Don’t give away your soul they say. Don’t give up the parts of you that are important says they. Don’t let others take any of the essence of you.
Who the hell are they anyway?
And what is the point of a soul if not to give to others?
I was a dorky kid. I had two years in kindergarten. I finished school with the top mark in the whole South West of my state so it wasn’t my intelligence. I was too shy to move up to Big Kid school. In year twelve I sat in the common room at lunchtimes and hid at my desk pretending to work. Why in the world would anyone want to hang out with me? Boy was that a long year of lunches!
I was trying to protect myself by hiding myself away. In college at Melbourne Uni I struggled to transition to Big City life. I missed out on a whole lot of fun while I was trying to protect myself from the Big Bad Wolves that were my peers. I didn’t realise that everyone was just as scared of me as I was of them. If you asked any of my Queen’s College roomies to describe me, they would say “Laura who?”
When I moved back to rural Victoria to work in a perfect little community health centre, I realised that my job was all about selling my soul. Everyday I would give more and more of myself to a handful of people in desperate need. I was worried that they would break off chunks of my spirit to fuel their own recovery, that I would be slowly beaten down by the grief and hardship of others, that my body would be a sack of skin and bone and no light would shine through at the end of each day.
I was worried about what I’d been told. Don’t let people feed off your soul. You will give and give and give to others and never get anything in return and then you’ll burn out.
Oh. How wrong they were!
A soul is like bacteria. Wait on, stay with me – I know bacteria is icky – your soul will splinter off as you give yourself to others. Through sharing your creativity in music or art, by giving your time to those that benefit from it, through sharing your story, your fears and your inspirations, by inviting that friend to dinner who never invites you back but who makes you laugh, you will be giving yourself as a gift. The remaining part of your soul is then free to multiply. Without that shattering and leaking out, the soul stagnates – bacteria cannot grow without that initial breaking into two but then there’s no stopping it!
I realised that the more I gave to others, the more I expanded. I wasn’t losing anything of myself, I was involved in this incredible personal growth. Each new reaching out brought me so much in return.
“Should’s” rule our lives. Mindfulness is a beautiful Buddhist concept (now backed by emerging scientific evidence) that allows us to give non-judgemental and undivided attention to the wonders of the present moment.
In mindful living we acknowledge the should and should nots but don’t give these thoughts any power over our behaviour. In this way we are able to feel pride and peacefulness for our contribution to others while not expecting anything in return (and guess what? When we cultivate this attitude, that’s when all the world’s non-material riches come our way: think love, support and career success).
Instead of thinking “I’m never going to put myself out there again because I just get kicked in the gut for it”, you will think “they needed that part of me more than I did. I wish them health, I wish them happiness, I wish them peace, and in that way I leave myself open to the same in return”.
You know that part of you that was there when you were born? You are still you but you’ve changed and you don’t look the same or act the same. But you are still you. That part that has observed your whole life and never been harmed or changed – the essence of you – that’s what you want to tap in to.
I “gave up alcohol” once I was back home and my skin settled over my bones with a relaxed sigh. I put that in quotation marks because it sounds like I had a problem. I didn’t drink very much but I realised with a lightning strike of clarity that I didn’t need to at all. I was going out every weekend for the social connection. Some people would like me for me whether I was drinking or not, and some people would never like me no matter what. I was finally fine with that. And I realised most people liked me better when I didn’t drink anyway, I was free to be myself (but perhaps they just liked the free ride home they’d get at the end of the night…)
I gave up alcohol because I realised I didn’t need it to connect with people. I continue to ride the sober train for not-completely-unrelated health reasons. My body is my temple and all that jazz.
I started giving myself away more and more. I gave myself fully to the kids while my father-in-law, their dad, slowly gave himself away to the cancer. And I would finish the day with nothing left to give but then my mother-in-law would come in the front door and I would fold her up in my arms and my limbs that were too fatigued to hold up just moments before would find strength with no need to take anything from me. That was not about physical strength, that was entirely about attitude. And then my husband would need my ear when the kids were tucked up in bed and his mum was comfortably enfolded in her doona. And so my ears he would have and I did not need to be sorry to see them lent to the very love of my life.
These were big chunks of my soul that I would see drift away each day of The Illness. I do not have any gaping holes. Even when he died I found myself growing and expanding and he comes along as I do that.
But now I give smaller chunks away and I think that is just as important. When I’m home from a long day and I find myself feeling like I “deserve” a rest or “deserve” a foot rub because my day has been so “busy and important”, I’ll often use these moments to visit my elderly neighbour instead. I started doing this years ago when it was a scorching hot day and the radio recommended we check on our older community members. I did it out of obligation. Now? I do it because she brings me so much light and she makes me laugh right deep in my belly.
I spend a lot of time laughing and acting like a kid. I tell people what I think of them just like a kid. Before you worry about my social inadequacies, I want to let you in on something special. I don’t see people’s flaws anymore. Mindfulness has given me the incredible gift of noticing what is interesting and beautiful about people. So just like a kid I’ll tell you “wow I love the colours you’ve chosen to wear today” or “I love how passionate you are about that”. I realised that putting others down doesn’t protect, it reflects. It doesn’t protect your own self-worth, it reflects on the state of your soul.
I play a lot. I happen to think I’m a modern day Peter Pan. Everyday is an awfully big adventure. Yesterday I saw a seal roundhouse slap a sea bird. All because I decided that a walk in the morning sun with my husband, sun and stars of my life, was more important than getting into the clinic on time.
We could learn a lot from kids. Their essence and spirit is palpable. They haven’t built up those layers yet. They give themselves fully to you. They live in the moment and everything is an interesting adventure.
I’m starting a revolution. A Playdate Revolution. An Adult Playdate Revolution.
Find your inner child and don’t let it go. But don’t forget to share it with others through play and compassion and generosity and creativity. And hugs. And laughter. Always laughter.
Keep your shining eyes peeled for more info about how you can get involved in the revolution and give your soul away. Always keep the shine in your eyes.
Hey you there? Have some big love from us.
Post script: My best friend told me today after reading my blog that of course I stayed down for two years in kindergarten – the universe wanted us to meet. Of course! Life has it’s own little way.
Disclaimer: obviously get your values straight before you give your soul away. If you value ripping people off then it might be a good idea to keep that part of you all to your little ol’ self.