Death of the American Soul: Reclaiming Our Lives and Finding Purpose

I don't know where I have been these past twenty years - perhaps having worked for small, health conscious, non-profits has isolated me from what is happening to the souls of the majority of Americans - Americans who are forced to wake up well in advance of their own biological clock, who drive maniacally, fighting rush hour traffic, eyes focused directly ahead, unable to take in the beauty of nature that abounds on both sides of the road, hands gripping the wheel, rushing against time in order to get to their jobs at the appropriate hour - jobs that, for most, are unfulfilling, and out of sync with their own true natures.

Having recently taken a job as a contractor, i.e., paid by the hour without benefits, I am now surrounded by a sea of people, most of whom, exhibit a malaise. Their energy fields are depleted, their physical bodies show the signs of stress, their emotions for the most part are suppressed but if expressed are negative, even hostile or angry. Their minds seem programmed as though they have stepped out of the Stepford Wives. Like automatons, they go about their daily tasks. Shifting from low gear to high gear comes with the territory as they are the "lucky" ones who have survived downsizing. Now doing the work of 2 or sometimes 3 colleagues, the typical response to "How are you?" is "overwhelmed" or "I feel like I am in a pressure-cooker" or "This is just another day from hell." Exhaustion and burnout are the rigour of the day.

Housed in a building filled with dead air, many complain of feeling tired and lethargic. Ironically the smokers are the fortunate ones as they go outside 8-10 times a day to light up and pollute their lungs. Fresh air and the warm rays of a bit of sunlight recharge their depleted bodies temporarily while the rest of us fight somnolence. Like zombies, we work in little cubicles, each furnished with the bare necessities, each subject to an invasion of privacy.

Not surprisingly, morale is at an all time low. But perhaps, the most startling revelation for me is that, for the most part, these people are oblivious as to what is happening to their souls. A man in his 50's laments that he is too old to quit but too young to retire. Clearly, if he felt fulfilled and content he would not be looking for a way out. The feeling of being trapped, the fear of change, the fear of taking the necessary risks to find fulfillment create a barrier to identifying a more meaningful path and ultimately contribute to the death of his soul.

The tragedy is, he, like each and every one of us, has innate gifts. And if he were allowed to use these gifts, he would automatically feel a sense of purpose, as he would be working with the subtle and not so subtle energies of his being. He would be in sync with his divine self and would thus be creating an energy field that would support his being on all levels (physical, emotional and spiritual). And more likely than not, if given the opportunity to use his gifts he would make contributions far greater than any one could have ever conceived, thus creating a win/win situation for all.

"For Alfred Sloan [who tookover GM in 1923 and did for upper layers of management what Henry Ford did for the shop floor; he turned it into a reliable, efficient, machine-like process], the job of senior managers was to create a system that minimised the idiosyncracies of human behaviour; for today's best managers, the job is to encourage those idiosyncrasies and harness them to corporate ends."

The Economist, June 10th, 1995

But instead, this 50 year old man is relegated to a job description with rather narrow parameters. Year after year he responds to the same call, the same demands. And what makes matters worse, is that he must meet deadline after deadline, week after week, year after year. Middle-aged, fear of losing his job he endures, he copes. He bends to the pressures to produce new products, and to meet unrealistic deadlines, by working longer days, having less time for his family and for much needed respite. He prays that his body won't give in and that he won't find himself in an emergency room, being revived from near death due to cardiac failure. (Larry Dossey, MD has studied the effects of discontentment in the workplace and has revealed the disturbing truth - that most Americans are discontent with their jobs and that as a reflection of this discontentment most heart attacks in the US occur between 8 and 9 AM Monday morning.)

Unfortunately, he is not alone. This is how most Americans live - overextended financially, in jobs that provide them with merely a paycheck, in jobs that have nothing to do with their soul's purpose.

". . .most people want to come to work and do a good job. . . . If the company has no principles other than maximizing profits or if its values are unstated, workers will limit themselves to the least creative principle in business: Please the boss. No wonder we lament the disappearance of creativity among our workers. . . A company will thrive when its managers and their employees are in sync. Common values, a shared sense of purpose, can turn a company into a community where daily work takes on a deeper meaning and satisfaction."

