Soul Care

As humans, we are inherently triune beings – mind, body, and soul. Growing up in charismatic Christian circles, I saw people moved by what they called the holy spirit. Now I see that these people use[d] religion as a means to give their souls life. They spoke in tongues and danced around rooms, “moved with the spirit.” But I feel the same spirit when I listen to jazz or absorb great paintings; I pulse with that life when I dance in a club or write a story. I may not ascribe to any religion, but my soul is as alive as ever.

We are raised to go to school, to seek education – to read books and solve math problems in care of our minds. We’re taught to eat healthy foods and exercise to care for our bodies. But what about our souls? The spirituality of religion can get stuck in legalism and dogma, leaving the greater part of the population lost and, in many ways, dead.

“A little wisp of soul carrying a corpse.” – Epictetus.

 

Our souls are what bring us to life – they’re the animating factors that shine light behind our eyes and make our skin glow. Think of humans as double layer cakes – mind and body are the layers of cake, but without frosting, who wants to eat it? Dry and crumbly, maybe it tastes good for a few bites, but something’s missing. The glue, the moisture, the decadence – the icing on the cake – the soul.

All animals have bodies and minds. But what make us human, what have the potential to make us great and transcendent beings, are our souls. Our healthy souls can unite us, make us free, give us power, and lead us in paths of love and light. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs sets physiological and safety as the lowest two – the only needs that are purely physical or mental. The top three are love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization – the needs of the soul. So, if you don’t believe me, believe an esteemed psychologist – 3/5 of our most basic human needs are those of the soul.

But in a society, a culture, a world that neglects the soul – how do we care for it? How can we bring it to life? This takes work, consciousness, dedicated practice; Rome was not built in a day. Maybe you follow religious teachings, maybe you let music and art spark your internal fire, maybe you practice meditation and yoga. Start by clearing out the cobwebs, dusting the corners, and opening the windows – the beginning is the hardest part. Just as muscles atrophy in the absence of strain and brain cells wither away with disuse, our neglected souls wilt like thirsty flowers in the shade. We need sunlight, we need water, and we need these things regularly. People use drugs to feel alive in this way – to skip the daily practice and enjoy the light of the soul for an evening. But this feeling of ecstasy is possible on a daily basis. With practice, with care, the soul becomes stronger and brighter, and your power becomes increasingly accessible.

pen and ink drawing let the light in

So, as Voltaire wrote, let us cultivate our gardens. Let us seek out beauty and love, surrounding ourselves with objects and images and sounds and foods that bring us joy, with people who radiate light – let us make our souls happy. When we do this, all other desires are met – a body and mind connected to a healthy soul with be beautiful and intelligent and strong. So yes, have your workout and your salad, and read your books and work your sudokus, but begin with the soul. Stoke your internal fire and all parts of you will burn as brightly. 

Let the light in.

 

Love, calm, & care –

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Untangling Self-Sabotage

Do you ever find yourself engaging in destructive behaviors? Acting against your values for a fleeting night of debauchery or a few extra days in bed – sabotaging yourself? I know I’m not the only one.

Why do we do this? Why, when things are going well for a change, is it natural for us to tip the scales in the other direction?

Maybe we’re used to trauma, to bad things happening, to always having something to struggle through – after a while, pain becomes familiar. It becomes safe, even if it isn’t good. And good things can become scary. Good things can feel too good to be true, and, instead of savoring the golden moments, we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting to find out what the catch is, the flaw, the actual reality – because things can’t just be great, can they?

I think they can. I think life can go well, and this doesn’t mean that it’ll all turn to shit eventually. I think, if we practice love and kindness and mindfulness and trust, that we can all live great and beautiful lives. And I think we’re all capable of achieving truly incredible things, solely by being our best selves.

It sounds cheesy or fluffy or fake, right? Like cotton candy that’s way too sweet. It looks nice, and you buy some at the fair, but after two bites you’re tossing it out because you can’t stomach the flavor of pure spun sugar. So you buy a salted pretzel or a sausage on a stick, and you balance out the flavors.

