Ambush Your Soul
Choose your own interruptions in the new year
Interruptions are now a way of life. From link to link and app to app, we interrupt ourselves and forget where we were going. By the way, are you still with me?
So maybe interruptions can be put to better use.
First, something about the soul. Since I mentioned it in the last newsletter, I decided to offer an operational definition: The soul is one’s complete and creatively engaged self. Think of any time that you were giving your sustained attention to something which suited you so well that time didn’t matter. Eating, drinking, and most forms of fun—whether self-imposed or imposed by a group—are time-limited. One gets enough of them. Soul-work is different. It generates energy.
See it in the glad-handing politician who mingles tirelessly with supporters into the early morning hours. See it in the pianist who practices on the same piece for a day. See it in the caregiver who works around the clock for a smile from the beloved. Or in the video-game artist creating images by coding polygons. Energy comes from doing the work which suits you. It is your current calling.
Back to ambushes.
We often slip into soul-work in strange circumstances. A pair of Mormon missionaries ask you if you know Jesus Christ. You feel like asking them where they see Jesus. A yard crew blows leaves and clippings into a storm sewer. You try to recall Spanish words for water protection. A friend says that the most important task for her to do after the last election is to register new voters. You realize this isn’t for you. You read in E.O. Wilson’s Half Earth that the rate of species extinction is perhaps one thousand times the pre-human rate. What can be done about it? You are strangely and uncomfortably moved by a performance of Verdi’s Requiem or Bach’s St. Matthew Passion or Handel’s Messiah or of Woody Guthrie singing the original version of This Land is Your Land or of Jonathan Edwards singing This Island Earth.
Such moments come and go, presenting more interruptions than we can ever manage. We move on.
But often we do have the time to think about it—say, for the time it takes to breathe.
- Take in the energy you’ve felt from the encounter.
- Hold the breath. Reflect on why you feel strengthened or disturbed enough to do something.
- Release yourself to imagine what you would do.
- Hold the emptiness before taking another breath.
In the time it takes to turn a gulp of air into a healing breath, you have ambushed your soul.
The fourth step is a reminder that we are spacious creatures. Our bodies are mostly empty space, as is the universe, as is any unfulfilled calling. The breath fills it, reflection informs it, action transforms us even as we seek to make or change something in our worlds.
I call it an ambush. It’s a sideways-kind of path, perhaps more easily followed by some of us than others. If you’re focused on a task, you may dismiss these soul-moments as distractions. If you’re accustomed to being unplanned and spontaneous and “following your bliss,” as Joseph Campbell advised, you face a different problem. You may recognize the moment for soul-work but, because of the many paths you are trying to follow simultaneously, you cannot decide what to do about it.
Either way, take a minute for a healing breath. Give it that much time. And when the opportunity comes again—and it will—take another healing breath. The breaths will give it life. In time, they will give it substance. In time, you will be doing whole-hearted soul work that suits you and gives you energy, instead of half-hearted work that depletes your energy. You will find your current calling, alignment, and a source of renewal like a spring of water welling up within you.
“. . . whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
( The quotation is from the gospel according to John 4:14. Currently, my own meditation on this is taking the form of an opera, Monte & Pinky, which I hope to produce in Richmond in 2017. More information will be posted on this site in coming months.)