Guide to developing presence
Soulfulness is a way in which you connect with the world from the depths of your being – like a great musician who is really feeling the music as they play. You are present in the moment and expressing yourself inline with a sense of what feels true and alive; you are in a state of flow with life itself.
When we are in a flow state, we lose our sense of separate object and self. There is a sense of allowing, creativity and freedom of expression in our experience.
We can cultivate the capacity to access this freedom of expression more often in our lives. A lot of this comes from integrating our darkness – the deeper we are able to open to our pain, the less we are resisting in experience and the more expressive and free we are able to be.
We are able to drop out of our thoughts and the things that keep us stuck in our minds, like fear, guilt and shame, and feel into a direct intimacy with our experience and each other. This opens up a level of raw human emotion that feels alive and meaningful. It allows us to connect with our intuitive understanding of the world.
Soulfulness is beyond comprehension of the mind. It expresses itself through symbolism, the arts, emotion, energy, interconnection and intuition.
It is the part of us that exists outside the body, heart and mind. These parts all have a more concrete manifestation in the physical world that we normally inhabit – the soul is the part of experience that is abstracted from these areas of experience.
This is also infused into our collective experience. If it wasn’t for the interconnected meaning and story that ties everything in the Universe to everything else, life would shatter into a gazillion separate things that nothing would be able to process or connect with. The natural order and creativity of the cosmos is what allows life to be experienced.
From this viewpoint we can see that everything is an expression of Universal life force. When we embrace this way of seeing, we can see that our expressions don’t need to say anything about us.
We can drop the fixed timeline and sense of self that we hold and allow for more freedom to express what is alive in this moment, as if we are characters in the story of the great unfolding of the Universe. This can instill both a sense of sacredness to our expressions and a light-hearted freedom that we don’t need to worry about what they say about us.
Soulfulness is full of paradoxes – it is the part of experience that is most deeply personal and where we are most interconnected. It is the part of experience that is most satisfying and where all our desire lies.
This desire and suffering is what makes life juicy. It is what brings it to life. All great stories and music contain conflict and challenge – if there was no separation in the Universe then there would be no way for life to exist.
In order to be in touch with our own sense of soulfulness and to connect into the shared soul of the Universe, we have to be willing to feel the difficult feelings and immerse ourselves in our flawed humanity. This is what brings us to life.
Creating an Environment Conducive to Soulfulness
In order to embrace soulfulness we need to create a sense of connection with the emotional content in our lives and be open to a more intuitive sense of the world.
We have to be willing to let go of our logical way of looking at and experiencing life a little and make more space for mystery and magic to arise in.
Embracing the Tragedy & Comedy of Life
Stories are a fundamental part of the structure of the Universe, without them tying one moment to the next and weaving our lives together the world wouldn’t make sense.
If we can learn to experience the world as one of the characters in the story of the Universe, it can give us more space around experiencing the moment.
It becomes easier to find joy in our flaws and to experience challenges as part of what makes the story interesting. This helps us move away from the concepts of right and wrong and more towards allowing ourselves to express ourselves freely.
Nostalgia arises because when we have a bit more space between us and an event it is easier to appreciate it for what it is – a moment in time that doesn’t need to be perfect to be enjoyed.
Soulfulness allows us to embrace this attitude with the moment we are in now, whatever that is. We can embody the full range of emotions and expressions.
Here are some ways that will help you adopt this attitude in life:
- Sound-track your day like a movie. For example, if it’s a sad day, really embrace it with some sad music and embody the sadness in a way someone would in their low point in a movie.
- Remember that sadness, heart-ache, pain and hardship are all part of the experience of being alive. The more deeply we can open to these things, the more alive we feel. What if you reframed sadness from something that needed to be avoided and asked yourself how sad can I feel today?
- Artists are some of the best inspiration for finding joy in life – taking their personal tragedies and hardships and turning them into compelling stories. How can you express the story that is inside you? Can you create something from it, even if it is just for you?
- If your life was a comedy – what would be the style of comedy? How can you ham up how you perceive your character, to make it easier to laugh at yourself and the situations you find yourself in.
