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How About Soul Care?

Updated: Jan 11

There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul." ​Victor Hugo, Les Miserables



Let me just warn you ahead of time.  In this blog I am going to talk about the soul and soul care and even touch on  what some might call “miracles”  -  stuff that can make us fidgety.  But before I get to the fidgety stuff, let me talk heady stuff about the soul.


In various religious traditions, the soul is often regarded as the eternal essence of an individual. Spiritual practices, such as prayer, meditation, and rituals, are emphasized to nurture the soul. Religious teachings stress the importance of virtues like compassion, love, and forgiveness, promoting a harmonious connection between the soul and the divine.


From a psychological standpoint, the soul is often equated with the psyche or the inner self. Psychologists emphasize self-awareness, introspection, and emotional intelligence as tools to care for the soul. Practices such as mindfulness and therapy enable individuals to delve into their innermost thoughts and emotions, fostering a holistic understanding of the self.


Philosophers have long debated the nature of the soul. From Plato's immortal soul to existentialist views on individuality. Existentialist thinkers encourage authentic living, advocating for individuals to find meaning and purpose in their lives. Care for the soul, according to philosophy, involves a continual quest for self-discovery and the pursuit of a meaningful existence.


If we went on a retreat to care for our souls we might be out forest bathing, meditating, cultivating gratitude, forgiveness, love, and compassion, and contentment or peace of mind.


Okay, enough of a prelude. I am just going to spit it out. And I do this here in this space knowing there are scientists and doctors and psychotherapists and ministers and skeptics and people with all sorts of religious and philosophical stances on this list.


Confession. I have had soul-full encounters.  Encounters with my own soul and with others’ souls. Heard tales of others doing the same. AND encountered people who said they were dying because they had lost contact with their souls.


What makes me think they are encounters of the soul?  Tears, laughter, a heart exploding with joy or awe or wonder,  deeeep connection with a person – what some call “I-Thou” experiences.  Feeling like I am standing on holy ground sort of thing.  Epiphanies.


And I have had these sorts of encounters in dreams, in reading a book like The Velveteen Rabbit, in listening and dancing to certain music (singing to the top of my lungs What the World Needs Now Is Love Sweet Love with my friend in her Volkswagen Beetle convertible), watching people do incredible acts of courage, kindness, or perseverence, experiencing a baby being born…and just hanging out at our cabin in the woods -embraced by the towering pines and cedars.  And in amazing, authentic conversations.


Soooo.  Hang on.  About to go deeper. Here’s a real thing that happened.


I met a woman named “Julie” when I was browsing through art galleries in Laguna Beach about twenty years ago. She told this story.


A robber held a gun to her head and told her he was going to kill her. “Why,” she hysterically asked? “Because your life has no meaning,” he replied.


Julie’s heart was pounding as she shook herself awake.  She was actually having an awful dream.  The real life situation was that she had recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Cancer. She had surgery but was given little time and no hope. 


Julie thought the dream was a message from her deepest self – her soul. The robber was right, her life was meaningless. She had stuffed her soul - obscured her deepest self for nearly thirty years.


Within the week Julie left her job, her significant relationship, sold her house, bought a traveling paint set, and caught a plane to France.  When I met her, that had been 18 years ago. She was back in Laguna Beach giving plein air art lessons and painting professionally.


Psychotherapists Dr. Lawrence LeShan and Dr.Ruth Bolletino (authors of an older book called, Cancer as a Turning Point) would not be surprised by Julie’s story. According to them, they have witnessed many terminally ill patients totally recover and many others significantly extend their lives as they learned to find and express their souls– as they learned to “sing their unique song.”


Bolletino said in a telephone interview I had with her many years ago that they have also helped many people who are not ill, but simply wanted to find better ways of living their lives. Bolletino believes that the primary work for all of us who want to live richer lives is to grapple with the forces that keep us from being compassionate enough toward ourselves to take our souls seriously.


Our souls are often suppressed by our fear of what others will think of us. Bolletino tells of a lawyer who had stayed in a job he hated because of his fear of seeing his father’s disappointment.  LeShan writes of a corporate executive who wanted to be a special education teacher, but had to courageously withstand the disapproval, dismay and horror of parents, siblings, and friends.


Our souls are not to be taken lightly. Our souls fuel our emotions, motivations, and sense of meaning. Life without them can feel futile. The good news is we may not need to divorce, sell our house, and leave our jobs to be true to our soul.  We can move in less dramatic ways toward a more soul-filled life.


Our first step is to connect with our soul.  Okay. Whoa.  Understand that I’m on my own here.  No soul guru is guiding me with this part I am writing now…at least not that I am aware of anyway.  


One way I would do it is to examine those times in our lives when we felt most alive or at our best or when those tears, that laughter, that deep connection happened. Notice it, catch it. Savor it.


After we have identified some of those soul-filled moments, consider how our current life presents opportunities for soul touching, for soul care.


That’s what I have been doing lately. Noticing those moments when my soul is singing.  Being sensitive to my innermost essence and what lights me up (forgive mixing metaphors…it’s hard for me to speak in soul talk). I notice my soul showing up pretty consistently when we have our compassion circle and there’s deep, meaningful sharing.



When we talk about self-care, it doesn’t seem so noble.  It’s almost embarrassing to speak about.  As long as we keep the talk focused on moving our bodies and eating a good diet, sleeping well, it feels pretty practical and clearly needed though. Dare we even speak of soul-care however?  Is it too woo-woo? It takes some courage for me to think about, to talk about.


But as we look forward to a new year and as I am thinking about what I want to leave behind and what I want to take forward, I want to keep my eye on caring for the soul. And I have already noticed a bunch of good stuff about what touches June’s soul.


I read an interview yesterday, the guy was saying that he was going to write a book entitled Still Coming of Age.  I thought, that’s my book too. Those coming of age stories shouldn’t just be about adolescents but also for those of us who have lived long enough to see the finish line and are still journeying, still on the quest, toward becoming our true selves.


And maybe that's why The Velveteen Rabbit makes me cry - it's about the power of love and becoming Real. And, as an aside, it wouldn't work to put Aretha Franklin on my deathbed playlist. Her soul just touches my soul and some part of me would just keep on dancing. Or maybe that's exactly the way to go.


How might we journey together to the good life by delving into soul stories, soul encounters, and noticing what seems to touch – to fill our souls?

 

 

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