Why are we here?
I think I’ve asked that question a thousand times.
And it’s only recently that I’ve started to get an answer.
The difference isn’t that life’s suddenly easier or simpler, it’s that I’ve learned how to start listening to my soul and how to separate psychological white noise from true spiritual guidance.
How to listen to your soul: 10 steps to discover what you really want
The truth is that your soul is always trying to communicate something to you.
Sometimes it’s just telling you to relax and take it easy.
Other times it’s guiding you on a path to your life mission in relationships or career. Your soul has a unique and quiet way of speaking and sometimes it comes to you with a message when you least expect it.
But if you want to be ready you need to set your transmitter on the right setting so that you can pick up and understand the transmission that your soul is trying to send you.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to listen to your soul and know what it’s trying to tell you.
1) Be still
The first step if you want to know how to listen to your soul is to be still.
In our busy modern lives, we’re often on the run, and even when we sit for a moment we whip out our cell phones or tablets.
You want to get up and rake leaves, check the mail, go to the gym, or watch things you shouldn’t be on the computer.
But I’d urge you to chill out for just a moment more…
Relax, don’t do it!
If you can just extend your time out for a little bit you will find that your emotions and thoughts begin to settle down and a communication pathway seems to open up to a deeper layer of yourself.
Spoiler alert: that’s your soul.
Be still can be a matter of literally stilling your body, regulating your breathing, and allowing your mind to be quiet, but most of all it’s a mental and emotional attitude you consciously cultivate.
It’s not always easy to find even five minutes’ time out these days, but one benefit of quarantine – perhaps – is that it’s given lots of us plenty of time to get to know that stranger in the mirror and see what he or she is all about.
The truth is that many of us – myself very much included – don’t know ourselves nearly as well as we think we do. We’re still on an exciting journey of self-discovery and self-exploration, finding our own power and learning to laugh in the face of chaos.
As you still your body and mind, imagine you’re calling an exclusive, silver cutlery restaurant and reserving a table for one right by a beautiful window overlooking the verdant nature outside…
Say to yourself “this time is for me” and then allow the moments to pass without interpretation, analysis, or judgment.
Just be and see what happens. Maybe nothing will happen – at least for a while – but what I can guarantee you is that this time by yourself allowing the quiet moments to pass is perfectly preparing the fertile soil for your soul to emerge from under its hiding place and start communicating with you.
As Brandon Flowers sings in his 2012 song “Be Still:”
One day you’ll leave
Fearlessness on your sleeve
When you’ve come back, tell me what did you see?
2) Put down the device
One of the things I appreciate most in a spiritually-oriented article is when it just cuts to the chase and respects its readers.
That’s why I’m going to say that as soon as you’re done reading this article and want to pick up your soul’s transmission you need to put down your device.
Also look away from your laptop, your computer, your smart TV, your friend’s smartphone, or thinking about what you just saw on one of these devices.
Let your mind empty out a little from these flashy digital friends and the news and social life they beam to us minute-by-minute.
Phones and devices bring us many benefits, and you wouldn’t be reading this without technology, so it’s clearly doing something good in the world.
The thing is, the rapid frequencies and flashing screens of our devices and their light-speed introduction of new words, ideas, and images into our heads don’t leave room for much else.
And in the same way that you do a diet to cleanse your body and lose weight, sometimes we need to do a tech diet to get back to who we really are and get in touch with our soul.
Smartphone and electronic addiction is no joke, it’s a serious problem.
As HelpGuide notes, although computers and other devices can also be problematic it’s cellphones in particular that pose a problem:
“While you can experience impulse-control problems with a laptop or desktop computer, the size and convenience of smartphones and tablets means that we can take them just about anywhere and gratify our compulsions at any time. In fact, most of us are rarely ever more than five feet from our smartphones.
Like the use of drugs and alcohol, they can trigger the release of the brain chemical dopamine and alter your mood. You can also rapidly build up tolerance so that it takes more and more time in front of these screens to derive the same pleasurable reward.
