Guide to developing presence
This page takes you on a journey through everything you need to start developing soulfulness in life and in practice; connecting with the soul and the ineffable from each part of your being. On this page you will find:
Introduction to Soulfulness
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 you are in a flow state, you lose your sense of separate object and self. There is a sense of allowing, creativity and freedom of expression in your experience.
You can cultivate the capacity to access this freedom of expression more often in your life. A lot of this comes from integrating your darkness – the deeper you are able to open to your pain, the less you are resisting in experience and the more expressive and free you are able to be.
You are able to drop out of your thoughts and the things that keep you stuck in your mind, like fear, and feel into a direct intimacy with your experience and each other. This opens up a level of raw human emotion that feels alive and meaningful. It allows you to connect with your 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 you that exists outside the body, heart and mind. These parts all have a more concrete manifestation in the physical world that you 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. Nothing would make sense. The natural order and creativity of the cosmos is what allows life to be experienced.
From this viewpoint, it’s possible to see how everything is an expression of Universal life force. When you embrace this way of seeing, you can see that your expressions don’t need to say anything fixed about you in the way that you usually carry this around.
You can drop the fixed timeline and sense of self that you hold and allow for more freedom to express what is alive in this moment, as if we are all characters in the story of the great unfolding of the Universe. This can instill both a sense of sacredness to your expressions and a light-hearted freedom.
Soulfulness is full of opposites – 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 your deepest desires come from.
When you’re cultivating soulfulness, you’re taking on the perspective that 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 and this resonates through to the largest scale that 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 your own sense of soulfulness and to connect into the shared soul of the Universe, you have to be willing to feel the difficult feelings and immerse yourself in your flawed humanity, while also staying connected to a sense of joy and beauty.
These practices invite you in to this way of being in the world.
Creating an Environment Conducive to Soulfulness
In order to embrace soulfulness you need to be open to a more intuitive and emotional connection to the world. You have to be willing to let go of your 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 you can learn to experience the world as one of the characters in the story of the Universe, it can give you more space around experiencing the moment.
It becomes easier to find joy in your flaws and to experience challenges as part of what makes the story interesting. This helps you move away from the concepts of right and wrong and more towards allowing yourself to express more freely.
A good example of this feeling is nostalgia. Nostalgia arises because when you have a bit more space between you 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 you to embrace this attitude with the moment you are in now, whatever that is, rather than needing that distance. When you have access to soulfulness you can more easily and reliably 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 you can open to these things, the more alive you 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 you can learn to accept that sometimes things come to an end in a really sad way. This can help you increase your 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 you try and be, sometimes you 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 come from opening up to the magic and mystery of life; the part of life that you can’t control or understand in an analytical way. It is an ability to go with the flow and access the world through your more intuitive understanding of it.
This doesn’t mean that you 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 the place that you are most in touch with what is most deeply personal to you and least separate from the world and others, so it creates the potential for lots of beautiful connection in relationship with both yourself and others.
Desire is an important aspect of this, but the important thing about getting in touch with soulfulness is that it is showing you the beauty of your inner world as much as it is showing you the beauty of the thing you desire.
The realm of imagination and how you fantasise about others also opens up a huge opportunity to learn about yourself and to connect with the depths of your inner world.
The abstract nature of soulfulness means that it is inextricably linked to creativity. When you are in soulful relations with people there is always some aspect of creative or ineffable expression that is involved.
Rather than talking about the practical or conceptual parts of life, you are relating from a place that feels emotional, energetic and rich with meaning. Making space for this more mysterious and intuitive way of connecting and communicating between people can bring a huge amount of depth and soulfulness to your relationships. Rather than interacting on a surface level, you are sharing the depths of your 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
People play an important role in each other’s stories and you can have a huge range of spiritual friends who guide you along your path and encourage you to deepen your relationship with the world, with others and with yourself.
In my world, soul mates are people who you connect with on some deep, inexplicable level. They inspire something in you where we feel that your life force is in some way met, seen or being fuelled. It is someone you feel a strong sense of chemistry with, where a sense of creativity or eros is sparked in you.
This can be sexual and opening to your sexuality and deepest desires is one way of accessing this part of yourself.
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, for example.
It can also exist in your imagination. 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 yourself, you will sometimes create an archetypal fantasy of the sort of person you would like to be with or project the ideal traits that you would like to embody yourself onto a real person.
When you are able to hold this lightly, it 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.
It can also be intensely dark and emotional and it is by getting in touch with these more heart-breaking aspects of experience that you increase your capacity to love.
A huge amount of soulfulness is finding a meaningful way to open to your pain, sadness, darkness and suffering. Listening to sad music is one of the best ways to allow for this and heart-break can reach into the deepest part of a person.
Fantasy and heart-break can tell you so much about yourself. The things you are attracted to, the things that are painful to lose, the ideal situations you imagine yourself in and how this all makes you feel – these are all showing you aspects of yourself that are often hidden in daily life.
They are the things that bring you to life and approaching them with an awareness of their mysterious nature, seeing them as symbolic, being curious about what they are pointing towards and finding creative ways to express them, allows you to use them to deepen your experience and sense of soulfulness.
A lot of sexual fantasy is where shadows and darkness hang out. Opening to these parts of yourself in a conscious and open-hearted way, either in your fantasy world or with others in a safe way, can be hugely liberating. You can free up parts of yourself that would otherwise remain hidden and liberate them into healthy and wholesome parts of your being. A huge amount of your power can be tied up in shadows related to sexuality and romantic love.
