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,

Ollin

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25 comments on “Becoming The Caretaker Of Your Soul

  1. Victoria says:

    Ollin: What you write is so true…to be the caretaker of one’s soul is the key to fully living. Being a mother taught me what care taking really meant. I put my child first above all else. But what I realize I needed then and now is a balance: to not only care for others but to care for myself as well. So in this empty nest phase I am learning to finally mother my inner child, my soul as you so aptly put it. And writing is definitely connected to all the other parts of a life. Thanks for writing the words I needed to read this morning. Much love back to you, Victoria

    • Ollin says:

      Thank you Victoria. I’ve learned that parents have such incredible wisdom to share us single people. What you do is challenging and important and does much to mature a person, I think.

      That’s why when Stephen said that it really moved me and made me think about my own relationship to my inner child. I’m glad it helped today. You’re welcome.

  2. Conor Ebbs says:

    Hey Ollin,

    This really resonates with me. I, too, have chosen to ignore the signs, too many times.

    I have spent the last few years recovering from the damage.

    I am a much more worthy caretaker now, but I still have much to learn. Don’t we always.🙂

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and wisdom.

    Conor

  3. Lisa says:

    Olin, I can relate to so much of this post. Just the phrase” I am the caretaker of my soul” is a powerful reminder to listen and pause. Thanks very much.

    • Ollin says:

      Yes, it was a big revelation for me and I knew I just HAD to share it with my readers even if risk coming out sounding sort of cheesy. But it is true, adults often forget our great, sacred responsibility to ourselves. We must take care of this soul while we are here. It is in our hands and waiting for us to listen and give it attention and respect its needs.

  4. Ollin, this is such an inspiring post. So many wonderful insights! I love the idea of the caretaker not going away but shifting from parents to you. One of my mentors once told me that I was, not child-ISH but child-LIKE and that I should never lose that. It really reminded my of everything you (and John O’Donahue) said here. We do have to nurture our inner selves, because everything we do is related to who we are. Nothing is out of step with another.

  5. […] From Ollin Morales: “Becoming the Caretaker of Your Soul” 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… Read More […]

  6. hannahkarena says:

    Enjoyed the post and the insight.

  7. This is a beautiful post, Ollin . I often have difficulty with being my own caretaker, and it’s something I’ve had to work at. It’s very true that we so often neglect taking care of anything beyond our very basic needs, but in recognizing that we need more than just the bare minimum, we’re also allowing ourselves an opportunity to learn how to get something more that can enrich us, and I think that’s a worthwhile goal.

    • Ollin says:

      It’s very difficult for all of us. But I think the first step is acknowledging what a great responsibility we have to our soul. You are right, it is a very worthwhile goal. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  8. krpooler says:

    Dear Ollin,

    This is such a brave and powerful post. I agree,we can’t take care of others until we take care of our own needs first. I don’t know why that is so hard to do but it is so important. You have conveyed this in such a genuine and heartfelt way,showing us how to write from your soul, Thank you, as always ,for sharing your journey in such a thought-provoking,insightful way🙂

    Kathy

  9. clarbojahn says:

    Yes, we must all take responsibility for ourselves now that we are grown. It is part of a parents job to teach her children how to do this. Also it is the responsibility of the parent to teach one how to care for oneself, emotionally, spiritually and physically. It is interesting that you call your inner child , ‘your soul’. Many would disagree. Many would define the soul with spiritual definitions,as I do. My inner child is another entity entirely. Both need to be fed. Both need care. But they are not one and the same.

    • Ollin says:

      That’s an interesting perspective. Yes, you are right, most would agree with you. In fact, most, if not all, would be entirely unfamiliar with the idea of saying that your inner child is also your soul. This is a new concept I am introducing. It’s really the way I am beginning to see it. Because children really wear their souls on their sleeves, that’s why you might call them “spirited” most of the time. But as we grow I think our soul gets caked over with rust, so we become less our souls, and consequently less like children, who are not afraid to follow their soul. If that makes sense. Sometimes I introduce something I’ve never talked about before because the idea has already been fleshed out in my mind, but yes, you’re right I need to explain that more. I’ll do that later, and I’m certainly there are many who will disagree, but I am simply sharing what it is I see. I don’t mind if others disagree, in fact I welcome it!

      • clarbojahn says:

        I believe we are all Spirit all One. We are stuck with these bodies that keep us in the state of thinking we are separated. And separated from God when in fact we not. We are all God’s child.
        Yes, children wear their souls on their sleeve. But that’s not why they are spirited. They are spirited because they haven’t been ruined by society yet and they have a lot of energy.
        We could all do with listening to children because they are honest if allowed to be.
        Thank you for sharing.

        • Ollin says:

          You know I actually think we are saying the exact same thing. Just in different ways. What do you know, I agree with what you say.

  10. Jesus said to love your neighbour as you love yourself, which means that yes, you DO have to love yourself!

  11. Christina says:

    Great post Ollin:)

    It really proved what they say: that you can’t take care of and be good for those around you unless you’re good to yourself first.

    I also think that if we keep ignoring our soul we take it out on everyone around us, especially the people we love, and that hurts even more.

  12. I love this post, Ollin. I grew up with such nurturing parents who continue to support me in so many ways that it really showed me at an early age how important that sort of attention is to ourselves…it lets us be vulnerable and protects that vulnerability, yet also infuses a sense of security that strengthens us to overcome what can make us weak. I’m very in tune with my inner child and happy watching over it as it plays on the swings or falls and skins its knee.🙂

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