Heavy smartphone use can often be symptomatic of other underlying problems, such as stress, anxiety, depression, or loneliness.”
If at all possible I would urge you to try even a week or two with less phone use. Start by using it less each day and go from there.
Now, I know you may not be the “average American,” but I’m guessing you – and I – are a lot closer than we’d like to think…
Try to bring that number down to 20, and then 10, and then three. You can do it!
So try a tech diet and see what happens…
3) Don’t force it
Our body is surrounded by our lighter energetic bodies including our etheric body.
When you sit and allow yourself to be quiet you may feel uncomfortable emotions like anger, sadness, or confusion.
Don’t force or push these away, they are valuable.
When we deny a part of ourselves we enter into what spiritual teacher Tara Brach calls “the trance of unworthiness.”
As Brach notes:
“Rather than climbing up a ladder seeking perfection, we are unfolding into wholeness. We are not trying to transcend or vanquish the difficult energies that we consider wrong—the fear, shame, jealousy, anger.
This only creates a shadow that fuels our sense of deficiency. Rather, we are learning to turn around and embrace life in all its realness—broken, messy, vivid, alive.”
Let me build on what Brach is saying here if I might.
Any difficult or painful emotions are not unworthy or “bad.”
It’s not like we’re going to go through life undisturbed and unscarred. Even Siddhartha Gautama – the Buddha himself – was deeply disturbed and upset by life before he entered on his path to finding enlightenment and resolving the nature and meaning of pain and suffering.
Your “negative” emotions are no mark against you. They do not make you weak, “flawed” or broken.
They are what you are feeling or thinking at this moment, and experiences or memories that are coming through your etheric and filtering into your mind and emotions.
They are valid parts of your life experiences and methods by which your soul may be communicating, asking for healing, or seeking change.
Should you want to feel like shit? Of course not.
My point is that you can’t get anywhere forward in life or in listening to your soul if you’re trying to force yourself to be happy or push down pain. It’s going to come sooner or later, and you might as well embrace the struggle and validate fully who you are.
Meditation is trendy for a reason: it works!
I particularly recommend this guide on how to meditate effectively as derived from the wisdom of Alan Watts.
The truth is that many of us meditate haphazardly or in an overly controlling way by trying to force it to be “positive” or “without thoughts” in some way.
That’s just not going to happen.
Thoughts come and go like jumping fish in the lake and your control is to choose which of them to engage with and follow down the stream and which to allow to swim on their merry way.
The point of mindfulness and meditative practice isn’t to become some austere guru unbothered by the problems of life, and feeling as serene as a crystalline reservoir that’s lain undisturbed for one thousand years in an idyllic grotto.
The point is to let things be.
The point is to allow space.
The point is to accept and validate negative, positive, and confused emotions, thoughts, or impressions of all kinds and drop the story around them.
If you want your soul to talk to you then you need to prepare your mind to receive real inspiration and learn to tolerate and be less fascinated by the little jumping fish fry in the back of the brain.
They can have fun, and you accept them, but you also have other things to do…
5) Get in your body
It might sound paradoxical, but if you want to really get in touch with your soul you need to first get in your body.
A lot of the confusion and mental struggles we have come from being too disconnected from our physical existence and wrapped up in esoteric, existential labyrinths.
For years I tried to make progress in life mentally and emotionally.
I repeated positive affirmations and positive “self-talk” until I was blue in the face.
I read religious and spiritual texts and meditated deeply on their meaning, brought to tears by their profundity.
Guess what I didn’t do?
I didn’t get out there and run.
I didn’t hit the gym and lift up heavy pieces of metal repeatedly.
I didn’t go out in the garden and dig in the soil until my lungs were filled with the earthy scent of life and I was ready to sleep soundly in bed.
