Monday, May 18, 2015

The Care & Feeding of a Human Soul: 7 Steps

First of all, read the books that crack you open: the ones that leave you short of breath and stunned at the incomprehensible rarity, the unbelievable fortune, of our time here together, with one another and on this green earth. Start with Whitman or Ed Abbey. Start with Anne Lamott or Joan Didion or Cheryl Strayed or a Holy Book or anywhere at all. Read a lot. Read in the morning, the window open so just a slip of the sound of spring rain graces your ears. Read on your lunch break, if only for ten minutes, a sunny park bench your personal paradise. Let the moon be your crescent companion at night.

Second, come to the subversive conclusion that you needn't exercise to feel happy. Decide to engage instead in movement that feels good, that feels right in your body. (Hint: if your body is moving, you're doing it right.) If the cool air prickles the beads of sweat on your brow, you're doing spectacularly. If you can't bear the simplicity of sweat as barometer, just begin to walk and then maybe hike or run, but beware: sustained forward momentum has a way of changing your outlook, making fluid your once-set perspectives. Watch your life expand along with your lungs, fresh oxygen infusing blood and brain with new ways of thinking, of seeing. Recognize the sensation as joy. Recognize that joy is, after all, the point.

Third, come to this even more insane realization, the understanding that (are you ready for it?): you needn't be thin to be happy. Be startled by the sudden understanding that no person's soul has ever been redeemed by the size of their jeans. Laugh in the streets. Let your hysterics become tears as you mourn the years you worshipped at the false altar of skinny, bowed down to its glittering, idolatrous gods. Tuck the knowledge of your liberation like a smooth stone into the front pocket of your mind, its presence a pleasant weight. The signs telling you to be smaller, to take up less space have been turned off. Stretch your legs. Arise, arise. You are now free to move about your life.

Fourth, look around you and see that every person is likely doing their best. See that some peoples' best is shit, but still, by definition, their best. Grant grace, because you can, because there are better things to carry in your heart than the acidity of resentment. Forgive if you can, but remember the outline of the hurt; know that empathy springs from the fissures in the rock.

Speaking of rock, find the oxidized sandstone dust of the American West in your shoes. Find it in half-remembered dreams and memories you can't be sure are your own. Find it gritted to your heart, deposited like sediment, an alluvial fan arrayed across your left ventricle. Find that it feels like home, and make it one. Insert the salt spray of the ocean. The scent of pine. The humid languor of the bayou. Or the rolling fields of the country's middle, or anywhere else, as needed. You will have to write your own bodily metaphor to describe how it feels to have place be a part of you. This is the fifth easy step, but it may take up to ten thousand.

Writing! is sixth. The odds are good that your soul craves expression. Practice believing you have something important to say, letting the possibility roll like a taut-skinned grape on your tongue. Come to see that writing is not always accomplished through words on a page; that the story of your heart might be a song or a painting or a pot of soup on the stove. That it might be a house cared for, a garden tended. What matters is that you open the channel. Worry not about talent or even creativity. Know that being alive in the world is a creative act.

Seventh and last (on the list anyway but not, if you're lucky, in life), examine your relationships. To others. To yourself. To the quotidian details of your life. Love what loves you back (dogs are particularly nourishing in this regard), and pay close scrutiny to the rest. Where there is stickiness, allow space. Where darkness exists, shine light, gently or harsh and clear. Where darkness persists, decide if it's a dark you can live with, want to live with. Belong to a community, but first to yourself. You are your own! Tattoo it to your skin, maybe not literally or maybe in black permanent ink. Let the thrill of your freedom strum quick as a hummingbird's flutter in your chest.