wisdom

Soul vs Ego: Open to What Your Life Could Be.

{Photo credit: Sarah Pezdek-Smith}

Every person’s life tells a story, and every person has his or her story about life. One of my stories has been the choice between soul and ego.

After years of believing that you picked one or the other, I’ve concluded they are both integral parts of human life. Just as the brain, lungs and heart have separate functions in a body, so too do the soul and ego. As such, these two facets have distinct priorities, and which one we give our allegiance to creates a different life focus.

For example, egos search for goals, definitives, comfort, winning, accomplishments, and end results, while souls seek authenticity, creativity, expression, depth, experiences, growth, journeys, and expansion. Because of their potential contrasts, sometimes our souls and egos divide, causing a splintering that is similar to a business meeting where all in attendance have separate agendas.

Human life is full of paradox, as exemplified in breathing, the very thing that keeps us alive, for we cannot breathe in without breathing out and vice versa. There is nothing better about in or out, they are equal in their opposites. Embracing this, and its implications, may be a giant step to wholeness.

I recently had a portrait photo session with a talented photographer who had taken one of my Calling Council workshops — six weeks of modern shamanic journeys. I note the latter because she wanted the portrait to show that side of me — the teacher, my ancient self, and dare I say, my soul. I brought with me a selection of feathers and skulls that touch and open my heart.

In the amazing and unique image above, I can visibly see the presence and strength that I had otherwise only felt. At the same time, it also shows me that a photo is simply an image of a moment in time. Our lives are a string of ongoing moments — some powerful, some weak, and many more in between. While a photo says more than a thousand words, it is still only a morsel of the person or situation.

We all have endless depths below what can be seen on the surface. It is our responsibility to swim in those depths and learn what makes up us, regardless of whether it touches the outside world or is understood by anyone else. It is wise to remember that all others have the same expanse below what we see or understand about them as well.

I took an online class on branding to boost my writing, public speaking, and workshops. This would not normally be my cup of tea, yet I respect the teacher and decided to go for it based on that.

Creating a brand had previously felt artificial. However, this class, in addition to the photo session, made me realize we are always projecting an image. To do so mindfully is actually more authentic than simply letting chance create it. While it is also true that the image is just a fraction of who I am as a whole, I’d like it to be a representation of the place where my inner and outer worlds intersect.

Being clear about our presentation to the world does not equal control over how others see us, nor is that of any significance to our soul. Egos want to be seen in a specific way — happy, successful, beautiful — while souls want to experience the happiness, success and beauty. Being true to our inner world, sincerely, compassionately, creatively, is doing our part. The rest is out of our hands.

In the end, we only have our own heart to answer to.

A place both my soul and personality simultaneously ignite is listening to music, especially live. Sometimes it’s popular musicians with big names, more often it’s people who just love music. They don’t necessarily make a living from it or gather fans, but to these people, not making music is a kind of death.

I was recently at a show with a variety of performers, each with a different sound. The one similarity among them was that they exposed their souls with their music. It’s been said, “Perhaps the best mark of personal heroism is not astounding courage or accomplishments, but authentic self-expression.”

While these locals weaved soul into each note and lyric, some big musicians miss depth in their performances simply because regular performances alleviate the vulnerability that often exposes souls.

What is your story? In other words, what are your beliefs, assumptions, expectations, desires, memories, wants, relationships, friends, childhood experiences, and how do they all fit together?

What we tell ourselves and repeat aloud to others becomes our reality, becomes the glasses through which we see the world, defines our decisions, and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Can you examine the stories you tell the world and yourself, discerning where there is truth, and conversely, falsity? Can you open to what your life is, and the endless possibilities of what it could be? Like many valuable exercises, this will be ongoing. In part because we miss things the first, or even 100th, time around, and also because we change constantly.

I’d like to mention one caveat that I am quite familiar with, which is the desire to bypass the parts we don’t like within the picture. There is a cultural ideal of seeing only the positive or looking at things from a spiritual paradigm. While that can be admirable, this method often overlooks angles that are dictating fundamental life experiences, including our emotional needs.

In a world of pain, this positive or spiritual bypass is a constant temptation. Yet, it can be a detour on the path to genuine happiness and wholeness. In our efforts to leapfrog to something better, we can avoid a crucial part. As the writer Parker Palmer puts it, “I deny my inner darkness, giving it more power over me, or I project it onto other people, creating ‘enemies’ where none exist.”

While there is no need to dwell on these facets, recognizing their existence opens us to releasing them. Palmer also says, “Wholeness does not mean perfection, it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.”

As I see it in this moment, happiness and wholeness are not about being all smiles and laughter. Instead, they are a deep-rooted sense of well-being that sustains through feelings of sadness, hurt, anger, joy, and circumstances that overwhelm.

I’ve asked a lot of questions, and here are a few more: What lights up both your soul and your ego? What unifies your emotions and your intellect? What nourishes your body and spirit? The answers may be the foundation of your story, your chance for joy, and a life of wholeness and fulfillment.

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Katrina Clay lives in harmony with the nature of Upstate New York. Her mystical and animal spirit yearns for an old world and grieves the death of that time. Walking with the winds of wisdom, she accepted and released that dark sadness, and found a love for the world in its modern incarnation. Katrina teaches workshops aimed to reclaim our ancient nature and publishes a regional wellness publication. Most days she is found with her dog, sharing time with her horse, listening to music, and writing about it all. She can be found virtually on A Tree’s Voice or Facebook.

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