crowd, you'll be cool and belong, as opposed to those who don't .

ü "Be young, have fun, drink Pepsi," explains Wiley Wiggins, a 17-year-old high school dropout and founder of the magazine Happy!. (Tremblay 19) Generally speaking, television is a passive pastime of watching and listening and returns little for one's time but desensitized emotions, vulgar language, and a warped world view of violence, selfishness, quick fixes, and out-of control sex. It does not encourage active personal growth - first-hand, often painful and difficult experiences that promote growth. Furthermore, these messages usually contradict your parents' advice. Faced with such mixed messages, teens often become overwhelmed and confused about what is best or what is right or wrong.

The danger here is that teens might not have enough inner resources , positive influences, experiential background, or support to be aware of what is happening. All they are aware of is that things aren't working; they are not "happy." This vague discomfort signals that they are disconnected from their souls. Thi

s is "dis-ease." An easy out is to Ònumb outÓ so that real problems aren't faced. Drugs, alcohol, and smoking can become crutches to make one more at ease. Formerly a part of religious and tribal inward spiritual journey, or as a bonding experience, drugs now are often used for the wrong reasons -- to numb out, and to fill that nameless, lonely void by having a "chemically induced mystical experience" (Campbell 13). Drugs separate kids from the very society that they are trying to become a part of, impeding their search for self and growth by giving them a false sense of self-knowledge, taking them farther and farther from their intended path. This misdirected search for experience and meaning alienates kids from their families and reality because it means keeping
 secrets, dealing with guilt and lying and oftentimes stealing (Tremblay 39). A widening gyre!

Alienation is a dangerous disconnection. Being separated from nature is another dangerous disconnection. In the past, most cultures centered around the cycles of nature. "All ethics so evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interconnected parts. . . The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land. . . It is inconceivable. . . that an ethical relation to the land can exist without love, respect, and admiration."(Wilson 26) This idea of an inborn need for contact with the nature is referred to as Biophilia. These days, more time [1]õis spent at school with our peers and in front of the television than with our parents or outside in nature, where direct, first-hand experience and self-reflection are encouraged by quiet and beauty.(Moore 134)

When we disconnect ourselves from the natural system, we are disconnected from a fundamental part of ourselves, leaving a gap in our soul that no amount of drugs or channel surfing can fill. Surveys have shown that the vast majority of Americans believe that the idea of a beautiful landscape is that of one that is natural, like a meadow or a river valley, hardly ever a city street. This is why cities increase stress and the country reduces it (Moore 135). This is not to say that we all have to live on a farm, but we all need some sort o

-f connection whether it is a weekly walk in the park or some hobby that takes us outdoors. If many poets, especially the Romantics and the Transcendentalists and many philosophers are correct, this is where we are most likely to recreate, to find ourselves.

We need to find other ways like this to make connections, find meaning and direction in life-- find our soul, our compass. The solutions to the problems we face are not too complicated or deep, but simple and direct.

Emerson wrote, "Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist." This implies independence of thought. Always go with what you feel and that means not always following the social pressure of your peers or predecessors. Far better to take the road less traveled, but to do this, you must have some idea of what you believe in, [1]‘what brings out your best, that is what Joseph Campbell calls Òyour blissÓ.

Joseph Campbell defines "bliss" as following your star, following what truly sparks your imagination and makes you feel alive, "that thing that you want to do in all your life." Getting in touch with this is "a technique each one has to work out for himself somehow." (Campbell 91, 118) It is making your avocation your vocation, being paid for what you most enjoy doing in life.

Mark Plotkin was a great example to me because he found satisfaction by following his bliss. All of his life he loved plants and animals. He never had the best grades because he probably [1]¨spent too much time in the woods. He didn't get into a great college at first, but he continued to do what he loved and believed in. He worked hard and ended up with degrees from both Harvard and Yale. He now is a world-famous ethno botanist, studying plants in South America and founder of "Conservation International." By letting his avocation be his vocation, he is leading a satisfying life of service to mankind.

For example, if you take an occupation without the zest or passion for the job itself, if you take it merely for convenience or for the pay, it will lack meaning or "soul" for you. The cost of not having your heart in your work is high, no matter how mu

7ch money it pays. It's the difference between making a living and making a dying. A vocation that is deeply satisfying on the other hand, no matter how hard, how little pay, will let you sleep easier and give you satisfaction everyday instead of dread and ultimate dis-ease.

