Allowing our souls to be refined (I)

One of the things that sometimes bugs me, is our obsession with material things. With this I refer to the amount of effort and attention that is given to tangible and measurable matters: appearance, possessions, likes (like on social media). 

Around 450 BC, Socrates apparently reprimanded the citizens of Athens for paying too much attention to their status, their good name and the acquiring of wealth and possessions and not caring enough about the refining of their souls.[1]

In many ways, it sounds like Socrates could have directed these words at us, living in 2019. There is nothing new under the sun. 

Human beings seem to generally find it easy to care more about outer things (measurable, tangible, material) than about matters of the soul. Unsurprisingly, this is not a recent phenomenon. 

We often find it extremely hard to undertake the hard work of refining the soul. This is an abstract process without clear directions and accurate route markers. It can also be a lonely journey, as the work that needs to be done can only be tackled by ourselves: there is no way it can be outsourced. 

If we accept the notion that our souls need work, need attention and need refinement, where do we then start? How do we start? 

Like many things in life, caring about the refinement of our souls starts with a decision, a conscious choice that this is worth doing. In this process, it could be helpful to consider the benefits. What may I gain? What am I hoping to achieve?

Our initial decision needs to be followed by a first step. Where do I need to start? Am I going to initiate a conversation with someone? Join a discussion or support group? Read a book? 

Reflecting is one way of activating the process of refining our souls. Keeping a journal is a very effective way of reflecting. Write down what you are feeling and thinking. Do it regularly. Consider the events (in your life) that have shaped you, that had a marked impact, that changed you or the course of your life. Once the door to reflection is open, keep writing. And don’t be afraid to revisit previous musings. Be on the lookout for moments of clarity and insight. Appreciate them. 

This brings me a very practical suggestion. I have a very strong conviction that the process of soul refinement should not be undertaken alone. You may have an introverted personality type, but soul work is best done in community with others. We simply need each other’s stories, ideas and perhaps most importantly feedback. We gain tremendous insights when we receive feedback from others in a safe environment. 

I am concluding this post with a reminder that all growth requires attention, time and patience. 

Be kind to yourself. Give it time. Give yourself time and love. Care about your own well-being the way you would care about a loved one’s well-being. 

Remember why you are doing this: you are seeking soul refinement and growth. 


[1] Robert Farrar Capon wrote about this in his book ‘The Supper of the Lamb’

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