The Soul Muscle

The Silent and Brave revision page # 245

Really killed it in writing today-figured out a lot of things. That is a good feeling!

I am reading “The Sheltering Sky” by Paul Bowles. He was one of Gertrude Stein’s hangers-on, the expatriate set that included Hemingway, and at first I was not too impressed, but the book is growing on me. It is about three Americans, a married couple and their male friend, who travel to Africa after World War II has temporarily destroyed all available European niceties. Romantic memories of their leader, Port, convince them to travel deeper into the continent (the horror) where they have misadventures that end up finishing them off. It’s a  triumph-of-nature over folly-of-man sort of novel, with sex and booze and stuff. There’s a great quote in it that made me sit up and take notice. The quote is this:

“The soul is the weariest part of the body.”

This works with my  God-within-man theory, as our souls, the unconscious part of our body that understand right and wrong better than our conscious minds, are put through extreme trials and tribulations as we try to live our lives, doing right or wrong, trusting our intuition and being misled by it.

As a bartender, I might say that the liver is the weariest part of the body, but it is true that the soul gets a lot of work. Shouldn’t that work make it stronger, like a pectoral muscle applied to a bench press? Or do our constant failures weaken us to the point where we just don’t care anymore, where our whole world of shared experiences is flat and uninteresting? This seems to be true of Port and Kit, characters searching for meaning and excitment and eventually overwhelmed by events beyond their control. In the end they are simply out of their league, travelers with money and security who never realized that their “privileged existence” might not be enough to save them. Port dies of typhoid, Kit rides off into the Sahara on a camel. I can’t help thinking of the stockbroker and the opioid addict.

Do we all suffer from that syndrome? Needing to press the limits, thinking we’ve got it all figured out, then realizing that the world is stronger than we are? In that case, is it better to pull back, not explore our limits, allow that we are not strong enough to take on the world and succeed? Is it just blind luck when people do live at peace with their souls? Or have they been through more lives, and thus possess muscles made of stronger stuff?  Both Kit and Port desperately want to fall in love again and find their idyll, so much so that at points in the story I want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them, and say, “just kiss her, you fool,” or “just tell him how you feel, you ninny.” But they just-can’t-do-it. And then it’s too late.

If the soul as muscle analogy is continued, it would be logical to think that some souls are born weak, some strong. Some would be like the muscles of marathon runners, capable of doing their work repeatedly, over the couse of the race, after the rest of the body has shut down in misery, and others would be quick twitch, capable of super-human feats of power but then in need of relegation to the cold tub for recovery or, worse, consigned to the P. U. P. list. Certainly some souls would be born wary, while others would be willing to flex without thought, and figure out the consequences later.

I hear the phrase “old soul” a lot, often denoting a young person who just seems to “get it”.  I think the phrase in meant to connotate unusual wisdom or the appearance of experience, but again I think it might go back to that Port and Kit problem, the exhaustion of dealing with life and the inability to find excitement. Because there has to be a willingness to live, to seek out life and enlightmenment, in these soul muscles of ours, otherwise we are just walking around with flaccid, used-up organs, past the cares of life, and that is not being a good human being, or closer to God, it’s just being bored and ready for death.

Can you build a soul out of disappointments and moral infidelities, or is it necessary to have the proper pieces in place, and use them to make the correct interpretations of right and wrong? None of us are going to make the correct decisions all the time, and it is imperative that we learn from our mistakes. There has to be some willingness to take chances, and strengthen our souls, sometimes in painful ways.

We would do well to remember that we only get one soul in life, like we only get one body. We must nourish it with love and understanding, feed it with experience, and flex it with care.



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