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Your Soul is an Experience, Not a Thing

by Will DonnellySeptember 10, 2014
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I stumbled upon a book recently. It was a hot and muggy Saturday afternoon and I was trying to distract, or maybe focus, a restless mind on something other than sweating. Now, days later, I am glued to the pages. It is giving me pause, and taking me back to my original days of spiritual exploration in the early 1990s, to self-care, and to deeply self-nurturing times.

The book I found was Care of the Soul, by psychotherapist Thomas Moore. Having studied many spiritual traditions (and having lived in a Catholic order for 12 years), Moore’s wisdom clearly infuses his writing and his therapeutic work.

In his book, he makes the case that the soul: “…is not a thing but a quality or dimension of experiencing life and ourselves. It has to do with depth, value, relatedness, heart and personal substance.”  And in this early part of the book, Moore encourages us to use our imagination to truly care for the soul through experiences big and small which nourish us at a deep level.

After reading this, I wondered: What if I were to use my imagination to truly care for my soul, what would I do differently? The answer, as it came to me, is that I would sit in the quiet and listen. I would re-engage my past practice of silently listening to my body, to my mind, to the impulses that make me human.

You see, five years ago I stopped doing my quiet meditation practice. Why, you ask? Well, I just couldn’t hack it. The silence was not, in fact silent. It was filled with profound sadness, pain, and anger. Life had just turned up the heat, and I couldn’t stand it.

Sitting for any length of time was a recipe for disaster. I guess I was destined to fall apart regardless. I know that if I sat with that energy back then, I might have gone completely bonkers right then and there. And I couldn’t afford to lose my worldly composure as I had a plate full of responsibilities ahead of me.

Bitter medicine it was, but I was committed. I guess I was more committed to fulfilling my duties as a friend, caregiver, and husband, rather than fulfilling my “potential” as a yogi and spiritual seeker. Now I know, deep within, that there is no real distinction between the two. Life is a moving meditation, whether it is painful or joyful.

Now, as my life slowly regains a sense of balance, I find an excitement once again in the urge to meditate—to listen quietly to the discomfort, to the longings, to the nothingness that excites us all.

It is said in Hawaiian culture that everything comes from darkness, what they call po—that is, the void. The Gods live in po, and all things are birthed from po. In the West, we have a sick fascination with “the darkness”, and love to create countless movies that scare the shit out of us. Then, we get addicted to the adrenaline that comes from these experiences, which for a few people feels really good. However, we end up even more terrified of that which we don’t know: what’s under the proverbial bed or around the corner on a dark night?

But what is under the bed or around the corner? When I sit with my imagination, and I guess I just realized that I have joined the two concepts of imagination and darkness, when I sit with it, so much good comes.

In fact, these past few weeks, I have done just that. I have sat with my darkness, in a house secluded along the coast line in a remote area on an island in the Pacific. I am not in silence, as the waves roared and rolled constantly throughout the day and night, but in the darkness. In the darkness, I found my sadness once again.

I also found fear—a fear of being alone. Yet, there I was, at 3 am, alone, time and time again. Pitch-black darkness, the sound of the fury of the waves as storms would roll in, and I would just have to feel it. Literally a few feet from the vast ocean’s edge, the ground would rock and roll, and my bed would shimmy and shake. It was my meditation, as if the meditation found me furiously at 3 am.

I went deep, and realized that I needed to listen to the subtle yearnings of my heart, which I did, and I agreed to fulfill them as I could. All alone in the quiet of the house, I wasn’t afraid to “be seen”. I could laugh or cry or dance or run around naked as a jaybird and somehow, I just seemed to lose my shame, my fear.

I came back to chanting, and to the quiet of my own mind. I embraced the darkness, the pitch-black, and in doing so, now that I have left that place, that house on the jagged cliffs, I realize I am somehow stronger, maybe stronger than I have felt in a very long time. Perhaps ever.


Will Donnelly

Will Donnelly is a nationally recognized, certified yoga teacher and writer, and is the author of “Practical Yoga’s Wisdom for Everyday People: Essays & Inspiration for Life" (2017), a compilation of his most popular online essays now available at amazon.com. Will has been a pioneer in the field of yoga, developing Practical Yoga, and co-creating a yoga–reality series for fitTV (Discovery Communications, 2004). As a writer and teacher, Will encourages all students to trust their impulses and find their true voice. Will currently lives in Hawaii, where he leads weekly yoga and writing classes at Kalani retreat center. He also leads several popular Practical Yoga adventure and healing retreats throughout the year. Information on retreats, his book, DVDs and other inspiration to be found at WillsPracticalYoga.com

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