What is the Soul – Part 8 – Finding the ‘third thing’ of our existence

Life doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes
We keep living anyway
We rise and we fall and we break and we make our mistakes
And if there’s a reason I’m still alive when so many have died
I’m willing to….

Wait for it”
Miranda, from Hamilton

The most important lesson Trickster has to teach us is that Human life is not just a pass-thru. We need to be Human, not just go to Spirit (if you need to recognize your spirit side more, embrace that – but not at the expense of thinking you can leave your human side behind)

If we want wholeness we need to bring the two-halves of ourselves together, or better yet – find the ‘third thing[1]’ of our existence; as humans – we are neither spirit nor body, but embodied spirit and that is more than the sum of its parts.

After all, Trickster’s home is the road – and a road is both a divider and a joiner.

Once we start down this path, however, we’re bound to start wondering – why we are here on Earth at all? If the soul is pure conscious energy – why incarnate at all? I can’t say I’ve found the answer, but I’ve found my answer.

At heart, I believe that God is everything – which is why I usually write ‘God / The Universe.’ For me, one does not exist without the other. If we allow that it might be true that God is everything, we could conclude that God is also made up of both matter[2] and energy. In fact, we might look at a line from the bible, “God made man in his image” and interpret it just this way – God made man to be, like God, both matter and energy.

If so, as wonderful and beautiful as our energetic spirit is, we may actually be closer to understanding God in our human, corporeal form then in our disembodied form.

Almost twenty years ago, I picked up a small graphic novel called Hope for the Flowers at a used bookstore. I do believe in accidents and natural coincidences, but I don’t believe everything that ‘feels’ like an accident or a coincidence really is that. I felt incredibly compelled to buy this little book – but after reading it several times I was perplexed – the book’s message just didn’t resonate all that much.

Twenty years later I finally understand why I bought that book.

The story is essentially about two caterpillars, named Yellow and Stripe, who meet and become friends. All around them are towers of caterpillars stretching to the sky. Periodically caterpillars fall from the top to their death, speaking only about the beauty of what they witnessed at the top in their final words to caterpillars on the bottom. This served to only strengthen the resolve of the caterpillars at the bottom to keep climbing the towers.

The two caterpillars start their ascent of the cater-pillar, which requires jostling for position to climb higher and higher.  Yellow decides that the atmosphere inside the cater-pillar doesn’t feel right and isn’t for her, she makes her way down the pillar. She is very sad to leave her friend, but is determined to honor her own intuition.

As she wanders about, missing Stripe, she meets another caterpillar who is doing something rather strange – climbing up a plant and turning into something new. She walks around and sees more of these little ‘house-type’ structures. She watches in amazement as a beautiful winged creature emerges from one.

Meanwhile, Stripe is making his way to the top of the pillar. When he finally reaches the top he sees what all the caterpillars are marveling at; the beautiful butterflies flying around. Stripe is lucky though, because he meets his old friend Yellow as a butterfly, and she explains the true nature of caterpillars to him.

Instead of climbing pillars to see the butterflies, the caterpillars should have been becoming butterflies.

All of these pieces came together – God / The Universe as both matter and energy, humans as both matter and energy, the disembodied spirit’s experience of a corporeal form, possible reasons for creation / existence, and Hope for the Flowers (which I “found” again recently in my home) to inspire the thought;

Maybe what God wants is more butterflies.

Instead of reaching for the sky to ‘witness’ God – maybe we should be embracing and developing our own God-like nature; and existence of both matter and spirit.

The butterfly is an especially interesting metaphor, because caterpillars essentially dissolve to become butterflies. A caterpillar doesn’t “grow” wings on top of its caterpillar body – its cells completely break down and create something new.

So how does all this relate to the Trickster? If we were to act like Alchemists and distill this character to his essential essence, we would find it to be one that is constantly creating something new by breaking down / through / up the old.

If, as argued in the post Echoes of the Soul <insert link>, the Trickster is a projection of our ambivalence towards incarnated life – maybe it’s time we use our understanding of this character to take a close and compassionate look at that emotion. Maybe it’s time we take an awakened look at incarnated life in both its ugliness and glory.

