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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Identity Formation

You can be whoever you want to be. Sound too good to be true? It isn’t.

First accept the basics, the things you can’t change – find your baseline. What are you working with? What do you like to do, what are you interested in? Get your bearings with yourself. Maybe you have no idea – so start trying things. What are you curious about? What are you drawn to? How do you want people to see you, how do you want to see yourself?

Want to be funny? Watch a bunch of funny movies, hang out with funny people, notice what makes people laugh, what makes you laugh. Want to be well-traveled? Find a way to go on a trip. Make a list of places you want to go, experiences you want to have. Seek them out. Want to be healthy? Start working out – try running, try yoga, try boxing. Go for a hike. Eat a salad, a handful of nuts. Practice. Want to write? Get a notebook and a pen, open a word document – start typing and find out what you have to say. Want to be a history buff? Go to school. Read a book – the library has a wealth of free options, anything you want to learn, you can learn.

The key is to see the possibilities – don’t limit yourself, don’t put yourself in a box. You have a mind, a body – you can build yourself, you can choose. All it takes is a little observation, a little practice, and – primarily – a belief that you can.

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I recently watched the Coen brothers’ movie A Serious Man. The main character is shoved around by his life, his wife, his job – by circumstances. He envies his wife’s lover – a man people called “serious.” And he tries to be a serious man. But he doesn’t seem to get it, doesn’t quite believe he could be serious, doesn’t really know where to begin. He confesses to a Rabbi – “I’ve tried to be a serious man.” But was he? Did he own that identity? I’m not sure he made it in the movie, but all it would have taken was confidence.

I always loved the movie Catch Me If You Can – Frank Abagnale, Jr, masterfully played by Leonardo DiCaprio, molds himself into a thousand men, plays a different part for every phase of his life. He acts as a pilot, assembling a crowd of flight attendants to breeze through the airport, works as a teacher, a doctor, a playboy. He was a conman. A confidence man. A man with enough confidence to believe that he was a doctor when he put on that white coat, and everybody else believed it, too. But if he hadn’t believed it, no one else would have.

I went to school for creative writing – had workshops with other students, swapping stories and offering critiques – writing. Ask most of them if they were writers, and they’d tell you they were trying to be. They wondered how to continue writing after graduation, how to make sure they kept at it. But it’s deceptively easy. All they had to do was write. Write a single sentence, and you’re a writer. All you have to do is believe it.

I also spent some time in business school, and a popular maxim there is – “Don’t dress for the job you have; dress for the job you want.” If you want a certain role, start by looking the part. Then act the part. Believe that you are capable of playing the part, and before long – you’ll get the part. Because other people notice confidence – they respect it, appreciate it, admire it, and generally, reward it.

Maybe this sounds deluded, silly, impossible. But you have more power than you think you do. You can always grow, teach yourself lessons about things you want to know, practice self-improvement until you love every bit of yourself. Begin by accepting where you’re at, and the possibilities are endless. You can build yourself into whoever you want to be – the only person in your way is you. The truth is, you’re limitless.

Love, calm, & care –

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Losing Steam

We celebrate the new year fresh, bold, with bright eyes and dewy faces. And we wake up hungover.

It feels easy to lose momentum before you even catch it – letting the crusty eyes overtake your vision, lying in bed and eating pizza instead of doing that workout you swore you’d do so you can lose those ten pounds of yourself that you hate.

It can get depressing. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves this time of year. Pressure to become our best self, to make sweeping changes to our lifestyles, to improve in all the ways we didn’t know we needed to. If you don’t achieve every single one of your goals within a week, the idea of continuing for a year may feel daunting, to say the least.

abstract pen and ink girl falling of cliff

So do something ballsy – accept that this is overwhelming. It’s hard to hear about your coworkers’ diets and your neighbor’s workout plan, the whole time wishing you hadn’t had those pancakes for breakfast or wondering if you should have spent 20 more minutes on the elliptical, but it doesn’t have to be like that.

Change doesn’t happen in a day. Your clothes, your mind, sure, but not true, lasting change. You can decide to make a change, but even then – what’s driving you? You need a foundation, strong reasons for doing something, a profound sense that this is what’s right. Whims won’t stick.

Change takes careful study – honest assessment of the ground situation, visions and goals for the future, and a plan for how to get from point A to point B, along with a commitment to enjoy each and every step of it.

