Every one of us begins our childhood with a recognition of our needs. A recognition that our feelings matter. What we think matters. What we say matters.
Over time, we lose touch with this deeper self. Our family ‘teaches’ us to respond to them first, and ignore our feelings. These are done in subtle ways- guiding you as a baby to come to them, increasing your attachment to them which in turn is reciprocated.
However, attachment is not affection. A dog that you keep as a pet is dependent on you for food, and thus becomes attached to you. We perceive this as affection – but this is little more than dependence of the dog on you for sustenance. A baby is no different from a dog in its attachment- it is born cute to attract others to it, highlight its vulnerability and thereby survive. Endearment that results is of usually two levels – one at the attachment level that helps the baby survive; and the second at an affection level that respects the baby’s needs to eat or not eat, poop or not poop. A baby is thus protected and also respected.
As we grow older, we are encouraged to ignore our feelings of self-respect. Society beats us down. Our parents, friends, teachers, colleagues beat us down. They insist that your feelings are not as important as theirs, your goals (however subtle or unformed) are not as important as theirs. This results in a significant contradiction – it is only a person who can feel his or her feelings who can actually create or visualize what kind of life he or she wants. A person who is encouraged not to feel his/ her emotions can never move to the next step of visualizing his or her ideal life. All vision is born of emotions.
It is surprising that while vision is naturally born of our emotions, we are asked to be ambitious, have goals to travel to far-reaching places – but paradoxically we are asked to let go of any self-respect we have for our emotions. Family and friends urge us to aim high, but settle low. The soul can only ask, it is not capable of shouting. Our souls whisper to us through emotions – emotions are the language by which our souls talk to us one way. We cannot talk back to our souls – our soul was here first.
This leads to the next obstacle. The moment we abandon listening to our emotions and respecting them, the moment we stop listening to our soul, we have effectively begun using our body to accomplish the desires of another soul – one belonging to your peers or friends or family. I say that the ‘soul belongs to another’ but in reality our bodies were given to our souls. You were made your soul’s keeper, to listen to it and nourish it and respect it, to acknowledge it and help its deepest unspoken needs flower and flourish.
Our soul’s needs are simple and they rarely differ from one person to the other. Our souls simply ask for freedom and space to grow, and be unique. Our job as the gatekeeper of our soul is to use our body, our senses – our sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing, to honor our soul. You are the only one your soul can talk to – if you don’t listen to it, you are doing it a great disservice. This is your sole mission in life- to listen to your soul.
Mark our language earlier – we said our job is to be the gatekeeper of our soul. We are the listeners and executors, our soul is the speaker and expressor. Thus, we realize we are of two parts- we have a soul, we have a gatekeeper inside us, and we have a set of tools – our body as a container, our senses as receptors and our mind as a processor to help us achieve our soul’s asking.
This is where we have to take care and execute with wisdom. Freedom can be achieved by peaceful means – a live and let live philosophy; or freedom can be achieved through war and bloodshed. The second method makes you no better than our previous aggressors who asked us to abandon listening to our souls. By choosing war and bloodshed (this may be emotional or physical war, a domestic fight to coerce someone to do what you want or an inter-country peace process), we become the very enemy we are trying to escape. If you recall, we started listening to our souls because others were trying to make us listen to theirs. If you listen to your soul and try to achieve freedom and space by making others listen to your soul (instead of their own soul), we transform into the very people who were attacking us earlier and end up tyrannizing others.
Each of us has a soul – a separate soul and it behooves us to listen to no other soul than our own. It also behooves us to encourage others to listen to their own souls and no other. Thus, we realize the concept of boundaries – of separateness and individuality that is so essential for inner harmony (with our own souls) and outer harmony (coexistence and mutual respect of different souls side by side- what we call live and let live in the truest sense).
Thus, we begin our journey to peace, happiness and fulfillment by one simple act of listening – not to the noise outside us but to the silent voice within us that urges us to greatness. Does greatness mean becoming the President? Hardly. Greatness for the soul is just being true to what it asks. You are great if you are a carpenter, you are great if you clean the sewers, you are equally but no greater if you are the king. Our souls are equal – it is our execution that lends to our lives’ different shades and flavors. Some of us execute freedom in the material world, some within our families – nourishing children, some as travelers seemingly seeing all and achieving nothing in a material sense. All of these lives are equal for all of their souls are equal in value – it is only their external manifestations that differ.
Thus, listening to our souls provides us not just individuality and separateness, freedom and peace but also equality in its deepest sense. You rest in the idea that you are equal – no more superior or inferior to anyone else. And when you realize the inner equality you share with every human being and animal and plant on this planet, you cease to evaluate by external appearances. You cease judgment and embrace universal acceptance. When I say acceptance, it is not to make you feel ‘ high’ temporarily for that is merely your ego; but it is to help you realize acceptance in the truest sense of not expecting anything from others around you. Acceptance does not mean pitying others whom we consider have inferior manifestations/ lives or idolizing others whom we consider have superior manifestations/ lives (for that would go against our realization that all of us are equal).
Acceptance means simply knowing that we are all equal in our efforts to simply listen to our soul. Acceptance means respecting others’ needs to listen to their own soul and not yours, or vice versa. Acceptance means respecting your need to listen to your own soul and gently push away those who try to impinge on us. Acceptance means realizing we are all on our individual soul journeys, some of which appear bright on the outside and some of which appear dull on the outside. Dull is no less than bright – gold however beautiful cannot be used to construct your home, and iron however strong is rarely used in delicate jewelry. Each of us has our place in the world and this acceptance, respect and peace comes to us by one simple act – when we listen to our soul.
That one act constitutes the beginning.