The Lighting of Fugitive Souls

In these fluid times, the soul has changed location: it is neither within…where our religious traditions mostly situated it nor without, among the wondrous and presumably determined order of the material world, where the natural philosophers hid it. It is between - in ecologies of weird bodies and howling sounds and throbbing membranes and secreting liquids and alien hues and nightly migrancies. The hallowed interior is broken; the mute exterior breached. The soul is at large, off the record, beside itself, always-to-come. And all we are left with is a gasp.

--Bayo Akomolafe 

Over the weekend, I was with my “around the thing that turns” kin group discussing the shared sense of fugitivity that drew us to Bayo Akomolafe and We Will Dance With Mountains

I shared that for me, fugitivity points to the experience of “belonging in not-belonging” – the ability to dance through liminal spaces and shape-shift through different identities and paradigms. “This is something you need to develop and mature into”, I said, relating back to when I was a youth and secretly craved a sense of belonging with an “in-crowd”. I became more secure with the fluid and plural teaming of my selfhood as I tucked years under my belt, slowly and carefully untethering my attachments to “identity” as self-knowledge. 

The person I was speaking with works primarily with children, and she related this sense of developmental fugitivity to attachment theory. The development of one’s “maturity” with attachments is significantly influenced by the amount of attention, responsiveness and intimacy you received as an infant from your primary care givers. You also feel more secure and stable if you’ve had a stable childhood, she responded. 

I’m not sure why, but I needed this reminder of the social and environmental conditions that wrap around the project of fugitivity, and the deep sympoiesis of our entangled becoming. We need to continually flip upside down the causal order of self-determination.

In order to love, I must first experience love. In order to give, first we must receive. 


There is an allure to the project of the making of the self. I will be the first to admit great pleasure in gazing into my navel and finding the universe. 

I’ve noticed that some of the sense-making and meta-modern communities that I’m exploring lean towards foregrounding ecologies of practices around developing self-sovereignty, often as a pathway towards something larger-than-the-self: collective enlightenment, conscious co-evolution, or sacred communal love. Work through your demons, embrace your shadows. Let us throw off the shackles of lazy scripting and limiting ideologies so that we become self-sovereign actors contributing to emergent and self-organized collective problem-solving! 

And truthfully, a lot of this resonates with me deeply. We are facing interpenetrating crises at a scale of living complexity that feel impossible and dangerous to try to address through old ways of knowing and problem-solving. Critique and truth-telling has revealed the cracks our systems and stores, but it’s exhausting and paralyzing to only stare at them and ask: “whose fault is it?” The nuances are critical – some actors have done more harm than others – but the chain of causality is not linear. We are all in some ways complicit, transgressive, impure. I am both victim and perpetrator, we contain contradictions and multitudes. The fault lines of our collective body are shared, as is the work of healing.

Manifesting shifts towards more equitable, sustainable, and beautiful new worlds that we do not yet know (but our children will, and their children, and their children) cannot – will not – happen through forcing top-down change, electoral democracy or global liberalism as we currently know it, guided by the limited visions of fallible leaders corrupted by too much power and constrained by old world incentives. 

The reason why I’m here –  working on unlearning broken ways, and embracing new forms of sensing through this Self-Directed Masters – is that in this liminal space of unknowing, one thing is clear: We will not dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools. The system will not fix the system. 

So yes, let us empower individual agency and choice-making within the confounding complexity we live in. Awareness-based systems change lights up the fire in each individual actor entangled in a larger, interpenetrating collective. And maybe fire attracts fire, and we begin to move like starlings in emergent and distributed, beautiful and monstrous murmurations.

But how does one catch fire? There can also be a subtle assumption that the work of self-sovereignty is a solo work, that it needs to come out of a Nietzschean will, a fiery impulse towards self-determination. Maybe finding yourself is supposed to happen alone on a meditation pillow, or in an isolated retreat in nature. Yet I’m realizing more and more than self-sovereignty is a beautiful myth – a utopian destination that we can aspire towards and fight for, but will never fully reach. I am not in full control of my body or my mind – I do not make or find my soul alone. My Self is always held in dialectical tension with my deep entanglement with Other and Cosmos. 

