The hidden work of the soul
It’s 11:00am on a foggy Friday morning, the kind of morning that feels like it could be any time of any day in any season. I’m sitting on a couch, two feet from a teddy bear, wrapping up tissues, digging through my purse, and bracing for the transition from the cozy confines of my therapist’s office to the streets of San Francisco. I’ve scarcely begun to process the session, and already I’m thinking about meetings and emails.
I pull out my card and she swipes for a payment.
“I just wanted you to know,” she says with so much kindness and so much care, “that you have some mascara under your eyes.”
“Thank you,” I tell her. “I would have walked out like that.”
“I’ve got your back,” she says. And I think yes, she does.
I stop by the bathroom and look in the mirror, expecting the usual smudges that happen most weeks I sit on this couch and listen to my soul as it talks to itself. Instead what I see when I check my reflection are patches of black sediment settled under each eye, inverted triangles from lash line to cheek.
I’m not ashamed of the tear stains—the undoing of my efforts to make myself up—but I am struck by the work that they show. It is some of the hardest I’ve ever done, and sometimes I think it’d be ok to let that leak out in public.
The work of the soul is so sacred and so tender that we don’t often disclose when we’ve taken it up. We keep it inside, we schedule in secret. By day we are stable and getting life right, then we moonlight as someone who’s falling apart, sorting the pieces, and trying to put them together again.
I get the impulse to hide. Really, I do. But sometimes it seems unfortunate that our emotional lives are so easily concealed. They aren’t out there in the open, like a bandage or bruise, a cast or a set of crutches, all of which trigger an instinct to care.
We more easily hide the wounds of our hearts. We keep them from the public. Sometimes we flat out deny them. Aside from puffy eyes or freshly-spilled tears, there’s no easy way to spot when a spirit is limping or a soul has been shattered. The internal fissures that so many carry stay secret and silent, but the bodies still suffer.
What would it look like if our emotional pain were made manifest? What if we coughed or sneezed each time our trauma was triggered? Lost our voices from anxiety? Ran fevers of shame? Might it send out the message that we’re longing to share? That something is wrong and we can’t fix it on our own. We want to be seen, but we’re scared to show up. We’re embarrassed, upset, or just plain exhausted by the task of holding our hearts.
Maybe then we might find that we’re not so alone, that we’re knit in a network of human connection where there is kindness enough to help hold the pieces.