Awakened at Soularize

Awakened at Soularize

November 22, 2022 | Posted by Illuman Admin | Drumbeat, Soularize

by Jim Burns, Co-Convener, IllumanDC 

As with the Men’s Rites of Passage, words are often inadequate to explain deeply relational psycho-spiritual experiences. The same is true of Soularize: Awaken, Illuman’s annual men’s gathering which took place just outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico earlier this month.  

I experienced the weekend on parallel tracks. The opportunity to meet men in person, both new friends and those I’d seen from Zoom interactions, as well as to deepen existing relationships, was deeply joyful. At the same time, I was awakened to my grief as not only personal, but also collective, ancestral, and connected with my posterity, as well as the more-than-human world.  

This was the result of working through a grief process, designed by Joanna Macy, called The Work That Reconnects. Illuman’s former President, Terry Symens-Bucher, facilitated the process with ritual and practices.  

“We live in a pain-phobic world,” Terry said at the opening of the event. This point was punctuated for me this week when, in Charlottesville, Virginia, we learned a student from the University of Virginia shot three fellow students on a bus. As I was driving, a classical radio announcer introduced music he was about to play by saying he hoped “the music will help you cope with or distract from any pain you are experiencing.” 

Applying the strategy of distraction when trauma occurs is a common reaction. Relying on it too often, however, can result in repression. Little learning, healing, or growth are likely. We try merely to survive grief, to get on or get through the pain.   

We live in a world characterized by trauma. Terry explained that trauma is not what happened to us externally. Rather, it is what happened inside us. As a survival mechanism, the body and mind shut down. This is not all bad. It protects us from devastating breakdown. From a traumatic experience, we produce a story that can persist for decades. Pain that is not metabolized is metastasized. As Illuman men know well, “pain that is not transformed will be transmitted.” 

Our trauma is not limited to our direct personal experiences. Ancestral grief is carried forward through generations and expressed in us in many unconscious ways. We also carry unresolved collective grief for the world, including the more-than-human world.  

Franz Kafka wrote, “You can hold yourself back from the suffering of the world; this is something you are free to do…but perhaps precisely this holding back is the only suffering you might be able to avoid.” So how can we process our grief, deal more effectively with our trauma, and start to become whole? 

The Work that Reconnects is represented as a spiral. This maps a journey through four successive stages that we traveled together during our time at Soularize. Each stage supports the others and we approached them in sequence.  

Joanna Macy’s The Work That Reconnect Spiral from Active Hope  

Coming from Gratitude — Gratitude quiets the mind and brings us back to source, stimulating our empathy and confidence. Expressing our love for life on Earth helps us to be more fully present and grounded for acknowledging the pain we carry for our world. We are counseled to adopt a posture of gratitude for all we have, including the trauma or incidents that created our pain. As Leonard Cohen reminds us, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”  

Honor Our Pain for the World  — When we honor our pain and dare to experience it, we learn the true meaning of compassion: to suffer with. We begin to know the immensity of our heart/mind. We recognize our pain is connected with the pain of the world. We must learn how to grieve, to let pain have its way with us. We don’t run from it. We can’t bypass pain, since “the body keeps the score.”  

Seeing with New Eyes — At this point in the process, we are able to sense the larger life within us. This lets us see with new eyes. We appreciate our relatedness to all that is. We can feel our power to change. We experience our living connections with past and future generations, as well as with our brother/sister species. 

Going Forth — We go forth to do what is ours to do, based on our situation and gifts. We don’t need to wait for a failsafe action plan. We know each step will bring new perspectives and opportunities. Even when we don’t succeed in a given venture, we can be grateful for the chance we took and the lessons we learned. We know, in this life, “all symphonies remain unfinished.”  

Joanna Macy explains an important intention of this work: “learning to experience the miracle of self-awareness.” This provides a better ability to hear our inner voice, the voice of our inner authority. Terry explained “authority” as the power to author life in our own selves.  

And from Fr. Richard Rohr, “It is the Holy Spirit ‘poured into our hearts’ (Romans 5:5) who confers upon people healthy and solid inner authority, and this authority is based on the experience of God’s love. Only people of such inner authority ever use outer authority correctly. All others either rebel against it or use it to avoid their own spiritual journey.”  

Restoring our inner authority brings us closer to becoming whole.  

To learn more about this process, I highly recommend Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to the Work That Reconnects by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown.