Feeling lost? 12 questions to ask your soul right now
Here’s a realisation that can radically shift the way you relate to your life, your work and the world: In order to create the external life you want, you must truly create the internal life you need. It’s simple to state yet bold and demanding to live; but, if you have the courage to commit to this, your life will change and your soul will feel alive.
You may have been taught to over-focus on the external aspects of life — career, finances, security, promotion, reputation, conformity — at the expense of your inner vitality, zest, creativity, meaning, sensuality, generosity and what might be called your “heart-fire” or life force. This distortion of human expression leads to what some Indigenous traditions term soul loss: feeling dispirited, or a vague sense of pervasive emptiness. Soul here relates to your unique essence, the deeper, unique you, and is not meant in a religious context.
Soul loss is at epic proportions in our society. You will know people who appear conventionally successful, but this masks meaninglessness, sadness, confusion and a sense of lingering alienation. You might be in this situation yourself. So many people are desperate to rekindle their aliveness but don’t know how. Many of us have everything to live with, but little to live for.
You are rich
Have you ever noticed the exquisite timing of some of the coincidences in your life?
Like many people, I had grown stale and had lost vitality. One morning, I was sitting on a public bench outside Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, worrying about money and the future. I’ve been visiting that area for seven years and no one has ever sat next to me on a bench or engaged me in conversation.
But, on this morning, a total stranger sat close beside me and spoke to me as if he knew me. He was Asian, in his mid-20s, wore an unusual orange shirt and had a powerful and direct energy about him. He was joyful, smiling and positive. He was everything I wasn’t and my immediate reaction was suspicion because I thought he wanted money and I found his in-your-face manner annoying. Couldn’t he see I wanted to be left to ruminate on my worries?
Give simply, receive simply. This is not about giving to get something back. This is about letting your inner richness pour through you to others.
Without any small talk, and completely out of the blue, he said, “You’re a rich guy.” I said, “No, I’m not. I’m actually trying to work out how to earn a living now that a piece of work has finished.” “You look rich to me,” he said. He was insistent and direct, telling me I was rich. Almost as soon as he arrived he was gone. I was unsettled by this encounter but couldn’t put my finger on why, other than it being so odd.
This is where the coincidence comes in. That evening I was on the train home and I started reading my Kindle. I was reading a book by Tibetan teacher Chögyam Trungpa called The Myth of Freedom and the page it opened at spoke about our inner human richness. The words that resonated for me most were, “You discover that you have something to give rather than having to demand from others, to grasp all the time. For the first time you are a rich person, you contain basic sanity.”
The book went on to say how, when we realise we are fundamentally rich, we can relax and delight in generosity. The weird thing was I must have read that line in the morning, because it was highlighted, but I had forgotten.
This coincidence was a revelation for me. I was rich to be simply alive, to be here now. I always had been rich but had been blinded. I’d created an inner poverty, a form of soul loss, by putting my faith in the external world on income, by seeking approval and conforming more than risking, holding back more than expressing, and doubting myself more than trusting. I was refusing to let life sculpt me or laugh with me. My being was contracted, rigid and anxious, and my body was telling me this every day.
I found that something deep inside was urging me to open to life and to dare to flow with being fully alive rather than being a spectator in life. It’s still an unfolding story for me, and of course the risks are huge, but essentially the life that is living us is calling us to be fully ourselves.
Maybe this resonates with you. Do you dare to open and let life transform you, or do you stay closed? The risks can’t be controlled because, if you open, if you trust, who knows where that will lead? Everything, including who you think you are, is up for grabs. There are no guarantees. This really is an initiation into courage, for only when we embrace this risk do we show up for our lives.
Legendary jazz musician Charles Mingus said, “In my music I’m trying to play the truth of what I am.” This deep authenticity is powerful and attractive, always growing us beyond our hesitations. Mahatma Gandhi, one of the world’s most compelling leaders, when asked what his message was, replied thoughtfully, “My life is my message.”
Do you dare to discover your own truth.
The soul vitality thieves
Life is like a river of molten lava: always glowing and flowing. It’s only behind the moving edge that lava cools and solidifies. A common error I have made in the past is to fixate on the cool certainties of life while ignoring the heart-fire of creative intuition. I call the tendencies to fixate on certainty “the soul vitality thieves” and they include in their robbers’ band:
- Being over-cautious and over-controlling.
- Acquiring what you don’t need and then fearing you may lose it.
- Opting for predictability over spontaneity.
- Getting hooked on busyness at the expense of purpose.
- Staying in a job that’s dull rather than expressing your flair and passion through work.
- Staying in submissive, safe, people-pleasing patterns because that way you won’t rock the boat.
Life moves through cycles and, while a small loss in vitality may not be harmful, too much becomes numbing, addictive. Explore where you feel stuck in your life by asking yourself these questions:
- Do you feel numb at some level in those areas?
- Does it get harder to make changes or even to know what changes to make?
- Are you avoiding the heat of transformation to cling to well-worn patterns?
The signature challenge
The signature challenge of our times is to live a flowing, authentic life; one that’s true to our deeper natures and respectful of our planet. Yet we endlessly collude in ways that deaden us, making deals with ourselves so we can ignore how empty our work and life feel.
Play replenishes you and overflows through you to touch others.
