05/30/2012 10:50 am ET Updated Jul 30, 2012

Soul Stories: Discovering the Lessons of Your Soul's Journey

Want to know how to discover and mine the lessons of your soul's journey? Sit down with a journal (or use a tape recorder) and begin to write or tell the story of your life, starting with the first major event you recall that left an impact. It might help to write or speak your story in the third person, like it happened to someone else.

What happened and what meaning did you take away from the first event? Keep going and follow the stream of your life. What events shaped you, at what age, and what did you make of them at the time? What do you see and feel about those events today? What recurring themes do you notice?

Since all stories begin the same way, begin yours with "Once upon a time..." Here's an example:

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who always dreamed of flying. She dreamed of soaring like a bird, high above the earth. Sometimes in a waking state, her awareness would leave her body and zoom up to the ceiling, where she would look down from above and view her physical self, going about the business of being a child.

Sometimes at night she would look out her bedroom window at the stars far away and wonder if there was any kind of life out there looking back at her. She didn't think that life could only exist on Earth. She believed in aliens and spaceships and prayed that one would land in her backyard and take her for a ride to a star or a planet.

She spoke of her flying dreams to her older brother, who teasingly told her she could fly if she found some place high enough to jump from and move her arms really hard and really fast. Being too young to understand her brother was only teasing, she took his word as the gospel and agreed to take him up on it.

One day, he and a small group of his friends led her to the upper story of a duplex nearby where they instructed her to climb up on the second story porch railing and jump. "Don't forget to move your arms really hard and really fast," they told her, probably thinking she'd chicken out at the last minute.

But this little girl had the heart of a warrior. Chickening out was not an option. She never hesitated as she stood on the edge of the railing and jumped, flapping her arms as hard as she could while plunging to the ground two stories below. Luckily, the earth, softened by the newly melted snow, cushioned her fall and the only thing that was injured that day was her pride.

Lying in a heap on the ground, she was stunned to discover that she really couldn't fly, not like a bird anyway. To add insult to injury, the boys never came to see how she was or make sure she wasn't hurt. Instead, they laughed at her and called her a stupid, gullible girl before walking away. Needless to say, the little girl that picked herself up off the ground that day, was not the same "stupid, gullible girl" that jumped off the second story porch.

She learned something that day that changed her life. Never again would she allow herself to be seen as "stupid and gullible." She made a decision down there on the ground, just before standing up, that she would become smart and strong and never again let a boy get the best of her.

She stopped crying, brushed herself off, stood up, and walked home. She never said a word to her mother or anyone else about what had happened to her that day. But inside, she was sad and disappointed because the one she trusted and believed had let her down and her dream was smashed. And so was her heart.

As she grew up, she ultimately became the "strong" woman she declared herself to be and confirmed her promise to never let anyone break her heart again. To ensure this, she became the one who broke hearts first. But her idea of strength came with a price that would eventually become too high to pay.

Discovering the Soul's Agenda

What she didn't know back then, and what took her decades to learn, is that defending one's heart from being broken is not a show of strength, it's actually a show of weakness. A truly courageous heart allows itself to be broken repeatedly if that's what's required for the soul to learn the lessons necessary for its evolution.

What she didn't know back then is that it breaks one's heart to break another's heart. And so, in spite of her promise never to let her heart be broken again, in fact, as a heartbreaker she ended up breaking her own heart over and over.

Living With a Broken Open Heart

The experience of disappointment and heartbreak has taught her some valuable lessons. Today, she knows there is no safety in a guarded heart, for she has learned that when the heart breaks, it breaks open. She finally learned that, instead of quickly fixing and mending her broken heart, she could leave it broken, for into the opening of a broken-open heart, there is room for compassion and grace to enter. And in the space of compassion and grace, there is room for love and gratitude. She discovered that a heart broken open is a noble heart, a courageous heart.

How do I know this? It's my own soul's story, of course. I wrote a poem about this experience and included it in an earlier post, "The Soul's Call to Your Inner Poet."
This is only one small thread of my soul's story, but woven together with the many other strands in the tapestry of my life a larger understanding of my journey emerges.

Our soul is a full-time student enrolled in a curriculum called Life. Every event in our lives is seeded with multiple possibilities for our soul's evolution. No matter the nature of the events themselves, be they traumatic or joyful, it is possible to find grace and healing within the stories we've lived.

My soul has learned the lessons of compassion and grace, gratitude and humility through the opening of a broken heart. And now, I treasure this experience and allow my heart to break on a regular basis. No attempts to shore it, back up or mend it. I have become, as psychologist Dr. John Welwood says, a "broken-hearted warrior." But what does that mean?

Nearly everything breaks my heart these days. Seeing images of the homeless vets during the National Memorial Day celebration in Washington, D.C. this past weekend broke my heart. Listening to the young widow read a letter to her husband who died in Iraq tore my heart open. Hearing Jessica Sanchez sing "The Prayer" turned me into melted butter.

Being in nature breaks my heart open. Nature's beauty tears my heart apart and shreds it to the four winds. The expression of honesty and courage take me down for the count. Seeing someone stand in the face of their fear and go for it anyway takes my heart to the moon.

These things break my heart and open me to joy, but they also open me to suffering, for when the heart is open to it, other's suffering becomes our own. This is the journey of a Boddhisatva, an enlightened being who takes on many lifetimes to take on the suffering of others and heal it for the collective good of the whole. I don't claim to be a Boddhisatva, but I consider that path would be an honor to travel. And in my own way, while I seek to do only good, I know that I still have work to do, for sometimes my efforts fall far short of the mark.

My soul's journey to living with a broken open heart has taught me that it takes enormous courage to be a human being. In this regard, we're all heroes. When you mix it all together in the cauldron called the human condition, we're all living in the soup of sweet and sour trying to make it through the journey as best as we can.

No doubt, many lessons still await my discovery. The journey continues, and I am grateful for the opportunities for learning that it brings.

What are your soul stories, and what lessons have they brought you? Please pull up a chair and share your thoughts about this. I welcome your points of view, whatever they may be, about this topic. And before you wander off too far, do come and pay visit to my personal blog and website at Rx For The Soul for more material about soul development and evolution.

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I'll be away next week, recovering from eye surgery and the removal of a cataract. God willing, I'll "see" you back here June 13.

Blessings on the path,


For more by Dr. Judith Rich, click here.

For more on GPS for the soul, click here.