Religion and spirituality have always been important means of connecting with our souls. Religion sets basic guidelines for living our lives. To a certain degree, it defines the good and the bad in simple terms. The Ten Commandments is an example of this in both Judaism and Christianity. However, more importantly religion gives us a rock, a core belief on which to base our lives. If someone doesn't believe in God, then why should they believe in the good and right way to live? Our beliefs give direction to our lives. The idea of a

4fterlife gives us hope and perspective. Without a belief system we don't have motivation, direction, nor anything to care about. The importance of faith in our lives is unspeakable. Going to church has always been an important way to keep beliefs strong, being with those with common beliefs. But many teen-agers find today's society religion, myths, and rituals irrelevant and unfulfilling. Yet there is nothing better to hang on to as a rock. And we are not always encouraged to ponder and discuss, to philosophize. How and where can we try new ideas on for size? This problem needs to be addressed. How can we experiment safely with new ideas and philosophies? What happens when we decide that a way of thinking is not right for us? Do we have the privilege of changing our minds? Your soul knows the answ
er. The art is in knowing how to find it.

Active participation in one's own spiritual growth is key to soul-searching. Our society has many rituals that help us grow and mature. We have weddings, divorces, birthdays, funerals, Eucharist, national holidays, and graduations. Most religions have rituals that represent a boy's becoming a man; Confirmation, Baptism, and Bar Mitzvahs are a few. Such rituals represent a time when an adolescent is forced to throw away his childish ways and join the community of his elders: a rite of passage. Rituals have been used through history to recognize an event or change; however, it is an active, rather than a passive recognition. For the Malinke tribe in the Ivory Coast, their rite is horrifying for youngsters

. At a certain age, they are taken away from the tribe to be with a master for several weeks. The youths are put through many trying tests and are circumcised. They are also taught responsibility and all of the secrets of their tribe. When they return to the tribe, they are noticeably different than they were before they left. They now can marry and take their own boat on the river. Before they were irresponsible, now they are responsible. Before they were boys, now they are men (Nabhan and Trimble 45).

One boy who left the Malinke tribe before the rite for a formal education returned expecting to be respected by his elders but instead was ignored and treated as a child. He eventually had to fight one of the strongest men in the tribe for three days to prove himself to the tribe (Nabhan and Trimble 41).

This illustrates how important rituals and rites of passage are to personal and spir

itual growth. There is no universal ritual adopting the teens into our adult society. There is no time in our culture that teens are expected to grow up. "An arrested state of immaturity"(Nabhan and Trimble 40) is an accurate description of many so-called "adults" in our society. They lack the necessary guidance that is provided by these rituals that prepare them for leading a fully adult life.

Some who do not belong to groups with such rites of passage are likely to find their rite of passage on their own or form their own -- gangs serve the same, though misguided function of belonging to a group of similar beliefs. They develop their own society with rules and rituals and probably with elders.

At any age, rituals are also effective means of keeping in touch with your soul, listening to your inner voice. Meditation, yoga, sweat lodges, drumming, and tribal dances are becoming popu

ílar ways strengthening connections and expressing spirituality.

For Mickey Hart, drummer for one of the most popular rock bands of all time, the Grateful Dead, drumming was the path to his soul, the way he experienced the Divine in himself. "My God is sound," says Mickey, "I came to understand that everything made sounds, that the world was composed of rhythms that could be read in stirrings as subtle as the movements of the insects, the shifting of the breezes." Matthew Fox calls Hart "a spiritual seeker whose prayer form is the drum; he is a student of the drum...and its spiritual power." (Tremblay 45) He is following his bliss.

Intellectual preparation is invaluable. Studying the ancient philosophers helps one to know the right questions to ask, keeping you on a worthy path. Reading can introduce you to literary mentors and great minds that have journeyed before. There are more questions asked than answered! This is where the worth of a good teacher stands out. A good teach[1]Äer will study you and find out your interests, what makes your eyes light up, and encourages you in that direction, the direction of your bliss. Then it is up to the individual to keep on his unique path to wisdom.

