The Developmental Soul (Part 4)


According to Gurdjieff, the mysterious “x-factor” that enters in the moment of conception is not yet soul but essence. Think of it as the hand of cards you’re dealt at the start of a card game. It comprises a set of unique characteristics, including race, gender (and most likely gender orientation), basic body type and other genetic factors, influences emerging from more distant ancestry and bloodline—and yes, that unquantifiable legacy “from the stars” —all combined primarily according to what Teilhard would call “tatonnement” (“trial and error”): evolution’s predilection for trying out any and all possibilities. Cumulatively, all of the above will combine to will confer on you what is commonly known as your “nature.”

Notice how there is no need to stipulate an “artist” God here, specifically designing a unique human being; what’s being pictured here is simply a lawful playing out of a freedom already inherent within Creation itself. Essence is not customized, not micro-managed—at least according to most schools of inner work I’m familiar with. That may take some getting used to, and for those of you finding yourself already in resistance mode, I encourage you simply to let this new perspective settle in a bit. Rest assured that I will that I do intend to talk about the origin of the personal in due course.

Once formed, essence will take its place as one of the three constituent terms in an ongoing dynamism of becoming which, not surprisingly, will play out according to the Law of Three. The other two terms, according to modern Sufi master Kabir Helminski (who reflects this same Wisdom lineage that I myself was trained in) are spirit and heart.

Spirit is that ever-roving, unboundaried, invisible divine dancing partner, participating in every movement of our life according to its own deepest teleology, namely, self-disclosure (Remember “I was a hidden treasure and I longed to be known”?). It generally plays the role of first force, Holy Affirming: ever prodding, nudging, unfolding.

Essence will typically play the role of Holy Denying, the “bloc résistant” in which Spirit will reveal its face. Through its very embodied finitude essence provides both the necessary raw material and the necessary friction to allow the pure movement of spirit to reveal itself in time and form.

Natural heartsHeart—or conscience—is the alchemical “third term” that is catalyzed in us through a life lived in growing consciousness, authenticity, obedience (as in ob-audire, “listen from the depths”), and that active cultivation of the self-reflective potential miraculously gifted to human consciousness. Heart is the unique fruit of a life wisely and fully engaged. More important, from the perspective of the roadmap I’m laying out here, it contributes the crucial third force, or “holy reconciling,” which makes possible that ultimate desideratum, namely, the fully arisen soul. Soul (or as Helminski calls it, “the essential self”) is precisely that “fourth in a new dimension” which arises out of conscious weaving of those other three—spirit, essence, and heart —within the great womb of life.

While this statement may sound jarring, note how it is already well embedded in early Christian tradition. The Gospel of Thomas puts it as starkly as possible in logion 70: “If you bring forth what is within you, that which you bring forth will save you. If you fail to bring forth that which is within you, that which you fail to bring forth will destroy you.” “That which is within you” is your embryonic soul.

Jesus seems to be reinforcing this teaching in his celebrated parable of he talents—once you recognize, of course, that the “talents” are not our aptitudes and gifts (which belong to essence), but rather, these soul potentialities transformed and quickened in the light of conscience/heart. This message comes through powerfully as well in the medieval mystic Jacob Boehme; it is in fact the driveshaft of his entire metaphysics. But it peers out as well from any number of other Christian mystics, even those of much more theoretically “traditional” metaphysical training and temperaments. One of the most powerful statements of this principle I know comes in contemporary Jesuit Ladislaus Boros’ spiritual classic, The Mystery of Death:

From the facts of existence and the surrounding world an inner sphere of being a human is built up. This inner man is brought about by a never-ending [conscious] daily application, on the treadmill of duties, annoyances, joys, and difficulties. From these insignificant actions freely performed, the decisive freedom is built up—freedom from oneself, freedom to view one’s own existence from outside…From the crowded days and years of joy and sorrow something has crystallized out, the rudimentary forms of which were already present in all his experiences, his struggle, his creative work, his patience and love—namely, the inner self, the individual supremely individual creation of a man. He has given his own shape to the determinisms of life by a daily conquest of them; he has become master of the multiple relationships that go to make him up by accepting them as the raw material (italics mine) of his self. Now he begins to “be.” (pp. 60-61)

