I’ve been hosting SoulBodyMind Salons in my home, and the most recent session was centered on the theme of “Soul-Care”. I always start each of the sessions with a story or image that grounds the group in the journey we are about to take that evening. I had easily come up with stories and images for the body and the mind – ones that I had heard from my own teachers as I gathered knowledge in these areas.
But the soul – no one had ever talked to me directly about the soul before. This was the first time I would be attempting to ask the question, “What is the soul?” in front of a group.
I am simply fascinated by the phenomenon of soul, because everyone can relate to the word, although in a totally unique way. It’s a bit like the word "music". Ask anyone from any culture and any time period, "What is music?", and they know what it is. However, listen to the music from any culture and any time period and you will get wildly different experiences and sounds.
I was walking around my house, dusting the wood floor, pushing chairs in different directions, thinking about this question of “What is the soul?” and how I would explain this in a brief introduction, without either getting lost in philosophy or oversimplifying.
Naturally, I picked up the nearest object and began thinking of ways to incorporate it as a visual aid.
That object was a can of tomatoes. I had just gone to the grocery store and this one hadn’t make it back in the cabinet yet.
It still hasn’t.
When I looked at the can, I began to see how it could be the perfect tool to illustrate what the soul is.
I started the evening by holding the can up, and asking the group, “What is this?”.
They kind of looked at me strangely, as if to say, “Of course it’s a CAN! Is this a trick question? What could this possibly have to do with SoulBodyMind?” Some of them leaned in and squinted, as if to try to read the label.
Aha! Reading labels is one way we figure out what something is.
“OK”, I continued. “So what if you couldn’t read? Or if you’d never seen a tomato before? What would this label, with the red picture of a tomato ripening on the vine, and the words, ‘Organic Diced Tomatoes,’ mean to you then? How would you explain to someone what was in the can if they had never seen or encountered a tomato before?”
Chins tilted back and eyes blinked in reflection.
“And even with words,” I went on, “we can talk about what’s inside the can, based on our concepts and our past experiences of tomatoes and our predictions of what tomatoes are supposed to be like. But we actually can’t speak accurately to what is exactly inside this particular can without opening it up.”
“In order to open it up, what would we need?” I asked the group.
There was silence again, as if I were administering some kind of secret intelligence screening test.
“Um, a can opener?” one of them offered, sheepishly.
“OK, a tool! Good! We would need a tool of some kind to get through the impermeable surface of the can.” I tapped the metal walls for additional dramatic effect.
“So to really accurately say what is inside this particular can,” I offered, “we would need to go beyond the labels, beyond our memories and concepts and past experiences and predictions. We would need to access the right tool to get through the hard container and to get to the actual contents of the can. And then we would need to taste these tomatoes. And smell them and look at them of course. But if we're really honest, tasting is the only true experience of those tomatoes.”
And as I looked around and saw heads nodding, I added that our taste is a very personal and private experience. We can’t truly convey that experience to anyone else, even though it is undeniable that we are experiencing something very vivid that permeates our entire being. We can put words to it, but when another person hears those words, it conjures up what it conjures up inside them, which may be something completely different from what I experienced in the moment of my tasting.
Now we were ready to start experiencing “The Art of Soul-Care.”
Your soul is the tomatoes.
It’s a soft and squishy and boldly flavorful place inside this hard and seemingly impenetrable container that we call our body. We develop this outer shell that is seen by the world. We have labels attached to us, roles that we play, descriptions that refer to other people’s experience of us or our memories of ourselves or our expectations of what those words mean about us. But all those words and labels only point to what’s inside. They are not the same thing as tasting the tomatoes.
We can open up the can with the right tools. And then others might be able to taste our particular tomatoes. But what they taste and what we taste are our own experiences – all valid but also, quite possibly, completely different. We have no way to actually taste what another person tastes. The words we choose to name the taste might be similar to or completely different from someone else's words. But we each experience a taste nonetheless.
The point is to get a taste. Go beyond the labels, get the tools to penetrate the closed container, and taste for yourself.
You can tell other people about it, but don’t get too caught up in comparing your description of the taste with other people’s description of theirs. Learn to trust what you are really tasting. Learn to observe when you are only seeing a label, or trying to get inside a metal can without a can opener.
That’s what a can of tomatoes taught me about the soul.