Experiences and attitude are the best ways to find out who we are and best determine our path through life. This is the physical and emotional part of the search. The more we do the more we can learn about ourselves. We are able to see our gifts, our strengths and weaknesses, and to apply them. Piaget wrote, "In order for a child to understand something he must construct it for himself, he must reinvent it... if in the future individuals are to be formed who are capable of creativi[1]Öty and not simply repetition." Try different things. Be open-minded towards the world and sometimes you will be surprised by what you learn. This requires having a logical and optimistic attitude. As stated previously, seeing crisis as a challenge or opportunity opens you to growth, teaching you that you can endure anything and not give up. A pessimist never tests himself because he lacks faith. An optimist believes that it is possible-- maybe against the odds.

The saying "test your limitations, and they are yours" is a great way to grow and discover your true self. It implies constant improvement through testing what you believe your limits are. Testing yourself makes life more meaningful. Searching fo

‚r meaning in life is not such a reasonable goal as searching for an experience of life.(Campbell 54) It is not so much in the winning as in the experience of participation in life - of trying, of living. "The human soul's vocation is expansion- an expansion that stretches out to the infinite point of the universe."(Tremblay 20)

If the soul's nature is expansion in the universe, direct, intimate connection to nature is needed. This is a physical as well as spiritual need. Like E. O. Wilson said, humans have an inborn need to reconnect with nature, and if we do not have this, we get agitated and aggressive. Nature is the best teacher, a way to feel and see the physical presence of the divine around you and in you. It brings a peace that passes understanding.

Nature encourages quiet reflection, observation. We see into the life of things, that God dwells in details, that we are

¸ simply part of this divine creation, not separate from it or above it. This sense of oneness becomes a guiding force for good in life as we realize our connection to other humans and to the world.

For many, outdoor or wilderness trips serve as a great connecting and growing experience, possibly, a rite of passage. This was certainly the case for me when I went on a three week wilderness trek. All of my belongings were lost on the plane ride to Toronto. I canoed through southeastern Canada with only the essentials, paddling, portaging, and camping. Long days of paddling with the serene landscape offered the perfect environment for deep contemplation. Perfect nature coupled with the pain of the work provoke deep thought. The paddling became almost a meditation. I came home a completely changed person. I gained great confidence -- I felt as though I could accomplish anything. Since then, I have accomplished many goals because I

† believe in myself. Possibly, also, I recognize that I fail only when I had not given everything I could have to the goal. Effort and determination, like the paddling are not enjoyable, maybe painful, but what results from this work in both instances are always worth the effort.

To dedicate oneself to constant growth, improvement, and confidence, one must know yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses. This can be difficult. Accept responsibility for your own growth. Heed criticism and see if there is any truth in it. Only when we can see our own weaknesses can we improve them. The next step is to notice the good qualities we see in others and imitate them. Be careful to recognize the difference between good and bad qualities of those around us. We want to make ourselves stronger, not weaker.

This self-inventory or self-improvement is a constant, a lifetime goal. Goals a

Çre extremely important in our everyday lives. Goals invoke growth. They are a simple way to give "meaning" to our lives. Having to work to accomplish something good and meaningful to you, and realizing the joy that comes from the accomplishment is the feeling that we are all looking for, a key to satisfaction in life. There is a catch. The word "good" is a key part. Motive is vital. We all have a conscience, the voice of soul, and should heed it. If you accomplish the goal to hurt someone you will not get the same feeling as if you dedicated yourself to help someone. Knowing the difference between good and bad, either when making goals or looking at qualities in others comes from morals, upbringing, and savoir faire. This knowledge is learned simply though living.

Priorities come into the picture. Priorities keep perspective and show us in what order we need to deal with important issues in our lives. If there comes a time where we are in

ÿa sticky situation and something needs to be sacrificed, we have to remember to sacrifice issues toward the bottom of our list and not the things that are most important. Honesty is a great example. If honesty is high on your list of priorities, then why sacrifice this by telling a lie to protect something of less value (i.e. a mistake, image). Remember the big picture. Don’t sell yourself and your priorities short for short term benefits

Here again, worthy mentors and mottoes are everything. They can keep us out of some of these sticky situations or show us the right answers. Watching how certain people lives their lives, watching what works and what doesn't can be eye-opening. Some of the best role models say nothing; yet how they live speaks volumes. For much of my childhood we have had a golden retriever named Cibby. Cibby was a role model. Cibby was a dog so she obviously never preached to us, however, her lessons of tolerance, unconditional love, and nonaggression toward all of the younger puppies that came along biting and gnawing at her ears sent a clear message to me about how I should get along with my brothers.