Tom Chappell, The Soul of a Business, 1993.


A Problem at the Level of Society

The negativity produced by the overwhelming number of dissatisfied workers in the US is part and parcel of a much larger problem. As society has shifted from a simpler, slower paced, modest life style which embraced such values as respect, loyalty, morality and the importance of family, to a rat race replete with every addiction(which can be viewed as a coping mechanism) known to man (drugs, alcohol, overspending, overeating, overworking) it is no wonder that our society is going to hell in a handbasket.

Although it can be argued that "the collective" we are becoming more enlightened, this elevation of consciousness is being counter balanced by those who have strayed from their soul's path and remain confused, in a state of spiritual amnesia.

Throughout the lives of most children, adults and older adults, the acknowledgment and development of the soul is ignored. We can trace the continuum starting with the young child to the other end of the spectrum, that of our elders.

The Effects on Our Children

With amazing technological advances, overpopulation and a decline in job security, many parents of young children have bought into the fear that their child will not succeed unless they are "programmed" at a very early age. Competition is at an all time high. And for some, only an Ivy League education will result in future prosperity for their children.

As a result, day care centers which incorporate an educational component have no shortage of littleones and many have waiting lists to get in. Instead of letting these children develop at their own pace and be allowed to get in touch with their talents they are programmed to read, do simple math, spell etc. from an age when their minds are not yet ready. And adding insult to injury, the development of their souls are totally ignored during this process. Instead of experiencing nature, playing for the sake of playing, learning to care for a younger sibling, spending quality time with the family as a whole or just hanging out, they are subjected to a regimen comparable to boot camp.

And it only gets worse as the child gets older. Elementary school and middle school kids, still too young to rebel or just say no, are often put on the fast track to a nervous breakdown or ulcers.. Some kids are woken up at 5:30 AM so they can take skating lessons before school, and after school other lessons such as music, dance, gymnastics or religious lessons are jammed into those few hours before dinner. Doing one's homework fills up the after dinner hours. No time to unwind, kids fall into bed exhausted to face another day - an early initiation into the rat race. As young children they do not know that life can be different, and do not know that they can say no. They therefore endure significant injury to their soul and psyche. We are thus witnessing the tragic beginning of the death of the soul.

In contrast, Rudolph Steiner (founder of the Waldorf schools) recognized the need to develop the intellect in accordance with the child's physical, emotional and spiritual development. He designed a curriculum which includes fine and gross motor movement which he believed had an impact on the child's nervous system and helped prepare the child to assimilate information. Subjects are taught according to what Steiner felt the child could master most efficiently at any given developmental stage. Likewise his teachings include lessons about nature as well as a spiritual component which often is seen in the way children learn to express themselves through writing, music, drama, and painting.

Perhaps what is most unique about Steiner's approach is that children are not compared with others. They are treated solely as individuals, their progress is based on what they are capable of doing. This approach does away with judgment and competition. Children are given an opportunity to identify their strengths, likes and dislikes and to get in touch with their inner being, their soul. Unfortunately, the number of children who are fortunate enough to receive a Waldorf education represent a very small fraction of the total number of students in school today.

The Effects on the Elderly

As nuclear families have disintegrated and there no longer is a sense of community, many elders find themselves alone and abandoned. Some may have been fortunate enough to have experienced fulfillment during their lifetime. For some, having and raising children could have been part of their soul's purpose. For others working on boards to help the needy or writing or painting or their profession could have been why they chose to incarnate. But for many this state of contentment was only temporary as many have now joined the ranks of lost souls - as today's society has allowed them to become the forgotten ones.

Often abandoned by their families with little or no financial means, or even worse taken to the cleaners by sons and daughters fighting over their estate, they all too frequently in up in a nursing home which for all intensive purposes is purgatory on earth. Stripped of human dignity, humiliated and/or even abused by staff who have not even the slightest notion of what kindness or caring are, these unfortunate elders wait for their turn to enter the pearly gates. Day after day they wait, dejected, unloved and abandoned. Eating food robbed of its nutrients, sitting or lying down day after day, with no opportunity or incentive to exercise, they slowly deteriorate. Their bodies become stiff, their muscles flaccid, their minds stop processing, and they become depressed or apathetic. Death for them is a welcomed blessing.