If you recognise this in yourself, realise that you are trading away your birthright, which is life force itself. The term “life force” is apt because, the closer you come to your deeper aliveness, the more force you may have with which to live. There is something in us, though, that confuses a predictable routine — even an oppressive one — with comfort. This is the comfort of repetition and, if we get trapped in it, it’s a sure sign that we are missing the point. The comfort of repetition can also act as an anaesthetic that enables us to carry on causing harm to ourselves, others or our environment.
Some of this may sound self-centred, but it’s not intended that way. In fact, people who overflow with vitality freely give it away to help other people, creatures and the environment, and they do this in obvious or subtle ways. This is the paradox of authenticity: in order to be fully alive, you need to generously give your life force away. You can’t possess it just for yourself, or hold it back, because for it to continue to flow it must be shared. As Howard Thurman, a leading civil rights activist in the US and mentor to Dr Martin Luther King Jr, said: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
12 soul questions that change everything
The hunger you feel to come alive is the same hunger that life has for you to open to life and to express yourself. Over the years, I have found the questions that follow to be powerful ones to consider. The questions are full-hearted and to be savoured, lingered over — they lose their potency if rushed or answered half-heartedly.
- Where in your life have you deadened your uniqueness?
- Where in your life have you domesticated your wildness?
- Where in your life have you stopped speaking with your authenticity?
- Where in your life have you been tolerating too much dullness?
- Where in your life have you been withdrawing from being fully yourself?
- What truly brings your soul alive?
- Where does life seem to be asking you to step closer to it?
- What might life want to express through you and your soul?
- What are you and your soul prepared to let go of?
- What is the old story of your life?
- What is the new story of your life, the one that’s starting to unfold now, the one that feels most alive and vital?
- What needs to happen within you for people to be able to connect with your gifts and talents so you can do more of what you love?
8 “unrules” for the heart
Once you’ve worked through the questions above, consider the eight points that follow. If you make these into rules you might use them to beat yourself with, so hold them gently. That’s why I call them “unrules”: they are touchstones, a trail of breadcrumbs, and they draw you closer to your inner wisdom and vitality. These unrules point to some of the hallmarks of your richness.
- There’s a difference between fulfilment and success. You can be successful and yet inwardly bleak because you find life or work unfulfilling. On the other hand, you can be highly fulfilled and not outwardly successful. Become friendly with your version of fulfilment.
- Fear is wisdom; fear is actually aliveness, so respect it. Become intimate with your fear because it will educate you. Ask your fear what is it trying to preserve; for example, it may be trying to preserve the status quo or it might be trying to preserve your fullness of life.
- This can be found on the other side of fear. Daring is bold, courageous, enlivening. Don’t confuse it with its shadow side, which is reckless or destructive. When you dare, there is always a risk. Author Diane Ackerman wrote, “Where there is no risk, the emotional terrain is flat and uninspiring … life seems to have none of its magnificent geography, only length.” Always dare kindly, never berate yourself for not yet daring to dare.
- Through play, you relax, and when you relax you emerge out of your busyness into a sense of stability and joy. Perhaps we exist so life can play through us. Play more, in big ways and in small ways. Be playful, be positive, smile and laugh. Play replenishes you and overflows through you to touch others.
- Offer your considerable strengths, gifts, talents and, above all, your caring presence to others. Receive what others offer you with gratefulness and childlike joy. Give simply, receive simply. This is not about giving to get something back. This is about letting your inner richness pour through you to others. Never doubt that in giving you are changing your world, one encounter at a time.
- “Inspire” comes from the Latin inspirare, meaning breath of life. Every time you and your soul are inspired, something that life has hidden inside you wakes up and recognises itself in something outside you. Nourish yourself with regular inspiration and help others to be inspired, too.
- You are nature. You are not some separate entity. Your body and your consciousness will respond at a deep level to being in nature. In many cases, your thinking, worrying mind will slow, your body will relax and intuitive insights will naturally emerge. These insights may have been trying to get through to you for some time and immersing yourself in nature opens you up to them. Revel in nature.
- We need mystery to live into fullness; too much certainty dulls us. You started in mystery and you’ll end in mystery. We don’t really know what will happen next. We don’t even know who we are. You are simply mysteriously present and being lived by a force you can’t understand in a world of infinite beauty. Live close to mystery because it will refresh and heal. The poet Rumi talks about falling back in love with mystery and says, “We must become ignorant of what we have been taught and be instead bewildered.”
A life well lived
The oft-quoted psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl taught that meaning came from three sources: purposeful work, love and courage in the face of difficulty. Pay attention to meaning in your life and it will guide you and revive your soul. Frankl warned not to ask what the meaning of your life is, but instead recognise that it is you who are asked what your life means. Life is challenging you to dig deep and answer for your own life, which is the ultimate creativity. This is a daunting responsibility but your heart and soul will guide you.
Which path to follow? As author Carlos Castaneda observed, “Any path is only a path. There is no affront to yourself or others in dropping a path if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on a path or to leave it must be free of fear and ambition. I caution you: look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself and yourself alone this one question: Does this path have a heart? All paths are the same. They lead nowhere. They are paths going through the brush or into the brush or under the brush of the Universe. The only question is: Does this path have a heart, a soul? If it does, then it is a good path. If it doesn’t, then it is of no use.”