Sensing Soulfire


 Jacob Needleman in his book The Wisdom of Love defines love as "catching a glimpse of another’s search.” To love, in another words, is to sense, detect or discern another’s struggle, search, or yearning for being. Such a love catches a glimpse of that which animates and vivifies the other. What is it that really fires her up? What is it in her that must be expressed and lived out at all costs?

 I’m going to call that detected passion or fever in another, the fire in her soul. Love is determined to behold the soulfire in the loved one, and chops wood to increase the heat!

 Love is ‘on the lookout’, as it were, hot on the scent of the perceived fiery soul in another. Love will find a way, if possible, to help to bring forth another’s fiery nature in the full force of her integrity and powers, so that she exists in the world in a dynamically poised and self-possessed way.  

 Love will not settle for less than this possibility of an expression of another’s capacity to exist in a state of fullness, ablaze with Divine energy.  

 This quality of love delights in that fiery soul in another that may sometimes emerge in the night trembling because of the dream of some new possibility of expression. Love is alert then and always to detect ‘the call’, the sense of ‘summons’ another feels, and seeks to encourage its blossoming forth.    

 Yeats called this sensing of soulfire the loving of the ‘pilgrim soul’ in another.  Says he, concerning the love of his life: “One man loved the pilgrim soul in you.” That is, others may have valued you only for your surface beauty and charms, or, sadly, for your usefulness. A real love, in contrast, a true love, recognizes those moments when Divinity is piercing through a loved one’s layers of doubts and fears to uncover a hitherto hidden shining, fiery soul. Yeats, through his poem is saying: ‘I sensed the soulfire in you that others missed!’  

 Love relates to soulfire! It delights to behold some particular passion burning there in another human being. Love supports the emergence of soulfire. It will not put that fire out. Love treats the emergence of the fiery soul very seriously.

 The opposite of this is to minimize or to prevent the emergence of a fiery being as when Torvald, in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, becomes aware that his wife has arrived home from a shopping trip, and calls out: “Is that my little lark twittering out there?” “Yes it is!,” Nora responds pathetically. 

 Torvard is a thwarting presence, whose manner and words have the effect of ‘wiping out’ Nora, of seriously diminishing her. He reduces his wife’s dignity to the status of a cute, little animal.  

 Nora is some kind of mere ‘object’ to him, not a fiery soul. She’s not a ‘Thou’, but an ‘it.’ Talking down to her he asks: “Is it my little squirrel bustling about?” “Yes.”  “And when did my squirrel come home?”   

 In response, Nora who has been secretly snacking (once again), quickly tries to hide a bag of macaroons, wipes her mouth and then a lifeless, soulless conversation begins between these two impoverished beings.

 At one point Torvard says: “Come, come, my little skylark must not droop her wings. What is this! Is my little squirrel out of temper?” 

 And later: “Hasn’t Miss Sweet Tooth been breaking rules in town today?” “No; what makes you think that?” “Hasn’t she paid a visit to the confectioner’s?” “No, I assure you, Torvald.”  “Not been nibbling sweets?”  “No, certainly not.” “Not even take a bite at a macaroon or two?” 

 You get the drift! Torvald is not at all listening for the possible appearance of his wife’s fiery soul. Their relationship is a barely functional one. It’s some kind of arrangement between them but in no way a connection between two inspired people. 

 Now, to express my theme in another way, I’m going to put it this way, that to love is to ‘detect another’s fiery soul code.’ By the ‘soul’s code’ I am making reference to some particular aptitude, passion or 'call' embedded in one’s very nature that gives a sense of life, a sense of destiny and meaning. There is something lurking there in the other, perhaps in somewhat murky depths that, if brought forth, will light her life up! The kind of love I am attempting to describe in this article will find a way to help the other to get in touch with that potential.  

 In the early 20th century, a teenage girl had been preparing to do a solo dance at an amateur show. Family and friends had gathered to witness her debut. The lights came on and there she stood. The fifteen year old was introduced but then froze on the spot. 

 She then walked across the stage and whispered something into the MC’s ears.  The MC then addressed the audience to say that there had been a change in the program: ‘Rather than dancing, Ella is going to sing for us!’  Well, Ella Fitzgerald sang for the first time and brought the house down!   

 What happened to her? James Hillman suggests in his book The Soul’s Code that something in Ella took over. What was that? It was the best part of her. The fiery soul had emerged. A kind of irresistible impulse took over. Ella’s destiny, coded into her being, took over in the crisis moment. Her soul knew - the deepest and best part of her knew, that she was born to sing, not to dance. 

 Love involves the recognition of that in another that gives her life. I repeat - Love hears in the other that part of her that struggles, searches and yearns for being.  Love wishes to bring that out in the loved one at all costs!  

 I would like to add here that it is this effort to detect soulfire in another, especially if reciprocated, that will enable love to endure. The key ingredient for a full, rich and lasting relationship is a shared recognition of soulfire in each other. 

 Such an enduring love was shared by an elderly couple, Philemon and Baucis, in Ovid’s Metamorphoses as retold by Jacob Needleman in The Wisdom of Love

 Needleman states that what was outstanding about this couple, whose love endured, was that they had grown old together in the service of the highest in each other.   

 Over the years this couple had been either ignored or scorned in their village for not joining in with this or that frivolity.   

 As the story goes - the gods, Jupiter and Mercury, in disguise, had visited a thousand homes in the area but were always turned away. In contrast, Philemon and Baucis, who were spiritually discerning from long practice, welcomed them. They were, true to form, open to spiritual influences, having never been interested in the various parties and games. 

 It was their practice, says Needleman, to continually break through any “crust of worldliness” in each other for, as the philosopher says, a “worldly crust” “snuffs out the light of the self.”  It is this crust, Needleman states, that “stultifies our lives and prevent our inner being from growing.” Far too many couples suffocate each other’s inner selves by being preoccupied with what Rilke calls “play and pleasure.”   

 This couple in contrast had made it a lifetime practice to listen for the soulfire in each other. Now they were to be rewarded for their attentiveness to each other.  

 Having received the gods, Jupiter and Mercury, in their tiny cottage, Baucis and Philemon, are asked to leave their poor house to climb a steep mountain, guided by the gods.

 “These two old people both did as they were told and, leaning on their sticks, struggle up the long slope. From their vantage point, at the top of the mountain they look down to see. They notice that in the town “everything has become desolate. No buildings any longer exist but one! The only structure remaining is their house, where they had lived, truly serving each other.”

 They then watch astonished as “their poor hut is transformed into a temple of the gods. Marble columns take the place of wooden support, the thatch grows yellow, till the roof seems to be made of gold; the door appears magnificently adorned with carvings and marble paving the earthen floor.” 

 ‘That long, slow, unnoticed work of creating an enduring love has resulted in transfiguration.‘ (J.N.) By spending a lifetime strengthening a relationship that was primarily about a shared search for God, the couple had transcended all earthly limitations! Their shared quest for the highest had utterly transfigured them. Not a bad way to go, I’d say! 

 What therefore is the central task in our relationships? It is to ‘sense the soulfire’ in each other and to fan the flames with gusto!

's Wonderful

’S Wonderful, Ella Fitzgerald