A client recently asked me how I would take the learnings from my private practice with individuals in soul work and apply to climate change.
What does soul work have to say about climate change?
It’s a crucial question and in order to do justice to it a bit of background is necessary. A while back I wrote a piece on the interplay of soul work with racism. It was an initial foray into the exploration of what I think soul work means in relationship to collective human identity and expression. One definition of a soul is that it is the coordinating subtle field of a being. The soul is what brings coherence to a being. The soul co-ordinates all the information of a being–their pasts, presents, and potential futures–into one fluid, coherency. The soul is what makes us fit (more or less) together as a being. The soul is the deepest essence, the unique expression of a being. The soul is what makes someone that particular being that they alone are and not another. The soul is what makes us us. The word soul however can also be used in a more collective sense. For example, the soul of a nation, the soul of a people, the soul of a place.
One of the most important aspects of our souls is that they can be hurt. Souls are powerful yes, but also tender and vulnerable. Just like individual souls, collective souls, can experience wounding, negative conditioning (i.e. karma), fragmentation, and illness. In that earlier piece I considered white American racism towards black Americans through the lens of a collective soul illness, a stain on the collective white American soul. Just as there are traditions (e.g. shamanism) that deal for individuals with healing and transforming soul illness, so there are such ways to heal and transform collective souls of their illnesses.
The healing and transformation of a soul (whether individual or collective) goes hand in hand. In my understanding, soul work can be summarized as clearing on the one hand and healing (or transmutation) on the other. In clearing there are certain energies that must simply depart or be recycled. In classic language that’s called an extraction or an exorcism (from the Greek “to cast out”).
On the other hand we have healing or transmutation, also called shadow work. Once energies that need to be cleared are cleared, then what remains is what is to be worked with. In soul work we go into the (remaining) darkness only to find a light hidden in the darkness. We then learn how to release the light. Once the light is released, the darkness dissolves. Transmutation comes from the traditions of alchemy (and tantra)–where it is said that the poison becomes the antidote. The antidote to snake venom is often created from the very same venom itself. The venom in its transmuted or liberated form becomes the antidote. Knowing the difference between which energies are to be cleared and which are to be transmuted is central to the entire process.
I’ve written many pieces exploring that transmutation model through the medium of emotions–hate, fear, shame, terror–how all of them have their own enlightened expression. Rather than putting certain emotions into positive or negative emotions, we simply have emotions. The question is whether the emotion is in its conscious and healthy or unconscious and unhealthy state (or some in between state). What is positive or negative is our relationship to our emotions and how we act from our emotions, not the emotions themselves. In alchemy lead, the basest metal, was transmuted into gold, i.e. the most purified metal. We take the base or unconscious forms of emotions and transmute them into their purified expression. The lead becomes gold, the poison becomes antidote, the darkness becomes light. That is soul work.
(Keep this view in mind as I’m going to apply it to climate change in a moment).
This soul work view is opposed to views that seek to “destroy evil”, i.e. the war mindset that dominates our world. Wars against poverty, terror, crime, drugs, cancer, you name it. These wars only ever worsen the problems. Has the drug war done anything except create a gargantuanly greater degree of violence, suffering, and pain? In soul work the (re)solution always lies hidden within the problem itself. The war view only seeks to destroy the problem/enemy. All the war mindset does is create further brokenness and fragmentation. This occurs automatically because the solution lies within the problem itself, not in the eradication of the problem.
The problem (really the symptom or exterior expression) however has to be handled with exquisite, and extreme care. It is a live wire and needs to be worked with in a very sensitive, refined manner. But when it is done properly, the light will be released from the darkness, the lead will turn to gold, and the poison will transmute into its own antidote.
With that background we can approach this topic of collective urgency, arguably the most important issue facing humanity as a whole: climate change.
Does the framework of collective souls and soul work-transmutation reveal a deeper meaning to climate change? And if so, what?
So first how does the idea of collective soul patterning shed light on the subject? Consider two major collective souls—the soul of humanity and the soul of the Earth (aka The World Soul or Anima Mundi).
The World Soul, the Soul of the Earth, is the collective organizing subtle field of all life on and as Earth. The World Soul is the energy, the essence of Earth Life. The waters, the winds, the tides, the tectonic plates, the grasses, insects, mammals, birds, all animal life, the trees, the skies, the mountains, the plains, the coastlines, the deserts, the forests, the jungles. The psychic reality of all of that is the World Soul. The World Soul is not simply then a concept but a lived, conscious reality. The World Soul has been experienced by seers and visionaries through a multitude of human cultures and time periods, e.g. through the artful use of plant medicines, as well as in more classic meditation or visionary shamanic journeys.