This can also be a huge opportunity for connection with your inner world. You can learn to be present more directly with the desire in you. Rather than letting fantasy carry you off into the past or future in some concrete way, you are allowing the desire, fantasy and felt-sensations to show you something about yourself in this present moment.
Using sexual fantasy as the focus for imaginal practice can be an amazing practice for opening up your sense of eros. I write more about that in my overview of imaginal practice.
The key with the imaginal aspect of this is to embrace and allow the desire, without needing it to lead anywhere or say anything about the person you desire. It is showing you what is present in your inner world in this present moment.
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. Feeling into this pain and heart-break, rather than running away from it, is incredibly powerful for creating more presence in your experience.
All 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 and working with it allows you to cultivate a deep sense of presence, intimacy, pleasure and depth in your experience.
Secondly, learning to be present with heart-break and loneliness helps people move away from the addictive cycle of continually trying to fill the hole and allows them to be more real about what matters in life.
Finally, 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 you to be present in practice and experience, rather than denying it exists or trying to shut it down. If you 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
Soulfulness is where fantasy, creativity, beauty and fascination arises from within you and this isn’t just limited to the sexual aspect of these things.
Carving out some time to be in your fantasy worlds and allowing them to show themselves can be deeply nourishing and is a chance for you to know yourself better.
What you find fascinating in life is indicative of what is meaningful to you – these are the things you are drawn to. This can be very practical or beautiful aspects of life, but you can also find the darkness compelling in this way.
They also give you access to the parts of experience that feel most deeply personal to you. Fantasies connect with something deep inside you that feels emotive and meaningful. To access this requires some vulnerability and willingness to go into your pain.
For example, creative people who put themselves into their work and get in touch with their most vulnerable and deep parts are the ones who create really compelling art, poetry, music and writing.
“Love, longing and the restlessness of the human heart are the catalyst for every creative revolution”
All of these things – fantasy, creativity, heart-break, longing, fascination, beauty, meaningfulness, eros, desire – are fleeting. They pass through you as things to be experienced or enjoyed in this moment.
Trusting that you can embrace these things fully and that you will be carried out the other side buys a huge amount of freedom of feeling and expression.
The soul is a river; allowing space for things to keep moving is how you stay in the flow. Make some time in your day for fantasy or heart-ache 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 you are connected to what feels most deeply personal and it is also the doorway to our synchronistic and interconnected nature. Embracing it can allows you to feel present, connected, clear and aligned with life.
Stories are complex and interweaving in ways our minds don’t understand. Seeing that your story is not just about you and what you get from it, but that it serves a greater whole, will hopefully allow you to relax into life.
With practices that are leading you to deeper soulfulness, you want to avoid fixating on the concept of whether you feel better or worse and focus on whether you are more able to open to life in all its different dimensions.
Some questions to help you reflect on this aspect of experience:
- Describe some of your deepest fantasies. Can you feel how they connect you to what is present for you in this moment? What fantasies are you not allowing yourself to imagine?
- Describe how the magic and mystery of the Universe feels or manifests for you. Name some ways you could make more space for this.
- Describe the things you find most compelling and meaningful in life. Name some ways that you hold yourself back from connecting with what you are most drawn to.
- Describe some newer parts of yourself that you would like to experience more fully or touch on. Describe some parts of other people that you see they have access to that you would love to be able to experience. Describe some aspects of human experience that you imagine might exist but you have no idea if or how you’d be able to experience it.
- Draw a map of the full range of the emotions that you are able to embrace and embody. You could include why each emotion is meaningful to you. In a different colour add any emotions that you would love to have access to that you don’t currently. In a different colour add the emotions that you tend to want to avoid.
- Describe your deepest known pain points in life. If you can, imagine some ways that you could get in touch with this in a wholesome way. Describe the ways in which you try and avoid feeling them.
- Describe your dark side. Name the ways in which you allow this to be present, the times you allow your awareness of this aspect of yourself to be present and the ways in which you try to hide this or cover it up from yourself or others.
- Take some time to feel into connecting to something bigger than you. What does that feel like?
- Take some time to feel into having a uniquely personal experience that only you will ever get to have. What does that feel like?
- Describe a way you use creativity or imagination in your own practice. Include the ways this feels meaningful, compelling and alive to you.
Soulfulness Meditation Practice
The archetypal, shamanic and imaginal spaces are the route into an intimate connection with the soul realm. They are all connecting into this more mysterious aspect of experience where you are more in touch with your deepest expression and allowing it to flow freely through you.
This creative way of expressing things is one of the most liberating practices there is. It allows you to completely drop your sense of fixed self – you are no longer tied up in fixed ideas of who you are and what is right and wrong and are free to allow things to express.
Rather than spending a load of energy resisting certain aspects of experience you can allow things to flow in this space more freely; for example, you can embody dark archetypes and allow challenging emotions to express themselves.
In imaginal space you are allowing the worlds to express itself. This could be a deep and elaborate shamanic practice, or it could be simply carving out 5 mins in the day to consciously day-dream and see what fantasies emerge.
You can sometimes be shown some really mysterious things, like visions of the future or deeply symbolic aspects of experience. 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 of 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
- Set a timer for a short amount of time and allow yourself this time to get absorbed into a more dreamy space
- Do 5 slow deep breaths and get as absorbed in the breath as possible
- 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 you 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
- Keep the story flowing – allow things to keep expressing themselves. What is the story that wants to be told?
- After the meditation you may sink into a calm absorbed space or there may be more that wants to be expressed.
If you would like to explore the imaginal further I have written more about this here
Explore more about the soul and the ineffable in the whole being awakening framework