And once I did start doing those things everything began to turn around…
One of the best ways I know to get in your body is shamanic breathwork, and I have been having an incredible experience with the Ybytu breathwork course led by the shaman Rudá Iandê.
As the bridge between our autonomous and somatic systems, the breath is deeply powerful on a physical and spiritual level.
6) Get out in the great outdoors
There is just something about nature that nothing else can match.
Hearing the wind whispering through the pines or the ocean crashing on the shore awakens something ancient in us.
It revives and energizes our soul, which comes out of hiding to share wisdom and healing with us.
There was a trail I used to love walking and biking on in a place I lived several years ago.
I recall the sunlight shining through the trees and warming my face, interspersed with a cool breeze and the chirping of birds.
Sometimes I closed my eyes and let the scents of the forest and its sounds surround my soul.
I was going through an unsure and lonely time in life but something about it boosted me up like crazy. I didn’t need my mind or “intellectual ideas” to tell me there was hope or a purpose to life…
I was seeing it all around me and breathing it in with every breath…
I love the way that Treasure Island writer Robert Louis Stevenson describes the loveliness of the woods and nature when he says that:
“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”
7) Pay attention to what life is asking of you
In many situations, our soul speaks to us through life events.
The key here is to be observant and hold back your ego if possible. Don’t ask so much what you want from life, love, or your vocation: ask what others want.
What are you asked to do day in and day out?
What naturally arises as your “task” or mission most of the time?
Keep in mind that this isn’t always static, but may often encompass recurring skills, empathies, and talents that you are asked to display in particular in various situations.
As psychologist Liz Lane observes:
“If life is a dance, we are all on the dance floor as the orchestra plays. When in a state of flow, we find the rhythm, we become part of the music, we are infused by it and we move within it. When we ask what can life do for us, we become a spectator and remove ourselves from the magic that exists only from within the dance.
Each situation offers opportunity for us to sink deeply into the flow. This includes our moments of joy and suffering. The joys, opportunities and challenges that are right in front of us – define where meaning exists for each of us.”
I like how Lane explains this because she explains really well how to listen to your soul.
Your soul knows who you really are and it isn’t interested in labeling or pigeonholing you.
This isn’t about how you’re “supposed” to be a lawyer or anthropologist. This is about finding your true “soul mission in your day-to-day life and long-term future.
I also love how Soul’s Code author psychologist James Hillman puts it:
“The biography of the soul concerns experience. It seems not to follow the one-way direction of the flow of time, and it is reported best by emotions, dreams, and fantasies … The experiences arising from major dreams, crises, and insights give definition to the personality.
They too have “names” and “dates” like the outer events of case history; they are like boundary stones, which mark out one’s own individual ground. These marks can be less denied than can the outer facts of life, for nationality, marriage, religion, occupation, and even one’s own name can all be altered.”
8) Be honest with yourself
If you want to know how to listen to your soul you have to be prepared to reject all illusions.
Our souls don’t do doublespeak: they can be subtle, cryptic, even upsetting, but they never lie to us or try to mislead us down a wasteful or self-destructive path.
In order to hear what your soul is saying you need to strip away self-delusion, ego, and wishful thinking.
Ironically, even though you want guidance and clarity from your soul for your life, this isn’t really about “you,” at least not you in the egoic sense.
This is about you in the true and deeper sense.
The you that your soul wants to speak to and guide. So in order to hear what your soul is saying you need to allow that part of yourself to be open and unclouded by your egoic wishes or thinking.
Being honest with yourself isn’t about being “moral” or being a “good person.” The best reason to do it is actually quite selfish.
Be honest with yourself so that you can avoid distortion between your true desires and objectives and the reality of your present circumstances.
When we lie to ourselves we set ourselves up for failure. When we tell the truth we pave the way for greatness and flawless execution.
Like Marcus Clarke says:
“Many people abide by the ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ rule. They will be in a relationship that has been dead for years, will take flowers to a colleague in hospital yet they despise him/her, will sing praises to their annoying boss, or will get married just because society says so even when they don’t want to.
