The Sifting of Soul Work

Listening to the stirrings from within

Feb 05, 2019

Self-Awareness Personal Growth Soul Personal Development
person holding basket


I’ll be honest. I don’t feel like writing right now. Or doing much of anything, let alone try and be creative. But I committed to writing at least once a week. So I’m here, showing up, despite my inner refusal. I don’t want my art to suffer for the sake of my comfort, or how I feel in this particular moment. The muse doesn’t much care how I feel, or about the events surrounding the time I sit down to write. The only thing the muse cares about — if I may be so bold as to speak on muse’s behalf — is that what once was formless, a mere idea, is shaped into form and brought into existence.

I’m writing this on a Sunday afternoon. This morning, I had eggs and sausage for breakfast, followed by a chocolate almond biscotti. It was delicious and filling. I then went to church with the hubby. You’d think after a morning spent eating a hearty breakfast and taking in the word of God, things that typically fill me up, I would be well-positioned to take on the rest of my day with a positive attitude and a cheerful mood. But something felt off after we left church. And I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Oftentimes God’s word stirs up something in us that at first appears obscure and unsettling. We come to church expecting to be emptied of our worries and stresses and filled with hope and encouragement, and leave satisfied and content. Much like therapy. But more often than not that’s not how either work. We can’t put a finger on it because we’re meant to go deeper. If we figured it out right away, there would be no need to go exploring into the depths of our psyche to discover deeper truths about ourselves, about God, and about life. Truths that will shape the rest of our journey. Maybe the stirring is the first sign post guiding us in the direction we’re supposed to go. The silent alarm going off, trying to wake us up from our spiritual slumber. But we keep hitting the snooze button.

I don’t know what your “snoozing” looks like, but mine takes the form of cleaning, running errands, and shopping. Or spending time in my planner, embellishing it with stickers and washi tape. All harmless and useful tasks, but snoozes nonetheless if I’m using them to avoid figuring out what the stirring is trying to tell me.

Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry — all forms of fear — are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.

— Eckhart Tolle

Too much future. We live in a day and age with an unhealthy focus on “too much future” and “too much past.” A recipe for too much anxiety. And when we are stirred by anything — God’s word, loss, a life-changing experience — it is a call to come back into the present moment. A gentle invitation to be with what is, no matter how unsettling.

I don’t know how to do this any more than the next person. But I’m open to learn. I’m willing to try. Because walking around pissed off for no apparent reason and taking it out on my husband is not very constructive. Because ignoring it is no longer working. And my snoozes have lost their distractive appeal. You could say, my defenses are crumbling. The stirring has grown to a gravid, unwieldy rumble.

Maybe the first step is to listen, hear what it has to say. Nothing keeps knocking continuously on the door of your soul unless it has something important to say. Unless it has a message to deliver.

We are not stirred so that we can receive the green light to keep living life as before; we are stirred in order to be shaken into a new way of living because something isn’t working presently. Something is off.

Part of me just wants to shout, “WHAT? What do you want to tell me? What do you want me to pay attention to?!” I don’t know that that necessarily qualifies as ‘listening,’ but if it’s all I can muster right now, spiritually speaking, it’ll have to do. And so I shout, inwardly of course.

And then comes the waiting. Not for THE answer, but just for AN answer. Anything other than silence. Like I said, unsettling and obscure.

We aren’t very good at waiting anymore. Who wants to wait when there is an app or a service that can get it to us ASAP? What makes it hard is that there is no doing in waiting, and we love doing. We love keeping busy. If waiting came with a “10 Things To Do While Waiting” list, we would be on top of it.

I used to be good at waiting. At sitting silently, listening to the stirrings of my soul. But somewhere down the line, with the introduction of more technology, social media, entering my 30s, and the trials and testing of patience in a typical marriage, I lost my ability to hold space for the “interims” of life. I don’t like admitting that, and yet it’s true. And we can only work with what is true in this moment. Even if it’s ugly, even if we don’t like it. It’s the only soil we have to plant a new seed with.

Often what we are initially called to do is bring to light the things we don’t want to admit. The hard truths we are avoiding about ourselves. This is the sifting of soul work — separating the wanted elements from the unwanted material by shaking out what no longer works. Old habits, behaviors, patterns, addictions, and routines we’ve accumulated over the years that just don’t work anymore and actually cause more harm to us and those around us. I sure have plenty of those.

“Let the sifting begin. Let them fall away.” That’s what I hear the stirring tell me.

Easier said than done, yes? The forcefulness with which we grip onto our old ‘stuff’ and don’t want to let go astounds me. Even when we are faced with clear evidence that these things are no longer good for us, we refuse to surrender them to the ethers. We have claimed them as a part of us and are terrified of having to figure out how to live without them. Because that is what this work comes down to, ultimately — having to change. Much like having to throw out a pair of shoes we have grown comfortable in because they’re worn and wear a brand new pair that needs breaking into. They feel tight at first, constraining. It requires walking in them for a while to feel familiar, where we recognize the fit and go to grab them more habitually than before.

And so I have no choice but to pick up the mesh strainer and begin sifting, and let fall away what needs to fall away. As cherished as these “elements” may be, they no longer have a place in my life.

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

— Rumi

Soul work is honorable work. Whenever we work toward a more loving and kind self, we are not only bettering ourselves, but the world we live in. We are each called to do the sifting work of our own souls. To relinquish the parts of us that do not serve our higher good. It is not unlike Michelangelo’s famous quote, where he says: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Maybe the stirring is the mason’s axe we pick up to begin the process of carving out the treasured being within ourselves. The shavings we leave behind will find a new home, I’m sure. We must keep carving away, sifting away. Because we just can’t afford to hit snooze anymore.