Our freedom is bound by our thrownness into collective entanglement. As Martin Heidegger writes, we are thrown into worlds not of our choosing. I can’t choose how my parents loved and nurtured me as an infant, and how they were taken care of and nurtured as infants. We are thrown into contexts replete with histories, cultures, lineages and traumas that require not just individual, but collective healing at innumerable fractal, intergenerational scales. We are communal, enfleshed and entangled creatures contained in thin, vulnerable skins, suffering and hurting and needing protection. I will die at some point, because the cells and organisms in my body of which I am part will begin to age, decay, mutate, and fail. Or in a bright fantastic moment where a tree is hit by lightning and falls on me. Or because a sneaky virus has contaminated the protective shell of my body. It is terrifying to have so little control, and to be in such intimate proximity to our possible annihilation.

Yet we have to give up our presumptions of Self-Mastery in the Mystery of Entanglement. My individual freedom is bounded, yet it’s bounded by a membrane that I can make more porous in order to receive. I am not separate, but held and nourished through the web of relationships with other living bodies, in the vibrant resilience of collective fields that invite me to grow past beyond the safety of the known, and to find my soul paradoxically by losing my self. We are also surrounded by ghosts and ancestors of the past and future. These ghosts haunt us, penetrate us, sometimes they move into our bodies and possess us. And when called, we can also dance with and possess them, and make them materially present and embodied.

We are thrown into a cauldron of abundant and infinite potential, where by being present, we can receive and create healing, beauty, pleasure; we can become available to vivid visions, dreams and fantasies of the possible, and the magic to make it happen. We make the possible real, the future present, simply by choosing to breathe it into my whole body, which then shifts the collective body. I can’t choose how my parents loved me as an infant, yet I can choose now, presently, to love and nurture others. And I can choose to receive and acknowledge the love and nurturing of others. 

At a Collective Presencing session last week, someone said: By making myself vulnerable, I make myself available. It reminded me of these words in the Tao Te Ching: 

The Tao is an empty vessel; it is used, but never filled. Oh, unfathomable source of ten thousand things!

I am made more expansive, when I let the boundaries of my selfhood porously play with the larger collective and cosmos. When I release my attachments to identity, and allow myself to become an empty vessel, I begin to notice that I am not alone. I play a part in becoming a larger vessel with others – one that can perhaps hold the unthinkable pain and trauma of the collective body. A larger vessel that can also begin to hold and receive the potential of futures that we cannot conceive of alone – futures that when I receive momentary glimmers of in these collective sacred containers, I can only shed tears from the beauty witnessed.

A lot of my exploration in this Self-Directed Masters has oriented around being in “right relationship” with a strange attractor that I’ve been naming my “soul’s calling”. Finding my soul’s calling requires the subtle, embodied orientation of my compass of trembling, revealing breadcrumbs in a wild territory that I would have missed if I just used a map. And the soul is also cultivated in the paradoxical process of dis-orientation and getting lost, of embracing movement in stillness, of healing wounds through the arts of living and dying in damaged bodies, and of shaping change by leaping in the face of Mystery. 

Here, I want to emphasize the truth: that the soul is discovered and held in sacred relationships. The soul unfolds in community. 

We can’t fix the system, but we can begin to change the relationships that are constitutive of the system, and let them diffract in widening ripples that bump into one another and turn into chaotic eddies and spirals. Systems and collectives are made up of the fluid dynamics of relationships, the ocean out of drops of water that dissolve and attract, our bodies out of cells and organisms in mutual symbiosis. Constantly changing, always expanding from source. 

Sacred relationships are scary, because they call upon you to give as much as you receive within entangled dynamics of reciprocity. They are also dangerous because if you allow yourself to be vulnerable, and therefore available, they will change and contaminate you. They will trespass, mutate and even kill the identities that you are attached to, awaken potentials and bring forth beautiful and monstrous lifeforms in your body that you never could have anticipated. This is the true risk of the fugitive, entangled soul: By becoming an empty vessel, you are also a hearth that catches fire. 

So how do we spread the fire? You can only put your own soul on deck, and throw sparks out. Perhaps your sparks will light other fires. You love, and you nurture relationships,  and you invite others to become fugitive souls with you. 

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.

--Clarissa Pinkola Estes