As far as I know, Boros never directly encountered the Christian Inner tradition, let alone the teachings of the Asian spiritual traditions. Yet he has eloquently described here what would be easily recognizable in any of these other streams as “Witnessing Self.” He has captured precisely the same nuance articulated by The Gospel of Thomas, Boehme, Gurdjieff, and Jacob Needleman—namely, that our “soul” is not our raw essence per se, but something of an entirely different nature which is alchemized through the active engagement of essence with heart/consciousness. It is not so much a substance (at least in terms of corporeality as we understand it in this life) but more a process—or as Jacob Boeheme had it, a tincture, a quality of our essential aliveness which shines through the lineaments of this life like a shaft of imperishable light. Above all, it is not conferred at the start, but brought into being in this life through the quality of our conscious work.


Yellow moonWithin the western Wisdom tradition this imperishable “other” is sometimes known as “second body” or “the wedding garment.” Actualizing it is seen— with some urgency—as the real business of our earthly sojourn.

Admittedly, there is a hard edge to this teaching, jolting us into responsible stewardship of our own time in human consciousness. We can choose, if we like, to drift downstream on the currents of pain or pleasure. We can invest our whole life energy worshipping the golden calf of ego. Or we can get with the cosmic program and come to grips with the real purpose of our time here as we humbly acknowledge that soul is not an automatic birthright, but rather, the final alchemy of a life lived here in conscious alignment with higher cosmic purposes.

Furthermore, the tradition states—essentially unequivocally—hat this second body, or wedding garment, must be formed in this life. That is why it is called a wedding garment: because it is the appropriate and necessary regalia for the “wedding banquet” of eternal life—which, incidentally, does not begin after we leave this body, but here and now as this new substantiality we bear within us increasingly allows us to perceive, that the gates of heaven are, truly, everywhere.

This is soulwork in the true sense of the term: not the “soft” version that passes for soulwork today, preoccupied with unraveling dreams and deciphering messages from our “inner guides,” but the adamantine work of bringing something into existence here that will have coherence and substantiality beyond just this realm. Gurdjieff called it our “Real I.”

“You must find that in you that already lives beyond death and begin to live out of it now, “ my teacher Rafe taught me, encapsulating the essence of this teaching in his own plain words. To defer this project till after we die is too late; for in as Jacob Boehme bluntly puts it, “everything lies where it has fallen.” This is not, by the way, a question of “final judgment,” of some higher being deciding you are “unworthy.” It’s simply that the conditions in the next realm out, sometimes known as the Imaginal, are finer and drawn to far closer tolerances than in this life. Only something of a similar fineness will pass through the sieve.

I am theologian enough to know that the immediate argument conventionally trained Christians will raise against this is that it seems to defy the promise of Psalm 139 —“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”—and replace the intimate and personal nature of our lifelong human relationship with God with an impersonal and even harsh algorithm. I do not believe this is actually so. I will have more to say about the personal in my next blog, with the intuition that this alternative vision, certainly strongly intimated by Jesus, is actually far more merciful and cosmically enobling.

The second objection, of course, is that this sounds like a classic recipe for of spiritual materialism. (I can already picture the internet ads for second-body-building nutritional supplements and “wedding garment” consultants! But the checks-and-balances factor, built right into this equation, lies in the fact that the requisite food for building second body is, in Gurdjieff’s famous formula, “conscious labor and intentional suffering.” Second body cannot be attained through self-maximization, but only through the classic route variously known in the sacred traditions as kenosis and humility. “We ascend by descending, “as the Rule of St. Benedict succinctly observes. There is no other way.