Hyde titled his book Trickster Makes This World – partly based on creation stories which feature the Trickster, surely, but also referencing how Trickster creates a new world out of the old one just by applying a different perspective. It occurs to me how well that fits with the argument that, at heart, the Trickster represents us – as our fully human selves – because truly we make this world.

Trickster makes this world because we do. Whether you believe in co-creation or you just want to stick to regular cause and effect; the world we live in now is a world of our creation. We make this world of war, strife, hunger, etc. But we ALSO make this world of generosity, love, family, and abundance.



[1] Concept from Lewis Hyde’s book Trickster Makes this World expanded on in the post Trickster Makes this Road.

[2] Matter – as we’ve discussed elsewhere on the blog (namely, the Double Agent of Change) is just a more dense form of energy. But, if we think about the concept from the Dao de jing – in the beginning there was the Dao, then it split into the yin and the yang – I think we can see Matter and Energy that way – as part of the very early distinction of the nature of the Universe.

What is the Soul? – Part 7 – What the Trickster Can Teach Us about Us

I’ve titled this series “What is the Soul?” but, at heart, the whole series is based on the question, “How does a disembodied existence [the presumed soul] feel about / adjust to / come to terms with an embodied existence?”

In last week’s post, we discussed the Hero and the Trickster as split-personality projections of the soul. We considered that the Hero could be a projection of what the soul wishes for itself out of incarnation and the Trickster could be a projection of how the soul actually feels about dealing with incarnated life.

In this final post of the series, we look at what we can learn at a deep soul-level, by understanding and embracing the character of the Trickster. One day I hope to write a book about the Trickster and the Soul. For now, this series and this post are the distilled version.

Lesson #1 Engage with your dirt

It may seem like a stretch to associate the Trickster with ‘dirt,’ but the Trickster has a close association with the gut and hunger as discussed in the post Trickster Makes this Road.   Lewis Hyde, author of Trickster Makes this World notes that, “‘dirt’ washed from the dishes was ‘food’ not long ago and we sat around putting it in our mouths.” (Loc 3072)

It is an important lesson that the very things that nourish us as food, in excess or not-well maintained can themselves become dirt-like. Old food goes to rot. And yet, dirt, itself, can be tremendously nourishing.

Further, Trickster is associated with hunger, hunting, eating, food, digestion, and also defecation. Is there anything we consider dirtier, really, than poop?

Engaging with our ‘dirt’ on a metaphorical level allows us to see ourselves in a morally complex way. We need to be willing to look at the unsavory parts of our character with a compassionate but unflinching eye. Acknowledging our shortcomings is not a weakness, but a strength. The real value comes from seeing our real dirt which is often not what we think. Finding the deep dirt that gets in our way takes self-reflection, attention, and hard work.

Even more, we need to be able to look at the qualities we think of as strengths for ourselves and be willing to see the dirty aspects of those as well. If I’m honest am I a ‘straight-shooter’ with whom you ‘always know where you stand’ or am I ‘rude’ and opinionated’? If I’m constantly going out of my way to help people am I a ‘selfless, people person’ or a ‘weakness enabler’ secretly seeking to gratify my own inner desire to feel needed?

Only when we can see the negative aspects of what we consider our strengths and positive qualities and recognize that even those qualities may have unintended impacts on those around us – can we transform ourselves into something new.

Lesson #2 Recognize Opportunity

Trickster is associated with the ‘lucky find.’ In the Homeric Hymn of Hermes, Hermes finds a turtle outside his cave and turns it into a lyre with which he charms Apollo. Perhaps any number of others would have let the turtle walk away without seeing what it could become;[1] But Hermes, the Trickster, recognized the opportunity and ‘seized’ it.

We often unintentionally block our own opportunities in life. We may not even recognize opportunities when they walk across our path. Several weeks ago I wrote a post on “allowing,” a concept that applies well here. We can become so attached to a particular outcome or path forward that we close our minds and hearts to other possibilities.

