There’s a lot of trendy talk these days about practicing “self-care.” We see the term splashed across magazine covers like Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Day. Oprah preaches it. Mindful magazine recently devoted an entire issue to the topic.
The self-care articles and advocates provide rich insights on how to nurture our minds with things like positive affirmations, reclaiming joy, and noticing beauty. They remind us to take care of our bodies with proper nutrition and exercise.
Self-care is an important part of living out Jesus’ command to love God, love others, and love ourselves (Mark 12:30-31).
But, what seems to be missing in all the talk about self-care is caring for an essential part of our Being: our souls.
We are made up of mind, body, and spirit/soul. This trinity makes us fully human. If we neglect one part of our Being, we soon become unbalanced like a three-legged stool resting on one or two legs.
It’s time to move beyond the dime store of self-care and return to the classroom of learning how to care for our souls.
Have We Lost Our Souls?
In his book, Care of the Soul—A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life, Thomas Moore suggests the greatest problem facing our troubled post-modern world is a loss of soul. Moore writes:
“…the soul, [is]…largely ignored today by individuals and the society at large. If we neglect our souls, we lose both our humanity and our individuality and risk becoming more like our machines and more absorbed into a crowd mentality.”
When soul is neglected, Moore suggests it doesn’t just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning—all symptoms that send patients to therapists.
Moore sees a clear connection between the growing violence in the United States and what he calls our “Formica-smooth conformist culture.” Without a strong connection to our soul, we’re guided by popular opinion instead of by God and our individuality. If the soul is not honored, Moore maintains, it will wreak havoc instead.
What’s a Soul?
Moore does not deny the existence of an immortal soul, but instead offers the following definition of the soul in the context of what it means to live “soulfully.”
“‘Soul’ is not a thing, but a quality or a dimension of experiencing life and ourselves. It has to do with depth, value, relatedness, heart, and personal substance. I do not use the word here as an object of religious belief or as something to do with immortality. When we say that someone or something has soul, we know what we mean, but it is difficult to specify exactly what that meaning is.”
“Care of the soul begins with observance of how the soul manifests itself and how it operates. We can’t care for the soul unless we are familiar with its ways. Observance is a word from ritual and religion. It means to watch out for but also to keep and honor, as in the observance of a holiday.”
Although we can’t fully define our souls, the word for me that pulls it all together is “essence.” Our souls are our essence, the core of our Being.
Philosophers have often said the soul makes us human. Paradoxically, when we allow ourselves to be fully human, we have greatest access to our souls.
Soul is Different Than Spirit
Our souls are distinct from our spirits. The spirit is that part of our being that communicates with God. Spirit draws us into prayer, meditation, and other spiritual practices. It fills our hearts with awe and courage. It’s like an umbilical cord that provides us with Divine guidance and inspiration.
Moore provides this distinction between soul and spirit:
“Soul is more intimate, deep, and concrete. You care for your soul by keeping up your house, learning how to cook, playing sports or games, being around children, getting to know and love the region where you live. Soul allows you to become attached to the world, which is kind of love. When the soul stirs, you feel things, both love and anger, and you have strong desires and even fears.”
How Do We Care for Our Souls?
We care for our souls by observing its condition throughout the day. Am I feeling loved, happy, or filled with joy? Is there anger or bitterness filling me with fear or rejection? Is my heart open or closed? Am I listening to my Inner Voice of Love or resisting something that’s trying to teach me deeper wisdom?
For me, one of the best ways to care for my soul is to ask myself this simple question: “What does my soul need right now?”
That question allows me to observe what’s going on inside of me. It allows me to check-in with my soul. Like taking a lunch break, I’m learning how to take a “soul-break.” It’s the pause that refreshes and reconnects me with my Inner Self.
Caring for our souls is a life-long adventure. Once we discover we have a soul and that nothing is more precious than it, we open our hearts to inner growth and transformation. We enter a new twilight zone by working with our souls and the Creator to find deeper meaning and purpose unfolding in our lives. We even experience happiness.
Creating a Soulful Life
Living soulfully doesn’t happen overnight. Like learning to play the piano, It takes inner work and practice to create a lifestyle that nurtures our souls and gives them room to lead and guide us.
Here’s five practices you might try to create a more soulful life.
As the pale rays of dawn peek over the horizon, nature slowly ushers in a new day. This quiet time each morning is a perfect space for us to bask in the stillness before we enter the active part of our day. There’s a grounding, a rootedness with which we nurture our souls as a foundation for the rest of the day. To meditate in this peaceful in-between time allows us to connect with the Divine in an intimate fashion.
When we find a way to meditate that’s life-giving for ourselves—be it sipping morning coffee with the Creator, reading scripture, or taking a walk—we give our souls the gift of being present to ourselves and God. Like a deeply rooted tree, morning meditation grounds us in the life-giving soil of love and wisdom.
Taking a Nature Break
One of the participants at a recent nature as spiritual practice workshop I offered said that when she gets stressed out or overwhelmed while working at her office during the day, she goes outdoors for a few minutes and breathes in fresh air.
This practice allows her to let go of anxiety, purifies her lungs, and cleanses her emotions so she can regain her center.
“My soul needs this break,” she says. “And it graces me with a peace beyond understanding.”
Listening to the Inner Voice of Love
My spiritual director says there are three voices in our heads. One is God’s; another is our own; and the third is that of the unholy one.
The voice of God is our Inner Voice of Love. It whispers words of wisdom and guidance to our souls. The other voices often attack us, confuse us, or speak untruths.
We can discern between God and the unholy one’s voice by content and choose which one we listen to. God speaks only love. God will never put us down, create fear, or tell us to do things that could hurt ourselves or others
As we practice listening to the Inner Voice of Love it becomes more familiar. We learn to trust it. Our souls know which one is God’s, and they’re grateful when we listen and follow it.
Taking a Sensuous Walk
God has gifted us with the abundant beauty of nature. Our souls need to reconnect with that beauty to wash off the dust and noise that often fills the world.
Take time to walk in a park, along a river, or simply around your neighborhood. As you do, let your senses focus on these 3 x 3 questions:
- What are three things I see?
- What are three things I hear?
- What three things do I smell?
This practice frees our souls from our overthinking minds. It allows us to bask in the mystical mystery of beauty.
Ask: What Does My Soul Need Right Now?
If our souls are the essence of our Being, if they contain all of who we are, both human and divine, perhaps a good way to care for our souls is to observe them.
Asking, “What does my soul need right now?” invites us to connect with that part of us that runs deep like the roots of an ancient tree or that is as wide and expansive as the stars that reach up into the heavens.
Our souls respond in concrete, practical ways when we listen to them. It might offer things like:
I need a nap.
I need to eat.
I need to take some time for solitude.
I need to talk to a mentor or a friend to gain perspective.
I need to clean the house and get rid of all the clutter.
I need to vent my anger.
I need to celebrate the inner growth I’m experiencing.
I need to have some fun.
Develop the practice of caring for your soul so you can live soulfully.
Take frequent pauses to observer your soul and ask what it needs in the present moment. Then see how your soul guides you. Notice how it’s been guiding you since the beginning of time.
—brian j plachta