Soul of My Souls
by Deborah Bergman
It’s not so much how I nourish my soul,
it’s more whether I allow myself to get out of the way
and let my soul nourish me.
Some describe the soul as a great
light. Others see a beautiful being. Still others; a
winged bird, resplendent with radiance and enraptured
with grace, that soars to heaven with the mad grace of
communion, and back again. The soul is reported to have
a variety of appearances, each and every one as distinct
and wondrous as a snowflake. I find each of these
snowflake souls is at least partially nourished by a
type of food that is specific to it. For instance, that
great light might be nourished by visualization,
meditation and prayer. The perfect physical-spiritual
being, perhaps, by nutritional practices that uplift the
body and soul, and prayers that give reverence to the
processing hours of the day and year. And that bird of
the Spirit might be nourished by song, gifts of love,
and devotional prayer.
I long to possess one of those definitive sorts of
souls. It would be, I imagine, so radically fulfilling
to surrender to the sweet ecstasy of mystical
definition; to savor the radical paradox of joining one
tribe while loosening the limitations of another, to
primally recognize a shape, a mantra, a drumbeat.
But my soul is more complex than that.
Nothing I can do about it. Like the color of my eyes.
Some people’s eyes are definitively brown, or blue.
Mine happen to have come in a color that people say are
gray, or turquoise, or green or, or, or….what color
are your eyes, anyway? In my case, they eyes are indeed
the soul’s window, because in that soul of mine, I can
hear the beat of the shaman’s rattle, and see the
glorious ruby richness and the hot desert dust that
infused the mystical kiss of Rachel and Jacob at the
well. My soul also cries out loud like a golden trumpet
with the triumph and non-corporeal joy of the risen man,
and proudly displays the ornate yet perfectly ordered
chaos of the sacred feminine.
My soul speaks Tibetan, and Latin, and
Aramaic, and Hebrew, and Sumerian. It also speaks
American English slang. It responds to the song of
color, and of flowers, and of the stars, and to the
distinctive rhythms of ancient dances. My soul also
reads fashion magazines and peruses bank statements. It
winks at me from my browser window, and races by me on
the highway, and loves me in the touch of a beloved at
my throat, as it also loves in kind. My soul is a pain
in the ass in its versatility.
I’m an American with a big brain and
a wild heart (not necessarily in that order) and my soul’s
roots draw on the groundwater of the melting pot. My
soul is wide.
I long for the refuge, economy and
elegance of a single lineage. And I have entered and
pursued a lineage or two quite deeply. But as a
classical practitioner, I am a liar. Even as I say
mantra, sitting very still, in a half lotus posture, my
hips are dancing tribally. And when I dance with my
outer, brilliantly costumed body, I can never entirely
forget the germ of brilliant, monklike stillness inside.
The mystic in me is beleaguered by the Talmudic scholar.
And the earth mother in me cannot cook dinner without
first getting in touch with my inner nun.
Perhaps you, like me, have your own
brand of complex soul (and humor, I hope, too!) Perhaps
you cannot give any one of your souls up either. That
would be like forgetting Jerusalem, or hiding your light
under a bushel. Perhaps each of your souls, like each of
mine, is the facet of a single diamond. The difference
being, while the facets of a jewel are impermeable, each
of these is hungry. Each beckons to be recognized, fed,
plumped with practice, and reassured with community, and
To practice each tradition to its deserving fullest
is not possible. Yet to fast from any one would be to
succumb to a spiritual eating disorder. My heart tells
met I am not here to turn a blind eye to this, the exact
nature of my times. It tells me I am here to open myself
wide enough to fully receive them. Experience has shown
me that, paradoxically, by both recognizing and
objecting to my souls and the dilemmas they present, I
resolve the problem. I actually get out of their way and
welcome nourishment in.
