What is Soul Work?
– The Path of Embodying Unconditional Love
Through the ages, countless sages, mystics, gurus, and awakened men and women have pointed to the fact that we are much more than our physical bodies or personalities.
We are, in fact, the eternal, timeless, unconditionally loving presence within us, known as Spirit, Consciousness, Nondual Awareness, or True Self.
Yet these days, most of us have lost touch with the truth of who we are. We assume that we are our bodies, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, memories, and preferences because that is what we’ve been conditioned to believe since childhood.
Being falsely conditioned by society, we quickly forget who we are and we begin identifying with a small and separate sense of self (also known as the ‘ego‘) that is at the very root of all of our pain, suffering, loneliness, and fear.
Soul Work can help us recover, remember, and rediscover who We Truly Are at the deepest level by reminding us that beneath the separate sense of self is an ever-flowing river of unconditional loving presence – and we are That.
Table of contents
- What is Soul Work?
- Soul Loss, Inner Work, and Soul Work
- Why is Soul Work the Path of Unconditional Love?
- How to Practice Soul Work
- Soul Work Encourages the Mind to Be Open and Receptive
What is Soul Work?
Soul Work is the contemplative practice of turning inwards and rediscovering our True Nature in the present moment. Quite literally, Soul Work means doing the Soul’s work of going within and coming back home to Spirit.
Every Soul has a deep yearning to find truth, freedom, love, and peace. Listening to your Soul’s calling means to trace back that holy longing to its Source, which is birthless, deathless, infinite, and all-pervasive in nature.
In the sacred book of the Tao Te Ching, sage Lao Tzu writes of Tao (or Spirit) and Te (or Soul/virtue/power),
He who knows the play of Tao and Te
knows the nature of the universe
Tao brings forth Te from its own being
Te expands in all directions
filling every corner of the world
becoming the splendor of all creation
Yet at every moment Te seeks Tao
This is the movement that guides the universe
This is the impulse
that leads all things back home
Indeed, at every moment the unique expression of the Divine within us that is our Soul longs and searches for Spirit as its True Home.
We might not be consciously aware of this impulse or deep desire, but it is there in our behavior: in our addictions, our obsessions, our dreams, our fascinations for something, for anything, that will fill the void within us.
Unfortunately, most of us tend to look in the wrong places, directing our holy longings toward relationships, material possessions, and achievements that are all bound to fade away, change, or die.
In truth, what we are searching for deep down cannot be given or taken away – it is who and what we truly are beneath the stories and identifications of the mind.
Like children longing for their parents warmth, lovers yearning for their beloveds, the honeybee irresistibly drawn to nectar, salmon desperately rushing back to their birthplace, moths drawn to a flame, there is an impulse within us that longs to return to the birthless and deathless Divine Source that we truly are.
The minute I heard my first love story
I started looking for you,
not knowing how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.
Soul Loss, Inner Work, and Soul Work
Soul work is not a high road. It is a deep fall into an unforgiving darkness that won’t let you go until you find the song that sings you home.
— McCall Erickson
Being stuck in a state of separation, ego-centered living, and spiritual impoverishment is what we can refer to as Soul loss.
Having lost our connection with our Souls (the inner guide and voice of intuition within us) we are further obscured from Spirit.
Because the vast majority of us have lost touch with our Souls, we suffer from a host of mental, emotional, and physical illnesses such as chronic disease, anxiety, depression, personality disorders, addiction, and abuse. Therefore, to rediscover that sense of Wholeness again, we must reconnect with our Souls. And to find Oneness again, we must surrender back to Spirit
How do we deal with this loss of connection with Soul that is plaguing humanity? There are many paths, methods, and philosophies out there – all valuable to varying degrees. On this website, and within our teachings, Inner Work and Soul Work are the paths through which we rediscover Wholeness and Oneness again.
What is the Difference Between Inner Work and Soul Work?
Inner Work and Soul Work are like brothers and sisters that go hand-in-hand.
