Becoming The Caretaker Of Your Soul

Becoming The Caretaker Of Your Soul

This post is a part of an ongoing series entitled MIP {Man In Progress}After my 25th Birthday I decided to improve three aspects of my life: my physical well-being, my writing career, and my romantic relationships. My philosophy is that a writer’s work and his life are irrevocably intertwined and in order to improve one we inevitably have to improve the other.

I have never been more delighted to know someone I never met than John O’ Donahue. He was an Irish poet and philosopher who passed away in 2008. It’s a shame he left this earth without more people knowing who he was.

It might have occurred to you that the people I tend to quote at the top of my blog posts are the people whose books I am reading at the moment. But if I were to quote every single insight I gained from John O’Donahue, I would literally have to replicate his entire book right here for you.

But I’m not going to do that.

The Mind, Body and Spirit As One

What I will say is this:  in coming to understand my soul, as John O’Donahue explains it, I have come to a deeper understanding of my romantic relationships, my career choices, and yes, my body–and how each of these three is deeply connected to the elements of my soul.

You see, the mind, body, spirit, heart connection isn’t a “connection” at all. It is all very much one thing–and trying to separate these various parts of you is like trying to untangle your arteries from your muscles, then trying to tear your muscles away from your skin, then trying to tell that skin not to hug a single person for the rest of its life. It is impossible to do all of that without severely damaging a very fluid, interdependent relationship between your mind, body, spirit, community, and heart.

Truly, the way we live our lives deeply affects our writing–with an intense, almost jarring immediacy. 

The Role of “Caretaker” Never Vanishes

The best way I can explain my recent revelation is to ask you to think about your childhood.

From childhood to your teens, there was someone who was your caretaker. Either two parents, or one parent, or a foster parent–someone was there for you, someone you could not have made it this far without. No child can make it on their own alone. It is impossible (at least not with some serious repercussions later in life.) An adult must serve as a caretaker for this child until they grow to adulthood.

You had a caretaker for all, or most, of your teenage years. Then at 18 (unfortunately, maybe for some it was earlier than that) your caretakers ceased to be your caretakers. They left you alone, to be an adult.

As an adult you rebelled at all the rules given to by your caretakers growing up. You slept late, ate badly, you dated whoever you wanted to without anyone warning you against them, you made friends with all the wrong people, sometimes you even made bad choices that you knew were bad choices but you did them in the name of your newfound “freedom” and “independence.”

Today, society seems to agree that after a child reaches this period of adulthood, the role of the caretaker is lost, and is no longer necessary.

I am finding that this is not the case.

No, the truth is that when we finally become adults, the role of the caretaker does not just disappear into thin air, no the responsibility of the caretaker is transferred from your parents over to you.

That’s right. It is you that must take care of–what psychologists call–the little child still within you who still needs absolute love, care, and attention in this increasingly isolated and cold world. By responsibility to this inner child, I don’t mean showing up to work on time and doing the dishes. I mean it is your responsibility to listen deeply to this inner child, respect it, and most importantly, put it first before anything else.

Neglecting My Role As The Caretaker of My Soul

Recently, Stephen Watkins, a writer and a father, talked to you about how he balanced fatherhood and writing. As I read his heartwarming article along with you, I was instantly touched with a revelation: Stephen concluded his article by saying that no matter what a parent’s responsibilities are, their child must always comes first. This is the primary role of a caretaker. Putting the child first.

I have no children, but I was still struck by this idea–I thought:  had I put my child first? My inner child? When that inner child desperatley needed my attention, my care, did I ignore it and tell it I was too busy? Did I let my inner child starve for affection, attention, and validation and go hungry? Did I put my writing first, and put this poor, spiritually starving child last?

I didn’t know the answer, which to me probably meant the answer was yes. I did not perform my duties as the caretaker of my inner child. I had not, in the past, put my inner child first.

Psychologists may call it your inner child, but I believe John O’Donahue would simply call it your soul. Which I believe is a better word for it.

My parents had nourished this soul and gave it all the care and attention they could, but once I had grown into an adult, and once my parents transferred over the responsibility of caretaking to me, I proceeded to neglect that responsibility.

I neglected my responsibility to my soul, for instance, by putting myself in romantic relationships which I knew were bad for me. At the core of my soul I knew these romantic relationships would end badly, that I would hurt someone, or that this someone would end up hurting me.

The same happened in my career choices: for instance, after college I started the process of becoming a high school teacher, when in my soul I knew that this was just not the right path for me. I hated it and knew that my soul would do all that was in its power to wrench me away from that situation–and in fact it did just that.

Then, the same happened in relation to my body: when I didn’t do any physical activity for days, my soul would throw tantrums that would send me reeling. On the surface I seemed to not know what was going on. But my soul knew. I just didn’t care to give it any attention. I had not been accountable to my soul. 

Why You Are The Caretaker of Your Soul

When we became adults, we are given a great, sacred responsiblity. That responsibility is to take very delicate, loving care of our souls. We are given the task of making sure we tend to this soul like a garden, by giving it our loving attention often.

Never mind if this all sounds cheesy or too “new agey”–it’s the truth.

In fact, I had no doubt of this truth when I laid down to rest recently and had this mysterious urge to imagine all of the painful situations I had gone through in my life.

I began to wash my eyes over all my inner wounds.

At each wound I tried to recall if my soul had sent me a warning flag right before I had fallen into the wound. Had my soul beckoned me long before the wound had come, and told me to act in our best interest before it was too late?

As my eyes washed over every single wound, I found that yes, every time, this was true. My soul had told me to leave, or to change, or to take care of myself. My soul had beckoned me each time, and each time I had not listened to it, only to regret it later on when I would fall into another wound trap.

Our soul beckons us. It speaks to us. The challenge is listening. The challenge is listening.

Our task, as our contemporary wisdom teachers tell us, is to give our soul our loving attention every day. We must remember how to be the caretakers of our own souls.

Have Patience

But we must be patient in this process. Part of this loving attention is giving our soul the reward of patience. We must take on the wisdom of a sunrise, which always takes its time appearing on the horizon so that the beauty of the breaking dawn can last a little longer.

Remembering and honoring our role as the caretaker of our own souls may take us years, decades, centuries even. We will be met with much resistance by others, but most of all, by ourselves.

But each new day we must try a little. Just a little is enough.

Each forward movement, even if it is a half an inch thick, will move a mountain in your writing and in your life. And maybe at the end of it all, you will see that mountain at the other end of the valley from where you first saw it, and then you can let out a delicious sigh and say:

“I did it. I finally remembered how to be the caretaker of my own soul.”

much loving attention,


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Categories: MIP (Man in Progress)