When I listen to TED talks, I let the app randomly select ones for me. I’ve stumbled across incredibly inspiring and informative talks this way, many that I’d probably never have selected for myself.
Today I listened to Elizabeth Lesser‘s ‘Say your truths and seek them in others’. Halfway through, I realised that I’d heard it before, but was so enthralled I listened again.
Elizabeth Lesser started her career as a midwife and her talk explains how she used the lessons learned in that field, to guide her in life. She describes how looking into a newborn baby’s eyes, she recognised their ‘soul spark’ – that sense of unapologetic selfhood that made them unique. I love that term – SOUL SPARK.
Elizabeth says she took three life lessons from her midwifery days.
One – uncover your soul
Two – when things get difficult or painful, stay open
Three – every now and then, step off your hamster wheel into deep time
The talk then moves into the emotional account of her sister’s cancer and Elizabeth’s story of donating her bone marrow to try and save her life. It’s worth listening to – find it here.
I like to think I’ve always been keen on self-development, although it has certainly become a near obsession for me lately. Mid-life crisis perhaps?
Elizabeth’s three points really resonated with me.
Uncover your soul
It’s a lofty concept, to discover who you really are deep down before outside messages coerced you into a socially acceptable ‘norm’. I’ve spent many hours pondering, reading, talking about the concept of uncovering your authentic self. Does anyone actually achieve this? I find it almost impossible to decipher which thoughts are genuinely mine and which are a reflection of the culture I was brought up in. When I try to imagine my soul’s purpose or my true-self, I feel I can only form a vision of something I’ve been educated to strive for.
I don’t have any great insight for this one, other than to say that for me, I’ve found working through some of my negative self-beliefs has helped me understand that they weren’t true. They were false thoughts, planted in my head long ago by careless comments, insults and advertising messages. Learning to embrace some of my less than (society’s idealised concept of) perfect attributes, freed up space in my brain to focus on things that brought me joy and a sense of accomplishment. I’m not sure what my soul’s purpose is, but I know what makes me feel good about myself right now and that seems a good place to start.
When things get difficult or painful, stay open
This one has been a challenge for me over the past year or two as I’ve struggled with some heavy issues that could easily have made me close down and shut out the world. I can get into a very dark place at times, taking one tiny moment and escalating it until my brain is so filled with negative noise it feels impossible to climb out of it. I recently heard Samuel Johnson describe it as ‘hornets in his brain’ and that visual felt perfect for me.
Part of my brain recognises that I’m allowing myself to spiral down into false negatives, yet the other part wants to do it so much I can’t resist. I wallow in my misery and almost enjoy it. Fortunately, I’ve learnt techniques to bring myself back and these days it rarely lasts more than a day. This has given me permission to allow the dark moods to take over when it feels too painful to fight it. I feel safe in the knowledge that if I give myself time to feel all the emotions, I will come out the other side cleaner and stronger. Invariably, these dark periods are followed by an incredible sense of gratitude for what I have and a joy for life. I am aware this description sounds like bipolar disorder, which I acknowledge is a much more serious issue than what I deal with. I’m not trying to draw any comparisons.
I’ve learnt to embrace the pain and challenge my negative thoughts, staying open to new possibilities. It has been a defining part of my life in the past few years and has brought me to incredible opportunities. It frequently feels uncomfortable, but it’s worth it.
Every now and then, step off your hamster wheel into deep time
As stated earlier, I can get quite confounded when I try to ponder the eternal question of ‘what is my purpose’. Point number three has helped care a little less about it. In the grand scheme of things, our time on this planet is infinitesimally small. It seems counter-intuitive to spend any of that time worrying about why we exist. We exist; therefore, we should enjoy it. In a perfect world, what you enjoy would be things that don’t harm others, and maybe even make the world a better place.
I am very protective of my personal time these days. I feel no shame or guilt for my self-care rituals, most of which entail taking time to slow down. Long walks, meditation, reading books, naps, visits to the water. Time spent in quiet reflection has never been wasted for me. In fact, those moments are usually the birthplace of all my most creative ideas. It helps me build my self-awareness and self-regulation. Maybe one day, in a moment of appreciating deep time – I’ll uncover my soul spark.