For those who opt out, preferring to live out their days in their egoic comfort zone (a condition known in the Inner tradition in as “sleep”), the potentiality offered at birth to become a soul is simply returned, stillborn. Nothing has germinated here of permanent substantiality; nothing has become viable beyond the womb of this life. Such existences, in Gurdjieff’s words, become “food for the moon.” At death their temporary selfhood dissolves back into its original physical components and takes its small part in the vast network of reciprocal feeding, by which the cosmos bootstraps itself. Nothing is finally wasted.

From the Work perspective, then, abortion is not something that befalls merely a fetus. It happens at all stages, and is in fact the tragic outcome of most human lives. Lulled into complacency by the illusion that we already “have” souls, we fail to engage the real task of spiritual germination and wind up dreaming our lives away.

Only when this inconvenient truth is finally, fully faced will the real question of what it means to be “pro-life” find its authentic balance.

Blog Archives

5 thoughts on “The Developmental Soul (Part 4)

  1. Dear Cynthia,
    I imagine other students of yours and readers of your works will find within themselves—as I have—a deep confirmation of the truth as it is expressed here. But this is much more than an intellectual assent to the concepts presented; this is a profound embodied affirmation that this reality is being lived into in our lives right now. The substance theology in which I was educated and trained cannot reach me where I am living now. (Although I am grateful for all the twists and turns that have brought me to this moment.) My heart, mind, and body resonate to this deeper truth. Thank you, Cynthia.
    Bill Redfield

  2. The soul begins as a tiny seed, fragile, yet immortal. For some, it may lie dormant for a lifetime weighted down by circumstances and the concrete blocks of indifference. The heavy asphalt parking lots of every day human struggle have blocked out the life-giving sun. Eventually, however, concret and asphalt will crack and split, and in the fissures, green will begin to pop up, reaching quickly toward the light, making up for lost time. In our eventual destination, the landscape of eternity and infinity, the shoots will become as the California oak, both branches and root systems intertwined, pulsing to gether with one deep green heart.
    This was whispered to me in the hours after midnight. The whisperer was none other but my own soul, giving me a peek into its own wobbly journey.

  3. Thank you, Cynthia, for this comment. Something very true that I haven’t seen in your previous writings seems spelled out here in your relatively simple and yet deeply alluring description. It rings true, yet comes across as new and fresh. It’s both sobering and enticing because it connects my daily actions with the mythical vertical dimension. It’s a cosmology that accounts for full divine freedom (spirit), natural processes of genetic inheritance (essence), and total human responsibility and effort (heart). I am quickened by reading it to consider all aspects of this coming together, realizing that my choices today play a role in the “ultimate desideratum” of entering the imaginal realm’s wedding banquet with the requisite attire; therefore, my life can been seen to extend to the infinite. I’m grateful to have this Wisdom understanding shared with such clarity.

  4. Thank you Cynthia, I am spending a little time with Essence, Spirit and Heart being the three forces that manifest the new arising of Soul. And it is funny that I find a degree of comfort in the process being one of creation out of what is given rather randomly coupled with the nudge from the divine dancing within the field of the very specific nature of an individual doing their work polishing the heart. I think the Divine Dancer may answer my personal question, and inclination, about what is already known, what already dwells within. It reminds me of the secret place where my being is in conversation with God.. and that door I do not believe is ever closed, pre-conception, life or after death; just as I do not believe that implies a human being has easy access to that inner room, or is even conscious of the door. What bountiful surprise life is capable of, what limitless sorrow. This feels like another way of being in direct relationship with the creation to me, an on-going work.

    An on-going work that really is about so much more than myself. In fact I believe I am discovering that as I grow I am growing into a visceral relationship with being as a cosmic particle of a more complex incarnate being, also part of an interweaving of greater incarnate being, also part of an on-going creation…

    I have a card on my desk from the Lao Tzu that reads: The work is accomplished. Lasting and forgotten. Day by day, piece by piece, I am aware of the creation of being. Cycles of movement and rest. I truly marvel at times at how hardship has been taskmaster and teacher. As I enter my 60’s deep gratitude has arisen for it; in fact I am helpless before it, it is very strong. There is a relief around the starkness and bounty of the relativity, how “lasting” and how “forgotten” it all is. That “nothing is wasted” and yet, to “engage the real task of spiritual germination” is profound sacred ground. Our hunting grounds.

