Inspired Notes from Working with Michael Meade
“Forget the Enlightenment,” Michael Meade said as he came out swinging. “We’ve now entered into an Age of Endarkenment.”
In early November of 2009 I visited Port Townsend with my friend Michael Scott Brooks, called Scott by those who know him, to hear Michael Meade. Port Townsend is a beautiful place, a progressive town where liberals thrive amid isolation. It’s at the tip of a peninsula on a peninsula and a ferry ride followed by a long drive from Seattle even though as the crow flies it’s fairly close by. The waters of the Salish Sea surround it with views to mountains all around. Olympic National Park squats in massive diversity behind a veil of hills. The workshops were held in the local Unitarian Universalist church, itself a bastion of self-proclaimed “liberal religion.”
Scott’s a friend of mine who facilitates Men’s Work in the mythopoetic vein of Robert Bly and Michael Meade. Although not as well known as they are, he’s an amazing man in his own right, a survivor who transcended deep trauma, and is still in training. Scott’s a master of ritual and an intuitive healer who brooks no nonsense. He cuts through bullshit with rigorous lovingkindness in a way I’ve seen very few people do. As I’ve written before, Scott transcends the boxes many contemporary Men’s groups try to put us into. Instead, he grounds himself in the timeless wisdom of indigenous human beings.
I’ve never worked with Michael Meade prior to this trip although I’ve heard of him and read occasional interviews in various publications. He busies himself working with youths caught up in gangs, war veterans traumatized by combat, Indian reservations torn apart by suicide and addiction, and bringing together elders and other people from diverse backgrounds to work together in healing wounds and in passing on old traditions before they’re forgotten. Michael is both street-savvy and, inspired by Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, a scholar of psychology, mythology, and poetry. In the midst of my own spiritual upheaval, I look forward to experiencing the man and his work.
I’ve ridden over with Scott to see Michael Meade present both “The Light Inside Dark Times: An Evening Presentation” and “The Mythic Life: Accepting Fate, Finding a Destiny.” I felt compelled to enter these chambers of storytelling and mythic wisdom … to ultimately discover new insights about myself, the world I live in and what can I do to best serve others.
“Forget the Enlightenment,” Michael Meade came out swinging. “We’ve now entered into an Age of Endarkenment.” Oh, yeah!
My mind goes well, what about World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War? And then my mind gets it, yes, and it doesn’t matter. The horrors of the First World War shattered the Enlightenment anyway. Here we are now, swinging back into Darkness. As every issue becomes polarized by extremism, the great, healthy, and wise middle disappears. Extremism expands out to fill the middle and the polarized clash against each other in paroxysms of violence.
According to my understanding of Michael Meade’s observations I write the following, knowing, too that I may be in error. Nonetheless, the following speak volumes to me. Stuff gets stirred up inside of me. I get stirred up. And I stir up others.
So here goes:
Spirit and Soul are two different things, although ultimately they’re one and the same the same way we’ve come to realize that mind, body, and heart are one and the same. They’re looking for each other, dancing with each other, fighting with each other, wanting to run away from each other while wanting to be united with the other. You can view these terms and images as mythic metaphors or as real as wind blowing rain through the trees.
Spirit seeks to ascend and transcend. Soul seeks to descend and to become immanent.
Spirits become One Spirit. Spirit rises in transcendence to seek unity with All, with the One, with God, with the Great Spirit, with the Universe, to look down and behold the glory of how everything is interconnected and related. Spirit seeks out light, rises straight toward the light, and seeks to become light.
Spirit identifies with the element of air. I don’t know, however, if Michael Meade identifies Spirit with fire or not. I remember from other traditions Spirit can be its own element, but I don’t know of any tradition where Soul is an element.
Soul, however, hungers for depth. It dives down deep into the muck of Life. Soul sees itself as a separate self. It wants to go its own way, tunneling through the stinking mud and shit of life, wrestling with horror and shame and rage, trying to find its way its own way, carving out its own path. Soul twists and turns and takes the long, winding rode while Spirit soars straight to Heaven. Or Nirvana. Soul seeks to uncover and experience what the shadow conceals in darkness. Soul identifies itself with the elements of earth and water.
Spirit seeks to transcend all and become pure and pure consciousness. Soul experiences the division and fragmentation and the multiplicity of life. Soul feels the rich variety of all that is and appreciates there are so many, many ways and paths. Spirit flies upon prayers and chants and gospel songs. Soul sings the blues, going deep into the pain to liberate itself from suffering. Spirit seeks to transcend suffering while Soul seeks to feel it.
Soul is of the world and seeks to experience the world. Spirit transcends the world and all its limitations. Soul fights. Spirit flees.
Spirit becomes unbalanced when it gets too close to the light. It becomes as a moth that flies too close to a candle flame in the darkness – it catches afire, burns, and dies.
Soul becomes unbalanced when its goes too deep into darkness where it becomes consumed with what we call “evil” or the shadow aspects of ourselves, the part of ourselves that scare us, that make us feel ashamed of ourselves, that we deny, ignore, suppress, even persecute.
Spirit needs to be grounded and rooted in Soul. Soul needs to be able to see and feel the light amid the darkness.
They desire to become one with one another and one in the body.
Light and Darkness are not necessarily two different things as we often think of them. Light came out of Darkness, whether the Big Bang exploding the Universe into existence or a spark from a match setting a stack of dry wood afire or the light of life burning amid the darkness of death.
I imagine they dance inside each one of us, seeking to become one as well as to pull away from each other. We can overly identify with one or the other and lose ourselves to the extremes, or experience the richness of the vast middle by surfing the tension between the two as surfers leverages the energy of waves between ocean and shore. That edge where past, present, and future become unified in presence so holistic as to feel holy is where it’s really all about.
The master storyteller paused, pulled his drum in close, played a few beats, looked up and asked “Wanna hear a story? Are you ready for a story?”
And off he went, pounding out ancient, almost prehistoric tales from once upon a time that still riveted us with meaning in today’s Post-Modern Age. The drumbeats of the past, present, and future became one beat with my heartbeat and all those within the sanctuary. Together as one and as many we surfed the wave of story as its rhythm compelled us at once both deeper and higher in our own souls and spirit.
William Dudley Bass
16 November 2009
29 March 2012
Michael Meade & Mosaic Multicultural Foundation at http://www.mosaicvoices.org/.
Michael Scott Brooks & Insight Art at http://www.insightart.org/about.
From my Mythic Awakening period.
NOTE: This was first published in one of my older blogs, Cultivate and Harvest, on Wednesday 18 November 2009, at http://cultivateandharvest.blogspot.com/2009/11/spirit-soul-as-apocalypse-approaches.html, then revised and reposted here this March of 2012. Thank you.
Copyright © 2009, 2012, 2015, 2016 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we Humans establish Wise Stewardship of and for our Earth and Solarian Commons. Thank you.