RePost: Soul Work IS NOT Self-esteem

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Most of this article appeared on Wild Women Wisdom originally on March 4, 2013

Now, it’s important to clarify some ideas.

This work, the women’s work or depth development, lets call it soul work.   Soul work can edge up next to concepts that  are self-helpy and lots of people, including myself, get eye rolls when it comes to that subject.  Yea, it seems to surprise people when they learn that I shrink at New Agey I’m-okay-you’re-okay movements.  How can I bulk at New Age stuff and keep a column that educates on the symbolism and influence of cycles in our life!?

Specifically, it’s any philosophy that says it alone is the right way or the only, singular answer that makes me grind my teeth.  Finger-wagging judginess immediately shuts me down.  This is LIFE!  Multiplicitious, infinite, totally quantam.  There are sooo many options, so many solutions.  A person says spirituality should be this or should look that way and I am the first to counter: the most spiritual thing I’ve done all week was dance sweaty til 3 am then eat a cheese steak dripping full with grease…!!

Soul work, to me, resonates because it is personal.  It starts with the premise that the answers are within you.  A person like me just affirms the existence of what Carl Jung calls the anima function–the receptive, the dark or normally unseen, the soul.  It is my goal to grow an appreciation of how our society has suppressed this aspect, to help see how our thoughts have programmed “tapes” that run in support of this suppression in your own life, and finally to help translate how the soul might be speaking to you.  I am, after all, a language teacher!   Your connection to your own deep sense of aliveness has nothing to do with how I define mine, likewise I have no business telling you how to experience or define yours.  I just help you tap into and follow the communication going on in your interior life.

Soul-work IS NOT self-esteem.  Laura San Nicolas, a soul-focused psychotherapist in Laguna Beach, emphasizes this.  It’s not about feeling better about ourselves.  In the Western world, the generation in which I was raised, as well as the ones beneath mine, have come of age with this stigma: brought-up with unspoken entitlement resulting from having all our security needs easily provided for.  Think Maslow here.  We live an inherent belief system that life should be easy, and if indeed we are confronted to actually develop and challenge ourselves, we bemoan that life isn’t meant to feel this way because it feels hard or we think we shouldn’t struggle.  As Laura says, “Who ever said that life wasn’t meant to scare us?  To be difficult or challenging?”

We have on our hands generations of twenty-and thirty-somethings, (I count myself among these numbers here!!) having “quarter-life crisises” or “thrisis-es” because the concept of self-esteem is uniquely tied in to the same soul-suppressing, societal brainwash that equates self-worth to consumer success.  I have+so I feel good=I am worth it!  So when the soul-life, which is the life that regenerates us from within, that helps us acquire meaningful understanding of our own experience and therefor gives us reason to engage from day to day because it imbues our unique experience with personal meaning, starts to emerge, it almost always starts because we feel bad.  Soul work is about transformation.   It has no arrival point.  It is a way of experiencing the world, one that keeps a steady awareness of the relationship between interior life, and the life going on outside us in the rest of the world.

Soul-work therefor is about feeling alive.  Thomas Moore, in his book “Care for the Soul,” says “the soul can be deceptively simple.  You take back what has been disowned. You work with what is, rather than what you wish were there.”  I understand this to mean what it took twelve steps to teach me (I need things laid out good and simple!): Responsibility, or taking daily action towards what is going on in my life here, how, today, just for today!   What is directly in front of me.

Living a life of soul means engaging in the work of my own real life.  The relationships, the duties, and the fun parts of what I am expected to show up to in my own life, today.   It is my own real life that is the teacher, do I show up today or do I check out?  Checking out is what Moore speaks of by disowning.

And if I am disowning, that’s where I start.  Not with why, just with a simple, present yes, this is happening.  Which takes me back to self-honesty as the way to hear the message, sometimes the siren, that the soul is signaling.  We learn to be gentle with this work, tender, yes.  Because really being connected in a meaningful, soulful way is a challenge.   It’s not the artificiality of well-combed hair and a perfected, smiling sheen.  Soul work is not the same as look-good, feel-good self-esteem.

It’s about real life.  Which get’s us dirty and at times, is going to knock us to our knees.

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