There is an excellent quote from the Alchemist, “..when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” This is true. However, there are two complicating factors; one is that we don’t always know what we really want. Deep down we may want something general (love, fulfillment, self-worth), but we attach it to something specific. Thus, when the Universe shows up with a perfect solution to our heart’s desire – we don’t even see it.

The Trickster encourages us to take a wider view of our situation when we are looking for solutions, opportunities, and answers. We may sometimes need to go in a direction that seems like the opposite of where we want to go to end up where we want to be.

Lesson # 3 – Truth May Not Be Relative, But It Isn’t Absolute Either

It is perhaps his association with lying that earns the Trickster the lion-share of his bad reputation. However, it would be a great misunderstanding to limit the Trickster’s association with communication to lying.

Hermes’ gift of language is to be ‘clever-tongued’ or ‘tricky with the oath’.  Coyote often secures his prey with a ‘trick.’ It is rarely an outright lie, but instead a type of verbal maneuvering that trips up those who aren’t paying attention.

To truly understand the Trickster’s association with communication, let’s reflect on how this aspect of the Trickster relates to our overall discussion of the difference between the embodied and disembodied existence. According to the Newton dialogues, in an energetic ‘soul-state’ communication happens via a type of telepathy. Essentially, in such a state there is no difference between thought and speech.

From one quote, “It is impossible to hide anything” in the disembodied state.

So while in some ways we are less vulnerable in an energetic state – free from fear of death, pain, loss, hunger, strife, etc. In terms of our personal weaknesses we are actually more vulnerable – our soul wounds and flaws are essentially visible for all to see.

Contrast that with the embodied state where we find an incredible amount of complexity between what we think and feel and how we might actually express that in words. If the Newton dialogues are to be believed, lying only becomes possible in the embodied state. Despite all the vulnerabilities of the human body, as humans, we actually are able to hide the vulnerabilities of our soul.

Noting that difference – Trickster’s association with communication (and, yes, lying) aligns very well with the interpretation of Trickster as a divine representation of humanity. And perhaps – if you can allow that that interpretation might be true – it helps you understand Trickster’s association with lying, and by extension our human relationship with communication, with a more heart-felt compassion.

Understanding this about the Trickster and then holding up the mirror to ourselves, the lesson here is to explore our own relationship with communication. Is there a giant gulf between what we feel and what we speak? Do our emotions sneak out in snarky comments or loaded questions?

If we allow it, the Trickster can teach us about both cleverly and effectively crafting our own communication and listening for the truth in others speech.

I had hoped to make this my last post in this series, but the last lesson I want to cover on the blog is simply too big to ‘tack on’ to this post after all I’ve written about the first three, therefore I will cover it in it’s own post next week…which should be the last one.



[1] of course, that future was fairly negative as far as the turtle was concerned – but implementing true inspiration often requires transformation and some sortof sacrifice.

To Infinity AND Beyond

 It could hardly be one without the other

The Trickster. Everywhere I turn I run into him. Everything I read, whatever I see, wherever I look; he’s winking at me. I used to think I could read the world pretty well, but now I’m seeing things in a whole new way. I’ve had a paradigm shift…and while this isn’t the only place to be, and it isn’t necessarily “better” than any other place, this is where I am.

On my way to work one recent morning, I ruminated (I love this word – a Trickster reference bringing together appetite and thought) on the infinite ways to apply the “&” stance from Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen’s book Thanks for the Feedback (see post In My Reflection for more on this). My mind then jumped to how “AND” also allows us to engage thoughtfully with paradox. To use the example from the Trickster post, the signs and symbols are both meant just for me AND have nothing to do with me (See Trickster Makes this Road for more on this).

Suddenly, the little word “and” seemed to carry so much more meaning than the sum of it’s letters. In fact, it represents exactly where I am. According to Carl Jung, the subconscious operates in symbol. An image bubbled up from the deep; the Ampersand turned on it’s side. From such a perspective, it resembles the sign for infinity; “The Infinite AND” was born.

