‘In care of the soul, we ourselves have both the task and the pleasure of organising and shaping our lives for the good of the soul.’ Thomas Moore
While the word ‘soul’ can have rather loaded meanings in our modern culture, most of us can probably relate to the idea of living a ‘soulful’ life. When we describe something as ‘soulless’, such as a building or a musical performance, there is a distinct sense of something vital which is missing. Similarly, when we only talk about the effects of meditation on the brain, fascinating though this topic might be, we instinctively feel that there is more to meditation than simply restructuring our brain to help us be more efficient in life.
At the same time, living a soulful life doesn’t have to mean ‘being off with the fairies’. The poet Wallace Stevens expresses this idea when he writes that ‘the way through the world is more difficult to find than the way beyond it’. A soulful life doesn’t need to be a battle between being pragmatic and being spiritual. In Australia, men’s sheds have become places where men can gather to work on projects, repair items, and teach new skills to each other. It’s hard to imagine a more pragmatic and practical environment than this, but you’d never describe a men’s shed as ‘soulless’ – quite the opposite.
A soulful life implies inner depth – that there is more to life than superficial positivity. When we become fixated on aiming for constant improvement, feeling impatient and dissatisfied with those periods of our lives when our inner fields are lying ‘fallow’ instead of producing a rich harvest all year round, then we don’t allow much room in our lives for our soul to flourish. What would it mean to shape ‘our lives for the good of the soul’? We’re all unique, and various times in our lives also call for different responses.
Sometimes it can be helpful to deliberately create some space to simply ‘be’, rather than being busy ‘doing’ all the time. This could be going away on a retreat, or taking a day out from using technology, or simply sitting in the garden or a beautiful place in nature for a while. Even just taking a few moments to pause and simply breathe can be very restorative – when I remember to do this, I often have a sense of being more present, feeling more complete.
What feels nourishing to your inner life – an activity, or some time out, or certain rituals? Set some time aside in the coming week to choose something which nourishes you, and notice how this feels.