Question: You say the soul does not evolve, but I’m not sure I understand what this means. Are you saying we just stay the same all the time, that we don’t learn anything? Do we just stay like we are and get along the best we can?
Response: A good way to address this question is to recall the tale of the so-called ugly duckling. This is a powerful story that has helped millions of children realize that self-understanding is much more important than fitting in. In the era of social media — fake friends and hollow likes — our kids need this more than ever. But we adults can also take the lessons of this story to another level.
This little swan had come to believe he was a duck so he tried desperately and unsuccessfully to fit into the duck culture. At the lowest point in his life he experienced a revelation. Seeing a flock of wild swans, he threw himself at them with the thought that it was better to be killed by them than to continue living his miserable existence. To his surprise, they did not kill him, they welcomed him. Better still, he saw his reflection in the pond and realized he was one of them!
Many on the spiritual path see this path as a process of becoming something more than they are now. They are driven by the belief that we are to evolve from a spiritually unenlightened state to an enlightened state. This is seen as a soul process, even to the point of assuming there are both young and old souls. The belief is that every challenge we face provides some kind of lesson that, if learned, brings us closer to that desired state of soul maturity. From the spiritual point of view, however, this is a false assumption. The little swan did not need to evolve from a duck to a swan. He was a swan all along. The only change that occurred in him was his self-perception. Did he require all the hard lessons he encountered to become a swan? No. He could never be anything else. But he could, laboring under the curse of a mistaken identity, live a very miserable existence trying to fit in by attempting to force himself to become something he thought he was supposed to be.
From childhood, we’re exposed to a wide array of cultural influences that insist we become something other than we are now. Being rather social creatures, we want to fit in and we’ll often gladly develop the persona that allows us to do so. Yes, we can do it, often at great cost to our well-being. We cannot escape that gnawing feeling that something essential to our being is missing. We’re Emerson’s traveler who believes that in Naples he will find what his mundane existence lacks, only to discover that he awakens in Naples as the same sad self he hoped to leave behind. Regardless of where one goes or what one achieves, playing the role of even the successful duck will forever leave a hollow feeling in the heart of the swan.
We seek to advance our spiritual status by exposing ourselves to the works of the masters. This would be fine if we did not think of ourselves as the duck reading of the benefits of becoming a swan. Many of us began our so-called spiritual education from the premise that we were sinners from birth, that our hope of salvation lay in becoming something other than our natural sinful nature. Some of us put this off when we discovered New Thought and were reminded that we are made in the image and after the likeness of God. So why don’t we feel the freeing power of this truth? We will, we’re told. We just need a few more lifetimes to mature. Yes, we can even declare that we are now on a spiritual rather than a religious path while still walking and quacking our way to that elusive ideal of perfect swanhood.
Because you feel separate from God does not mean you are. Nor does it mean you are a spiritual failure. The little swan’s true identity was never in jeopardy. His months of dreaming of being a successful duck did not mean he had to invest that same amount of time regaining the truth that was his birthright. Placing your soul on an evolutionary time-line may seem to address the why of why it feels as if you are here and the fulfillment you seek is somewhere else. But why not start at the end, even if you don’t feel it?
You and I are spiritually complete now. Our quest for spiritual fulfillment may take us to the far corners of the earth but the day comes when we catch a glimpse of our true essence in the rippling surface of this very pond that is our life. Like the little swan, we do not evolve into something more than we are already. We awaken to that something we are right now.