Monday, July 20, 2009

The Soul and the Sunflower

In editing ‘Is the Soul Fudge? Is the Cosmos Dumb?’ I chopped out a whole section on sunflowers as a nice metaphor of individual seeds/souls sharing a common blueprint and a common goal within shared parameters of the Earth and Cosmos, and yet still expressing themselves as variations of their kind, variations of their common design.

A month or so ago I planted a sunflower sprout in the middle of a garden freshly purged of chest-high weeds. It grew so fast and was so beautiful I planted two more sprouts in front of it. And then as they began to ‘take off’, I planted a row of seven. As seeds they all looked pretty much the same; but as sprouts they all had their different quirks based on both quality and content of the seed and on the quality of their environment. Each seed needed the same four spatial elements for their success, – Sun, Air, Water and Earth, and they also needed Time in which to exist and grow. It has been clear in the process of sprouting, planting, watering and watching these beings that each has an individual relationship with the Sun and with the Earth and its elements. Some are heartier, perhaps better rooted and better positioned than others. Some seem to be vulnerable to being gnawed on by garden pests and others not so much. They were all sprouted in the same tray at the same time, but the ones planted first are much taller and bigger leafed than the others. The first-planted sprout is now eight feet tall and bloomed on July 19th. The second two seem to be growing much faster than the first one did by itself. It is as if they are trying to catch up to the accomplishments of the first. The final row of seven are growing slower than the first three, because they don’t get quite as much direct Sun as the others.

On the morning I began to consider the ‘soul as a fudge-factor' issue’ I woke up early enough to notice that all ten of my sunflowers were facing their leafy ‘heads’ directly eastward in anticipation of the sun rising through the trees and over our fence! They were waiting for the Sun and knew exactly where it would rise. I checked back later in the day and they had for the most part, followed the sun all day. Some were better at (or better positioned for) following the Sun than others.

I thought, this is how the soul is. It is rooted in the Earth and it follows the light of the Sun. It is an individual expression and fusion of its ‘parents’. If it is allowed or ‘blessed’ by favorable circumstances, it will bloom. It is not so much a leap of imagination or faith to see that humans, like plants, are in a real way offspring of ‘Father’ Sun and ‘Mother’ Earth. But for whatever reasons we don’t tend to see things this way in our modern world. Such views are considered outright primitive. In Vedic India such lineage seems to have been matter of fact, Purusha and Prakriti were the parents of everything, - Purusha describing the father, the sun or soul and source of the Universe and Prakriti describing matter, mother, nature, primary form or substance that is mutable in time and space. The visual image of this procreative pairing is not a linear image of opposition or division. The appropriate image is the symbol of the Sun, the point and its circle or circumference. The point is the supreme Purusha, the circle is the Prakriti and the 360 degrees of the circle represent the children, the individual (undividable) rays, ‘sons’, souls or re-creations of the central Purusha within the one body of Prakriti, the universal Mother.

In ‘Tribe’, I discussed this Tri-Being in which spirit (Purusha) and matter (Prakriti) and all individual beings and forms are One, a triply-formed One. It is the image of the circle with its 360 (individual) degrees that shows the right relationship of the individual soul to the Soul of all beings and its right relationship to all other beings in the Cosmos/circle of life. The heart of all existence is shared by All, and all individual souls are offspring of the same ‘parents’. Each seed/soul is designed to be a differentiated ‘cell’ in the one body, or a specific note in the harmonies of the uni-verse.

The soul of the sunflower, and many other plants as well, is expressed in the 360 degree bloom of the flower, as well as in the 360 degree extension of its roots and its foliage from the stem. Fruit and vegetables also express the soul in terms of the circle and its geometries. But it is also expressed in a growing plant’s need for sunlight (Purusha) and material elements (Prakriti), as well as its need for passage through time to accomplish its various growth cycles. In an integral view of reality, the sunflower (though an individual form) is not something in essence separate from the sunlight, from the Earth, from time, … from the cosmos and its creative seed.

