8 Tips for Living Soulfully
“Your life is already artful–waiting, just waiting for you to make it art.”
– Toni Morrison
The Universe is asking us to open our arms to every encounter, relationship, defeat and dream. Bravery is required! The poet Rainer Maria Rilke said it best regarding God’s ask of us, “Go to the limits of your longing. Embody me. Flare up like a flame and make big shadows I can move in. Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don’t let yourself lose me. Nearby is the country they call life. You will know it by its seriousness. Give me your hand.”
The message: Be bold. God is with you.
This summer the French cuisine was otherworldly, feast upon feast. At one particular lunch my six-year old son dropped his moelleux au chocolat dessert underneath the table. Like a mad woman, I dove under his feet, determined not to leave a single delicious crumb. Isn’t this how God is calling all of us to live? To relish every crumb of this human spiritual experience. I had an epiphany after performing a funeral this summer for a woman I greatly admired. She was a master at diving under the table of life not to miss a single sweet morsel of her earthly experience. In eighty-nine sentient years on this planet, Elizabeth knew great love, rich relationships, the beauty of Mother Earth, good-hearted community and a nourishing spiritual life. But she also knew heartbreak, disappointment and loss. Wise indeed, she realized to accomplish a life fully lived, one must welcome and make peace with all of it. (I could to do better weaving the rough with the smooth threads into my tapestry).
Years ago I visited the Sir John Soane Museum in London. It is an incredible house, a “cabinet de curiositie,” overflowing with art collected by a renaissance man who sought a larger-than-life existence. He collected objects that tell the story of his life; whom and what he loved, talisman from his travels and adventures, exemplars of beauty from nature and created by human genius. After research of his life I learned his house also, although maybe not in plain sight, documents his personal defeats, losses, and scars. Again, no true living is complete without them.
I am curating my own, as are you, metaphorical “cabinet de curiositie” with each and every life experience—— the good, the bad, the ugly and surely the beautiful. No one did this better than Jesus. He always opened his arms and welcomed the full spectrum of the human experience. With an uncanny eagerness for life, he could be found toasting friends at a wedding banquet, relishing time on the sea, in the desert, in the market and in many verdant gardens. He knew his life’s impact so he made sure that every soul crossing his path walked away having experienced love. He came as the ultimate encourager of the human spirit. Jesus energized himself in study, in nature, in prayer, and in constant conversation with His Father. He did not avoid earthly disappointments, genuine grief and terrific physical and spiritual pain. Remember, he wept. All was part of fulfilling his holy quest on earth. His boldness came from an unflagging trust that God held him whatever would happen.
Living soulfully is not lush rhetoric. It is a brave, even gutsy way to live.
Number 1: Strive for the Fullest Life Possible
Fill your own “Cabinet de curiositie” with every kind of experience. Get your metaphorical money’s worth out of this human spiritual experience. Is there something nudging you? What are you waiting for? The time is now. In the spirit of Rumi’s beloved poem The Guest House, bravely invite the whole of life through your doors! Make change your ally not your adversary. Inevitable changes can add dimension, color and wisdom to your story. Comfort zones often equal missed opportunities. Don’t cower from life’s challenges. They reveal what you are made of and set you up stronger for life’s next hurdle.
Number 2: Live Soul-First
Wherever you are standing today, be it in your marriage, in your family, in friendships, in a job or in the company of strangers, offer your soul to that place. This summer in Lourdes, I saw what life could be like when we all show up from the best version of ourselves. The give and receiving of love transcends color, culture, language, faith, age and sex. It is who we are and why we are here. All of us yearn for a more sacred experience here on earth. I saw kindness, hope and the surety of the goodness within and all around us at Lourdes. If only that could be my day-to-day reality. In those despairing moments when you listen to the evening news and you wonder if one person can make a difference. The answer is yes. Cancel ego and bravely offer your soft heart to the world. Watch what happens, admire the domino effect. Do not let a day pass, that you have not made one contribution of goodness into the world!
Number 3: Increase Your Joy
This one may surprise you. Be indulgent. Feed your tender inner being! Do more of whatever makes you feel like a child, flushed-warm on the inside, bright-eyed and excited! Howard Thurman said: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Step out of the whirl and set a table with flowers, prepare a beautiful meal for your family and friends. Go to a yoga class. Walk in the woods. Take a guilt-free, work-free vacation. Meet new people. Surround yourself with friends that make you giggle. Eat that chocolate dessert! Try a new hobby. Regularly set aside unscheduled time so life has a chance to surprise you. Give your life some sparkle. One of the great “deathbed regrets” is that one did not enjoy his or her life more, when he or she could.
