Once a week people in the thousands show up for their regular appointments with a therapist. They bring problems they have talked about many times before, problems that cause them intense emotional pain and make their lives miserable. Whatever the approach, the aim will be health or happiness achieved by the removal of these central problems.
Care of the soul is a fundamentally different way of regarding daily life and the quest for happiness. Care of the soul is a continuous process that concerns itself not so much with “fixing” a central flaw as with attending to the small details of everyday life, as well as to major decisions and changes.
So, the first point to make about care of the soul is that it is not to make life problem free, but to give ordinary life the depth and value that comes with a spiritual life. It has to do with cultivating a richly expressive and meaningful life at home and in the world.
Getting to know the Soul
We’ll see that care of the soul is in many ways a return to early notions of what therapy is. Cura, the Latin word used originally in “care of the soul,” means several things: attention, devotion, healing, and worshiping God.
“Soul” is a quality or a dimension of experiencing life and ourselves. It has to do with depth, value, and relatedness, heart, and personal outlook.
This definition of caring for the soul has practical implications for the way we deal with ourselves and with one another. It’s remarkable how often people think they will be better off, by putting their ego in charge of their life.
When people observe the ways in which the soul is manifesting itself, they are enriched rather than impoverished. When you regard the soul with an open mind, you begin to find the messages that lie within the spiritual world, the changes needed to be made. The prevailing notion is that independence is healthy and that we should correct the soul when it shows some desire for dependence on God’s control.
You want to be attached to people, learn from them, get close, rely on friendship, get advice from someone you respect, be part of a community where people need each other, find intimacy with someone. And yet we will not have that type of relationship with God.
At times we think we are being in a relationship with others, when what we actually are doing is avoiding deep involvement with God, people, and life in general. A person fully identified with dependency thinks that health and happiness lies in the achievement of independence. But it is necessary to learn how to be dependent in a way that is satisfying.
Renaissance philosophers often said that it is the soul that makes us human.
The basic intention in any caring is to alleviate suffering. But in relation to the symptom itself, observance means first of all listening and looking carefully at what is being revealed in the suffering. An intent to heal can get in the way of learning. By living through a challenge, more is accomplished. The life of the soul is a continual process of learning to be more like Christ.
Learning to Love the Soul
Taking an interest in the soul is a way of loving it. Taking an interest in one’s own soul requires a certain amount of space for reflection and appreciation. A little distance allows us to see the dynamics among the many elements that make up the life of the soul.
There is evil in the world and in the human heart; if we don’t recognize this, we have a naïve attitude that can get us into trouble. To some extent, care of the soul asks us to open our hearts wider than they have ever been before.
Care vs. Cure
A major difference between care and cure is that cure implies the end of trouble. But care has a sense of ongoing attention. There is no end. Awareness can change, of course, but problems may persist and never go away.
If you attend the soul, changes take place without your being aware of them until they are all over and well in place. Care of the soul observes the paradox whereby a strong-willed pursuit of personal control can actually stand in the way of substantive transformation.
All lives are important, that is the very seed and heart of each healthy individual. Care of the soul sees another reality than “ego”. It appreciates the mystery of human suffering and does not offer the illusion of a problem-free life.