What does it mean to feed your soul? The soul can be a challenging concept to put into words. The Oxford dictionary defines soul as “ The spiritual or immaterial part of a human being”. How do you feed something that is immaterial? Very quickly we can become lost in our head, when perhaps the soul can only truly be known at the level of the heart. You probably already know the answer to what feeds your soul, just by checking in with your heart. What activities feed your soul? Think of times when you feel pure joy. It’s often something so simple, but feels deep at the same time. It might show up as an inner warmth or an energizing sensation. However it shows up for you, it’s probably very unique to who you are and what you love in life. When I posed the question “What feeds your soul?”… to friends and family, these are some answers they gave me. Just reading this list seems to feed MY soul! Which soul-feeding activities resonate with you?:
Being in nature, walking, biking, time with loved ones including pets, hugs, writing, painting, drawing, random acts of kindness, gut splitting laughter, sunshine when it breaks through the clouds, hiking solo, singing (especially with others), travelling with loved ones, gratitude for clean water, coaching, listening to the birds, volunteering, a warm bath, dancing, vulnerable connection, yoga, meditation, prayer, getting up early and taking my time, being heard, self-compassion, shared discoveries, shared respect, shared food, shared love.
This is not, of course, an exhaustive list and there was no scientific protocol used to collect the answers. It’s simply a spontaneous list from a group of individuals who generously shared their perspective to help me begin the conversation about soul. As I typed out the list, I was struck by a few common themes.
Connecting with Others - The most prominent theme throughout, is the idea of shared experience and connection with others. This may not come as a surprise if we consider the 80 year Harvard research study showing the single greatest predictor of happiness in an individual is their connection with others. Our souls seem to thrive in connection whether its with people or animals. The concept of connection with animals crosses over with the next theme.
Connecting with Nature - Throughout the examples I noticed the repeated mention of nature. This included moving through nature (walking, hiking, biking) or simply witnessing the daily mini-miracles of nature such as birds chirping or the sunshine behind the clouds. You probably don’t need a research study to tell you that being in nature makes you feel good. However, significant research has been done on the health effects of being in nature. A UK meta analysis of over 140 studies and 290million people showed that exposure to regular greenspace reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and stress. Researchers still don’t know exactly why we have such benefits from connecting to nature but perhaps it has something to do with how it feeds our soul. A subject that’s a little harder to study – but worthy of personal exploration!
Connecting to Self - The third theme I noticed was soul-filling time spent in solitude. Meditation, yoga, drawing, writing, prayer and even the simple act of taking a bath could fall into this category of connecting to self. How often do you give yourself the time to truly turn inward? In a society dominated by social media, 24/7 connectivity and longer workdays, we certainly have societal pressure to be ‘doing’ constantly and being ‘productive’. Time spent alone can even be seen as lonely or boring. I believe this is a category worth wondering about. What is your relationship to yourself? What shows up for you when you slow down and pay attention to your thoughts, your emotions and listen to the messages your body is sending you? Connection to self overlaps with the last theme: Being in the present moment.
Being in the Present Moment - Present moment awareness may actually be a pre-requisite to connection in general – whether it’s to others, to nature, or to ourselves. I believe it is perhaps the single most important factor leading us toward the feeling of feeding our Soul. If you look at any of the items listed above, and you take away the awareness of the present moment, it will likely diminish or even remove the soul-feeding quality. For example, consider spending time with a loved one. If your mind is off ruminating about the past or stressing about the future, you are less likely to feel connected and soul-fed from the conversation. A participant in our MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) program gave an example of her regular practice of walking her dog in the woods with her headphones in, listening to a podcast. It sounds like 3 potentially soul-filling activities all at once! However, she considered the impact of her “multi-tasking” and tried a walk without headphones. She began to notice the beauty of the woods around her at a different level. She connected deeply with her dog and felt a soul-filling sense of peace after her walk. This was a beautiful example of the power of presence. It’s not to say there’s anything wrong with using headphones. it’s simply an invitation to explore what is the difference for you when you give your full attention to an activity. Try some of your regular routines with extra mindful attention and see what shows up for you.
It’s worth reflecting on how much time you spend ‘feeding your soul” each day. If you are not feeding your soul with present moment connections, you may fall into habits of filling the void with over-eating, over-drinking, over-working or simply over-doing in life.
So take a moment to look at which themes above seem to “fill you up”. Which ones are already a part of your daily routine and what could you practice and explore more often? A soul that feels full likely translates to a life full of joy, connection, presence and peace. But don’t take my word for it: Keep asking yourself, ‘What feeds my soul?’ and do more of THAT.
If you would like to learn more about the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program join us for a FREE introduction on Tuesday April 23rd 2019 in the south end of Guelph. Details here http://www.vitalityatwork.ca/mindfulness-based-stress-reduction.htm