Number 4: Craft your own personal spiritual life
As the French Jesuit priest and mystic, Teihard de Chardin, pointed out: we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Therefore, we would be foolish to not listen and follow our souls’ lead. It is a great challenge in our secular world. Watch for all the creative ways God is communicating with you and trying to invite you into a more sacred reality. It could be a Sunday sermon, encounter with a stranger, a Rumi quote, an ancient oak on your morning hike, a passage from Job, a painting, a poem, even an argument. There is no one right way to have a spiritual life. But every single one of us has a soul that longs for a sacred experience here. Percolating beneath the surface of things, there is an eternal reality that we must access. Kneel at altars, light candles, spend time with a beloved pet, read Mary Oliver, talk to trees, make pilgrimages, pray, count your breaths, listen intensely, till the earth, help someone in your community, rest calmly. Get to know your soul. It is much more interesting than your neurotic, one-dimensional ego. The soul is your resource for an enlightened thought, surprise of creativity, true empathy, unlikely hope. Posted by my computer are the words by the author Elizabeth Gilbert: “The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” Developing your own unique spiritual understanding and experience of this earthly reality is the adventure!
Number 5: Be prepared
Life is going to pinch you. Create a survival plan before you need it. Invest in relationships that will buoy you when life knocks you down. Get in the habit of calling out, “Are you there God, it’s me Farrell.” Always good to have the ear of the One with access to The Big Picture and knows with absolute certainty you will see your way through each and every tangle. Make peace with the fact that nothing is ever going to go exactly as you would like, and never on your desired timing. The goal is to survive these pinches and see faith grow.
Number 6: Make the Journey Sacred
Measure your life not in accomplishments, but in the richness of the day-to day experience. I performed three funerals in May. Trust me, no one cares about your trophy case. What they do care about is how you make them feel. Stop focusing on the destination. Before you know it, you’ll be there! Life is in the present moment. There is a parable about an angel who spent his whole life climbing a ladder only to reach the top to hear God say, “Sorry chap, you chose the wrong ladder.” How many of us are climbing the wrong ladder? How do we spend our time and what do we deem important? A quick soul check: a.) Do you feel sacredness in your daily life? b.) Do you feel joy regularly? C.) If you were told you had six months to live, would you start living a completely different life?
Number 7: Get healthy!
Take care of your body, mind and spirit. At the beginning of the summer, I took my son Charlie up to Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York for his check up. All the talk and scientific research right now is on the impact of stress on health and longevity. Stress from the normal responsibilities of being a parent, a spouse, a career and unavoidable aging. Stress from ridiculous expectations, or worse from living to meet others’ expectations. Stress from overcommitting and leaving no time to properly refill the tank. Stress from un-healthy relationships and financial demands. There is always something that can vise-grip our spirit. Protect the telomeres! Stress not only ages us physically and robs us of precious years, but it radically down-grades the day-to-day experience! Put in safety valves to manage the stress, before it can do irreversible damage. Do your best to remove the obstacles that make you feel tight. The object is calmness. Put boundaries on technology. Stop over-scheduling yourself and your family! Time is the most under-rated and most luxurious gift. The “jewel” moments of life rarely happen in the high-pressure hustle and bustle. Be comfortable with less is more.
Number 8: Count your blessings
Saying thank you keeps you and me on the right foot. Express gratitude out loud and more often. I’m looking forward to another year of trying to live soulfully. Thanks for following along! Count on me to post weekly spiritual reflections, prayers, recipes, tips for soul joy, book recommendations, travel guides, health suggestions and so much more! I will always appreciate your comments and suggestions for Bread and Honey!
Glad to be back!
A week does not go by that I do not read a verse of Mary Oliver’s poetry. I’d call it a spiritual discipline! Oliver was a mystical poet who so beautifully put to words what can happen when you open yourself to experiencing God in your everyday reality. Oliver intuits Jacob’s wisdom in Genesis 28:16: “God, you were always here and I never knew it!” She got the message and then passed it along: God is in all things and everywhere. Always there is hope!