In my last year of working, I used to take a notebook with me to meetings. On the left-hand page I would write anything that occurred during our discussion that I needed to follow up on later. On the right side of the page, I would make notes about how I was feeling, what I wanted to be doing in my life, what was bugging me about work. It was a place to vent, a way to survive the last year of work and still be sane. The other day I ran across one of those little books and found this note that I took at some meeting: “This does not feed my soul. I need to engage in more activities that do.”
Part of me laughed when I read that because, well, “No duh.” But another part of me got worried, mostly because I know the sense of something not feeding my soul, but I’m not exactly sure I can say what would. So I’ve been thinking about this and realizing that I have spent a large part of my life putting the care and feeding of my soul on the back burner while I spent long hours feeling stressed, emotionally exhausted, at odds with my true values, and often bored. I think for most people who are working in the world, living like this simply becomes what we do, figuring that some day we will have more time and energy and permission, and then we’ll feed our souls all day long.
Now that I’m here, though, in this land of open time and ample choice, I realize I have so little experience feeding my soul that it’s a little like being given an adorable, tiny kitten and not having any idea how to keep it alive. Anyone with a religious background might suggest I need more of a spiritual connection and, in a certain way, they might be right. What I’m longing for, I think, is a good dose of the feeling I get when I listen to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” or that sense of momentarily losing my breath when I stand in front of a Georgia O'Keefe painting or read a James Baldwin essay. It’s how I feel when the day is open and I am walking on a cool, green trail, or when I'm waiting in line to board a plane to some place I've never been. It’s the sense of being risen to a higher level, one at which I can appreciate talent, beauty, and wonder as naturally as I breathe air.
Real, soul-fueling moments are happening around us almost continually. It’s our job as humans to look up and notice them.
I also see now that, when we are working, it is hard to feed our souls because it’s difficult to get to them. The first ideas we meet when we open our eyes each day are how busy we are, what difficult conversations we need to have that day, how soon that report is due, whether or not we’ll have time to visit with friends and family on the weekend, and when we might possibly be able to rest. Even writing that sentence reminds me that I probably could have worked on the soul-feeding venture a long time ago and how much easier it might be now to move more fluidly in the direction of peace and beauty.
It requires discipline when we are surrounded by anxiety, stress, and negativity to build in time for delicious conversations, books in which we can lose ourselves, and early morning walks to the edge of the yard to watch the sun make its way up ahead of us. But having practiced that discipline so infrequently for all of those years seems to be making finding it now all that more difficult. I’m as inclined as I ever was to fill my free hours with at least three too many tasks. I agree to lunches that exhaust me, and events that hold no interest for me. A life of keeping my soul in check has made me strong in a certain way, but has nearly buried what is, no doubt, a built-in love of nature, beauty, and the true human spirit.
These might be heady and even self-indulgent ideas to folks who are still expected at their offices early the next morning. I’m hoping, though, that these same people could be the revolutionaries now and change the pattern. Don’t eat lunch at your desk while you’re trying to catch up on that budget. Don't answer emails at night when you could be digging in to a book of Mary Oliver poems. Go outside, take a walk, listen to music, watch dogs play. Real, soul-fueling moments are happening around us almost continually. It’s our job as humans to look up and notice them, to appreciate their simplicity, and to feed ourselves in the most nourishing way imaginable. The more we consciously notice, I believe, the easier they are to see.