Soul Projects: Finding our Larger Work

Sometimes life takes the long way around. Better late than never, I guess.

A couple of weeks ago I had intended to write a post on ‘soul projects’ but then circumstances propelled me in a different direction and other ideas wandered through my head, clamoring for attention. Last week, after numerous delays (projects often move slowly in Hawaii), I watched the overgrown terraces below the house finally get cleared by some hard working men, and I found myself once again thinking about the future garden… and soul projects.

Simply put, a ‘soul project’ is an extended endeavor to which we are committed and that pen and paperfeeds the soul in some way. Usually it involves a course of action with many steps, each one different from the previous. A few examples might include writing a book, building a house, learning to play an instrument, recording an album, or perhaps creating an organization. The best soul projects are one that take considerable time and personal investment (not necessarily financial), and that span at least a year. Great ones can occupy a lifetime (or more).

A soul project differs from a practice, which is a repeated action that we do more or less the same way each time—journaling, meditation, wandering in nature, full moon rituals, etc. It is also considerably more complex than performing simple, soulful actions: watching a sunrise, speaking one’s truth in a challenging situation, doing something artistic, making a beautiful supper, attending a workshop, etc. And while soulful action(s) and practices help build an engaged life of meaning and authenticity—fusing the everyday with the sacred—soul projects firmly root us down into something much larger.

For all of us, our primary soul project is bringing our soul’s gifts and talents into the world. It is part of our unique giveaway to the ‘other-than-human’ world. A former mentor of mine, Bill Plotkin, the author of Soulcraft, and Nature and the Human Soul, says that soul projects are the ‘delivery system’ for our soul powers. I like that.

There’s a larger question or issue here, of course, in that many people are unclear regarding their soul gift(s), which makes it challenging to bring those talents into the world in an obvious way. Most of us are struggling to find some sense of balance in our lives, to cultivate a sense of meaning, to live more simply and nourish our sense of soul… let alone discover the unique aptitude of our core essence. Yet each of us has a gift to offer to the world that he/she alone can bring. Discovering that talent or treasure can be the journey of a lifetime, and once we have discovered it then we must offer it forth. With abandon. Munificence.

Something I’ve learned (but still catch myself doing) is that we can be engaged with bodysoul practices and tending to the conscious nourishment of the soul while avoiding our larger, more difficult work in the world. We remain entrenched in the personal rather than emerging to the transpersonal.

Soul projects are a commitment to our soul’s work in the world.

How can you have a soul project if you’re not sure what you’re offering forth? You can still commit to something larger than yourself, a creation or endeavor that shares a certain aspect of your soul in a meaningful way. Maybe your project is building a highly conscious relationship with your beloved, raising awakened and creative children, or being passionately committed to a cause/organization that you care deeply about. Infinite forms of soul projects exist; there are no limits, rules, or set parameters other than that the project should be tangible.

While soulful actions and practices offer nourishment to the soul, projects go a step further: they call us to ‘step up to the plate’ and engage with the Larger Story. They invite us to risk something greater, demanding that we be visible and vulnerable in a real way. Soul projects challenge us to go public with our convictions rather than remaining safely private. They dare us to step naked and unashamed into the circle of authenticity.

Because it brings my soul’s work into the world (that’s the ultimate goal anyway), my ongoing toil with the manuscript for The Bones and Breath is certainly a soul project. Sometimes the challenge feels overwhelming and I have to walk away from it for periods (as I’ve done for the past couple of months), seeking inspiration and solace. For a long time now I’ve been feeling the need for something more physical and hands on; something less mental (and more creative) that yields more satisfying results than mere lines of well-spun words the end of the day. It’s part of the reason that creating a garden on the cleared terraces calls to me. And while a vegetable patch does not directly bring my soul work into the world, there is something profoundly nourishing about the connection between earth and soul… soil and soul.

Tending a garden feels like an essential part of me that I’ve been missing. (This seems especially true now that I live in the manicured suburbs and any sense of nourishing, expansive, semi-wild nature is far away.) It is a practical, tangible, and real action, and because the garden must be built it is something more than a practice. Furthermore, creating a terrace garden initiates an ongoing, open dialogue with our biosentient Earth, taking place outside of the four walls and roof that contain me most of the day. It’s a sensual relationship with place. Roots.

For many of us, the act of putting food into our mouth that the earth has grown is the most tangible experience with the living biosphere (even though most people are not really paying attention). Yet eating is more than flavor or sustenance; it exceeds a sum of calories, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. When we consume food—particularly fresh and living food—we are ingesting the subtle energies of plants and animals, of Earth and the elements. Food that is alive contains the subtle ‘life force’ energies known as prana, chi, ki, and mana: traditional, non-Western descriptions of what scientists would call the bioelectric energy of life. It is this prana in food that holds the true secret to health, healing, vitality, and nourishing the soul.

What we eat is a political act as well as a soulful one. If just twenty percent of our population endeavored to eat more ‘locally’ we could transform America’s oil-thirsty and pesticide-drenched agribusiness. A garden on the lower terraces will be my quiet act of dissent against the unsustainable machine of food production. The plotted conspiracy of greens aims to be a gentle, radical act for my own sustenance (or at least part of it). For me, no matter where I live, what and how I eat is an essential part of living in a sacred manner that feeds the soul. Preparing something fresh and beautiful to eat, assembling it with love and gratitude in the kitchen, and sitting down to share the creation with my beloved, friends and family is the cornerstone of a life that sustains me on all levels.

I will continue my work on editing the manuscript, one word or sentence at a time, slowly building paragraphs into pages and chapters. Alongside this soul project, I will plant edible green rows and lacy spirals of organic vegetables. I will feed the soul on myriad levels, from being in tactile connection with the earth and tending a plot of living beings, to the actual physical and energetic nourishment that my bodysoul receives from eating what I have sown, watered, and grown.

Ultimately, the sacred is not a concept but an experience of wonder, awe, inspiration and beauty. Our bodymind & bodysoul opens in a heartfelt expansion. We share an energetic communion with the Larger Story unfolding everywhere around us. The personal becomes transpersonal; microcosm mirrors the macrocosm. And that is the real purpose of a soul project, to draw our roots down into fertile soul/soil and our branches up into sunlight and air… gently challenging and coaxing us to become the largest, most authentic version of ourselves possible.

Gentle reader, here’s hoping that as you continue to seek or gain clarity on your soul’s gifts to offer the world, that you will commit yourself not only to soulful actions and practices but to the larger endeavor of a soul project. Something that both challenges and sustains you, something that dares you to risk something vital and private of yourself.

I wonder, what will you bring? What will you build? What will you share… and with whom?