Meeting the Soul's Needs

Practice of the Week
Meeting the Soul's Needs

Category: Ecospiritual. These practices are oriented toward developing our spirituality through our connection with our planet home and our responsibility to care for it.

Living sustainably and healthily, meeting needs of body, soul, and the Earth, doesn’t come naturally to us. We crave fat and salt, for instance. Our ancestors needed this craving to keep them motivated to seek out fat and salt, but today we face health risks from overconsumption of fat and salt. We must rely on the softwiring of conscious decision to override evolution’s hardwiring.

We are also hardwired for spirituality, and various parts of the brain are unusually active – while other parts are unusually quiet -- during heightened states of meditation or prayer. Wanting to connect to something greater than oneself is as natural as craving salt.

The trouble is that just as junk food makes a liability of our food desires, so our culture turns our psychological and spiritual propensities into lifestyles that are unhealthy for us and for the Earth. When we substitute hours of watching “reality” TV (which rarely resembles any functional reality) for genuine relationships and community, we’re left isolated and lonely. When consumerism dominates and our strategies of self-worth have more to do with possessions than with generosity and service, we suffer – and the Earth suffers as we extract resources to meet our demands. Consumerism and media overload are junk food for the spirit, and just as unhealthy.

The needs of bodily, spiritual, and planetary wellbeing intersect in what Chellis Glendinning calls the Primal Matrix ("the state of a healthy, wholly functioning psyche in full-bodied participation with a healthy, wholly functioning Earth"). When we struggle to keep up with an ever faster pace of activity, never pausing to gaze at a sunset or daydream in the shade of a favorite tree, our soul languishes. We lose our connection to the Primal Matrix.

Just as we must consciously choose to eat well and exercise to meet our body’s needs, we also must choose to meet our soul’s needs, and make changes that move us toward a spiritually healthier, more soulful way of life.

Meeting the needs of our souls primarily involves relationships with our inner selves, each other, and the ecology in which “we live and move and have our being.” Yet we are so removed from our Primal Matrix of physical, spiritual, and ecological health that for most of us, rediscovering and reintegrating it requires significant effort.

A thousand different demands pull on us in all directions, and its easy to allow those who matter most to slip further down on our priorities. We need to place clear boundaries on our time and energy to protect what really matters. Prioritizing relationships with the people who are most important to us may involve something as simple as eating dinner as a family more often – or something as major as downsizing to a less expensive home. A simpler lifestyle both improves interpersonal connections and helps heal the Earth through reduced consumption and less strain on natural resources. Spending a family night at home hanging out and eating a home-cooked, locally-sourced meal instead of grabbing fast food and heading to the mall for some recreational shopping prioritizes those we love by feeding them better food and spending time together, supports local farmers, and saves energy. Such choices swim against the dominant cultural stream. Making them takes effort.

Set aside time to look deeply at your own life, and honestly consider what makes you happy. This requires regular, ongoing introspection, which further swims against the dominant cultural stream. Step back. Take time-outs. Breathe. Each day spend some being still and quiet, some time journaling, and some time with spiritual texts.

Caring for the Earth is a part of the Primal Matrix of well-being. “Ecobonding” (a term from psychotherapist Howard Clinebell) heals and transforms not only our human lives but the Earth. Your relationship with your planet and with her plants, animals, soil, water, and air must be grounded in the local. It requires consciously spending time in natural surroundings near you, allowing the Earth to become a sustaining, nurturing presence for you. It also means making lifestyle choices that help preserve and heal the Earth.


1. Cloud Watching. On a sunny day, leave behind all electronic devices, find a place with an unobstructed view of the sky, spread out a blanket, and spend at least a half hour daydreaming and staring at clouds.

2. Small Change. Adopt one new Earth-friendly habit. Maybe hang out your laundry on sunny days, or taking a ceramic mug to meetings instead of using the styrofoam cups. Make it simple, but make it stick. Whenever you engage in your new habit, take a moment and pause to think about how you are connected to the Earth and all its systems.

3. Touchstone Connections. Place a small object, such as a polished stone or seashell, into your pocket or change purse every day. Whenever you reach into your pocket or purse and see or touch the object, ask yourself the simple question: What does my soul need right now? Do this for one week, then reflect in your journal on the answers that emerged.

Group Activities

Downsizing Potlatch. Have group members donate items they no longer need or want, and offer them free to the wider community. Look into the “Buy Nothing Project” (buynothingproject.org) for ideas how.

Questions for Group Conversation:
  • What is your psychological or spiritual equivalent of junk food Does it adequately meet your needs or not?
  • What is your favorite place in nature? Why is it your favorite?
  • How can you make lifestyle changes that help create space and time for meeting your soul’s needs? What needs to change? What is fine as it is?
  • What makes you truly and deeply happy? Can you make more room in your life for this?
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