A friend of mine and fellow writer told me she doesn’t like that term. ‘It feels thick, clumsy,’ I think she said.
‘Exactly!’ I thought. ‘That’s right’ When we’re in the grip of soul congestion then our heart feels shrouded and wooden. We can’t feel or we over-feel what is going on. We shift between panic and low moods, excitement and despair. We need a soul decongestant but we usually just give in to a familiar reaction instead.
And what is it that thickens in our soul? Old habits mainly, patterns of reactivity and out-dated ways of acting in the world. I shout at my friend/father/child/partner when he asks an innocent question. I feel overwhelmed when someone offers some feedback I don’t like. I let regret, grief or sorrow drown me instead of allowing myself to grieve and sorrow in ways where I am holding the space for these cleansing feelings. When I’m in the grip of this congestion and old habits, I allow those familiar inner voices which question my self-worth when I undertake a project that is dear to me and reach the really tough bit. And if I don’t attend to my soul congestion, then I get stuck, emotionally stuck. Down, despairing, bitter, unable to see my way out.
I’ve been there rather too often and I’ve learned something. Something very important about soul congestion. We have ways to get unstuck. Ways to shift our moods and introduce the voice of love and wisdom which is not only accessible but always there.
If we cultivate our capacity to listen to our voice of love and wisdom, it’s always there.
Even when I’m despairing, even when I have just made the same mistake again, even when I’ve heard myself say or seen myself do something I want to avoid, even when I’m over-excited or people-pleasing, or grabbed by my favourite addiction or distraction. Even in those moments of unconsciousness when the soul congestion has got me, the voice of loving wisdom is there, waiting for me to welcome it.
And it’s through the pain we feel, the emotional pain, that we get the trigger that says, ‘Hey, you need to get some help with that.’ And if we wake up and listen to the emotional pain, the feeling, instead of heading to our customary unhelpful habit, then something different happens. We begin to learn what it needs from us. Where it is pointing us, what it is asking of us. With the help of this innate love and wisdom.
Sometimes of course we need to consult with what I call professional listeners, those who take a role to support us or accompany us to do a bit of soul decongestion. It’s the work I love to do myself.
When we loosen the congestion, then instead of blaming the situation, the other person, our selves with whatever label of weakness, difficulty or ineptitude we want to paste on it, we have another choice. We can witness the sadness, the grief, the anger, the frustration, the excitement, the delight and we can see what it’s trying to say to us. Not logically or rationally to our fine intellectual heads but to our hearts.
Beneath the soul congestion there are helpful feelings longing to get out that can inform our hearts of what is needed. Then, often slowly and gradually and not in a linear fashion, we can let these feelings unite together with our fine minds and our sense of purpose and we get clearer about where we need to head, and we get wise to what the future is asking of us.
The way we do this congestion clearing is to cultivate our capacity to listen to all the aspects of ourselves, our hearts included. Many of us have become rather neglectful of listening to our hearts. Sometimes it seems that we are filled with too many unshed tears, too much chaos of feeling to make sense of it. But our meaning making selves do not have to make sense of this, they long to make meaning.
You see, we are in the middle of rather a big shift in the way we need to act in the world. A more meaningful way. Many of us are still clinging to the old paradigm where we can turn to an institution, a leader, a guru to make our decisions for us. That still seems safer sometimes, although as we can see for those who take up those roles, it’s getting shakier and shakier to try and do it without a deep level of inner awareness. More and more, instead of trusting prime ministers and presidents, priests and gurus to point us to where we need to go, we need to risk a shift to trust our selves and each other, and to learn from our selves and each other as we stumble about learning this new language of freedom, responsibility and collaboration.
And that means we have to clear our soul congestion, little by little with whatever support is required. We have to let our selves become aware of our personal patterns and habits of thought, emotional reactivity and unhelpful behaviour so we can choose something different with this in-built voice of love, wisdom and meaning-making that we have.
Spiritual traditions will have different ways of describing this voice, some of which may be helpful but some of them not according to where we come from and what we believe. But in my own inner life, I like to think of it as a source of love, wisdom and creativity. And I know when I have tapped into that part of myself, the meaning-making part, because I can sense its wisdom, acceptance and total lack of judgment.
We get better at tapping into it if we have made time to listen. The friend I mentioned at the beginning is doing that right now, in a big way. Others of us do it in tiny patches of minutes, hours at a time when we withdraw ourselves from all the clutter of our lives and sit down—just our selves and our meaning maker, and listen. We call it meditation or contemplation or prayer. We journal or write poems or create mandalas that are open to that source of wisdom and love. We rest in inner quiet or we do the best we can to let that quiet in. That’s when we can hear it.
So, that’s the first step. Make time to meet our meaning maker.
And that’s a reminder to myself as well.
Image courtesy of max pixel.