For me writing is nourishment. Writing an article. Writing in my notebook. Writing down a poignant quote.
Reading a stunning, sincere sentence is also nourishment. So is having a heart-to-heart with my husband. So is stopping and staring at the sky, trying to grasp and appreciate the mystery and beauty of the stars. So is singing to my daughter. So is solitude and a haunting melody. So is sketching, however clumsy and amateurish it might look.
All these things reach something deep within me. All these things nourish my soul.
The soul resides beneath the ego, or our conscious, “thinking” brain; it is the root of who we are, said Joy Malek, a marriage and family therapist who specializes in working with deep feelers, or people who are intuitive, empathic, creative and highly sensitive. “The soul houses our intuition and instincts, as well as our strongest yearnings and most resonant wisdom.”
The soul is a dynamic source of energy, said Rebecca Turner, who is training as a marriage and family therapist, and works to incorporate mindfulness and restorative practices in both her clinical work and personal life. “It is the place from which creativity and emotion emerge, and the place where we connect with things outside of and/or greater than ourselves.”
Many of us see nourishing our souls as self-indulgent. We worry that it’s a luxury—one we shouldn’t participate in. However, when we disconnect from our soul’s desires, life becomes “unbalanced and unsatisfying,” Malek said. When we disconnect from our soul’s desires, we reach for what’s easily available—empty entertainment, toxic relationships, food that distracts—which only makes us feel restless and unfulfilled, she said.
“When we feed our souls with the things it needs and wants, we live more connected to ourselves, our loved ones, and our purpose,” Malek said.
How you feed your soul is deeply personal. It is unique to each individual.
For Turner, this includes being outside and simply observing. “Connection to the living world is extremely grounding and renewing for me,” she said. It includes changing scenery, such as driving to the beach or into the mountains, or going to the top floor of a tall building and gazing out the windows. It includes spending time with animals.
It also includes journaling—which she does in two ways: In the morning or before bed, she records what’s happening in her life or what’s on her mind. (This “functions sort of like a brain dump for managing stress or anxiety.”) Secondly, when she’s trying to work through something, she writes a specific question at the top of a sheet of paper, such as “Why do I feel X?” She doesn’t censor herself or worry about spelling or punctuation. “This is designed to let unconscious connections emerge.”
Turner practices restorative yoga, a type of gentle yoga called “yin yoga.” “It involves slow, deep, stretching poses that promote natural body processes, and mindful awareness of your own body and internal state,” she said. (She also noted that a great example of this kind of yoga is “Yoga with Adriene” on YouTube.)
To explore your own soul’s yearnings, Malek suggested starting with the question: “What am I longing for?” Your soul might be longing for adventure or solitude. It might be longing for a truly satisfying meal or physical movement. It might be longing to be seen or to be supported. It might be longing to rest.
After you name your longings, your mind will likely veto them. Which is OK. Ask yourself this question, anyway: “How can I fulfill this need?” Malek suggested thinking creatively. You also might ask a supportive loved one to help you brainstorm.
“Our connection with our souls is like any other relationship,” Malek said. “[I]t grows as we tend to it. With practice, we become better at tuning in, and nourishing our souls.” And we start feeling fulfilled, energized, alive.
What nourishes your soul?