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Soul of My Souls
by Deborah Bergman

It’s not so much how I nourish my soul, it’s more whether I allow myself to get out of the way and let my soul nourish me.

Some describe the soul as a great light. Others see a beautiful being. Still others; a winged bird, resplendent with radiance and enraptured with grace, that soars to heaven with the mad grace of communion, and back again. The soul is reported to have a variety of appearances, each and every one as distinct and wondrous as a snowflake. I find each of these snowflake souls is at least partially nourished by a type of food that is specific to it. For instance, that great light might be nourished by visualization, meditation and prayer. The perfect physical-spiritual being, perhaps, by nutritional practices that uplift the body and soul, and prayers that give reverence to the processing hours of the day and year. And that bird of the Spirit might be nourished by song, gifts of love, and devotional prayer.

I long to possess one of those definitive sorts of souls. It would be, I imagine, so radically fulfilling to surrender to the sweet ecstasy of mystical definition; to savor the radical paradox of joining one tribe while loosening the limitations of another, to primally recognize a shape, a mantra, a drumbeat.

But my soul is more complex than that. Nothing I can do about it. Like the color of my eyes. Some people’s eyes are definitively brown, or blue. Mine happen to have come in a color that people say are gray, or turquoise, or green or, or, or….what color are your eyes, anyway? In my case, they eyes are indeed the soul’s window, because in that soul of mine, I can hear the beat of the shaman’s rattle, and see the glorious ruby richness and the hot desert dust that infused the mystical kiss of Rachel and Jacob at the well. My soul also cries out loud like a golden trumpet with the triumph and non-corporeal joy of the risen man, and proudly displays the ornate yet perfectly ordered chaos of the sacred feminine.

My soul speaks Tibetan, and Latin, and Aramaic, and Hebrew, and Sumerian. It also speaks American English slang. It responds to the song of color, and of flowers, and of the stars, and to the distinctive rhythms of ancient dances. My soul also reads fashion magazines and peruses bank statements. It winks at me from my browser window, and races by me on the highway, and loves me in the touch of a beloved at my throat, as it also loves in kind. My soul is a pain in the ass in its versatility.

I’m an American with a big brain and a wild heart (not necessarily in that order) and my soul’s roots draw on the groundwater of the melting pot. My soul is wide.

I long for the refuge, economy and elegance of a single lineage. And I have entered and pursued a lineage or two quite deeply. But as a classical practitioner, I am a liar. Even as I say mantra, sitting very still, in a half lotus posture, my hips are dancing tribally. And when I dance with my outer, brilliantly costumed body, I can never entirely forget the germ of brilliant, monklike stillness inside. The mystic in me is beleaguered by the Talmudic scholar. And the earth mother in me cannot cook dinner without first getting in touch with my inner nun.

Perhaps you, like me, have your own brand of complex soul (and humor, I hope, too!) Perhaps you cannot give any one of your souls up either. That would be like forgetting Jerusalem, or hiding your light under a bushel. Perhaps each of your souls, like each of mine, is the facet of a single diamond. The difference being, while the facets of a jewel are impermeable, each of these is hungry. Each beckons to be recognized, fed, plumped with practice, and reassured with community, and rightfully so.

To practice each tradition to its deserving fullest is not possible. Yet to fast from any one would be to succumb to a spiritual eating disorder. My heart tells met I am not here to turn a blind eye to this, the exact nature of my times. It tells me I am here to open myself wide enough to fully receive them. Experience has shown me that, paradoxically, by both recognizing and objecting to my souls and the dilemmas they present, I resolve the problem. I actually get out of their way and welcome nourishment in.

So, next, I go deeper. I remind myself that in most traditions the soul is arranged around a central channel, or core. In the Kabbalah, it is the central pillar. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is, among other things, the avenue for the consciousness to leave the body after death. In dance it is literally the spine and Egyptian mystery schools call it the shoshomna. Indigenous cultures often recognize it as the trunk of the world tree. Some mystical Christians find it in the Book of Revelations.

This central channel is the soul of my souls. It absorbs its diversity effortlessly within itself. They are like the organs attached to the physical spine, and are nourished by it. When I manage to first recognize and then get out of the way of the basic paradox, in the stillness of this universal place, in the subtle and gentle pulsing of its fluidless fluid, my other souls and I are fed.

The central channel, or soul of souls, as I like to call it, (has been around forever. It has) is accessed through visualization, and ancient movement, and prayer, and all manners of being still. The lesser souls enter its cathedral, become silent, watch the light on the stained glass window in the sanctuary. I explored it and was led through it for many years before I settled on it. From its vantage point, I can participate in almost any tradition without lying. I humbly ask to find its central core, and honor it. I get out of the way. I am fed.

This soul of my souls also has at least one other great, unexpected ally.

Permit me to take what might feel like a sharp turn as I describe the big juicy package that just happened to show up at my front door as I sat down to write this. The box held a pound and a half of seashell colored, unspun fiber—warm beiges and pinks, shot through with a bit of periwinkle, a hit of coral and a deep, mysterious dusting of deep greyed cocoa brown. It was made mostly of good, resilient wool, but luscious traces of shiny, strong silk had been pulled through it like the sighs of some divine creature bemoaning the inevitable practical solidity of the human world. The stuff came in rolled carded batts, which are like giant rolled tubular pastries, Yankee Doodles or bundt cakes, with one sort of color on the outside and all kinds of other delicious fiber flavors for the eyes and hands rolled up within. You spin the thing much in the way you might eat the goodies cake if no one else was looking—you unroll it, and pull off one long strip so you can see the goodies inside and then you consume it.