There is a spiritual revelation that goes something to the tune of ‘I am THAT’ (soham) This realization can be limited to the immobile absolute (the Unmanifest) or it can also encompass the whole of the material world and its design. It can and certainly should encompass the 360 degree spheres, patterns, swirls and circles found ubiquitously in nature and in the cosmos. We see this pattern (or at least fathom it) in the orbit of the planets around the Sun, in the physical body and of all planets and suns, in the zodiac and in the concentric waves and spirals of energy that travel through water, air, earth and space. This 360 degree patterning (Prakriti) repeats itself in infinite ways in our universe and world, and yet somehow it has fallen outside many a sage’s vision and many a seeker's quest.
Rather than gazing on this pattern in flowers, in puddles of water, in each other’s eyes and in the 'heavens above' and saying ‘I am THAT’; many a sage in the Piscean age came to (and still in our Aquarian age come to) the conclusion, ‘I am not that. That form, that design is in no way me. I am THAT which is BEYOND that.

For me, this again falls into the category of a ‘temporary wonder of the ego’ that we can somehow think that the shape and movement of these things is not somehow connected to our own soul, to our True Self. The iris of the human eye is a 360 degree sheath of muscle by which our 360 degree world and our 360 degree cosmic surround comes into view via the light of the sun (and to a lesser degree via artificial lights). Yet still it hasn’t dawned on many of us (on most of us really) that our 360 degree field of time and space has anything to do with developing a direct experience or gnosis or vision of one’s individual soul, and consequently, a direct experience, gnosis or vision of the Divinity in all being and becoming. I think it is one of those cosmic jokes, a built-in blind spot of the mind that causes all manner of malfunction, apparent chaos and misinterpretation of existence until men and women begin to see what has been right in front of them, in them and around them all along. Then the previously tragic limited view is seen as a humorous curiosity, something to the order of ... 'can you imagine people thinking that the Earth was flat!'

Yesterday I opened a book titled: The Psychic Being: Soul Its Nature, Mission and Evolution, Selections from the Works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. I thought it would be nice to see what Sri Aurobindo and the Mother had to say about the soul. By ‘chance’ I opened the book to the following passage:
‘It is the very nature of the soul or the psychic being to turn towards the Divine Truth as the sunflower to the sun; it accepts and clings to all that is divine or progressing towards divinity and draws back from all that is a perversion or a denial of it, from all that is false and undivine. Yet the soul is at first but a spark and then a little flame of godhead burning in the midst of a great darkness; for the most part it is veiled in its inner sanctum and to reveal itself it has to call on the mind, the life-force and the physical consciousness and persuade them, as best they can, to express it …. Unerring in the essence of its will, it is obliged often under the pressure of its instruments to submit to mistakes of action, wrong placement of feeling, wrong choice of person, errors in the exact form of its will, in the circumstances of its expression of the infallible inner ideal. Yet there is a divination within it which makes it a surer guide than the reason or even the highest desire, and through apparent errors and stumblings its voice can still lead better than the precise intellect and the considering mental judgment.' – Sri Aurobindo
I found so many interesting and informative descriptions of the soul by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in The Psychic Being, that my next post will be dedicated to these descriptions. I will also include a passage from Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet’s The New Way, Volumes 1 & 2 that also describes the soul in a way that helps to bring it further out of the realm of undetectable fuzz or blind faith into a clearer focus.

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  1. Lori, this is a brilliant post. I espeically loved the part about the 360 degree iris of the human eye not being seen by us as having to do with a "direct experience or gnosis or vision of one’s individual soul, and consequently, a direct experience, gnosis or vision of the Divinity in all being and becoming."

    I was also quite touched by your observation of the sunflower, as our soul, turning in anticipation towards the place where the sun will be rising. There is something very profound about that for me. When you described the turning of the sunflower, I said outloud in my temporary digs in London, "No way!" I had no idea the sunflower did that. I would have figured for sure it was something more biomechanical in moving towards the actual sun, rather than in anticipation. Anyway, right on.

  2. Thanks Ted, since writing this post I've found out that once the sunflowers reach a certain stage of growth(when they bloom and/or when their stems become woody) they stop following the Sun. Usually they 'fix' themselves facing eastward. A bit reminiscent of how our own views get fixed or limited in certain direction, or how we stop following the light of the Sol.