The spiritual tradition tells us the soul chooses to be born in a particular set of conditions in order to make progress during that person’s lifetime. After the lesson has been learned, the soul leaves the body to assimilate its experience and then reincarnates in a new life to make further progress.
For example, in Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy, though a very wealthy man with a polished exterior, presents a haughty and arrogant disposition on occasion. And yet when he meets Eliza Bennet, he is overcome by his feelings for her, struck by the light in her eyes. Yet to win her over, he realizes he has to change his nature, which he does, leading to a critical event in the story where he is able to demonstrate his dramatically improved character. As a result, Eliza responds very favorably, culminating in their happy marriage. In essence, Darcy has made a powerful progress in life; precisely what his soul had sought when it entered his being at birth.
Over a decade ago, an individual I know of went through an intense change of his own. Not so much a shift from lower to higher character, or wanting attitudes to a higher deposition, but a powerful psychological and spiritual transformation that took shape through months of intense fear. So great were the 3-6 hour daily onslaught of causeless terror that during that he had to constantly remain in a state of immovable meditation, calling peace and calm to prevent that person from going mad. Along the way, he came to understand that this was what his soul sanctioned in order to move to the next stage of his life. In fact, from that day on, he embarked on a profound personal and spiritual journey that included a new career as a thinker and writer. Because of that cathartic episode, he was reborn into a new life, enabling his soul to make a great progress.
As it turns out, there are also uncommon individuals who actually make several such changes in a single lifetime. These rare souls go through consecutive stages of transformation that give sustenance to their souls in its journey through time. One such individual is Jean Valjean, the main character of Victor Hugo’s nineteenth century masterpiece, Les Miserables. In fact, Valjean passes through four distinct life-changing stages that enable him to grow from a husk of a man to a veritable saint.
Jean Valjean’s first transformation took place in prison, where he spent 19 years for the petty offense of stealing a loaf of bread. There he not only developed a new level of physical strength, but a new emotional intensity through his newfound cause of social justice. Because of the harsh abuse he suffered, he committed himself to overcoming similar abuses in society. As a result, Valjean had changed from an individual who hardly spoke or looked at anybody, to one dedicated to overcoming injustices in the world.
However, Jean Valjean’s soul was ready for more growth. And so in his second incarnation, he came to know a humble bishop who showed him the power of selfless and self-givingness. When the bishop saved him from the authorities after escaping from prison, Valjean came to deeply admire his goodness, goodwill, and generosity. It was a spiritual like perception for Valjean, as he now saw the brute, husk of the man he was, and the self-giving man he could become if he emulated the bishop’s behavior. And so from that day on, he dedicated himself to a life of self-givingness.
And yet Jean Valjean’s being was ready for more change. As long as the soul aspires for progress, life will continue to present challenges that compel its further evolution. In the years that followed Valjean was able to realize his aspirations of self-givingness by becoming a beloved and prosperous businessperson. However, one day Valjean learned that someone named Jean Valjean had been convicted of a crime. He knew that this was not the case because he was the person with that name. After wrestling with his conscience, he went to the court in Arras and revealed that he was the real Jean Valjean, thereby freeing the accused. However, by doing so, the authorities learn that he was an escaped convict; forcing Valjean once again to be a fugitive from the law. It would mean that he would have to give up all that he had built up in his professional life. What actually occurred was that life tested his full commitment to his personal ideal of self-givingness. By acceded to a level of psychological purity, by doing what was right and true, Valjean had made the third great growth and progress of his life.
Though his mind and life found great emotional satisfaction in his new solitary existence, his soul aspired for more growth and adventure. That would come in the form of his relationship with his beloved adopted daughter Cossette. Though he rescued her as a child from the clutches of evil, and poured his love into her in the years that followed, Cossette blossomed into a young woman and found herself in love with Marius, a self-giving, young idealist.
Upon learning of the romance, Valjean through a great psychological and spiritual-like effort withdrew his possessiveness toward Cossette, retreating to his home so that she could exercise her freedom and pursue her own deep love for Marius. As a result, over time, he became weary, fell ill, and began to wither him away. However, as a result of that self-restraining effort, life responded in overwhelming fashion when near the end, Marius and Cossette arrived at his deathbed, confessing their deep love and appreciation for all he had done in lives, including saving Marius’s life at the barricades. Most telling, when Cossette confessed her deep love for Valjean, all that he aspired for in his life was fulfilled, enabling him to die a happy man. That giving up of attachment to the one person he so dearly love din the name of Cossette’s best interest was Valjean’s final effort of self-givingness in life. He had now reached the heights of spiritual purity, of selfless love through non-attachment. As a result, he had now completed his multi-birth journey of the soul in a single lifetime.
A soul is born in each of us in order to derive one essential progress. Just as we are evolving, so is the soul through in its own cosmic journey. But the soul will only find fulfillment in us if we rise to a higher level of consciousness. The soul of Mr. Darcy was fulfilled when he made the psychological adjustment and changed a central part of his nature, winning over the woman he loved. Jean Valjean went steps beyond and evolved his being four times in a single lifetime, an almost unprecedented event that is indicative of a very rare soul.
This being the case, then what is life asking of us? What does our soul seek through change in our own being? Or to another way, how can we improve ourselves in a way that gives sustenance to our soul?
In the end, we not here merely to exist, or even to love and achieve, but to make one essential progress in our lifetime. But do we know what that is, and if so, do we understand what needs is to be done to make it happen? If we can identify those parts of our being that need change, then we will move in harmony with our soul’s aspiration. If we then go a step further and make that change, not only will we progress and evolve, but so will our soul in its journey through space and time.
--Roy Posner 17:41, 30 August 2009 (UTC)