When we say that someone or something has “soul” we know what we mean. But we have a hard time saying what that meaning is. We know it when we see it or when we experience it, but it’s next to impossible to describe. Since that word is featured so prominently in the title of this blog, it occurs to me it might be worth exploring what I mean when I use it.
Katie and I recently went to dinner with a group of friends. For well over three hours we sat around a table in the back of a restaurant, lost in conversation and immersed in a celebration of the senses—the presentation of the food as it was brought to the table, the aroma, the flavors, the alchemy of the wine pairings. When I contemplate the word “soul” that’s one image that easily comes to mind.
And when I use the word “soul” in this blog, that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. For me, soul is about a certain depth of experience and the quality that surrounds that experience. But you don’t have to go to an expensive restaurant or spend a lot of money to have the experience. Satisfying conversation and genuine friends are experiences that touch the heart and dwell in the memory, regardless of where they occur. Listening to good music or watching the the golden light of late afternoon are things that can touch something deep inside you, without having to spend a dime. Soul is not a “thing” that can be defined, it is a particular experience of being alive.
When I started this blog a few years ago, I named it “Lawyers In Search of Soul” because I believe that the levels of depression, anxiety and substance abuse that plague our profession can be thought of as symptoms of a loss of soul. How that happens for us is pretty easy to understand when you consider that lawyers comprise the one profession where the practitioner is selected based on his or her ability to be pessimistic. There is a lot of research that supports the idea that pessimism is maladaptive in almost every endeavor of life. But there is also research that demonstrates a correlation between pessimism and success among lawyers. In other words, what is labeled as pessimism (and is a detriment in almost every other vocation) is considered a virtue in our profession. When you understand that, you can begin to understand why lawyers are scared to death of things like uncertainty and why they are obsessed in managing or controlling their reality. But if you believe you can operate a climate control center for your life, it’s more than a little difficult to simply let go and experience what life may be offering in any given moment.
I also embrace the idea of “searching” for soul because I believe a partial solution to our difficulties may be to search for those parts of ourselves that are capable of experiencing life deeply and profoundly. It doesn’t take a lot. The search for soul might be an early morning run instead of beating everyone to the office. It might be taking that yoga class, or visiting an art gallery. It might be stopping by the nursery on your way home from work, or making a meal from fresh ingredients you bought at your farmer’s market. Something as simple as one of these activities may open you up to beginning to love and care for that part of yourself that experiences life at its most exquisite.
And if those don’t work for you (or even if they do), let me suggest this exercise. Take out a piece of paper and make a list of some of the things you really like to do, but (because you’ve been so busy tending to all of the “responsibilities” in your life) you haven’t been able to do in long time. Making jewelry. Making soup. Reading poetry. Playing catch. Journaling. Walking on the beach at sunrise. Place a date next to each item on the list that reflects when you last did that particular activity. Now pick two of the things from your list—just two. And do them this week.
It doesn’t sound like a big deal. But something as small as this just might be the first steps on your journey in search of…soul.