    It is true, in light of these realities, the mystery you spoke about earlier in the series rises on the horizon and brightens and I am humbled. Like putting on the glasses to watch the eclipse. We are only capable of seeing so much. The question how another human being makes a decision about an abortion, or how a person chooses to deal with the end of their life, becomes the business of a soul and God in that individual’s inner room. How can we judge, when Essence and Spirit bump up against one another in the human heart of any individual human being? And in a way, how can we contain our joy? The sorrow is always there, but there is effortless joy surfacing in that dynamic relational mystery as well.

    Thanks again Cynthia, for your courage to put yourself out there, and bring up these realities in conjunction with the particular issues rising in the cracks of the social divide in our times. With love, Laura

  5. Someone on Bernardo Kastrup’s form asked me to say a bit about maintaining awareness after the death of the body. It struck me this might relate to this blog post, so, sorry if it appears opaque – I just dashed it out and the cafe really is about to close in 5 minutes, but here goes:

    oh my goodness, you’re going to make me work hard! One-who-doesn’t-know.

    I’m in the midst of preparing for a psych eval tomorrow, so I shouldn’t be spending too much time on this…..

    I’m also thinking I should wait for Peter to respond….. (though I’m in a pretty good mood, having just spent $700+ bucks on an Apollo Twin audio interface which turns out to be MUCH better than the Arpeggio Duet I was using – and I am finding the voice quality to be excellent WITHOUT adding EQ prior to recording!)

    There, how’s that for mystery!

    I don’t know, here’s the best I can do without taking more than a few minutes.

    I suspect, from whatever little I understand, that it’s VERY much like maintaining awareness through sleep and dreams (at least, that’s what the Tibetans tell us).

    I had a 6 month research project back in 1991 where I taught 12 people to have lucid dreams. Half of them learned to maintain awareness from waking into the dream state.

    Here’s a little what it’s like.

    If you are deeply relaxed without losing conscious awareness (ordinary mental consciousness, that is), you can see images forming which at first are rather psychedelic, but then become more and more orderly and 3-D, and if you don’t lose awareness, you’ll suddenly find yourself “in” the scene you’ve been previously observing as a witness.

    Now, if you stay alert, the “you” or “me” that you were when waking is clearly experienced as “different” from the “me” of the dream. You may even see the body – say, “Don’s’ body – as an inextricable part of the whole dream. Then you can choose to let the dream dissolve, and you are absorbed into White Light.

    Now, at first the Light seems to be formless and quality-less. But if you are able to stay alert, it is felt, directly, not with mental interpretation, as filled with infinite potential forms, a kind of symphony of cosmic “vibrations,” rhythms, harmonies, which at times may seem to be urging, moving toward forms of the more conventional kind that we take to be the rocks, trees, plants, rivers, planets, stars, of our conventional world.

    You can let this form, “return” (you’ve never left or gone anywhere, but words are almost impossible for this), to “waking consciousness,” but if you maintain connection with that Light, it is as though there is a song, or really, a symphony of symphonies, which IS – or ARE? – the various “objects” – whether “material” or mental or emotional or whatever words you want to use. If you read a few lines of Savitri – I recommend the opening few pages of Book 1, Canto 4 – and read them out loud, VERY VERY VERY VERY slowly, as rhythms, without caring in the least what they mean, you may start to feel a rhythm which can extend outward and become the very substance of the pages of the book, the room or ground or body around and in you, and thoughts and images and whatever else is awaring or consciring the world into Being, and there may be a sense of how the individual can be the whole world without being any less the individual or the Absolute.

    Ok, Barnes and Noble cafe is closing and gotta go. And I still have to prepare the eval. Darn!:>))))))))))

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.