I didn’t know this sort of softness existed. A softness I earned not through naivete but exhaustion. A softness fueled by surrender and uncertainty. Of months of being too weak to feed myself, barely hovering at 95 pounds. Unsure how I would keep my business afloat, or even take care of my cat. After hearing diagnosis after diagnosis of early lymphoma, Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, the list goes on, at some point I just gave up. Being unsure if I wanted to keep living because it was so painful to be embodied. I often doubted if my soul wanted to stay and I started to feel it leave my body. Then after year two, I stopped fighting and surrendered to so many heartbreaks that I finally felt whole.
I often feel I hit so many lows in the past few years that I finally was able to crack open, the defenses I have to cover up my insecurity or control couldn't exist anymore. A lived through an ego death--a decimation. While I still notice places that need massaging, the whole of who I am feels forever changed from this descent. I'm no stranger to this sort of underworldly journey--none like this. None that lasted so long and kept me so frozen. And now, here I am, so soft, so tired, so full, so empty-fueled almost solely by my soul rather than self or ego.
“The secret of a soul-based life
is to allow someone
other than the usual self (ego)
to be in charge.”
― Thomas Moore
I’ve lost years of my life I can’t get back, grieved time that I never got to enjoy. Watched people’s lives change with marriages, babies, moves, travels, go through a pandemic and yet my life stayed still and unchanging. With nothing to look forward to and instead a daily practice in slowness and small pleasure.
Years later, I still don't understand how I did it, how I pulled myself up from drowning in a night sea journey since 2019. I do know it wasn't the part that lifted to God, but the part that reached down into my soul. I didn't pray or meditate--I climbed rocks even when I was too dizzy to see straight. I ran through the forest even when I thought I would vomit and was short of breath. My healing fueled by my wildness, and my relationship to Earth rather than reaching for anything above. My medicine tending to my garden with my hands in the dirt and my own intuition. I balanced seeing allopathic doctors with scavenging for herbs to help my dreams.
I didn't know what else to do, sometimes I hoped the forest would swallow me or I imagined walking into the ocean to be dissolved...my soul returning to spirit. I stared for hours at spider webs glistening in the trees through the sun outside my bedroom window.
"That is the point of the night-sea journey—to be born into yourself. There, you are in the amniotic fluid, in an alchemical substance once again. You are journeying toward your own life. You are preparing for your fate."-Thomas Moore
Slowly but surely I started coming back to life, taking the form of a winged creature after so long in the cocoon. Finding comfort in my body where once there was only pain. Imagining what I want my future to look like rather than wondering if it would ever come. The places of stagnancy beginning to flow after being dammed for so long. And everyday I get stronger, I can dance again and play tennis. I can stand for more than five minutes without needing to sit down. I'm a bit in awe of the woman I became behind closed doors over the past few years who survived by the thread of my soul.
“My soul is the bridge between spirit and body and, as such, is a uniter of opposites. Without soul at center, I would either transcend into spirit or become mired in matter.”- Marion Woodman
What is Soul?
The soul is our life force, the Eros of existence, how spirit moves downward into matter. The soul craves authenticity, enchantment, fulfillment of desire, self-intimacy. How we contact our soul varies, mine was through wildness and slowing down. Through creativity and art and symbols...through tarot and astrology. Here's a short list I think of when I think of soul:
Mediator between spirit and matter
Enchanted by existence, small miracles of life
Place in us that recognizes Platonic ideals of truth, beauty, and goodness
Life force, the Eros that animates our body
Recognizes archetypes and symbols
Where dreams take shape
The soul holds paradox, where the self or ego cannot. My soul recognizes complexity, rather than my ego which wants a firm definition for my identity (e.g. I'm a Taurus so I'm nice and materialistic rather than I have parts that are nice and some that are unkind). Ego has defenses and the soul remains defenseless and surrendered, vulnerable to existing. I can spot soulfulness through warmth, where I feel a chill in people or things tells me it lacks soul. We find it where things have meaning even if we don't get understand it. The soul craves mystery where the ego needs answers. It welcomes discomfort and potentially even death through shadow work.