You won’t wake up with the “perfect beach body,” whatever the hell that is, but you can wake up and decide to accept what your body looks like today. To accept your housing, your career, your relationships, your self as they are. And then show up.

On January 1st or September 23rd or any other arbitrary date, the best thing you can do is show up for yourself. It’s not a piece of cake from there, but if you’re present, it does get easier. With practice.

handwritten journal entry encouragement

I wrote this in my journal today, and I think it’s universally applicable –

…You are capable of continuing, of carrying on in this way. Even when you fall – which you will – trust yourself to fall gracefully. To pick yourself back up with kindness. Don’t be afraid of letting people see that – there is strength in your vulnerability, and a wealth to be learned from the falling and the getting back up. It’s okay to be crazy. It’s okay for people to look up to you. Keep going, and you won’t disappoint anyone. It’s only when you stay down that you truly fail.

I believe in you.

You are capable.

Let’s be present this year. Every day of it. Let’s show up for ourselves, and see where it takes us.

Love, calm, & care –

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On [Lemonade] and America

If you haven’t read Part I – it’s not necessary. This focuses on general themes.

What I love about this album is its transcendence. On the surface, the obvious meaning is Beyoncé making lemonade with the lemons that Jay-Z gave her when he cheated on her. But this can represent so many other things – controversies and conflicts that are referenced throughout both the visual and auditory albums.

For one thing, on “Sandcastles,” Beyoncé is transcending herself. She sings “Every promise don’t work out that way,” referencing the ultimatum she had always set down that if he cheats she is gone. And then James Blake, in his chillingly angelic voice, sings – “Forward.” The lyrics of this songs make it sound, for one, that Beyoncé is suggesting an open relationship of some sort between her and Jay-Z, recognizing that the bond they have is greater than most, that the strength and multidimensionality of their connection is not worth throwing away over some becky. At the same time, these lyrics suggest a moving forward for America, an opening of minds to unity – an American identity.

I’ve heard people reference “white culture,” and I guess this is meant as mainstream America, but, honestly, I’ve always felt lost in this country because I can’t see a culture I identify with. My ancestry is mostly Jewish and Irish, but we’ve all been in this country so long that if I tried to join a Yiddish community in New York I’d feel interested, but certainly not at home, and while I might look Irish with my red hair and pale skin, I have no idea what kind of Irish communities exist in the U.S., and I’m not sure I care enough to find out. If I think of white culture, images of preppy kids on golf courses and in country clubs or California surfers come to mind. I don’t fit in either of those scenarios, but even they have some diversity. I don’t know what white culture is, but I don’t want to. What I want is American culture. And I want it to be more than what it is right now. And I think that can only come if we embrace each other, start being generous with our traditions and beliefs and strengths, and come together.

bell hooks, in her critique of Lemonade, wrote that Beyoncé neglected to really call out the patriarchy – that change must be mutual. This goes for intimate relationships, for patriarchy and feminism, and for people of all races. Change must be mutual.

There’s a Gandhi quote that’s used so often it’s likely lost its meaning for many – “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” If you want a world of love, acceptance, kindness – you don’t have to wait. In Beyoncé’s visual album, a woman’s voice speaks these words: “So how we supposed to lead our children to the future? How do we lead them? Love.” Be love to everyone around you. People notice a positive example, even if you don’t get constant praise and recognition for it, you’ll know you’re doing the right thing, and, I promise, your actions will make a difference. Someone is always watching. Maybe not the world, but all progress begins on an individual level.

hooks also wrote that, while Beyoncé’s Lemonade focused primarily on the bitterness of the lemons, it’s actually a sweet, refreshing drink. We’ve all been through some shit, but true lemonade is made in “celebration of our moving beyond pain.”

So, Beyoncé, I love Lemonade for its celebration of black women and its transcendent messages. It’s a necessary work of art with words and images that the world need to see, to recognize its power, and to acknowledge and laud the strength of black women. Now – I know at least one white girl that can twerk (it’s me), and I’m sure some Asian and Native American and Mexican and racially ambiguous girls know how to get down to a beat, too, and I would love to see some racial inclusion in your future work – practicing your own message of moving forward. After all, we are American, and, more than anything, I want that to mean something. And I want it to be positive. AND I believe that’s possible.042015_0136_HowtoWinFri1.jpg