British scholar C.S. Lewis is known for a famous line: “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”
I read it years back while in school. I stumbled across it again years later in a crowded Sunday market in London. Of course, it was plastered on a metallic sign board meant to be hung prominently in your home. What an odd match.
Then the other day, I again came across it. A never-ending friendship it seemed — a lingering line that keeps following me.
I’ve always been attracted to the thought. It’s a rather simple one as well — you are not a body, you are a soul. And yet, so much of our life is focused on the body, not the soul.
We feed it endlessly, we adorn it daily, we accentuate it at times, we flaunt it at other times. We give what money can buy it — the most luxurious of fabrics, the most tantalizing food, the most captivating, shiny stones. Anything to beautify it.
But does it feed our soul? Or does it feed our body? Many times the excesses of life entice our body, not our soul.
At the beginning of the new year, we make commitments to our body — to nourish it, to take care of it, to treat it kindly. But what do we promise to our deeper existence? How can we nourish it — what will we do to live mindfully, to love deeply, to reawaken our spirit?
Sounds too philosophical? Not really.
After having traveled extensively with little luggage and the same five T-shirts worn over and over again, I realized what little I needed. After having lived in the smallest of apartments humanly possible, I realized what little I needed. After having sampled some of the best food from the most rustic of settings, I realized what little I needed.
What I remembered most from these memories was the state of bliss. It was that sense of stupefied happiness. And that was because I had fed my soul.
Buddhists have written extensively in their texts about mindfulness. It’s something that’s been refashioned in modern life; think young children in mindful yoga classes — yes, they exist. But mindfulness doesn’t require a course, an instructor or a guiding text. It simply asks you to be. To be still within. To be quiet. To be absorbed in life.
And in a time when so much of life goes by in haste in tightly wound-up schedules, it’s probably the most satisfying (and yet, at times, the most challenging) state of being to achieve for our modern ways.
It means standing still in the sun for five minutes. It means walking barefoot in the rain. It means digging your hands in soil. It means holding the hand of your elderly parents, assuring them that you’re still there, you haven’t disappeared. It means giving when it’s easier to take. And it means being quiet and letting the world do the talking.
Clearly, these are not high-tech solutions. But they are the ones that feed you in the truest sense. And for the ambitious, there’s the option to take it further, to make it your way of life, to infuse it into your work.
One doctor, whom I had the opportunity to travel with a couple years back, shared with me that she had been born with a cleft lip. And the care and attention that she received — at no cost — from medical professionals compelled her to develop a career in medicine.
Today, she returns that generosity by working with patients in her Kern Valley community who cannot afford the high medical costs, offering them care at no cost or minimal costs.
About four years back, she traveled with me to India for one of the polio trips. And it was on the long car drives and long layovers that I got to learn of her past. Actually, I had to pry it out of her.
She wrote an extensive diary, cataloging her trip, expressing her frustrations and angst at seeing such disparities in health. But she didn’t reveal much about herself. It was only later, as our friendship continued to grow, that I learned about the work she did in her own community.
Though we often associate the greatest disparities with developing nations, there are just as marginalized communities at home. So she decided to address those cleavages by using her skills in medicine.
This year, I got a note from her asking if I’d like to join her for a massive health camp in Los Angeles for the uninsured. She spoke so excitedly about it, so enthusiastic about participating that I thought we might be going to a concert instead.
In fact, if you meet her, you’ll wonder if she ever sits still (I doubt it). She is restless. But yet, mindful of what she has to offer, what others struggle with and how to connect the two to find a solution.
Her spirit comes from doing work that heals the body but feeds her soul. And that sentiment has become entrenched in her, propelling her to stray away from the temporal joys and gravitate to something, she says, that can help heal others’ spirits as well.
Be mindful this year of the world you exist in. Be mindful of what your soul needs. And your pocketbook will probably be ecstatic as well