What happens when we commit to something larger than ourself—a creation or endeavor that shares the soul in a meaningful way?
The front yard and deck of my coastal California cottage is presided over by a venerable, windswept Monterey cypress tree that I call The Grandmother. It’s a grand and beautiful being that my soul adores, but its shade limits the possibility for a decent garden.
Recently, the tenant in the studio at rear moved out and I eagerly took over the space with its sunny yard, eager to plant a modest garden … and undertake a new soul project.
Simply put, a “soul project” is an extended endeavor to which we are committed and that feeds the soul—our unique, creative essence—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, planting a garden or perhaps creating an organization.
The best soul projects are ones that require considerable time and personal investment (not necessarily financial), and that span at least a year. Great ones can occupy a lifetime (or more).
A “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, yoga, artwork, etcetera. 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, or attending a workshop.
While soulful action(s) and practices certainly 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.
Given that the notion of ‘soul’ and its mysterious calling is completely unsupported in our materialistic society, the majority of people, particularly men, simply consider that our work in the world is simply what we do for a living and to earn a paycheck.
I would offer something different: for all of us, whether men or women, our primary soul project is bringing our unique talents into the world. It is part of being in dharma or right livelihood. A former mentor of mine says that soul projects are the “delivery system” for our soul’s aptitude—our “giveaway” to the larger story of which we are a part.
Of course, the larger question or issue here is that many people are unclear regarding their 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 semblance of balance in our lives, to cultivate a sense of meaning, to live more simply and nourish our soul.
Yet each of us has something to offer to the world that only he/she can bring. Discovering that talent can be the journey of a lifetime, and once we have discovered it then we must offer it forth. With abandon.
Something I’ve learned is that we can be engaged with nourishing practices and actions, tending to 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—which is our true vocation, even when it doesn’t earn us a paycheck.
How can you have a soul project if you’re not sure what you’re offering, or what your true work is? 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.
Soul projects go further than practices and actions: they call us to “step up to the plate.” 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.
For me, writing my recent book was certainly a soul project. Sometimes the challenge felt overwhelming and I had to walk away from it for periods, seeking inspiration and solace, until eventually circling back to sit at my desk again.
For a long time now I have felt the need for something more physical and hands on, something less mental than writing. It’s part of the reason that I took up weaving (read my previous GMP article, “Embracing the Unconventional: Craft, Masculinity and Soul“) and it is surely why creating a garden calls to me. And while a vegetable patch does not directly bring my soul work into the world, there is something profoundly nourishing in the connection between earth and soul—soil and soul, rather.
Creating a garden feels like an essential part of me that I’ve been missing. It is practical, nourishing and tangible, and because it must be built it constitutes something more than a ‘practice’ (which is what I consider my weaving craft).
Furthermore, such a project initiates an ongoing, open dialogue with our biosentient Earth, one that takes place outside of the four walls and roof that contain me most of the day. Tending something living and growing feels like a core aspect of the Sacred Masculine, while also creating a sensual relationship with place.
What we consume is a political act as well as a soulful one.
If just twenty percent of our population endeavored to eat more ‘locally’ we could significantly transform America’s unsustainable food system.
A garden behind this rented cottage will be my quiet act of dissent. The plotted conspiracy of greens aims to be a gentle, radical act for my own sustenance (or at least part of it), while connecting me to something larger… like stewardship, and soul.
What and how I eat is an essential part of living in a manner that nourishes the soul. Preparing a fresh and beautiful meal, assembling it with love and gratitude in the kitchen, and then sitting down to share it with my beloved is the cornerstone of a life that sustains me on all levels.
I am working on a new book these days, stepping into a different direction. Alongside that 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.
Soul projects connect us to something larger. I wonder, what is your true work in the world, and what will your project be?
Also by L. R. Heartsong
|And He Danced. Wildly. Naked||Embodying the Sacred Masculine|
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—Photo: Steven Depolo/Flickr