Essay Book

The Selling of the Soul

In older cultures, the soul was considered the lighthouse beacon that helped guide one through the waters of life. Unfortunately, Western culture has lost sight of that light and replaced it with rational thinking, celebrity, success and a belief that almost anything can be fixed with enough thought, research, data and money. Curriculum of the Soul is a reminder of our internal navigation system that far surpasses anything technology has to offer. The book begins with a description of the tools each of us have been given in order to cope with the complexity of being alive. “The Selling of the Soul” is a chapter from the section that discusses ways to recognize, confront, and learn from our suffering.

“To sell your soul is the easiest thing in the world. That’s what everybody does every hour of his life. If I asked you to keep your soul—would you understand why that’s much harder?” – Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

Why?

American blues artist Robert Leroy Johnson

The story goes that the Mississippi blues guitarist/singer Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil at the crossroads for his great gifts as a musician. Variations on this theme can be found throughout the world of art from Goethe’s Faust to Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat.” These tales imply that we possess nothing more valuable than our soul, yet it can be sold or traded like a commodity for whatever the ego desires.

The selling of the soul is usually, but not always, a conscious decisionoften without understanding the full repercussions. American fantasy author Richelle Mead wrote, “Most mortals sell their souls for five reasons: sex, money, power, revenge, and love. In that order.” These five reasons all fall within the terrain of desire. When the ego wants to party, desire knows no boundaries. Stories such as Faust use the selling of the soul as a vehicle for discovering how valuable having a soul really is.

At the Galleria Shopping Mall

Just past the bin of pastel baby socks and underwear,
there are some 49-dollar Chinese-made TVs;

one of them singing news about a far-off war,
one comparing the breast size of an actress from Hollywood

to the breast size of an actress from Bollywood.
And here is my niece Lucinda,

who is nine and a true daughter of Texas,
who has developed the flounce of a pedigreed blonde

and declares that her favorite sport is shopping.
Today is the day she embarks upon her journey,

swinging a credit card like a scythe
through the meadows of golden merchandise.

Today is the day she stops looking at faces,
and starts assessing the labels of purses;

So let it begin. Let her be dipped in the dazzling bounty
and raised and wrung out again and again.

And let us watch.
As the gods in olden stories

turned mortals into laurel trees and crows

to teach them some kind of lesson,

so we were turned into Americans
to learn something about loneliness.

—Tony Hoagland

Addictive shopping, as described in the poem, is one way we sell our souls whether we are conscious of it or not. The poem ends with the view that the shadow side of American abundance is the loneliness that has been created by losing connection with others. The cycle of loneliness and consuming is self-perpetuating. When you are lonely, you consume; when consuming, you become lonely.

How?

Addictions are an indication of where we still long to be loved. What the selling of the soul has in common with trouble and craving is the instant gratification that the ego thrives on. That gratification has no interest in the long-haul lessons that feed the soul. Isn’t this what all advertising is about, manipulation through the knowledge that we are vulnerable to instant gratification? Advertising may be one the great examples of how our culture has sold its soul in exchange for the material abundance that capitalism has to offer.

Advertisement

I’m a tranquilizer.
I’m effective at home.
I work in the office.
I can take exams
on the witness stand.
I mend broken cups with care.
All you have to do is take me,
let me melt beneath your tongue,
just gulp me
with a glass of water.

I know how to handle misfortune,
how to take bad news.
I can minimize injustice,
lighten up God’s absence,
or pick the widow’s veil that suits your face.
What are you waiting for—
have faith in my chemical compassion.

You’re still a young man / woman.
It’s not too late to learn how to unwind.
Who said
you have to take it on the chin?

Let me have your abyss.
I’ll cushion it with sleep.
You’ll thank me for giving you
four paws to fall on.

Sell me your soul.
There are no other takers.

There is no other devil anymore.
—Wislava Symborska (translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh)

 

Eugène Delacroix. Mephistopheles Appears Before Faust

“We make deals with the devil every day, metaphorically” (Daniel Waters, Generation Dead). In the sense of the last line in the poem above, the Devil is in the use of drugs to soften the harshness of reality. It is the ego looking for help from outside, whereas it could look within; then only can it be in conversation with the voice of the soul. And at the end of the conversation, the soul always has the last word. Why? Unlike the ego and the body, the soul has a vested interest in eternity. The paradox is that the ego wants to taste eternity through the body full well knowing that the body is temporal. That longing for a taste of eternity is why we sell our souls.

British author Charlotte Brontë wrote in Jane Eyre:

“I can live alone, if self-respect, and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.”

Brontë’s knowledge of an “inward treasure born with me” is the source of her sense of self. That sense is an indication of her ability to love herself. The latter develops good boundaries and is exactly the antidote to selling one’s soul.

Here’s an excerpt from Wendell Berry’s poem Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front that describes how participating in a capitalist culture is a formula for selling the soul by design.

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
anymore. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

The metaphorical selling of the soul is essentially conforming to a familial, communal, tribal, or cultural viewpoint that is not in line with who you really are. Suffering shows up upon the realization that these viewpoints don’t necessarily nurture your soul. Or through a quiet nagging feeling that life is not being fully lived. Conforming to others’ reality offers great opportunities to sell your soul. “All the men in my family have become doctors.” “Everyone watches television.” “I have to work 9 to 5 to make a living.” The mind can rationalize anything.

Passivity is the ego becoming overwhelmed and succumbing to external events and situations. Or deliberately conforming without asking why or if you are abandoning yourself. Unfortunately, that is the wrong direction. It also seems to be the way of the world. What we once thought was the well-lit and traveled road to success, approval, and validation (the selling of the soul) turns out to be the same path to the dark night of the soul.

 

 

Curriculum of the Soul was given a Gold honor by Nautilus Book Awards in the personal growth category and an honorary award for the best self-published book in 2017. For more information and how to obtain a copy, go to curriculumofthesoul.com.

About Rick Haltermann

Rick Haltermann is an author, musician, photographer, and director of the Association of Noetic Practitioners, a modality that uses self-forgiveness as a means to restore well-being. Currently living in northern New Mexico, he spends as much time outdoors as possible. Visit rickhaltermann.com for more.

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