Growing up listening to funk and Motown left my young self with the impression that soul was somehow related to platform shoes, bell bottomed polyester suits, widely splayed lapels with gold chains hanging down on bare chests, and yes, amazing, amazing sounds.
How could I have known that witnessing people pulsing out the deepest, hippest rhythms through their voices (and hips) would infuse me with some wordless discernment that somehow knew if soul was on or off? The signals are there, you know them, they come in the form of the singer shutting their eyes, maybe throwing their head back and lolling it around, or losing all sense of who’s watching while some mad routine of feet and hip moves dazzles the crowd. There’s something about watching (and hearing) someone raise the vibration of their performance until, whoa! there it is, they’ve crossed into another dimension where they and some unspoken and invisible, but palpable presence, are bringing off the song.
For a lot of years, I only knew this through music and sport: the presence of soul. You might know it through similar veins, or ones of your own. There’s a thing we can all reach, and if you’re like me, you can go years completely forgetting about it. One day you just wake up and say, “Man, I’ve gotta dance (or your own equivalent).
So what is going on when the singer hits that place? What is the substance that the athlete starts grooving on? What happens to the artist, the meditator, the woods walker, the sea-gazer?
I think it’s got something to do with soul. Yes, there are opiates involved (internal for sure and sometimes external) but is that all?
What is it that happens when you’re in a conversation and space and time seem to suspend, and a deep understanding arises between the two of you? The kind of understanding where you so thoroughly see into each other, that you know the world’s problems have momentarily suspended within your being? Or when you accidentally come across a moment in the trees or with your clients/patients/children/loved ones/or strangers where you suddenly know something that you’ve never known before and you are somehow changed? Healed even?
I’ve been fascinated by this thing that shows up at these times. What is the substance? Is it between beings or relegated just to the one who can verify it is there? I mean can a tree experience the communion you are experiencing when you’re taken by its beauty?
On that subject I’ve turned to two historical figures, one of the earliest Phenomenologists, Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832) and Anthroposophist, Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925). They were both convinced that all living things have intention, volition, presence, and soul. They used different words, but essentially were saying life is alive; animated.
Over the next year, I’ll be writing more about my experiments with the soul of things, human, animal, natural, and unseen, in an attempt to somehow find more language for what happens on the dance floor, at the concert, in the forest, between resonating people, and while watching the sea. What else could be more compelling, more transformative, and more needed?