Soul Care: What it is and why it matters

"Our soul is like an inner stream of water, which gives strength, direction and harmony to every other element of our life. When that stream is as it should be, we are constantly refreshed and exuberant in all we do..."  Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart

The past several years I have been on a quest: a quest to discover why I've felt so "off", so disconnected from myself and from others. You see, about four years ago I moved to Santa Cruz from the Central Valley, started a new job and got married, all within the space of a few months. While these were all wonderful and exciting changes in my life, in the aftermath of all the change I felt so disoriented and out of my element. At first I attributed these feelings to having so much transition in my life all at once - who wouldn't feel out of their element and disoriented after changing so many of the basic things that provide us with a daily sense of stability and normalcy? But as the months went on and I slowly adjusted to my new surroundings, I continued to experience an inner restlessness, a sense of disconnection from myself and from God that I could not overcome, and I began to realize that whatever it was that I was experiencing was something much deeper than simply adjusting to life transitions. 

We've all heard of the word "soul" but do we really know what it means? The word soul is used in many different ways in our society - it can mean anything from the eternal, spiritual part of a person, to a descriptive comment on a work of art or piece of music, to a fancy tea drink called the "bowl of soul." People may disagree on what soul actually refers to, or on whether or not we actually have souls. But we all experience times in life when we have a deep sense of well-being - a sense of connection with ourselves, others and the world around us; a passion for and enjoyment of life; a pull toward something beyond and outside of ourselves. We also all experience periods of dullness, of disconnection and detachment - a sense of losing touch with our purpose and meaning or that the light has gone out of our lives. There are times when we feel enlivened by an unexplainable passion for life and living that taps into our deepest dreams and desires, and other times when the meaninglessness or monotony of each day threatens to stifle us. I believe that the common thread tying together these radically different experiences that we all have as humans is actually a living part of us, a part of us that can be named and attended to. I believe this part of us is called the soul.

Over these past several years, I have slowly come to realize that the inner restlessness I felt was actually coming from my soul. In the same way that my stomach signals me when my body needs food or my dry mouth signals me when I need water, my soul also communicates with me about what my inner self needs. We are very used to paying attention to our body's physical signals and we also know what happens when we ignore them - it doesn't take long for us to run out of fuel, and then we are forced to attend to our body's physical needs. But we are more than just physical beings - we are emotional, spiritual and relational creatures with needs that extend beyond the physical.

I believe our soul lies at the emotional, spiritual and relational center of who we are, integrating and connecting these various aspects of ourselves and communicating to us about the state of our interior life and about what we need.

Unfortunately, most of us are not taught how to recognize the quiet promptings of the soul, or if we do, we easily ignore or push these promptings aside. As I navigated through the major transitions that took place in my life four years ago, I had no idea how to pay attention to what my soul was trying to communicate, but I definitely experienced the consequences of ignoring the gentle nudges and invitations to stop and listen. For me, these consequences included burnout, stress, fatigue, joylessness, depression, anxiety and loneliness. After several years of these experiences, I was finally willing to take notice. 

Soul care is about learning how to slow down, create space, listen and pay attention.

This is exactly what I do with people who work with me in therapy - for an hour each week, we create space in my Aptos office to slow down and to listen to the gentle promptings of the soul. Unlike the body's physical signals, which can often be quite loud, the signals of our soul are much quieter, much more subtle, and therefore much easier to ignore unless time, space and attention are given to attend to these inner promptings.

The repercussions of ignoring the signals of our souls are no less serious than the consequences of denying ourselves necessary food and water.  

Gradually and ever-so-surely, as we ignore our deepest promptings, we begin to shrivel and die inside. The spark goes out from our lives, and we are no longer connected to what we are doing. We don't know how or don't want to hear what our innermost self needs, and so we lose touch with ourselves. This disconnection extends outward to create distance from God, others and the world around us. We begin to feel as if we are drifting through life, with no sense of meaning or purpose, or simply surviving and distracting ourselves through each day. This is no way to live! 

We must learn how to attend to our souls - how to listen and how to respond - if we want to live authentic, joy-filled lives.

If we do not learn how to effectively care for our innermost self, we run the risk of completely missing the point, striving after other, more fleeting ways to quell the inner restlessness that we feel. 

So, where to begin? The first step lies in making space - space to listen, to pay attention, and to discern. 

Tune in next week for more specifics on how to begin carving out this kind of space in your life.