And this is self-sabotage – a sick way of balancing ourselves out. Because some part of us knows how incredible we are, and some part of us is terrified of that, of the greatness that lies latent within us. Of the ways we can change the world, of the pressure and responsibility that comes with such power. So we hurt ourselves, knock ourselves down a peg, placing ourselves in negative relationships, drinking excessively, eating unhealthy foods – whatever your vices, the wicked bit of our subconscious finds a way to balance us out. To keep us from achieving our potential. To keep us safe.

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Because greatness is kinda terrifying. Success, that mythical ideal that the world continually chases, can be scary. Because what happens when you get it? What happens when you realize that success is a state of mind, that you have nothing to chase except your own dreams, and that you can be successful whether you’re a cashier at Burger King or a renowned neurosurgeon? Then you’ve made it. Then you’re happy, right? Then you’re grateful, gracious, loving, calm, clear – able to give from a place of wholeness and light and security, able to truly contribute something positive to the world, something that only you have to offer.

But that seems too good to be true, and we’re all conditioned into skepticism, raised to believe that old women who offer young girls lasting beauty and happiness are only out to get them, out to put them into a deadly slumber and sabotage their dreams of true love. But here’s a twist – maybe the witch in all those Disney movies isn’t a separate character from the princess – maybe she’s the princess’s subconscious. Maybe she’s sabotaging herself, too insecure and afraid of losing the joy and the love and the light and the beauty of the fairytale, so she stops it all before it can come true. Before she can be proven wrong. Before she can have it all.

We know the witch is evil, and we know the story always ends with happily ever after – with the witch being defeated and the princess being saved by an external force, journeying off into the sunset. But this doesn’t feel quite right. Because where’s our example of saving ourselves, and where’s our model for living happily ever after? These things are elusive – even Walt Disney couldn’t portray them. So we’re left wondering what will happen when life goes well, dreaming of happily ever after without knowing what it actually consists of, deluding ourselves into believing that it isn’t happening right now.

But this is it. Your happily ever after is your prerogative. The witch is yours for the defeating. She’s not a foe to be vanquished with a single kiss – no, this battle is lifelong. She will always be there, tempting you away from your joy with exactly the vices you crave. And sometimes she’ll win. And sometimes you’ll win. And the happily ever after comes when you accept all this, when you bring grace to the fight and learn to dance with your witch. And over time you learn the steps by heart, your muscle memory takes over, and it gradually becomes easier, and, while you can’t kick her out of the party, she’ll start to realize that you’re a way better dancer than she is, and that you don’t let her shove you around the way you used to. That she’s lost her power because you’ve found yours.

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I don’t think it ever stops being scary. But maybe that’s the beauty of it, maybe that’s the thrill. So lean in to the fear, lean in to your power, lean in to your potential. Let yourself be great. And have a ball.

Love, calm, & care –

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Turning Trauma into Beauty

Have you ever looked in the mirror and been displeased? Do you say mean things to yourself? Apologize for taking up space? Constantly berate yourself for the slightest faux pas? These are signs of self-loathing, and maybe that sounds extreme, but the prevalence of these symptoms leads me to ask – why do we hate ourselves?

In writing about the journey of self-love, I’ve been thinking about what the root causes of self-hatred are. Personally, it’s a Frankenstein’s monster of traumatic events and words that all shaped themselves into an ugly mass of depression. As I speak with other people about this, the same rings true. The culprit: trauma.

What is trauma? Trauma is something beyond your control that happens to you. Be it rape, an abusive relationship, or the death of a loved one, it creates a victim – you. This can be hard to accept, and it can also be easy to get stuck in. While recognizing your own victimization is a necessary part of healing, living in the victim mentality is not healthy. That mentality has no movement, no growth – it keeps you stuck, stuck in the mindset that things happen to you, that you are powerless.