Engaging with the Subconscious

You may be thinking, OK, you just flipped the Ampersand on it’s side, what’s the big deal? I admit, i’m not going win any prizes for innovation here, but a closer study of this symbol and it’s meaning can reveal that there is something interesting going on here.

Part of the beauty of this symbol Is it’s simplicity. Yes, I merely turned an existing symbol on it’s side. Strangely enough, though, when I first show this symbol to people, they usually don’t even recognize the Ampersand. In that way, this new view on an old character is symbolic of the difference a mere change in perspective can make.

Further, on the left side of this symbol we can clearly see the “beginnings” of the infinity sign, but when we follow the lines to the right, instead of the two lines joining together to close the loop of infinity, we find another crossroads; an opening. The very same opening that ’AND’ often allows us to find. So, in a way, this character is a symbol of change – the opening that allows us to get out of a closed loop of thinking, being, etc. It is a symbol of opportunity and, at a deeper level, represents the opening to embrace paradox.

Another funny coincidence; the other mark commonly used for “and” in handwriting is a “+” which is visually reminiscent of a crossroads – the very place we can expect to find the Trickster. Sometimes this “cross” symbol is handwritten such that two of the perpendicular lines are connected (this is the way I write it) which suggests a boxy sort of infinity symbol that is, again, open on the opposite side.

For me, at the deepest level, this image represents the Trickster who governs the crossroads, opportunity, and (often) paradox. Incidentally the Trickster also governs “the lucky find” as this symbol was for me.

What’s in a Name?

According to Wikipedia the Ampersand was once considered a “letter” in it’s own right. Around the 1800’s students were required to recite their letters. After ’z’ the students would go on to distinguish “a” per se “a”, which meant “a by itself a” and referred to the use of “a” alone versus in a word (the same case is true for “I”).

Apparently, “&” was also recited in this way. “And per se and” to mean “and, by itself, and” – the thinking is that this got slurred over time to our modern day name, “Ampersand.” Ironically, if this etymology is true, then even the name of this ligature contains a bit of a fun paradox. “Ampersand” may literally translate to “And, by itself, and” – but (at least from a usage perspective) the purpose of “and” is to join things – so how can “and” ever be by itself?

Dreams AND Reality

Of course the Universe is always ready to step in and make sure I don’t get too full of myself. As I mentioned earlier, I found this symbol on my morning walk. The first blush of enthusiasm had not yet worn off by the time I got to work. So, when I got to my desk, I immediately opened Word and printed out the biggest Ampersand I could, filling the whole page. I then turned it sideways and hung it in my cube.

What I didn’t realize at the time, was that the printer printed out five more copies. Yep, five more copies of giant Ampersands sitting on the work printer. So the rest of the morning, I had to field questions about why I was printing out giant Ampersands. One such exchange went like this;

(Coworker walks to snack table which is located right by my cube and notices my newly hanging cube art)

Coworker: Oh! That was YOU printing out giant “and” signs. I thought the printer was malfunctioning.

Me: Yeah. No. That was me!

Coworker: What the heck are you printing out giant “and” signs for?

Me: Um… (Trying to determine if there’s any way i’m going to be able to condense exactly what happened that morning that resulted in the symbol -as well as the symbol’s significance to me- into a reasonable answer for an acquaintance-coworker. Nope!) ummm…. I find it inspiring.

Coworker: You find it inspiring. Ohhhhhh-K. (Coworker walks away shaking head).

I have to smile because this is an excellent example of how the Trickster operates. There’s nothing particularly magical about what happened here. Clearly, the last time I printed something form Word I had selected to print five copies of it and somehow the default setting stuck.

Nevermind that I don’t remember doing that or that whether or not Word would have saved that default depends on any number of uncertain variables; to try to make more out of the occurrence than it is misses the point. The point is – “pay attention or look like an idiot.” 🙂 A good reminder from the influence that leaves opportunities, traps, and lucky finds lying around. A good reminder and a good opportunity to smile and say “You got me” followed by “Thank You.”