- We hear a lot of hero’s stories. It’s important to make space for tragic stories, too, so that we can learn to accept that sometimes things come to an end in a really sad way. This can help us increase our ability to let things go and move on to the next story. What are the tragedies you’ve experienced in your life?
- What sort of bad guy are you? No matter how nice we try and be, sometimes we will be the bad guy in another person’s story. See if you can embody it with a bit more spaciousness and acceptance.
- What characters do you find particularly frustrating, painful or difficult to be around? Try and let go of the idea of individuals and understand on an archetypal level the dynamics that you find difficult. Fold this in to your perception of the story – that these characters are here as part of your challenge in life, to learn from or overcome.
- If you were a character in a film or play, what would your character ‘flaws’ be? Can you shift your perception so these become character quirks – a part of what makes you you and a way in which you contribute to the wider story. Can you find a way to embody them in a whole-hearted way?
- Equally what would your character strengths be? Can you embody these in a more whole-hearted and sincere way?
- How does your past contribute to where you have got to in your story? What are the lessons you have learned and the themes of your story? What’s your current phase in the story of your life?
- This is one of my favourite quotes. I feel that it could also be applied to how we live our lives, embracing all the pain and heartache and happiness and delight that comes across our paths and expressing our response freely and openly:
“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
Connecting with Meaning, Magic and Mystery
Soulfulness and meaning comes from opening up to the magic and mystery of life; the part of life that we can’t control or understand in an analytical way. It is an ability to go with the flow and access the world through our more intuitive understanding of it.
This doesn’t mean that we can’t explore it and connect with it in a different way. Here are some tools that help you immerse yourself in the mystery:
- Leave time in your schedule for free exploration. Once you are well-rested, leave additional free time on top of this where you have no plans. Wake up in the morning and just follow your intuition about where you go that day, what you do, who you speak to.
- Pay attention to things that ‘feel important’ for no logical reason. What does it want you to do? Follow an action or just notice it?
- Meaning and mystery is best expressed through the creative arts. Really listen to the stories, films, music and images that you are drawn to or that come across your path. What drew you to that piece of art or brought you to it? What is the message that this story or artwork is communicating to you?
- Practice the art of deep listening. Not just listening to what someone is saying on the surface, but what their emotions and body language are communicating to you. We often send each other sub-conscious messages that are part of the deeper mystery of life.
- Connect with things that feel magical to you – nature, herbs, shrines, tarot, symbolism, rituals, beautiful objects. Whatever it is, it is most soulful if you can give it a sense of sacredness while also holding it lightly. It can’t hold any final truth, but the magic of life can be truly amazing and it is possible to discover amazing depths of experience, synchronicity and beauty through this way of engaging with the world.
- Remember that none of this is analytical. It is not going to give you definite answers to life or a stronger sense of what is the ‘right’ thing to do. It will help you develop a soft focus that can create more meaningfulness and a sense of joy and flow with how you move through life.
Soulfulness is a place with the potential for lots of beautiful connection between each other and ourselves.
Creativity bypasses the concepts of right and wrong, so through this process, we can make space for each other to be different and appreciate these differences. The realm of imagination and how we fantasise about others also opens up a huge opportunity to learn about ourselves and connect with the depths of our inner worlds.
Making space for this more mysterious and intuitive way of connecting and communicating can bring a huge amount of depth and soulfulness to our relationships. Rather than interacting on a surface level, we are sharing the depths of our being.
To do this effectively, it needs someone to be able to hold the space and create a safe, playful and creative atmosphere where people aren’t being judged for what they are sharing or needing to get anything right. It is about opening to the mystery of life together.
The fruits of this practice come from a willingness to be vulnerable. To open up and show a depth of emotion that is normally hidden.
It is worth checking out the shared practices area of my website if you are interested in this aspect of practice.
Soul Mates & Sexuality
We play an important role in each other’s stories and can have a huge range of spiritual friends who guide us along our path and encourage us to deepen our relationship with the world and ourselves.
Soul mates are people who we connect with on some deep, inexplicable level. They inspire something in us where we feel that our life force is in some way met, seen or being fuelled. It is someone we feel a strong sense of chemistry with, where a sense of creativity or eros is sparked in us.
