The Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius said,
“Nowhere can a person find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.”
Now, I like the idea of having my own private, personal retreat—even though I’m often too busy or too distracted to go for a visit. But what is “soul” anyway?
A group was asked what words or images they associated with the word “soul” and they suggested words like: inner, peace, tranquility, garden, sunrise, wisdom, joy, innocence, honesty, timeless, etc.
That’s helpful. We can think of “soul” as simply a handle for that deep inner part of ourselves, maybe the better, higher part of ourselves. In Lincoln’s words, “the better angels of our nature.”
But I think we still wonder…how do we access that deep inner part of ourselves in a way that is relevant, helpful, and truly enriching to everyday life with all of its noise and busyness? What would that look like?
Here’s an idea I like, and it comes from 2700 years ago—from the man who had the greatest influence on Chinese thought and culture for 2,000 years: Confucius.
Confucius suggested the image of the ideal host or hostess as a kind of paradigm for daily life.
He said we are all hosts or hostesses in life: we welcome people, problems and experiences into our presence every day. He taught his students to move through their days as an ideal hostess moves through a party:
The ideal hostess moves through the room alert, attentive, thoughtful. Because she is in touch with her inner self, she flows out to each person and is fully present with each one she meets. The great and the small get her equal attention and respect. Because she is at ease, she puts each one at ease. She deals with any problems that arise calmly and wisely, plans thoughtfully to make sure needs are met, and spreads genuine joy wherever she goes. She is the calm, tranquil eye at the center of the swirling storm of activity. Because she forgets about herself and forgets about trying to impress others, she makes the greatest impression of all. She doesn’t have to be the center of attention; indeed, she is the one who is always paying attention to others, and to the flow of life itself.
Not a bad image for everyday life, is it?
It’s an image of the soul in action.