Inner Work focuses on the psyche and is the active practice of dissolving the contractions and blockages that obscure one’s Inner Light. Our inner blockages usually consist of conditioned beliefs, unquestioned dogmas, repressed thoughts and feelings, attachment to old stories, and childhood wounds that weigh us down and keep us identified with a painful separate ego. Examples of Inner Work practices that we can use to dissolve these dark inner clouds include self-love, inner child work, shadow work, body work, and others.
Soul Work focuses on the spiritual aspect of our being and is a more passive practice of letting go, tuning into, and resting within the Divine. Unlike Inner Work, Soul Work more directly focuses on who and what we truly are beyond name, gender, identity, and form, peeling back these layers and revealing the light of Love beneath. Practices used for Soul Work can include meditation, self-inquiry, lectio divina, prayer, and anything that helps to dissolve identification with the false egoic self.
While Inner Work is more psychological (yang/active) and Soul Work is more spiritual (yin/passive) in nature, and both complement each other beautifully.
To reconnect with our Souls and listen to their deepest calling, we need both Inner Work and Soul Work. But in this article, I’m going to focus more exclusively on the value of Soul Work.
Why is Soul Work the Path of Unconditional Love?
If Soul Work is the pathless path of turning inwards and rediscovering our True Nature in the present moment, what is this Awareness, this ‘True Nature‘?
In the words of teacher and author Joan Tollifson,
Awareness is unconditional love, absolute devotion. It accepts everything.
When we think of unconditional love, we often have sentimental and romantic associations. But Unconditional Love, in this case, points to the inherent quality of our True Nature: it embraces all, just as it is, in this very moment.
In the words of spiritual teacher Ram Dass,
Unconditional love really exists in each of us. It is part of our deep inner being. It is not so much an active emotion as a state of being. It’s not ‘I love you’ for this or that reason, not ‘I love you if you love me.’ It’s love for no reason, love without an object.
This love for no reason and love without an object can be directly experienced when we drop our attachment to the separate sense of self – to the “me” that is at the very root of our suffering and that is ultimately just a construct of the mind.
Dropping identification with the ego opens up the floodgates of unconditional love, clarity, peace, and freedom – which has been referred to through the ages as Nirvana, Self-Realization, and Spiritual Enlightenment.
In the words of teacher Scott Kiloby,
Enlightenment is the realization that there is no separate “you” to gain anything personally from life. There is only life and you are THAT. No separation. In that realization, your entire resistance to what is vanishes and the deepest truth of spirituality is revealed. This truth is impossible to express. But be clear that it isn’t about personal gain. If anything, it is about the loss of something — the loss of the sense of separation. In that loss, there is great freedom, love, joy, and peace.
The paradox is that to find your Self, you must lose your self, and in that, there is the deepest love and peace that the Soul longs for.
How to Practice Soul Work
The next paradox is that Soul Work isn’t so much the practice of actively working to “get” or “achieve” something, so to speak.
Instead, Soul Work is more of a path of surrender, a movement of letting go and resting within the Divine Source that is beneath the layers of the ego.
On a human level, it can absolutely feel like we’re “doing” something actively to “get” somewhere. But what is actually happening is that we’re learning how to come back home to this present moment – because Who We Truly Are can never be found or discovered in some future idea or magical place: it can only be found right here, right now.
So how do we approach Soul Work?
Here are some helpful pathless paths:
i) Ask “Who Am I?” – the Central Question
The central question at the heart of Soul Work is “Who am I?” In other words, who are you beyond your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, memories, history, dreams, ideas, sensations, and every other thing that comes and goes?
Awakened Indian sage Ramana Maharshi popularized this practice in his teaching of self-inquiry, writing,
Self-inquiry is the one infallible means, the only direct one, to realise the unconditioned, absolute Being that you really are.
At first self-inquiry may feel like a very cerebral activity, or possibly even like a slightly boring mantra! But when pursued with sincerity and without grasping onto anything the mind theorizes (realizing that any thought, no matter how elaborate, cannot define who you actually are), deep realizations of bliss, silence, peace, and stillness can spontaneously arise.
ii) Meditative Silence and Stillness
It’s ironic in this world of incessant noise (including the spiritual marketplace with all of its endless techniques, teachings, masterclasses, and so on), that silence and stillness are still the greatest teachers.
