12/30/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Gentle Art Of Soul Care

Across time, the advice is constant: those engaged in the care for others must care for themselves. Indeed, caring for our own souls is how the gentle art of soul care is best learned. My work with well over a hundred artists has taught me that the basic requirements for any art apply equally well in the realm of the care of souls.

Time and Place

Artists know that much of art is "showing up" regularly. The painter spends time each day before her canvas, the writer faces the blank screen of his computer, the potter sits at the wheel. Inspiration may or may not come, but soul likes regular times that set the stage for her arrival. The artist doesn't want to miss it!

All of our relationships with family and friends take time. Our relationship with the inner life of our soul is no exception. Make a "date" to spend time with yourself every day.

Place is also an important element. An artist needs space for uninterrupted work, where supplies and works-in-progress can be left out in safety. Soul knows the difference between the place for paying the bills or sleeping and the place for attending to one's inner life. It is the place for paying attention. Do you have a prayer corner or chair -- a place for being with the Holy -- in your home?


When an artist is blocked, it's often because s/he hasn't engaged in the small rituals that tell her/his soul that it's time to jump from chronos to kairos time, from clock time to soul time. For one writer, the ritual is sharpening seven pencils and lining them up on his desk. For another artist, it's making a pot of coffee. For another, it's lighting a candle.

These small things make the difference. They tell soul that this is a liminal moment, that you're ready to cross the threshold from one way of seeing and being to another. Soul loves ritual, and often fails to move without it.

Little Altars Everywhere

In her book, Rebecca Wells wrote about how there are "little altars everywhere" in our world.1 Look around and notice your own little altars everywhere -- the photos on the piano, the shells from the beach on the windowsill. Are you intentional about having places in your home and office that remind you of the holiness of your life?

Fund the Imagination!

Flying a kite. Attending the opera. Walking the beach, exploring tidepools. Line dancing. Browsing through a bookstore. Horseback riding. Playing the piano. Building model planes. Experimenting with a new recipe. Curling up in a chair to watch the fire on a rainy night. What did you like to do as a child? What do you wish you could do now? Do you spend your days off on chores, or do you play?

Artists know that soul is nourished by movement and color and music and stories. Art and play fund the imagination. Imagination allows us to see the world differently; it allows us to engage with other possibilities.

One of the best pieces of advice my father gave me was to keep some of my musical instruments available -- on stands or hanging on the walls. He told me, "If you have to get them out of a case, you won't play them when you have fifteen minutes free. It's easier to have an instrument out where you can pick it up when you're waiting for a phone call or a ride -- any time."

Play doesn't necessarily take a lot of time!

Cutting Carrots Is A Meditation

Before you begin to prepare a meal, light a candle in your kitchen. Your kitchen is a place of hospitality for others and also for the holiness of the world! Several years ago I attended a talk by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh about seeing the world in every thing. From him I learned a simple meditation that helps me be present to the world and live more consciously:

As you cut your carrots today:

Imagine . . .

the farmer who planted the seeds . . .

the sun and the rain . . .

the workers who picked them from the ground . . .

the driver who brought the carrots to market . . .

the person who sold them to you . . .

how beautiful these carrots are . . .

the people who will eat these carrots . . .

your hopes for each one of them . . .

and give thanks that the holiness of the world has become visible to you in these carrots!