On the other hand we have a collective soul to humanity. This soul of our humanity carries the deep memory of all of our human stories and journeys, all our pasts glories and tragedies, all our present experiences, and all possible future paths (at least in potential). My belief is that climate change is a symptom, a global symptomatic, material, physical response, to the psychic fracture between The World Soul and the collective Human Soul. As humans, our collective soul has disowned The World Soul.* Earth is disowned in our human soul expression. Since soul is the organizing subtle pattern of all reality, this disowning of the World Soul infects each and every sector of human expression.
For example, in economics the impact of technology and commerce on Earth is put in a category called “externalities”. To “externalize” the Earth is an act of psychic dismemberment. It is a kind of psychic lobotomy or amputation. To externalize the Earth is to put the World Soul in the shadow. It is to disown and “otherize” an aspect of one’s own being.
In soul work there’s an understanding that once an energy is sent into the shadow it will always reveal itself in a distorted, twisted, “sideways” manner. The reason the energy comes out in a distorted, sideways form is in order to be heard. It is trying to being seen, understood, appreciated, and welcomed back home. In practice however we often become so focused on the negative symptomatic expression of the shadowed energy that we miss the deeper message. Climate change is the symptomatic expression of humans putting The World Soul into the shadow. The World Soul is sent into the shadow, it is disowned, it is “externalized” and then it comes out in a distorted, twisted form. Namely climate change. The symptoms of climate change become the focus of attention, controversy, and struggle. Meanwhile the deeper message is all but muted: the World Soul has to be re-owned by humans.
The solution always lies hidden within the problem. The light is always hidden within the darkness. To “solve” the climate crisis will require many people working on many fronts simultaneously. But one necessary form of such endeavors must be psychic transmutation work. At the core, climate change is the outward expression of inward shadow in the collective human soul.
Please recall however that the poison transmuted becomes the antidote.
Climate change is the goading psychic act attempting to initiate us as humans into actual maturity. Either we will meet that initiation or, in true initiatory experience, if we fail, we will die. We will not just die, we humans will largely be annihilated. Perhaps AI will have become sentient by then and they will spontaneously learn to adapt and continue the evolutionary trajectory. Perhaps life will collapse back to the explosion and profusion of insects, viruses, bacteria, and the like and begin a new process from there. Perhaps like mammals at the time of dinosaur comet, some other life form not even in our radar/awareness right now will come to propagate a future. If however we were to meet the initiation, truly transmute the energies and re-own The World Soul, then a very different world than the one we currently live would be concretely realized.
Naomi Klein has written persuasively that climate change changes everything. She is particularly focused in that book on how if we deal with climate change correctly then it becomes the opportunity/medium through which to rebalance the structural injustices of poverty and power in our collective human expression. The upshot of correctly addressing climate change is we end creating a truly just economics.
She’s right. Emphasis on the word “if”….“If we deal with the climate change issue correctly…”
Still she’s correct. In shadow work the problem transmuted releases light and wisdom that we cannot imagine beforehand. Climate change is as I said an initiation. If we passes through the initiation, if we squeeze through the eye of this needle, then what will be revealed on the far side would be more glorious than we could have ever imagined.
(Re)solving climate change opens up a world far more beautiful than one any of us can currently imagine. But the only way out is through. Conversely not dealing properly with climate change will continue bringing forth a world we can partially, nightmarishly imagine at this point (but only minimally feel I would argue).
I would take Klein’s thesis one step further. Climate change is the opportunity to solve the underlying economic injustice of the world, yes absolutely. Climate change is also the opportunity to overcome the psychic alienation between The World Soul and our collective Human Soul. That alienation is wreaking incalculable damage, a damage so great the only term for it is the loss of soul.
Shamans speak of soul loss. Souls lose pieces of themselves due to trauma, illness, or negative choice. These pieces are not obliterated or destroyed. They fragment. They go into exile. They are strewn along the road somewhere, hidden. Missing-in-action. Shamans then help with soul retrievals, finding the lost pieces of a soul and restoring them. The World Soul is in exile in relationship to humans. Or our human soul is in exile from The World Soul. The World Soul itself is in a state of soul loss. Climate change is the symptomatic expression of such global soul loss. What is needed then is a collective soul retrieval of the World Soul. That is the interior psychic work whose exterior representation is creating a world of economic and ecological justice and sustainability. The inner and the outer are mirror images of each other, both are two sides of one integrated process.
* It could be argued that it is not the collective human soul but the collective Western human soul refracted through globalization that is the cause of the alienation to the World Soul.