There is something about silence that any type of noise (words, ideas, concepts) simply cannot replicate, and that is the fact that silence leads us beyond the ego, beyond the mind, and into the beginningless and endless nature of Who We Truly Are.
Take a moment to listen to the sounds around you. What can you hear? What happens when the sounds inevitably disappear? They always eventually return back to silence.
Deep silence is the experience of our True Nature: it can be sensed as a timeless and endless luminous field of stillness that is always and only ever Now.
So take as many opportunities as you can to sit in meditative silence and stillness. Notice the silence beneath the noise. Tune into the silence within and around you. Nature is a wonderful place to experience this deep silence and stillness.
To contemplate something is to look deeply into it from a place of inner stillness, openness, and curiosity. Contemplation has a way of quietening the mind, stilling the thoughts, and revealing the luminous field of Presence beneath.
Some forms of contemplation you can consider may include:
- Contemplating sacred scripture (such as the words of a beloved spiritual teacher, a cherished book, a sacred text, etc.) – this is also known as lectio divina or divine reading
- Contemplating nature through simple observation and absorption
- Contemplating a mantra or koan (e.g., Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God” and the koan “Show me your original face before you were born” are two popular examples)
- Contemplation through the practice of mindfulness
iv) Devotion: Cultivating a Connection With the Heart
The two direct paths to Self-Realization or Oneness, according to Hindu philosophy, are Jnana (the path of knowledge) and Bhakti (the path of devotion).
While we touched on the path of knowledge above with self-inquiry, the path of devotion, or Bhakti, is a beautiful and deep way to surrender to the Divine.
According to spiritual teacher Adyashanti, true devotion is whatever we dedicate our time and attention to – our most precious and limited resources.
To cultivate a connection with the heart, you may choose to engage in practices such as chanting, ritual, mantra, service, worship, or anything that opens, humbles, and expands the heart.
Remember that what you dedicate the majority of your time and attention to is what you are truly devoted to, and anything we are devoted to can become a path back Home.
Often prayer is the last thing we turn to in times of desperate need. But prayer can be a powerful portal to reconnecting with the deep silence and luminous love at the Center of our being.
Prayer doesn’t have to be infantile or dogmatic – as we’re often taught it should be. In authentic prayer, there is an inner humbling, openness, stillness, and silence that arises within us as we turn back to Source for guidance.
Prayer can be like a poem, a petition, and an invitation to the Divine to guide us back Home. You don’t necessarily need to pray to “God” if that doesn’t resonate with your Soul, so choose a name or form that deeply speaks to you.
Soul Work Encourages the Mind to Be Open and Receptive
Ultimately, Soul work is about forging a bridge back to Spirit by means of silence, stillness, and surrender.
“But if the ego is the source of our suffering, doesn’t Soul work reinforce that illusory sense of ‘me’ that is trying to achieve something?” one might point out.
My answer to this question comes from spiritual teacher Dorothy Hunt, who writes,
Nothing you do can create enlightenment.
Then why are there spiritual practices?
To encourage your mind to be open and
still long enough to receive Truth’s gift.
Indeed, awakening to Spirit, to Presence, to our Divine Home only comes as a gift of grace – it doesn’t come through any effort of the ego at all. But Soul work can make us more receptive to that gift by redirecting our attention back to Source.
If, through any form of Soul work, we are blessed with the gift of grace to see into our True Nature, we will come to see what spiritual teacher Unmani describes so eloquently about Love:
They say that Love is blind. I disagree. Love is Truth – absolutely all-seeing, absolutely aware and conscious knowing. Noticing all that is. I am speaking of the Love which is who you really are. This is the ‘You’ who is aware of all that happens, and yet is never affected by what happens. Love that loves itself despite it all. Love has no name. No shape. No form or even a feeling. Love is unbound by condition, space or time. Love never cares what is next or why things happen. Love is always fresh and new. It is free – Freedom itself. But Love is also annihilation. Love is the end of ‘me.’
I welcome any of your thoughts or personal discoveries in the comments!
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