And we hate ourselves because we become consumed with this thing that happened to us – the ugliness of it – and we take it on. Internalizing that hideous thing occurs when you allow it to define you, and, naturally, you hate the trauma, so you start to hate yourself. But you are not your trauma. Maybe someone raped you, but you are so much more than the girl or guy who got raped. Maybe someone verbally abused you, constantly looking over your shoulder, criticizing every move, but you and I are so much more than the girls and guys who were in abusive relationships. We are survivors – strong women [or men – humans]. And our lives are not defined by the bad things that have happened to us.

Yes, those things happened, and we’ll always carry the things that happened with us. But what will you do with it? Will you let it be a burden, weighing you down with every step, every look, constantly defining your perspective and yourself? Or will you turn it into an asset? Because that is possible. Turn that weakness into strength. Journal, talk to a therapist, explore the roots of your trauma, dig up all the dirt and clean it out.

We reflect what we see in the world and in ourselves. If, when you look at yourself, all you see is the trauma – the ugly thing that happened to you that you have no control over – you will believe that you are ugly. But this is not true. What about your ambition, your strength, your wit, your cute fingers, your bright eyes, your thick hair? Look in the mirror. Smile. Look outside, look at other people, look at yourself and find the beauty in these things. Think of it as a treasure hunt at first, and then, as you practice, the colors of the world get brighter and you’re like Alice in Wonderland, constantly looking around in awe and even checking yourself out in the mirror. Because we live in a beautiful world, and there is beauty in every single one of us. You just have to find it.

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Do you like yourself?

If not, here’s how. I certainly have my moments. It’s not always easy to feel beautiful and amazing when we live in an entertainment, image saturated world. With so much to compare ourselves to, it can get confusing if you take all the images as advice – as the way you’re supposed to look. The truth is, you’re not supposed to look like anyone but yourself. How could you? Changing your perspective may take some time, but this should help.

Headscarf from Goodwill. Dress from Arc. It was once long sleeves and floor length - I tore it up.

Headscarf from Goodwill. Dress from Arc. It was once long sleeves and floor length – I tore it up.

 

  1. Objectify yourself. It sounds ridiculous, even cruel, doesn’t it? But really, find a way to distance yourself from yourself – not forever, just long enough to analyze who you are really and find the objective truth that can stand above the lies that your mind might be telling you. It’s true that you are your own worst critic. So if you can please yourself, you can please anyone, right? It might not be pleasing now, but be honest. Talk to a therapist or a friend if it helps – someone who can help you see the truth. There will be things you don’t like, even things that are objectively awful. It sucks sometimes, but no one is perfect. Not me, not you – we are imperfect humans. And it’s better to see that for what it is than to deceive yourself.
  2. Accept yourself. As you are, misaligned morals, traumatic past, ten extra pounds, unibrow and all – or whatever it might be. Nothing will change until you honestly accept what you’re working with. Living in a delusion about yourself won’t help matters. Learn who you are at this moment. How do you spend your time? What makes you excited, what puts you to sleep? What do you cling to? Regardless of how you feel about your findings, accept them. Accept that you are a human being on this planet and you are worthwhile.
  3. Find your values. There are assessments you can take online, providing you with dozens of traits like adventure, creativity, and self-awareness, and you choose which ones are important to you, narrowing down your set until you’ve selected a top ten and then a top five. And then you can refer back to these and evaluate your actions and lifestyle by them. These serve as a guiding light, a sort of north star for personal growth. Any time you lose your way, you can reference these. They’ll grow and change with you, and your life should follow them. If it doesn’t, and if the values are truly important to you, maybe it’s time to make some changes.
  4. Figure out who you want to be. What do you look like in your daydreams? What are you doing? What would it take to get there? Dream. Don’t stop yourself, just let your mind roam freely in fantasy land and then find ways to make those things happen.
  5. Become who you want to be. Maybe this sounds silly or daunting, but trust me, it is possible. The way out of this mess is self-love, and it happens when you can be happy with yourself. With your values and your newfound self-worth, there’s nothing you can’t do. Want to be kind to yourself? Practice. Remind yourself daily that you deserve kindness and love. Start to see your world through these new lenses, and everything will begin to change. Painfully, slowly, then all at once, and one day you look in the mirror and love what you see, one day you gain five pounds and you still love yourself, one day you do things that make you happy every day. It just takes practice. And you’re as capable as anyone else.
It was windy. Those shoes are broken now, but they were beautiful.