This can be sexual and opening to our sexuality and deepest desires is another way of accessing this part of ourselves.
But it can also be platonic. The creativity can be about fuelling each other to become the best version of yourselves and to create things in the world together, for example.
It can also exist in our imaginations. Jung talks about the anima and animus in his work – the unconscious feminine side of a man and the unconscious masculine side of a woman. In order to reintegrate these parts of ourselves we will sometimes create an archetypal fantasy of the sort of person we would like to be with or project onto a real person who we know the ideal traits that we would like to embody.
When held lightly this can be a really fun and interesting part of experience to explore. Sexual, erotic and romantic fantasy is a hugely rich world of experience that can be incredibly beautiful and exciting to explore.
Fantasy can tell us so much about ourselves. The things we are attracted to, how that makes us feel and the situations we imagine ourselves in – these are all showing us aspects of ourselves that are often hidden in daily life.
They are the things that bring us to life and approaching them with an awareness of their mysterious nature, seeing them as symbolic and being curious about what they are pointing towards, allows us to use them to deepen our experience and sense of soulfulness.
A lot of sexual fantasy is where our shadows and darkness exist. Opening to these parts of ourselves, either in our fantasy world or with others in a safe way, can be hugely liberating. We can free up parts of ourselves that would otherwise remain hidden and liberate them into healthy and wholesome parts of our being.
Most people don’t talk about their fantasies, particularly romantic or sexual ones, because it can be embarrassing. If you look on Reddit there are people there who share all their cute and dark sexual and romantic fantasies and it’s really nice to know that everyone experiences this.
It can also be the aspect of experience where people can feel most lonely, when they aren’t met in this way.
This can be a huge opportunity for connection with our inner worlds. We can learn to be present more directly with the desire in us. Rather than letting it carry us off into the past or future in some concrete way, we are allowing the desire, fantasy and felt-sensations to express themselves in the present moment through our beings.
Using sexual fantasy as the focus for imaginal practice can be an amazing practice for opening up our sense of eros. I write more about that in my overview of imaginal practice.
These things are very rarely talked about in spirituality and I feel it’s really important to recognise them.
Firstly, it can be a hugely rich part of experience that allows us to cultivate a deep sense of presence, intimacy and depth in our experience.
Secondly, sexual desire and the desire to be in love is innately compelling and really important to almost all humans. It feels much healthier to allow that aspect of us to be present in experience, rather than denying it exists or trying to shut it down. If we are repressing it, it becomes a shadow, which then either gets turned into self-hatred or comes out subconsciously in harmful and unhelpful ways.
Fantasy, Creativity & Fascination
Our soulfulness is where fantasy, creativity and fascination arises from in us.
Carving out some time to be in our fantasy worlds and allowing them to show themselves to us can be deeply nourishing for us and is a chance for us to know ourselves better.
What we find fascinating in life is indicative of what is meaningful to us – these are the things we are drawn to. This can be very beautiful aspects of life, but we can also find the darkness compelling in this way.
All of these are the things that are going to spark creativity in us. It is through being in contact with aspects of experience that are in some way compelling that we feel inspired to create things.
They also give us access to the parts of experience that feel most deeply personal to us. They connect with something deep inside us that feels emotive and meaningful. Artists that put themselves into their work are the ones who create really compelling art, poetry, music, writing and work.
“Love, longing and the restlessness of the human heart are the catalyst for every creative revolution”
All of these things – fantasy, creativity and fascination – are fleeting. They pass through us as things to be enjoyed in this moment.
The soul is a river and allowing space for things to keep moving is how we stay in the flow. Make some time in your day for fantasy and allow yourself to be inspired by what you find compelling and fascinating.
Sharing fantasies and the imaginal is also a beautiful way for people to connect and bring each other to life.
Reflecting on Soulfulness
Soulfulness is where we are connected to what feels most deeply personal and it is also the doorway to our synchronistic and interconnected nature. Embracing it can allows us to feel present, connected, clear and aligned with life.