The difference being, of course, that you don’t pop the stuff in your mouth. You sit down, attach one end of the fluff trail to your bobbin, start up your pedals, make the bobbin spin, allow the fluff to flow through your hands, and spin it supple yet tight.

Don’t know how to spin? No problem. Thanks to the invention known as the human imagination, I can take care of that.

Join me as I treadle the two pedals of my handmade cherry wheel, which draws the long flare of multi-colored wool and silk, which kind of looks like a long, thin cloud or a particularly puffy jet trail, through my hands and around the bobbin. The wheel itself--small, tight, fast, deep cherry, and merrily spoked and finialled--mediates between my feet and the bobbin spinning above.

As I pedal, I am using both hands to alternately separate the bits of warm beige and coral and chocolate cloud let them go and allow them to twist together before they roll around the bobbin.

A piece of yarn, yes. And also the soul of my soul, the core where all the diversity that runs through me resolves into something that is at once color and silence.

Stumbling across this discovery was fortuitous. I write about how it happened in my most recent book, "The Knitting Goddess."

Now, here’s the interesting thing. The action, the spinning itself, occurs not when I separate the fibers, i.e. not while I touch them, but each time I briefly let go of the separated fibers with my hands and let the bobbin pull them in. When I pick up the fiber again the spun bit feeds up through the channel in the whirling spindle and onto the bobbin, presenting a new piece of fluff to let go of so it will spin itself.

Notice what I just said: the fiber turns into yarn while I do not touch it. Everything else about spinning is but preparation for this surrendered moment. For this skillful acknowledgment of no control. All the skill, and coordination, the access to magical looking pedals, and wheel, and spindle, and bobbin; everything about handspinning is preparation for this.

And all my souls, and all the ways they challenge me, lure me, berate me, and enfold me with their love, lead me up to a spiritual moment that is the exact equivalent of this one.

In the activity of spinning, and also of knitting, I find that central place, from which all the parts of my complex soul are nourished flow through the yarn and spinning them together. And as I do I find I am able to go very deep without checking out. Along with different fibers, and colors, and textures, and degrees of shine, all my souls spin together into a seamless cord that offers infinite possibilities of creation. In its shiny and even and diverse beauty, I bring the symbol of the soul of my souls comes into my world.

Working with fiber is one of the most ancient human skills, and also one of the most ancient metaphors for connecting with the cosmos, a kind of umbilical cord to source, weaving together worlds, as you will. If you decide to explore this path, you will have a lot of help weaving your soul together whether or not you are a man or woman, and whether or not you take up the metaphor, or an actual wheel, or needles, and yarn.

In "The Knitting Goddess" I tell the updated stories of a collection of ancient feminine archetypes who both offered and took advantage of the same brand of wisdom, nourishment, and power. Since these days, many more of us knit, or are inclined to knit than spin. (Maybe we can change that and I can write more about spinning some day.) I teach how to knit and offer some designs you can knit while entering and accessing this state. The knitting goddesses, who of course include you, include but are not limited to the makers of worlds, great magicians, brilliant diplomats, and divine mothers. You would probably recognize some of them, while others might be new to you. Each of them have quite a bit of wisdom to offer and quite a story to tell.

Feminine archetypes explore the connection between creativity and stillness, but working with fiber is not an exclusively feminine activity. In other cultures, including some Meso American ones, men spun, and still do. Spinning was central to the cosmology of the Huichol and Koji people, and in Peru, I am told, there are still wise men who go to power places to crochet caps together. The great Mahatma Gandhi is known in spinning circles for recommending one hour of spinning every day.

Speaking of which, are you still spinning in your imagination? Are you still pulling colorful clouds apart with your finger, then letting them go and watching them relax into yarn? Are you letting go of all you know and letting the soul of your souls nourish you?

Because, the neat thing is, I’m not the only one who has had this experience. In sharing my discovery, I have discovered I am part of a great circle I did not even know was there. One of the most wonderful rewards of writing "The Knitting Goddess" is the mail I get from readers. They often tell me that I have exactly described their experience, although they had never been able to put words to it before. They have been using their fiber work to follow the ancient/modern pathway and accessing the soul of their souls, the creative core that is at once vital and physical and also leads inexorably to stillness, too.

They often describe it as reconnecting to something they already knew but didn’t know they knew and then give the book to the women of their clan: their daughters, their mothers, their circle of friends. Their acknowledgment nourishes me. Through practice and communication, we form a circle of soul nourishment. With their contribution, the story continues and the soul of the souls comes closer still.

May you take exactly the right risks for you to nourish your own soul, to acknowledge all of its parts and weave it together, and also to surrender and let your soul nourish you. May you carry courage in your heart, and skill in your mind, and may the two meld together. May you never forget this, or whatever else it is your soul needs to remember, but when you do forget, as most of us occasionally do, may you remember with discernment, gentleness and humor.

In whatever way best serves you, may you knit. May you spin.

Copyright © 2001 Deborah Bergman

Deborah Bergman is a passionate knitter and seasoned explorer and reporter of the direct, non-idealized experience of spirituality. She holds a degree in Comparative Religion, is practiced in a range of world spiritual traditions old and new, and offers live courses that strengthen the innate connection to inner stillness through easy creativity, fresh approaches to ancient stories, and concise meditation techniques. She is the author of "The Knitting Goddess: Finding the Heart and Soul of Knitting through Projects, Instruction, and Stories," "River of Glass," a novel, and "Inner Voyager: A Journal for Intuitive Discovery." Currently, she at work at a book project in an area quite different than knitting, except that nothing is really that different from knitting, and an audio tape series. A native and long time resident of New Jersey and Manhattan, New York, she currently resides in western Oregon. You can reach her at www.knittinggoddess.com.


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