It was windy. Those shoes are broken now, but they were beautiful.

It’s not easy every day. But it gets better. It always gets better. Life is filled with growing and changing and it’s an endless wave that you get to ride. But first – pick up your board and learn how to surf. You’ll fall a lot, but you’ll pick yourself back up because it’s important and because you’re strong. And before you know it you’ll be swimming farther out, riding bigger waves. Before you know it you’ll be yourself. And no one can do that better than you.

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Self-talk

I remember people joking about messages in Lizzie McGuire and other Disney shows – “Believe in yourself.” It sounded so cheesy, so silly – foolish, even. But actually, it isn’t. It’s some wisdom that Disney was tryna drop on us, and we threw it on the ground. Maybe some people absorbed it, but, growing up in Christianity, I was taught to believe in God – not myself. Only myself through God. Which never fully made sense to me. And, while I’ve received a lot of encouragement from the people in my life, I’ve heard many people I loved talk to themselves negatively – criticizing body parts or actions, beating themselves up. This broke my heart. I saw that these people didn’t deserve that. But everyone has to find it for themself.

Example 1: Your bills were due yesterday. You forgot to pay them. In the moment you remember, what do you say to yourself?

  1. “Oh shit, you idiot, how could fuck this up?!”
  2. “Okay. Fuck. It’ll be okay. Just pay it now. You can’t change it.”
  3. “Fuck the bank, they don’t deserve your money.”

Hopefully we can all agree that, while many of use might feel c, b is the healthiest option.

But so many people choose a. Too many. If you call yourself an idiot, sooner or later you’re going to believe it. In the same way, if you consistently call yourself a genius, you might become a megalomaniac. Of course a balance is key in this, but a healthy, positive self-image is an integral piece to achieving any type of happiness or success.

Example 2: You wake up with a massive pimple on your forehead. Looking in the mirror, you tell yourself –

  1. “You’re a hideous monster. No one will ever love you.”
  2. “This will pass. You are more than your face. I love you. You’re worthwhile, regardless of your blemishes.”
  3. “You already have the face of a goddess, so this is hardly an issue. You are the best looking human on this planet.”

I think we can once again agree that, while c is a fun option, b is the healthiest.

An angsty high school mirror photo - a time when I only said negative things to myself.

An angsty high school mirror photo – a time when I only said negative things to myself and overtweezed my eyebrows.

And once again, it kills me every time I hear people say things like option a to their reflection. While it may seem ridiculous to tell yourself, “I love you,” it makes such a difference. And, once you begin, sooner or later you’ll start to – if you don’t already.

Some days are hard. People can suck and make you feel like shit, and your mind can do this to you as well. Sometimes I feel like I just don’t want to. Really anything. I just don’t. But then I catch it, I stop my freefall, and I look in the mirror and I say, “I love you. You are worthwhile, intelligent, strong, brave, beautiful, etc. You can.” And, even if I don’t believe it in my head, seeing myself say those words to myself actually does something in my brain. And I feel a lot better. I believe myself. And then I believe in myself. And that’s not cheesy at all – that’s necessary for me to function as a healthy human being.

Now I play dress up and spray fake perfume on myself, brimming with joy when I look in the mirror.

Now I play dress up and spray fake perfume on myself. It’s better for everyone this way.

Society seems to place more value on what other people think of us than on what we think of ourselves. While the opinions of others can hold some weight, what actually allows for a healthy mental and emotional state is a positive self-image. It’s a beautiful thing, the self-image, something that can be curated carefully and cultivated into exactly what you wish it to be. Developing this actively is a lifelong pursuit, and it doesn’t stop once you make your self-talk positive. Having it allows for comfort in your own skin, realistic ideas of who you are and what you can accomplish, and the ability to love others well.

See, to love others as you love yourself, you’ve gotta love yourself. And it all starts with what you say to the person in the mirror. You can.042615_0013_HeartlessCh1.jpg