If there is a single image or idea of the mythic direction west, it may be "dissolution." Everything that comes into form eventually lets go of that form. The tree lets go of its fruit that it has made, then its leaves, and, eventually, its whole self. The body lets go of the soul it has carried (or the soul lets go of the body it has used). The Mother Earth, who holds every possibility of life on this planet deep in her womb, brings entire species and epochs into form, and eventually takes all of them back into herself, to be reformed into new forms.
Everything on this earth enters life through the portal of the east, travels west and vanishes over the western horizon to…no one knows. (Plenty of people say they know. But in truth, no one knows.) So, for me, the west brings us into a palpable presence with The Soul more than any other direction.
Where goes the sun at dusk?
Where goes the harp's last note?
Where go I when the dark wind blows
To the land beyond?
To the land beyond?
There is a common theme in New Age theology that each of us is an eternal spark of Spirit on a journey through life, learning lessons through self-induced suffering, and clearing the self-induced suffering from previous lives. I go along with this idea, but there is a subtle bias in this that life is about clearing crap and creating new crap to clear later. This comes (unconsciously) close to the common western/Christian notion that the world is mostly an unlikeable place and mostly about suffering.
So, I want to urge you to not forget the other aspect of the west: that we also come here to make our soul stronger and healthier, and we actually succeed at that in each life – sometimes a little, sometimes a great deal. With each lifetime, we harvest something. We too easily focus on the west as the One Who Comes to Cleanse the Shit, (certainly an awesome ally!) but a powerful thing you can do for yourself is to spend time recognizing, acknowledging and blessing your gifts, abilities, skills, and the wisdom you've garnered from this life so far. Celebrate your powers, feast on your own harvest. This is a very important part of your healing. An easy way to do this is to simply make a list of 20 things you like about yourself, are naturally good at, have learned to get good at, and have been helpful to the world. These are soul powers that you have made this time around.
John Keats—the 19th century English romantic poet who died young, ("Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know") once said in a letter to a friend, "Call the world, if you please, "the Vale (valley) of Soul Making. Then you will find out the use of the world...." We come here to make our souls.
Keats, like many today, saw life as a school for the soul. He saw the school as having two rooms. The first room is a mostly stagnant and empty place, and many people remain their whole lives there, unaware that the doorway to the second room is wide open. In New Age terminology, call this first room, if you please, the vale of younger souls, ones with fewer lifetimes under their belt, who are still getting their feet wet in the embodied life, and want mostly to be told how to behave correctly and be successful in the culture. There is a lot of unconscious struggle and confusion in this room, a lot of un-worked ancestral burdens, and a lot of blaming others when things are painful.
In Celtic shamanism, there is an old practice of working with the "Three Cauldrons of the Soul," and perhaps Keats was channeling these old Celtic ideas. His first room is very much like the Cauldron of Goiriath (raw, directionless life force acting in the world). This cauldron is located in our belly.
For Keats, many people eventually advance into the second room, which is an intoxicating place of delights and also of pain. (We can be just as intoxicated by our pain as by delight, as social media amply demonstrates.) Wrestling with the energies of sorrow and joy sharpen our vision of life and the wrestling that goes on in this second room produces building material to make more Soul.
This second room of Soul School may be the room of more "mature souls" – ones who've been in a body many times and are, as Keats said, "learning to read the world by using the alphabet of the heart." They are aware of the spiritual work that must be done, they commit themselves to it, and they often find themselves in spiritual and emotional turmoil. The work is so big, painstaking, unending and exhausting. They often feel ill equipped and confused, and sometimes fall into a sense of futility. They strive to be compassionate, fail, and try again. They often feel they don’t have the wisdom, power or skill to navigate this immense spiritual work that must be done.
This global spiritual transformation that so many of us see happening right now can be seen as "second room Advanced Placement study," and one reason things are so emotionally intense is that more and more people around the world have stepped into the second room, to study the alphabet of the heart. The tragedies and pressures we feel nowadays are second-room work, producing more building material for the soul of the species. It's hard work, as you well know, and it's worth considering that Spirt is offerring us ample "second room" homework in order to help us build soul. It's worth considering that Mother Earth is offerring us advanced second room homework to help her decide if we stay around or get folded back into the magma.
In Celtic Shamanism the second room could be the Cauldron of Ernmae (concentrated heart-action in the world). It is located at the heart center, and remarkably, the ancient text says that this cauldron is activated and made more powerful by certain, specific kinds of sorrows and joys.
Now we get to the place of great hope, help, and power. Keats said that the second room has a door that leads to innumerable third rooms. This reminds me of Jesus saying, "my Father’s house has many rooms," or the Hindu God Krishna saying that there as many heavens as there are beliefs about heaven. The uncountable third rooms can be seen as the Cauldron of Sois (Spirit-knowledge) in Celtic shamanism. This is the channel through which Spirit pours higher wisdom, awareness, and inspiration into us. That power is known in Irish as Imbas (the "Fire in the Head") or in Welsh as Awen (essence or poetic inspiration).
For those in the second room, bouncing frantically between the several kinds of sorrow and joy, trying to do spiritual work, and wondering if they will ever truly connect to Spirit, there is this hopeful tidbit: It is the painstaking work with sorrow and joy in the heart cauldron that activates the flow from the Cauldron of Wisdom - from the upper room. When we do our heart-work, it sends a beacon to the gods that we are ready for that flow of Imbas to be turned on. So, dear wrestler with the heart, your struggle has a bigger purpose, and this lifetime may be the one where you are activating bigger powers on your multi-body journey.
If you are wrestling with sorrow and joy in the heart center, here is a incredibly simple practice in two steps.
Step one: simply acknowledge and imagine that there is a doorway from the room of sorrow/joy that leads to innumerable third rooms. Summon this image, and imagine moving to that doorway. Turn around and look back into the "second" room. Ah! It's just one room in the Soul Schoolhouse. There sure is a lot of wind whipping stuff all around in this room, but it is just one room. As simplistic as this sounds, this visualization can be helpful.
Step two: Imagine the cauldron of wisdom floating about six inches above your head. As Krishna night say, however this cauldron looks to you is right. It doesn’t even have to be a cauldron – it can be a ball of light, a flower, whatever you see. But using the cauldron image, what might the brew, simmering in that cauldron look like? A brew cooked by Eternal Wisdom itself, by the Great Spirit. Take a moment to imagine that brew. Then turn your attention on your heart center, where that sorrow/joy in the cauldron of the heart is being cooked. What does that cauldron look like, and what does the brew look like? Then, ask the cauldron of wisdom to tip slightly and pour a few drops of Awen down into the cauldron of sorrow/joy. What happens? This simple visualization can be an ongoing (Celtic shamanic) practice. If you like the shamanic journey technique, this can be a powerful journey.
I leave you with my very loose adaptation (some might call it a bastardization) of a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke.
Sometimes a woman puts down the hammer
And stops smashing at the great boulder in the living room.
She walks outdoors. She begins singing. And keeps singing, wandering away
because somewhere there is a church whose doors are flung open only by song.
Her children say blessings on her as though she has died.
And another person remains inside her house,
And dies there, among the shards of rock.
And her children must sell the house
And move out into the dusky world.
Some of them use the inheritance to buy a house
with a boulder in the living room.
Others look for a new church.
And maybe they learn to sing.