Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dig It

Real truths reach across time and grab you, like this poem written by Saint John of the Cross in the 1500s.

"Dig Here," The Angel Said
She caught me off guard when my soul said to me,
"Have we met?"

So surprised I was to hear her speak like that
I chuckled.

She began to sing a tale: "There was once a hardworking man
who used to worry so much because he could
not feed and clothe his children and
wife the way he wanted.

There was a beautiful little chapel in the village
where the man lived and one day while
he was praying, an angel

The angel said, ‘Follow me.’ And he did out into an ancient forest.
‘Now dig here,’ the angel said. And the man felt strength in
his limbs he had not known since youth and with just
his bare hands he dug deep and found a lost treasure,
and his relationship with the world changed.”

Finding our soul's beauty does that - gives us
tremendous freedom from worry.

"Dig here," the angel said -
"In your soul, in your soul."

There are so many things I love about this poem. Like the way it paints a portrait of the soul as a playful, song-filled nymph waiting patiently for us to give her the time of day as she pelts us with questions like an unrelenting toddler. I have to admit, freedom from worry seems like a slightly unromantic reward for the mystical act of revealing our soul’s beauty. We worry about such mundane things - jobs, money, what others think of us, wrinkles and calories. Maybe the author chose it because when we truly open ourselves up, we realize there is nothing to fear. We carry all we need with us, like some kind of celestial fanny pack. Maybe the mundane is closer to magical than we know; and when we see the sacred in all things, our relationship with the world truly does change.

Author, psychotherapist and soul expert Thomas Moore writes, “’Soul’ is not a thing, but a quality or dimension of experiencing life and ourselves. It has to do with depth, value, relatedness, heart and personal substance.” He also says that cultivating the soul is less about creating a problem-free life, and more about “giving ordinary life the depth and value that comes with soulfulness.” So part of digging around in your soul is finding those things that light you from the inside out – from the perfect cup of coffee to inspiring work, art, music and people who make you smile.

Certainly no offense to St. John, but there are some details missing from his provocative prose. Lifetimes are lived between receiving an angelic instruction to dig and arriving at the point where you see beauty in what you find. It takes courage and perseverance to hike into the ancient forest of our soul and root around with our bare hands. 

As yoga teacher and author Cyndi Lee reminds us, “A lot of bravery is required to open to the many varieties of richness that life offers."

If we are honest, the reason we aren’t so eager to explore deep into our soul is probably because we fear what we might find lurking under the forest floor. Soul treasures seldom come wrapped in neat, shiny packages. Often they are messy, uncomfortable things that require sanding, polishing and squinting before we see their inherent value. The roots of our pain, our self-imposed inadequacies and our fears run deep. In other words, there are bogymen hiding in that ancient forest.

Yoga practice invites us to sit with what we find, meeting sensations and emotions as they arise without labeling or allowing them to hijack us. What if - instead of running like hell – we invite the so-called demons we rile as we dig, to sit with us, have a cup of tea (soothing herbal of course) and get to know them in the warm light of day. After all, they do belong to us. I know this to be true - if you give them a chance, they will explain themselves. You can trace their DNA to a life event that went awry, a thought pattern that took a wild tangent, or maybe they were dropped upon you by someone else. Sometimes we are relay runners who get handed a defective baton without realizing we have the power to drop it (or better yet, transform it) before we pass it on. Searching for the truth, not judging, just being with what you find – these are keys to clear seeing. We may discover those demons we run from are really maligned gurus who can lead us to freedom.

Pema Chodron calls the process of truly being with ourselves “making friends with yourself.” Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it is often the most the most difficult friendship we will ever forge.

For our hero in St. John’s poem, it took praying in a beautiful village chapel to tune in to the angel’s voice. In our culture, being busy is a badge of honor. It’s hard to hear an angel’s voice over the din of our overscheduled, over-stimulated lives. Spending time in nature, in quiet or simply being alone is critical to summon the angelic archeologist who invites us on the dig of our lives. But don’t be lulled into thinking the invitation has to be cordial. Life events, habits, addictions, toxic relationships, restlessness and misadventures of the ego can transform that sweet angel into some kind of sadistic apparition from a Quentin Tarantino film, holding a gun to our head until we dig out of sheer necessity and self preservation to find the truth our life demands.

Under the vast, sparkling shell of the Great Salt Plains in northwest Oklahoma, you can dig for Selenite Crystals. These tea-colored pieces of glass have no monetary value, and aren’t particularly shiny or sparkling. But people come here to dig because it is the only place on earth you will find these gems. And once you start digging, you become enthralled with finding more – washing them off, holding them up to the light and cherishing each one for its uniqueness. So it is with the intangible treasures we uncover in our souls. If we let them, they become the starting point for shining our light into the world.

Renowned yoga teacher Rodney Yee asks if you could hold your heart in your hands, how would you hold it? I would imagine you would cradle it with unimaginable tenderness and awe.

That same question could apply to the way you would hold the riches you uncover groping around in your soul. They are every bit as precious.

Happy digging.

(The photo in this post is my niece digging on the Great Salt Plains.)


  1. I love your blog! I'm passing the link on to my daughter -- I think she'll love it, too.

  2. I would squeeze it tight and jump for joy! Perhaps I need a little more meditation...