Mentors have an enormous influence - for good or evil. Rap artists or movie stars - who ever most influences you is a mentor. Two of the most important mentors or role models in my life are Blondell Hammond and Thomas Martin. Ever since I was born I have been around their influences. They are not rich and famous nor are they my parents, but they both succeed through their good will and devotion to honesty and selflessness. I admire them as much as anyone on the planet. To them, life is simple. They are the epitome of the ”good”. They are so humble, they don’t even recognize their greatness. They always look to satisfy everyone before themselves. They find pleasure

By making others happy. Knowingly or unknowingly they are satisfying their souls.

Ever since I was a child, I have had their examples to follow and their morals to copy. The most important and basic part of my person was created by those influences that I had as a child. I was given a first hand example of how to be a good person.

We have the ability to change the trend toward disconnection of the soul. We need to recognize these more soft spoken role models, become more in touch with our spiritual side, and be less preoccupied with the accumulation of money, sensation, competition, and other social pressures. If our motives are pure, our priorities in order, satisfaction will follow. ''To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men -- that is genius" (Emerson 536)

"Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are good; think on these things."

The Bible

Annotated Bibliography


The Bible. n.d.

The Bible is a representation of the philosophy of god, how he wants us to live. The ten commandments are the guidelines by which we can a "good" life. The Bible is another perspective of influence into my own philosophy.

Aristotle. Ethics. London: Penguin, 1987

The fundamental ethics in this book helped to put into words some basic philosophical ideas. I share many beliefs with Aristotle. His belief of all good being a medium between two extremes is deep and meaningful. "Everything in moderation" is a good saying to live by according to Aristotle.

Boldman, Lee G., and Terrence E. Deal. Leading With Soul: an Uncommon Journey of Spirit. 1st ed. San Francisco: Jorsey-Bass Publishers, 1994

It is the story of the sage guiding a lost soul to clarity, significance, and fulfillment in his life. The sage asked the right questions to get the lost souls to thing about what is important to them. This is much the same journey which I would like to initiate for all those who read my philosophy.

Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth. New York: Doubleday, 1988

Many of my core beliefs are expressed in this book. The importance of spirituality, ritual, and simplicity are all discussed and explained. Campbell uses myths as guides for living our daily lives.

Emerson, Ralph W. American Tradition in Literature. "The Over-Soul" , 'Each and All', The Divinity School Address.' Ed Sculley Bradley and others. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1967.

Emerson and the Transcendentalists are some of my strongest influences on my philosophy. Nature and soulfulness are big issues in my life as they were in theirs. This is necessary reading.

Emerson, Ralph W. Gateway to The Great Books. "Self-Reliance." Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952.

This is a good example of some of Emerson's' personal philosophy. He talks about the good, strong man. He gives his idea of how a person should be and think.

Hart, Mickey. Drumming at the Edge of Magic: a Journey into the Spirit of Percussion. San Francisco: Harper, 1990

Ties in my love for music into spirituality. The simplicity of drumming has such an effect on one's soul and feelings. This book also deals with ancient drumming rituals.

Moore, T. Care of the Soul: a Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life. 1st ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1991

This is a powerful book that looks deep into the importance of using our soul and the consequences of not. It is long and scientific and I just skimmed through it but got some good, strong stuff out of it.

Tremblay, Remi. "Youthanasia." Creation Spirituality. Autumn, 1995: 16-21

Addresses the problem at the base of my exhibition: the lack of direction, guidance, and understanding of their place or of themselves by the youths in America today. This article hits the details and gives explanations for the serious and unnecessary problems that teens have growing up.

Plato, The Republic. London: Penguin, 1987

Fundamental ethics and an expression of simple, but difficult to verbalize philosophical concepts are what made this book important. Plato is a reason why philosophy is the way it is today.