The what is what I call soul purpose. The how is what I call the delivery system for soul. The what might also be called a vision, and the how might be called a task:
A vision without a task is just a dream .
A task without a vision is just a job.
A vision with a task can change the world.
The what — the soul image, the navigational aid, the vision — might also be understood, metaphorically, as what William Stafford called the “thread you follow”:
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost. …
Underworld Purpose vs. Middleworld Purpose — and the Sacred Marriage
Social or middleworld purpose is a perspective on personal meaning that is psychologically adolescent — again, referring here to a developmental stage, not an age range. (By calling it “adolescent,” I intend no criticism or diminishment. Acquiring middleworld purpose is an essential early stage in human development.) Middleworld purpose defines us in terms of our social roles, our job descriptions, or the intended outcomes of our creative projects. Although a social or vocational perspective on purpose is necessary, appropriate, and healthy in psychological adolescence, it does not derive from the depths of the psyche or go to the depths of the world and is not enough to build a fulfilling life upon.
After being initiated into our underworld, soul, or ecological purpose, there is no longer what we might have earlier called a middleworld purpose. Now we have a middleworld delivery systemfor our true (soul) purpose. Our social roles and vocational endeavors are means to an end. Following my soul initiation, for example, I have been in the roles of psychologist, vision fast guide, author, and soulcraft facilitator, among others, but none of these social-vocational roles constitute my purpose. Rather, they have been, for me, delivery systems for the weaving of cocoons. (This essay is also an effort at cocoon weaving.) Yeats delivered his silver and golden apples with the vehicles of poetry, theater, and metaphysics. Malidoma Somé befriends the “enemy/stranger” by interpreting African indigenous wisdom for Western people through writing, speaking, community rituals, workshops, and trainings. In addition to writing and speaking, Joanna Macy embodies that stone in her imaginal bridge between the East and the West through the delivery systems of Buddhist scholarship, systems thinking, Buddhism-infused activism, and a theory and methodology for personal and social change she calls the Work That Reconnects.
From the perspective of our middleworld lives, the soul is a dream. From the underworld perspective of our soul’s purpose, our middleworld lives — when disconnected from our souls – are illusions or phantasms, or drudgery.
But our middleworld lives are not incidental to the soul. Far from it. The healthy, mature, middleworld ego is our means for making real our soul’s underworld desires. This is why there’s an ancient pancultural belief in a love affair between the soul and the ego; when they come together in partnership, this is the Sacred Marriage. Each has what the other lacks and longs for and is deeply allured by: The soul knows our true, destined place in the world, holds the knowledge of what is truly worth doing in our lives. But the soul has no means — no head or hands — to manifest that purpose. It is the healthy, mature ego that can fashion things and accomplish things in the material middleworld. The soul is captivated by this strategic capacity of the ego’s to manifest, especially when accomplished artfully. The ego, in turn, is moonstruck by the soul’s visions and passions. The mature ego wants, more than anything in life, to make real the dreams the soul has been weaving since before our birth — this is the deepest love-making. And it is life-making. The soul wants, more than anything, to be partnered with an ego with that vast desire and that elegant and artful set of reality-shaping skills. How absolutely romantic!