All these situations are fake and will have negative effects. You will despise your spouse, hate being married, dislike your colleague or boss, hate your job and most critical you will be destroying your soul.”
Don’t be that guy or gal! Save the fake stuff for fake people.
9) What truly matters to you?
We all adapt our approach to life as we age. Even someone who believes the same religion from the time they’re conscious to the time they die will think, feel and experience life differently as they age and go through different stages of this wild journey.
Change is the only constant you can really rely on.
As martial arts icon Bruce Lee famously advised:
“Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own.”
Change and obstacles will occur no matter how still you stand or how hard you rage against the dying of the light.
But if you don’t want to be buffeted about by this raging current of change and left stranded and confused you need to resolve your priorities.
What truly matters to you?
Strip away the conditioning, the stories, and the illusions and be completely, brutally honest about what’s driving you and whether it’s in accord with your deepest values and convictions.
Are you basically motivated by pleasure, by fear, by seeking outer recognition, by the love of God or humanistic impulses – or are you stumbling on the path and just wish some wise teacher or guru would help you out?
There’s no shame in any of it. Be honest!
10) Listen to what your soul is saying
The last step for how to listen to your soul is going to sound really obvious but it’s actually extremely, crucially important.
If you’ve gone through these pieces of advice and found them useful after a few days or weeks there is one more thing you have to do when it comes to how to listen to your soul.
You have to actually listen to it.
Sometimes that’s harder than it sounds.
Your soul may have told you very clearly that it’s time to set out on a new path, leave an old relationship, study a new subject, switch careers or move to a new place and start a completely different life.
Or your soul may have told you to practice patience and stick with your current place and situation even though it’s hard and making you suffer. Your soul may tell you that you have something valuable to learn and lots of room left to grow in your current predicament.
Both of these types of scenarios can be things we simply don’t want to hear.
That’s why it’s vital to actually listen to what your soul is telling you even if it’s not your first, ego-driven, or desire-driven choice that you’d otherwise make.
I want to add a caveat here, however:
Never listen to what you think is your soul if it tells you to physically or emotionally harm yourself or another person, get revenge, self-harm, or give up on life.
That’s not your soul, it’s your ego looking for a shortcut.
‘I listen to the wind, to the wind of my soul…’
When you listen to your soul your life starts to make a lot more sense.
Notice I didn’t say that your life necessarily gets easier or more fun. But it starts to click…
Those experiences and frustrations that had you hitting your head against the wall suddenly seem to have a lesson in them.
That epic confusion you’ve been feeling over a job, relationship, or personal problem starts to clear up.
Learning to listen to your soul isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it.
As spiritual teacher Caroline Myss advises:
“One of the most beautiful ways to understand the essence of Spiritual Direction is that you enter into a dialogue with the intent of letting your spirit reveal to you the story your are living that is your life. No one is born knowing who they are or what they are meant to do in every moment of their lives.
What we are meant to do is search. We must each find our way and along the way, discover who we are, what we believe, what we value, what holds meaning for us and what does not, how to love and who to love. We are our own mystery.”
Listening to your soul isn’t some magic, cure-all button. It’s more like a giant searchlight that suddenly illuminates what used to terrify and mesmerize you with confusion.
You don’t necessarily “feel fine” it’s more so that you begin to feel you’ve been giving a nice, clear map when formerly you were scrambling in the dark with a broken flashlight.
The storm begins to clear and the tempests of life no longer terrify you quite the same way.
Those who know how to listen to their soul are still fully human, flawed, and incomplete like all the rest of us: it’s just that they have a guiding anchor that never lets them down even in the worst of times.
They trust their soul and its wise counsel even during moments of crisis and they keep moving forward in a symbiotic relationship knowing that their deeper life source is feeding them insights, energy, and hope directly from the cosmos to guide and comfort them.