A Guide to Soulful Living

And no – I don’t mean get high on drugs or alcohol. I mean stop living only in your head. Stop analysing things to death! Stop scrutinising, and trying to ‘work things out’, so to speak. Being rational is fine – but it doesn’t always give us the actual answers we need. Life isn’t a problem to be solved, anyway, and for most of the time we instinctively know which path to take.

This is what I mean by soulful living. It’s a substitute phrase for mindfulness – indeed ‘soul’ equates to ‘mind’ in the modern world, and comes from the Greek word psyche. Thus, psychology is the study of the soul. Being soulful or mindful means attention to the present, being in the now and more fully aware of your current ‘vibe’. In short, it’s the ability to live and let live, to go with the flow. To be more Zen-like – a direct appreciation of our immediate reality that helps us act more effectively. But we sometimes get a better idea of our subject by looking at its opposite – so let’s look at what it means when we don’t live soulfully.

On the Quora website, there is a post entitled ‘What are the cons of being intelligent?’ by a certain individual who – so he tells us – has an impressive 160 IQ. But he also adds that he has ‘high-functioning autism’ by which I assume he suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome. This is the condition of robotic lack of empathy for others (among other traits) where a person is often ‘walled into’ their own interior reality. Perceptions of life are ‘black and white’ and they miss out on little nuances in social interactions. The result is they will take certain words literally (where it wasn’t meant – as in sarcasm) or completely miss the ‘tone of voice’ cues.

To get the idea, all you need do is tune into the popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory and observe the gangly and annoying Sheldon Cooper (played by Jim Parsons).This is a character obviously based on someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. Sheldon thinks that ‘going with the flow’ is some kind of hippy abnegation of responsibility that would lead to instant chaos. To Sheldon, it seems you’d pretty much have to be worrying constantly to be happy.

To return to our Asperger’s sufferer, here are just some of the issues they probably endure:

* Thinking too much (no ignorance so no bliss)

* Socialising with normal people that becomes annoying due to the boring topics …

* Having way too much self awareness for comfort

* Not believing in the ‘illusions’ that comfort most people

* Being annoyed about lack of control over life

* When you make connections between things that don’t relate and it’s confusing

* Emotional issues spanning from deep intricate philosophies (in other words, obsessing over the unimportant)

* Not accepting one’s weaknesses – this leading to lots of grief

* Lack of physical exercise due to working a lot on mental exercises

* Needing routines while also procrastinating and avoiding plans

* Overusing brain in thought processes causing burn outs and episodes of obsession were reality begins to elude you

* Diversion from reality due to not being happy with it – then using virtual realities to escape

* Gaining an eccentric personality or wanting recognition for your intelligence which can lead to many issues

* Finding problems that don’t have answers nor solutions

* Seeing life as meaningless and then losing all motivation

Needless to say, these qualities are not a straightforward consequence of being intelligent. But they do look very much like the symptoms of Asperger’s. One of the more annoying traits if you’re dealing with someone like this (and I assure you, I have plenty of experience here) is their utter lack of empathy. I suppose they can’t help it, but their complete ignorance of and devaluing of others’ feelings and sensitivities gets to be irritating.

Obviously, these symptoms are of a rather extreme psychology, but my point is this: one needn’t suffer from Asperger’s to have them! They do have a unifying theme, however. It is when such people try to live in their heads all of the time. Asperger’s people may have little recourse to do anything else, as they go around analysing everything to death. Perhaps they insist (for reasons of inner security) that applying clear logic to everything in life (and I mean everything) is the correct way forward. Some situations, of course, require intuition, or emotional engagement, or (when judging other people) looking at the area between black and white!

And getting ‘annoyed over the lack of control in one’s life’ is a sure sign that the person has missed something very fundamental – there is no possible way of controlling everything in one’s life. There is zero wisdom in this. Living only on logic, rationality and reason is no way to live. Thinking, in any case, is a secondary activity – our primal experience, our Consciousness is what comes first, and this really tells us what we need to know:

‘We may think rationally, but thinking is derivative, a secondary process. We experience phenomenologically, as a felt movement of body and soul … Those who have primal encounters, such as falling in love or witnessing the birth of their child, know that ordinary concepts are inadequate to the task of understanding. On such occasions we “think in our bones” or “feel in our gut.”‘¹

In other words, thinking conceptually all the time (or living your head) leads to a kind of inadequacy. You must stop this now!  To be really alive, direct experience is needed. To be involved in joys or sorrows, the summits of happiness or the depths of despair, to fall in love or even passionate hate – these are the two ended poles of our basic experience. They furnish our understanding of life in a way that rational analysis never can. As the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal once put it: ‘Where does reality lie? In the greatest enchantment you’ve ever experienced.’

When it comes to the magic of the mind and so called Positive Thinking, he’s dead right. In a way, the term Positive Thinking is unfortunate – it should really be called Positive Feeling, as it‘s the emotions that must be fully engaged if it is to work. Those feelings must also take you out of yourself, so to speak. They must fill you with a sense of otherness, of magic and wonderful anticipation. Thinking alone is never enough. For your own sake, get out of your head! Stop it at once.

1. Tracking the Gods : The Place of Myth in Modern Life Studies in Jungian Psychology, Hollis, James, Inner City Books:1995