Wherever you stand
Be the soul of that place.
On Saturday, I am returning to a place imbued with a great deal of soul for me. It is a place where my soul feels at home. Having traveled there over 20 times in the past, I've not been back in eight years, and am returning now in response to a longing of my soul to reconnect with this land and its people.
That I should feel so at home in this place is a bit of a shock to me. It could not be more foreign to my Western sensibilities. For most of my adult life, this place, now called The Russian Federation, was known as The Soviet Union. Americans were taught it was the home of the "evil empire," a mortal threat to motherhood, apple pie and the our way of life.
In theory at least, this place seemed like an unlikely candidate for a soul connection. Yet there it was, a confront to all I had expected to find. The Russian people and their culture housed a soulfulness that fed me in ways I didn't even know I was hungry for.
Something about Russia touches me in ways for which I struggle to find words. Perhaps it helps me recognize a deeper truth about myself that transcends logic and explanation.
I cannot explain the tears that flow at the sight of old Russian women sweeping the sidewalks or witnessing the "Babushkas" mopping the floors of the Orthodox churches.
I cannot explain my facility with its language, even though I speak and understand only a few utilitarian words. Riding in the back seat of taxis, like a first grader just learning to read, I'm obsessed with sounding out the letters on shop signs, compelled to read everything I encounter.
I instruct my students to write their name tags in Russian instead of English so I can practice reading. I learn enough Russian to correct my interpreter when I know she's given my words a different meaning than the one I intended. I even manage to mimic a decent Russian accent. I have a good ear that way.
I am consumed with the sounds of this country where my soul feels so at home. Its music brings me to my knees. The Russian song, "Joy", радость, flattens me to the ground every time I hear it. Even though I don't understand the words, the music stirs something in me. Some ancient longing is activated. I have no explanation.
As I witness the Russian people slowly emerging from decades of oppression, my own soul feels newly liberated. This is what a soul place will do. It opens something you never even knew was closed. Like stumbling upon a new room in a mansion you've been living in your entire life, a soul place embraces and amplifies an inner longing, long ignored.
In the face of such newness, in a soul place, you're met with a sense of familiarity. The outer terrain synchs up with an interior landscape that has been waiting to be met. Something clicks, a piece falls into place.
The house I live in is such a place. Having moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to be near my daughters -- definitely a soul calling -- I spent several months searching for a place to live. Nothing was quite "it," until I saw a photo of what would become my home on the internet. I was half a world away, working in Taiwan at the time, while scouring the internet for properties in the Bay Area.
Something about the photo beckoned me to take a closer look. From half way around the world, I could feel an inner "yes," even before stepping one foot on the property. The minute I stepped inside, I knew I'd found my home.
Having wandered in my own personal desert for awhile, I knew at that moment, I'd found the place I would live in for the rest of my life. The still, small voice within whispered, "You're home. You can rest now." And so it is. My home has indeed been a sanctuary for my soul. Even though I have taken a very circuitous route to get here, the gypsy in me is finally at peace. She has come home.
"How long the road is. But how I've needed every turn of the road in order to learn what the road passes by."
A soul place can be anywhere. It needn't be in a far off exotic land, although there are many such places in the world considered to be sacred, soul places. Your soul place might be in your own garden or a neighborhood park. It might be an island or a city, a special restaurant, or by a pond.
A soul place is anywhere you feel a greater sense of harmony and ease. There might be many such soulful places on the planet that inspire you, and open you to a new sense of freedom and joy.
Pay attention to the places where, in spite of whatever level of activity is going on around you, you feel rested. In a soul place, you can breathe more deeply, set down your burdens, let go of cares and concerns that occupy the mind.
When you come to a soul place, it's like being put on an oxygen tank, even your bones can breathe. Because your soul is responding at a level that doesn't involve the mind, all the tight and contracted places that have been "waiting to exhale" finally do. It's like taking off a pair of tight shoes, or loosening your tie.
When the needs of the soul are ignored, life begins to feel like a desert. We find ourselves feeling parched and dry, thirsting for something we can't quite name. A soul place is a drink of water for the thirsty soul.
We take vacations to such kind of places, hoping to "get away from it all". While the conscious mind might not know it, what we're really searching for is a way to get closer to ourselves.
In a soul place, we come to know ourselves in a new way, even if we only spend 15 minutes sitting on a bench in a neighborhood park. New sensory pathways are opened. We allow more of what nurtures to flow in and what constricts to flow out.
Along the way, I have come across many places in the world and right in my own backyard where my soul is invited to expand. While visiting India almost 15 years ago, I was asked to be a witness at the wedding of two women I didn't know under a full moon on the grounds of the Taj Mahal. How much more soulful can it get?
Well, it turns out plenty. On that same trip, a friend and I were invited to the home of a Muslim pedi-cab driver, who'd been our guide during our stay in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. One evening, he picked us up in a motorized pedi-cab, unlike the bicycle one he used to ferry tourists like around during the day. He drove us to his simple home outside town, where his wife was preparing a typical Indian meal, prepared in the outside oven using dung patties as fuel for cooking.
We met his family, and learned of their customs firsthand when his wife abruptly backed out of the room, head down, when his elderly father entered. According to Muslim custom, we were told, women are not allowed to be in the same room as any man who is not their husband, son or brother.
This simple, humble, uneducated man, who lived in a small house with dirt floors, opened his home and his family to a couple of strangers -- American women yet -- and offered us what little he had. The evening lasted only a few hours, yet the experience has stayed with me for nearly 15 years. My soul was marked by this experience. The very next month, I would visit Russia for the first time and be received in the homes and lives of the Russian people in the same, yet uniquely Russian way.
Some soul places are intimate and very personal, sometimes captured in tiny moments. We get a glimpse of something transcendent and the place where those moments occur are indelibly marked on our souls. The hospice rooms where my mother and my ex-husband took their last breaths are such places for me. In those rooms, my heart and soul were cracked open and the bitter sweetness of loss and liberation were present at the moment of their deaths.
The exquisite art gallery, scene of my daughter's wedding last fall, was another soul filled place for me. Walking her down the aisle, two years after the death of her father, I felt his soul, his joy, walking in step with mine.
Walking the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, the burning ghats of Varanasi,
scattering a friend's ashes at Independence Pass, near Aspen, Colorado, all places and moments that invite my soul to expand and see something beyond what the mortal eye can behold.
And the newest addition to my list of soulful places: the Heart and Soul Center of Light, a Science of Mind (United Centers For Spiritual Living) church in Oakland, CA., with the incredible Reverend Andriette Earl as its minister. I've never been a "religious" person. Spiritual, yes, religious, no. But on a "soul scale" of 1-10, this place and this woman are a 20! If you are ever in Oakland on a Wednesday night or a Sunday morning, be sure to look this one up. This is not to be missed.
Just naming these few places, I'm filled with gratitude for a life lived with generous doses of soul. Perhaps this is why I'm compelled to be writing on this subject. The soulful nature of life is where the richness lies. I hope you won't miss it in yours.
In your journey to nurture your soul, don't be afraid to get your hands dirty. The soul's garden beckons us to dig in, dig deep, and plant new seeds of creativity. As the garden grows, tending it becomes the journey of a lifetime, one that will take you far and wide to places where your soul feels fed.
What are your soul places? I'd love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below or come pay a visit to another soulful place, my personal blog and website at Rx For The Soul.
I'll be in Russia for the next two weeks, no doubt gathering new material for our discussion. See you at the end of June, when we'll also be launching our second group coaching boot camp on June 29. Learn more here.
For personal contact, I can be reached at judith[at]judithrichdotcom.
Happy travels and blessings on the path!