Our individuation and fullest self-expression isn't possible without a connection to soul and yet it takes work to maintain...something so valuable can be lost.
“When soul is neglected, it doesn't just go away;
it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions,
violence, and loss of meaning.”― Thomas Moore
We go through cycles of soul loss, it happens over time...through small decisions and ignoring our desires. Mine was friendships and dynamics where I couldn't be authentic and had to play a part to feel loved. Over time it's as if my body couldn't survive this soul loss any longer. So much time and energy caring what others thought, my life force oozing into anyone but myself. Filled up with everyone and everything except my own soul.
Symptoms of losing touch with your soul:
loss of purpose
I had become used to feeding the emptiness with materialism, bad food, difficult people. I hadn't noticed that my soul had begun floating above me, outside of me moving closer to spirit than my own heart. My disassociation into people or addiction to too much Netflix. Scrolling social media or superficial pleasures. Life felt meaningless, even though I thought I was connected to myself. The deeper journey wasn't being initiated, or I wasn't listening closely enough.
And then something may pull us under...not a call to adventure with the Hero's Journey, but a drowning into the descent. Many authors and depth psychologists address this as a necessary part of individuation. Psychologically, going into the underworld has a very clear purpose, to initiate and integrate the polarities with us, but also to explore the unconscious or shadow aspects of self. C.G. Jung named this process after the Greek word nekyia from the Odyssey. It is a time to remember the union of opposites inherent in ourselves…our darkness and light, above and below, inner and outer.
The descent process and nekyia process is in Jung’s words, “descent into the dark world of the unconscious.” Without witnessing our innermost core we can hide from ourselves and others. For me, the meaning of life stems from this exploration…what we need, who we are, what we hide. The place of this exploration the unconscious and the beautiful treasures that await below are our life’s work. It can be a painful process or full of beautiful mysteries, but an imperative journey to take if we are ever to become fully ourselves.
And now I sit hovered between above and below in the realm of soul and I can't go back to where I was before.
“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." -Thomas Moore
During most of my illness I kept obsessively researching self-care practices. The right supplements, movement routines, how much sleep I needed, enough sunlight to boost my immune system but not burn my skin. Staying away from gluten, dairy, soy, etc. Saw all the doctors and healers who specialized in what I thought was happening. And of course that helped, modern medicine is a miracle. It helped direct me with diagnostics where to focus my body. I love my doctor, my naturopathic doctor, infectious disease specialist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, etc. AND the soul-care was up to me.
How do we contact our soul? Hopefully it can be tended to consistently, on a daily basis. For me it's through nature, through creativity. Working with my dreams and having a job where I get to live into my soul and with others. I require dream journaling, an hour outside in the woods, and something creative. This could be wildness or something else, but I mostly call it soul. Here are my pathways to soulfulness:
writing in journal
doing a ritual especially around nature cycles
going to therapy (versus seeing a coach)
dream interpretation (versus just sleeping and rest)
astrology & tarot (working with symbols)
walking in nature (or in my case getting lost there)
exploring life purpose
Perhaps the most important pathway to me is through soulful connections, people where all of me is welcome...the insecure, the unstable, the messy. Where conflict is a pathway to intimacy rather than the end of connection or something to be avoided. Where our soul can be reflected back to us when we forget, where the magic of who we are can be seen. Other souls who crave a balanced relating where one person doesn't take up as much space or visa versa. No one who wants to rush me through an emotional process or try to fix me. And for the first time in my life all of my closest connections mirror this soul-care space.
I don't know how to end this post knowing the dark nights will always come, but something about the past few years of stillness has forever changed me. I want to remember the space I'm in right now, this post a reminder of where I've been. That my attention to soul paid off in my healing. A side effect of my soul that I care less what people think or how they perceive me...I've never felt more radiant and beautiful than I do now. Or perhaps just to simple say that my soul saved me and life will never be the same.