Finding Fulfillment

Finding fulfillment and reclaiming our souls can be achieved by making a commitment to oneself as well as working towards creating harmony on the planet. Some of the work needs to be done on an individual level and some must take place in the workplace.

As individuals we must agree that we are all a part of a universal energy which impacts the well-being of others and ultimately that of the planet.

"Soul is what connects you to everyone and everything else. It is the sum of all the choices you make. It is where your beliefs and values reside. Soul is at the center of our relationships to others, and for me it is the center of the business enterprise."

Tom Chappell, The Soul of a Business 1993.

Second, by getting in touch with our divine selves we can reconnect to this notion of at-onement and identify with that part in ourselves which is caring, kind and loving. In this way we might have a chance of restoring a sense of community. How we achieve this will vary from person to person - for some, prayer, for others meditation, for others connecting with nature.

"Nature . . . runs through the fibers of each and all. In the same way, the absolute--as the nature of all natures is not something set apart from all things and events. The Absolute is not Other, but, so to speak, is seen through the fabric of all that is."

Ken Wilbur, Up from Eden.

Teachers from the past and present have advocated meditation as one of the means for getting reconnected with our inner selves, and connecting with our soul's greater knowing. Practiced in the east for thousands of years, Buddhism teaches that the means to peace on earth is through attaining peace within.

Meditating allows us to experience a deep state of peace, where all is "right" with the world. For years, scholars, philosophers, scientists and mystics from around the world, such as Alice Bailey, Ken Wilbur, Deepak Chopra, Ram Dass, and the list goes on have emphasized the importance of meditation.

"The means of development are ever the same: Occult meditation and service; the inner life of concentration and the outer life of practice; the inner ability to contact the higher, and the outer ability to express that faculty in terms of holy living; the inner irradiation from the Spirit, and the outer shining before men."

Alice Bailey, Letters on Occult Meditation, 1922, p.273.

In many of Deepak Chopra's books he references the importance of meditation.

"Through meditation you will learn to experience the field of pure silence and pure awareness. In that field of pure silence is the field of infinite correlation, the field of infinite organizing power, the ultimate ground of creation where everything is inseparably connected with everything else."

Chopra, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, 1994, p.15.

Third, companies must change their attitudes and maximize the talents of their employees. As we approach the year 2000 we need to include and go beyond Demings' vision of empowering employees and making them feel that they are a part of the company.

Messrs Bartlett and Ghoshal focus on two rather sophisticated processes. The first is "competence building". To have any chance of outperforming their smaller, nimbler rivals, the managers of big companies need to exploit the superior depth and breadth of their employees' talents by linking them up. Kao, a Japanese consumer-products company, is a master of the art of communication: its internal information network allows everybody to find out about everything to do with the company, and its laboratories invite in-house researchers to meetings from all round the world.

"The second process is entrepreneurism.. The most successful companies, according to Bartlett and Ghoshal, have either never subscribed to the idea that senior managers have a monopoly on ideas (3M,Canon and Intel) or else have pented the error of their ways (GE and ABB ). This too requires structural change."

The Economist June 10th, 1995

"For most, the prospect of leaving one's job is not a viable option. Yes the grass may be greener on the other side, but downsizing has created an atmosphere of fear and insecurity. Therefore learning to make peace with one's current employment situation is more realistic. However, through the process of introspection it wouldn't hurt to explore what your options might be. Ask yourself daily, what is my job on the planet? What is my bliss? Make an effort to clear the cobwebs of your mind so that you will have the opportunity to realize your own uniqueness."

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are, 1994

We are the creators of our own reality. We are thinking creatures who have a singular capacity to take responsibility for our unique piece of what it means to be alive, at least while we have our brief moment in the sun. So what are you waiting for?

Written by Maria A. Tadd


Share your thoughts...

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>