So, next, I go deeper. I remind myself that in most
traditions the soul is arranged around a central
channel, or core. In the Kabbalah, it is the central
pillar. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is, among other things,
the avenue for the consciousness to leave the body after
death. In dance it is literally the spine and Egyptian
mystery schools call it the shoshomna. Indigenous
cultures often recognize it as the trunk of the world
tree. Some mystical Christians find it in the Book of
This central channel is the soul of my souls. It
absorbs its diversity effortlessly within itself. They
are like the organs attached to the physical spine, and
are nourished by it. When I manage to first recognize
and then get out of the way of the basic paradox, in the
stillness of this universal place, in the subtle and
gentle pulsing of its fluidless fluid, my other souls
and I are fed.
The central channel, or soul of souls, as I like to
call it, (has been around forever. It has) is accessed
through visualization, and ancient movement, and prayer,
and all manners of being still. The lesser souls enter
its cathedral, become silent, watch the light on the
stained glass window in the sanctuary. I explored it and
was led through it for many years before I settled on
it. From its vantage point, I can participate in almost
any tradition without lying. I humbly ask to find its
central core, and honor it. I get out of the way. I am
This soul of my souls also has at
least one other great, unexpected ally.
Permit me to take what might feel like
a sharp turn as I describe the big juicy package that
just happened to show up at my front door as I sat down
to write this. The box held a pound and a half of
seashell colored, unspun fiber—warm beiges and pinks,
shot through with a bit of periwinkle, a hit of coral
and a deep, mysterious dusting of deep greyed cocoa
brown. It was made mostly of good, resilient wool, but
luscious traces of shiny, strong silk had been pulled
through it like the sighs of some divine creature
bemoaning the inevitable practical solidity of the human
world. The stuff came in rolled carded batts, which are
like giant rolled tubular pastries, Yankee Doodles or
bundt cakes, with one sort of color on the outside and
all kinds of other delicious fiber flavors for the eyes
and hands rolled up within. You spin the thing much in
the way you might eat the goodies cake if no one else
was looking—you unroll it, and pull off one long strip
so you can see the goodies inside and then you consume
The difference being, of course, that
you don’t pop the stuff in your mouth. You sit down,
attach one end of the fluff trail to your bobbin, start
up your pedals, make the bobbin spin, allow the fluff to
flow through your hands, and spin it supple yet tight.
Don’t know how to spin? No problem.
Thanks to the invention known as the human imagination,
I can take care of that.
Join me as I treadle the two pedals of
my handmade cherry wheel, which draws the long flare of
multi-colored wool and silk, which kind of looks like a
long, thin cloud or a particularly puffy jet trail,
through my hands and around the bobbin. The wheel
itself--small, tight, fast, deep cherry, and merrily
spoked and finialled--mediates between my feet and the
bobbin spinning above.
As I pedal, I am using both hands to
alternately separate the bits of warm beige and coral
and chocolate cloud let them go and allow them to twist
together before they roll around the bobbin.
A piece of yarn, yes. And also the
soul of my soul, the core where all the diversity that
runs through me resolves into something that is at once
color and silence.
Stumbling across this discovery was
fortuitous. I write about how it happened in my most
recent book, "The Knitting Goddess."
Now, here’s the interesting thing.
The action, the spinning itself, occurs not when I
separate the fibers, i.e. not while I touch them, but
each time I briefly let go of the separated fibers with
my hands and let the bobbin pull them in. When I pick up
the fiber again the spun bit feeds up through the
channel in the whirling spindle and onto the bobbin,
presenting a new piece of fluff to let go of so it will
Notice what I just said: the fiber
turns into yarn while I do not touch it. Everything else
about spinning is but preparation for this surrendered
moment. For this skillful acknowledgment of no control.
All the skill, and coordination, the access to magical
looking pedals, and wheel, and spindle, and bobbin;
everything about handspinning is preparation for this.
And all my souls, and all the ways
they challenge me, lure me, berate me, and enfold me
with their love, lead me up to a spiritual moment that
is the exact equivalent of this one.
