“The Soul: a work in progress or divine and finished – and just awaiting our death?”
The world ‘soul’ means different things to different people.
Is it possible to be more rigorous with a definition – one that would help us in our individual spiritual paths?
After all, if we are following a map on a long walk through mountains, we measure our progress to the destination by first evaluating where we are, now… Or where we think we are.
In previous talks, we’ve discussed the ‘self’, particularly the egoic self.
What relationship does the soul have to this? Can we set them both in an overall spiritual container; one that shows the journey ahead?
Or, perhaps, we have never lost the soul?
Perhaps that small egoic self, with all its faults and limitations, is the key to the destination and is, itself the journey?
Modern philosophers like Gurdjieff claimed that the soul doesn’t exist until we build it. Is there any truth in this?
Belief and experience can be very different things…
…What was it that broke under such circumstances?
I had asked the question of myself the week before. When you ‘stopped the world’ what was it that broke? Perhaps breaking was too strong a word – it could also be described as a passage from one state of attention to another . . . I sipped the hot coffee, noisily – it was the only way to drink it, fresh from the flask.
“Penny for them?” asked George Dixter, sitting on the park bench next to me. We had bumped into each other the day before, and he had offered croissants and coffee in the park; the place where I had first met him. The weather had turned damp and cold, so he didn’t look out of place in his old Burberry mac, which seemed to accompany him everywhere and in all seasons. On this occasion, and, no doubt in deference to the late autumn, he was also wearing an olive green fedora.
In the late fifties or even sixties, he would have cut quite a contemporary dash. But now, he looked like a character out of a period spy movie. I smiled at the thought, but was wary – little that these people did appeared to be accidental.
“Well, two things . . .” I sipped some more of his generously provided coffee and gratefully accepted the fresh croissant which had been procured from the bakery across the road from the park.
“Firstly,” my grin widened as his snakey eyes locked onto mine. Conspiratorially, I lowered my voice. “why the George Smiley outfit?”
He leaned closer, playing the perfect spy, and whispered, “. . . And secondly?”
I couldn’t help it, I chuckled. “Well, secondly, what is it that breaks when we ‘stop the world’.
“Aha . . .” he said, sitting back and mirroring my noisy sipping of the ultra-hot coffee, as though he had just learned some secret from me.
“Well now,” he began, putting down his steaming coffee and flexing his fingers outwards from linked palms. “the first one is easier to answer – play!”
“Play?” I asked, unsure if it were noun or command.
“Yes, play,” he replied. “as in we don’t play enough!“
“We, as in people,” he replied good-naturedly. “We forget how to play and play is really important!”
I thought about this for a while, while he sipped his coffee. I was about to ask another question when he answered it. “My outfit, as you say, is quirky . . . It makes me feel good because, in it, I’m playing; and I love the reaction of those around me, and it would help stop their worlds if they used it properly – which brings us, nicely, to your second question . . .”
I considered the import of what he had said. They were all playing . . . and yet.
“What breaks,” he continued, leaning closer, again and emphasising the serious side of this play. “is something that hides behind the habitual, which we call the slayer of the now.”
They had mentioned the word slayer, before. I knew it meant something in Buddhism, but I was not sure if they used it in the same way.
“So, stopping the world is an example of an action that defeats the slayer?”
“Yes, as, to a certain extent, does the whole idea of play.” He sipped the last of his coffee and looked at his watch. “Play and stopping the world makes us present to the moment, the now. The real lives only in the now, the rest is a system of mental devices which support the slayer . . .”
He looked at his watch. “I must go.” He said, holding out his hand for my coffee cup which was part of a set belonging to the large flask. It was still half full, but I handed it back to him, expecting that he would empty it onto the nearby grass. He didn’t – instead he reached into his canvas shoulder bag and pulled out a styrofoam cup. Emptying the remainder into this, he passed it back to me.
“You’ll be delighted to learn that Maria Angelo has offered to take the next bit with you!”
Events were happening too fast. I blurted out, “When?”
“It’s on the bottom of the cup,” he replied, striding off around the path.
Carefully, I raised the foam cup and examined its underside. There was nothing. I moved to protest at the departing back of the raincoat, but he beat me to it.
“Oh yes it is . . . ” he shouted over his shoulder.
I stared at the cup more carefully. On its rim, three marks had been added with a blue Biro.
They formed a perfect triangle within the circle…
The Beast in the Cafe – Stephen Tanham
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