6. Mindfulness and Soulfulness
In 2016 a book was published called “Soulfulness: Deepening the Mindful Life” by Brian Draper. He spoke at Greenbelt Festival 2016 on how mindfulness can quieten the mind and take us to the tantalising threshold of ‘the soul’. He says that if we pause there long enough, we begin to discover that we are much more than just a calmed mind, that we have a unique, and God-given inner aliveness which seeks deep connection and expression. Below I have drawn extracts from his talk.
What is the soul?
The word soul first appeared in the Bible in Genesis 2 when God created a human being from the dust, breathed life into him and “the man became a living soul”. Soul is the name given to this union between both flesh and God’s breath or Spirit. Soul is not something you have. It is something you are.
Soul could be described as ‘the more’ of who we are. Who is ‘the you’ of you and ‘the me’ of me? Behind the masks and beneath the layers who are we really? There is so much more to us than what we do.
In search of soul
Mindfulness encourages people to sit quietly and become reacquainted with their own presence. The Hebrew word Hineni means “here I am” and expresses a radical showing up or presence and this is the first step in what Brian Draper calls Soulfulness.
Our unique soulfulness seeks expression though what we do and how we live. On the threshold of soul people begin to become aware of what they really long for or who they were always meant to be. Brian Draper says, “The soul tenaciously calls to us from our subterranean depths like a flower growing up through the cracks.”
Soul stirring moments
Mindfulness encourages us to wake up and experience the world around us. Moments of awakening can catch us off guard, like a beautiful sunset or a pounding sea. They cause us to stop and remember that we are alive and can give us a sense of reconnection to something more, to God, to nature, to ourselves, to the moment.
It might be interesting to ask the question - when was the last time that my soul stirred? Perhaps it was in response to a landscape, a poem or a song. The next question we might rightly ask is - What do we do with those moments of awakening? How can we take them home? Can we walk more intentionally though the gateway of mindfulness and into the soulful space that opens up?
Draper encourages people to inhabit the moment as fully as possible without being distracted and then simply yielding to that sense of ‘the more’ that they have just been reminded of.
A life lived with soul
Draper goes on to say that “Soulfulness does not offer some kind of, out of reach state of serenity for the perpetually-busy middle classes. It is not about wafting away on an escapist spiritual plume of incense either. Instead it is about the embrace of life in it’s wholeness, warts and all.”
He continues, “The Bible does not indicate that people should seek escape from the awfully unspiritual day to day life of blood and matter. God made a world of taste, touch, smells, sunsets, rivers, mountains, silent stars and this same God became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood. Jesus, even after he rose form the dead, chose to meet his friends on a beach, made a charcoal fire, cooked fish at sunrise, ate, drank and restored their souls. The taste of fish and the taste of forgiveness, matter and spirit, held together in creative tension by the one in whom all things still hold together. Could their be a more soulful moment in the narrative scope of the Bible?”
The goal of the soul
Is the soul ever at rest? Like tributaries running back to the sea, it seems that what the soul ultimately seeks is reconnection with its source. Surely true rest will be found at the ultimate homecoming when our soul returns to God.
One who held this view was fourteenth Century mystic, Julian of Norwich who spent her life meditating on fifteen visions which she had of God during a period of acute illness. In many of these meditations she reflected on the soul and says that we are most joyful when we are, in her words, “oned” or “knitted” with God. We derive from him and when we connect with God we gain a deeper sense of who we we really are.
You could say that at the deepest level our soul is our identity. Identity is not just the story we tell about ourselves? If this were the case someone with advanced dementia would cease to have an identity. Our true identity is held in the heart of God.
“Soul is a dangerous thing to have. It links you into the infinite whether you like it or not and it will not let you rest happily in your mediocrity or escapism.” John O’Donaghue
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Psalm 42
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jesus (Matthew 11:28-29)
“The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything. God is the ground, the substance, the teaching, the teacher, the purpose, and the reward for which every soul labours.” Julian of Norwich
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Saint Augustine
“We are hungry for God, but we don’t always know that it is God which we crave.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Soulfulness and beyond
Brian McLaren, in his book Naked Spirituality, outlines four common spiritual stages:
Simplicity: The spring-like season of spiritual awakening.
Complexity: The summer-like season of spiritual strengthening.
Perplexity: The autumn-like season of spiritual surviving.
Harmony: The winter-like season of spiritual deepening.
He offers three simple words to help guide and encourage people who find themselves on a ‘soul journey’ or experiencing a season of spiritual awakening.
The first word is Here. He invites people to simply use the words “Here I am, Here you are, Here we are together” to focus on being fully present and open to God. He then suggests the word Thanks (much like the ten finger gratitude test found in mindfulness) which is an act of awakening to the goodness of God. Finally he suggests the word O, where you sit in awe of what is around you and awaken to the beauty and joy of God.