In the activity of spinning, and also of knitting, I
find that central place, from which all the parts of my
complex soul are nourished flow through the yarn and
spinning them together. And as I do I find I am able to
go very deep without checking out. Along with different
fibers, and colors, and textures, and degrees of shine,
all my souls spin together into a seamless cord that
offers infinite possibilities of creation. In its shiny
and even and diverse beauty, I bring the symbol of the
soul of my souls comes into my world.
Working with fiber is one of the most
ancient human skills, and also one of the most ancient
metaphors for connecting with the cosmos, a kind of
umbilical cord to source, weaving together worlds, as
you will. If you decide to explore this path, you will
have a lot of help weaving your soul together whether or
not you are a man or woman, and whether or not you take
up the metaphor, or an actual wheel, or needles, and
In "The Knitting Goddess" I tell
the updated stories of a collection of ancient feminine
archetypes who both offered and took advantage of the
same brand of wisdom, nourishment, and power. Since
these days, many more of us knit, or are inclined to
knit than spin. (Maybe we can change that and I can
write more about spinning some day.) I teach how to knit
and offer some designs you can knit while entering and
accessing this state. The knitting goddesses, who of
course include you, include but are not limited to the
makers of worlds, great magicians, brilliant diplomats,
and divine mothers. You would probably recognize some of
them, while others might be new to you. Each of them
have quite a bit of wisdom to offer and quite a story to
Feminine archetypes explore the
connection between creativity and stillness, but working
with fiber is not an exclusively feminine activity. In
other cultures, including some Meso American ones, men
spun, and still do. Spinning was central to the
cosmology of the Huichol and Koji people, and in Peru, I
am told, there are still wise men who go to power places
to crochet caps together. The great Mahatma Gandhi is
known in spinning circles for recommending one hour of
spinning every day.
Speaking of which, are you still
spinning in your imagination? Are you still pulling
colorful clouds apart with your finger, then letting
them go and watching them relax into yarn? Are you
letting go of all you know and letting the soul of your
souls nourish you?
Because, the neat thing is, I’m not
the only one who has had this experience. In sharing my
discovery, I have discovered I am part of a great circle
I did not even know was there. One of the most wonderful
rewards of writing "The Knitting Goddess" is the
mail I get from readers. They often tell me that I have
exactly described their experience, although they had
never been able to put words to it before. They have
been using their fiber work to follow the ancient/modern
pathway and accessing the soul of their souls, the
creative core that is at once vital and physical and
also leads inexorably to stillness, too.
They often describe it as reconnecting
to something they already knew but didn’t know they
knew and then give the book to the women of their clan:
their daughters, their mothers, their circle of friends.
Their acknowledgment nourishes me. Through practice and
communication, we form a circle of soul nourishment.
With their contribution, the story continues and the
soul of the souls comes closer still.
May you take exactly the right risks
for you to nourish your own soul, to acknowledge all of
its parts and weave it together, and also to surrender
and let your soul nourish you. May you carry courage in
your heart, and skill in your mind, and may the two meld
together. May you never forget this, or whatever else it
is your soul needs to remember, but when you do forget,
as most of us occasionally do, may you remember with
discernment, gentleness and humor.
In whatever way best serves you, may
you knit. May you spin.
Copyright © 2001
Deborah Bergman is a passionate knitter
and seasoned explorer and reporter of the direct,
non-idealized experience of spirituality. She holds a
degree in Comparative Religion, is practiced in a range
of world spiritual traditions old and new, and offers
live courses that strengthen the innate connection to
inner stillness through easy creativity, fresh
approaches to ancient stories, and concise meditation
techniques. She is the author of "The Knitting
Goddess: Finding the Heart and Soul of Knitting through
Projects, Instruction, and Stories," "River of
Glass," a novel, and "Inner Voyager: A Journal
for Intuitive Discovery." Currently, she at work at
a book project in an area quite different than knitting,
except that nothing is really that different from
knitting, and an audio tape series. A native and long
time resident of New Jersey and Manhattan, New York, she
currently resides in western Oregon. You can reach her
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