You know how it is. The dishes need washing, the houseplants are wilting, the emails have piled up, the kids are needy, and the dog is scratching at the door to go out. There is no end to the to-do list, no reward or revelation to be found at the bottom of the laundry hamper, no moment in the day when life feels entirely manageable, tidy, and complete.
And yet, this, I’m pretty sure, is where soul work actually begins – right here, right now, in the midst of the mess.
Soul work is about finding the sacred in the everyday stuff of life, about bringing spirituality home to roost in the nooks and crannies of ordinary days spent doing ordinary things. It is about trusting that wherever you are is exactly where you’re meant to be– even when you’re up to your hips in life’s challenges.
Years ago, as I sought to become the kind of mother I aspired to be, I realized that simply making a commitment to be present for my family was in itself a demanding spiritual practice. My first book, Mitten Strings for God, grew out of the challenge I set myself: to clear some quiet space in which our souls could grow. (Over a hundred thousand copies and nine translations later, it’s clear I wasn’t the only one seeking to restore quality and stillness to overcrowded days and lives too often spent on the run.) After all, true intimacy — with our children, with our partners, with ourselves — requires both intention and inspiration; it takes a certain rigor just to show up and stay put, again and again, come what may and no matter what.
Slowing down, feeling my feelings, making some kind of peace with uncertainty, I began to view my own ordinary life through fresh eyes. Despite the upheavals and transformations of the teenage years, the lessons I most needed to learn were still about being exactly where I was, about resisting the temptation to run off elsewhere in search of more meaning, more experience, more connection, more wisdom, more anything.
All I really needed to do was pay closer attention to the life I already had. What I discovered, of course, is that there is indeed something holy about attending to fleeting moments, and even to mundane tasks, with exquisite care. The Gift of an Ordinary Day was the title of my second book, but soon the words took on a life of their own, becoming a kind of mantra, a reminder that grace and beauty are found right at hand, in the unvarnished moments of everyday experience. For it’s by paying attention to our lives and the precious people in them that we learn how to love. And it is in learning to love well that we become fully human, that we evolve into our own best selves.
“The privilege of a lifetime,” as Joseph Campbell famously said, “is being who you are.” My guess is, it takes most of us a lifetime to fully rise to the challenge. Certainly I’m a work in progress myself — still seeking, still practicing, still astonished by all I don’t know. The journey home is ongoing, a universal pilgrimage — as I discovered while writing my most recent memoir, Magical Journey, which brought me face to face with the most demanding soul work of all: letting go of the need to improve ourselves and relaxing, instead, into the wonder of who we already are.
Below: a few of the words that remind me that faith is neither a possession nor an achievement, that in fact it’s really just a willingness to keep showing up — at the kitchen sink, on a yoga mat, for a loved one, at a friend’s side, in a church pew or in the garden or at the dinner table. It’s not something to do, but a way to be: working in harmony with things as they are. Click on the phrases below to read related posts, pieces I think of as bulletins from the road. (My complete archive of Soul Work posts is here.)