Our stories are complex and interweaving in ways our minds don’t understand. Seeing that our story is not just about us and what we get from it, but that it serves a greater whole, will hopefully allow us to relax into life.
With soulfulness, we want to avoid fixating on the concept of whether we feel better or worse and focus on whether we are more able to open to life in all its different dimensions.
Some questions to help you reflect on this aspect of experience:
- Do you allow yourself to fantasise freely? Are you able to be with your desires in this present moment without needing it to come true? What fantasies are you not allowing yourself to imagine?
- Do you feel in touch with the magic and mystery of experience, life or the Universe? Would you like to make more space for this?
- Are you in touch with what you find compelling and meaningful in life? In what ways do you hold yourself back from connecting with what you are most drawn to?
- Are there new parts of yourself that you would like to experience or touch on? Are there parts of you that you never go to and that might be in shadow for you?
- Would you like to be able to embrace and embody a wider range of emotions? Which emotions do you feel aren’t accessible to you?
- Do you have a sense of connecting to something bigger than you? In what ways do you feel separate to the world around you?
- Are you able to access some creative or imaginal practice? Does this feel meaningful, compelling or alive in some way? Does you fear of getting things wrong stop you from being creative?
Developing Soulfulness with Meditation Practice
In terms of practice, the archetypal, shamanic and imaginal spaces can really open up a sense of soulfulness for us.
They are all connecting into this more mysterious aspect of experience where we are more in touch with our deepest desires and emotions and allowing content to express itself freely through us.
This creative way of expressing things is one of the most liberating practices there is. It allows us to completely drop our sense of self – we are no longer tied up in fixed ideas of who we are and what is right and wrong and are free to allow things to do what they want.
Rather than spending a load of energy resisting a certain aspect of experience we can allow things to flow in this space more freely. We can embody dark archetypes and allow challenging emotions to express themselves.
In imaginal space we are allowing our fantasies to express themselves. This could be a deep and elaborate meditative practice, or it could be simply carving out 5 mins in the day to consciously day-dream and see what fantasies emerge.
We can also be shown some really mysterious things, like visions of the future or strange aspects of reality that reveal themselves to us before shape-shifting into something else. It can be a wonderfully creative, mysterious and nourishing place to be.
One of the joys of the imaginal and shamanic realm is that everything can be brought into the fold, nothing is off limits. A lot of my guided meditations utilise aspects of the imaginal to allow people to access a deeper way on intuiting and understanding a concept that can’t necessarily be fully grasped by the mind.
The imaginal can also be incredibly creative, exploratory and self-directed.
You can use my basic practice structure of body, heart, mind and soul with the imaginal. If you get lost at any point you can come back to the first step.
Step 1: Body
- Connect with a sense of your body or energy body. Drop your focus somewhere lower in the body – the belly or the legs for example
- Can you get a sense of a more abstract space that you can feel, access or get absorbed in?
- Allow yourself to drop into it, which could feel a bit like spacing out or falling asleep
Step 2: Heart
- Describe what arises for you in this space – it could be visuals, a dream-like scenario, colours, shapes, an intuitive felt-sense of something
- Are there any other people or beings present? Do they represent something that feels archetypal or symbolic? How would you describe them?
- Are there parts of it that you identify with or does it feel like something separate you are being shown?
- How would you describe the landscape or space you are in?
- Are you watching it as if on a screen or are you inside of it? Can you shift your sense of perspective or is it fixed?
Step 3: Mind
- If you were a character in this experience – what would you most want to do?
- If you get stuck, consider if there is some judgement that is holding you back from going where you want to go with it. Can you let go of this judgement?
- Remember that when we are safe in practice there is no such thing as ‘bad’ expressions
- Allow yourself to zone out further if that’s what wants to happen. You can play with the space between dreaming and waking
Step 4: Soul
- What is the story that wants to be told?
- Keep the story flowing – allow things to keep expressing themselves
- Allow it to come to a natural close when the energy feels like it has expressed itself – you may sink into a calm absorbed space when this happens or you may feel that you want to end the meditation.
If you would like to explore the imaginal further I have written more about this here