The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.
~ Marcus Aurelius
Color brightens our soul. We need this kaleidoscope now more than ever and, yet currently, it feels much harder to paint beyond the shadows.
For months, I’ve been nudging clients to plan ahead for the holidays and winter season, knowing that this particular year will be harder than any we’ve known before. I’ve felt the responsibility of propping people up—bolstering them to sustain through a dark and heavy era of our lives. Although I have seen and heard some horrendous stories of tragedy and trauma in my thirty-one years in health care, I have never witnessed the Soul Health “branches” of so many shaken in such an astounding and overwhelming way. Not a single branch—physical, psychological, social, interpersonal, intellectual/occupational, financial, environmental, sexual, spiritual, and recreational—have been left untouched by our current circumstances.
I’m generally a very positive person—an eternal optimist. I tend to see the positive even in the most negative of times. I see the cup half full when it might be half empty. I look for the silver lining and create one if it is not already there. I push through when all barriers seem too high and sneak under when the bar is held incredibly low. I do my best to stay afloat when the boat of life has sprung way too many leaks. I am stubborn, if not resilient and strong.
But I must admit, my boat just about sank a few weeks ago. I felt like I was taking on water far faster than I could bail out and I did not know how long it would be until I dunked completely under. I don’t take this metaphor lightly because I’m not a great swimmer, preferring land to the unpredictable depths below me.
It was the week after the election and with that uncertainty mostly out of the way, the focus of client concerns returned to the pandemic. The virus was once again sweeping the country and clients were feeling very much swept away with the current. Along with COVID stress, life was taking its toll in many ways—serious health concerns, loss of loved ones, marital separations, job losses, loss of beloved pets, concern for a peaceful transfer of presidential power, and more were the topics of conversation. Because so many have been struggling, I gave up my usual time for writing, business tasks, and even some of my otherwise protected “downtime” to create more space for clients.
Now, many know that my motto is to work hard and play hard—I am committed to my own self and soul-care in order to stay aligned so I can continue to do my work. Although I watch little television, I do enjoy the show The Good Doctor—a TV drama written about a surgical resident who is navigating his training as an individual with autism. I saw that the season premiere had recorded on my DVR and became excited to watch it at the end of that week. I was exhausted and emotionally spent when I sat down to enjoy the show, but soon realized that the writers could not ignore the reality of COVID-19. They wrote the entire script to address the pandemic and the impact on all the character’s lives. I understand why they did this and know it would have been inappropriate and irresponsible not to. But still, watching a favorite show was supposed to be my respite—my own break from reality for even just an hour.
It was too much. I literally sat on the couch and wept, saying out loud that it was all just way too much. I cried, feeling that the thing I had been looking forward to all week was also invaded by the virus—a television show meant for entertainment was now also branded with the tragedy of the pandemic. I had heard about it all day, every day for months and now I was hearing about it at night during my time to recharge. The world seemed even darker than it had and this time the color had completely faded away.
The human condition deals with some exceedingly difficult blows. That IS the human condition. We all have times when it is just “too much” and most of us are feeling this right now. Unfortunately, we are likely at the beginning of a time when the lights will dim even further and many will watch the colors fade around them, leaving us deplete of even the slightest hue.
But our soul screams for us to act when things get bad. Our inner ally pushes and pulls, tugs, and even shoves us to respond in a way that will help us to survive. It wants to live regardless of the dismal circumstances the human condition may present. In times that are void of color and light, we are asked to pick up our brush and apply at least the faintest of strokes to start to repaint our portrait of life.
My job and mission has always been to assist others in coloring their lives—instilling the will to take action to create a more radiant life. As methodic as a paint by number set might seem, we sometimes must choose to apply one shade at a time until a new image takes shape. Just like life, itself, soul health will look different when this pandemic is over. We may not have control of the virus yet, but we do have some control over how we paint our way out of this difficult situation. Hopefully, we will look longer and harder at what enriches our lives, applying new and deeper colors to emphasize not only the meaning but also the power of life.
I use the word “radiance” often in my work. To me, it is the feeling we experience when we actively work to align our lives. It includes the satisfaction that comes with knowing ourselves enough to seek what we need to both survive and thrive, as well as the ability to savor the outcome. Without radiance, there is no color. Without color, there is no life. And our souls need us to proactively bring ourselves to life to overcome the challenges of the human condition.
How can you color your life in such a troubling and dark time? Here are just a few suggestions:
- Find gratitude in the uniqueness of everyday life. Look for the unusual and unexpected marvel at the contrast this creates in our otherwise ritualized daily routine.
- Create some novelty. Do things differently—take a new route to the store, do your morning routine backward, sleep on the opposite side of the bed (or upside down!) or wear goofy socks with your suit. Intentionally make the “usual” less so and adds curiosity and delight to our day.
- Break out in song at the most unexpected times. Hop from room to room or dance your way to the laundry room whenever the buzzer goes off. Break out the wooden spoons on pots and pans in the kitchen and do not forget to applaud yourself afterward. Humor and joy boost serotonin quicker than any other natural—and synthetic action. Use it to your advantage.
- Agree upon a code word when someone in your house seems to need a boost. Simply say it to remind that person to do something to make them smile. (Aardvark is a good one— a favorite choice from a couple I worked with years ago.)
- Literally, color your way to a brighter mood. Grab some markers—or better yet, finger paints and choose only the cheeriest of colors. The psychology of color is used everywhere in marketing to stimulate positive feelings and nudge you to feel joy as you make a purchase. Instead of spending a ton of money, pull out the rainbow and paint your way to a healthier mood.
- Hum, sing or make ANY sound that feels right at the time—grunts and groans included. Emphasize it, make it loud, and let it out. Sound expression has been a proven stress reliever for decades.
- Surround yourself with flowers or other bright items that warm your heart and soul. Positive visual cues can stimulate the part of the brain that releases our “happy chemicals”, bringing light to the cloudiest of days.
- Roll around on the floor with your dog or cat. Acting like a kid again can reduce stress almost immediately, leaving both you and your critters in a happier and healthier state. (Do not forget that our furry friends absorb our moods… so do it for them as well!)
While some of these suggestions may sound silly, you must remember that our soul’s most natural state is joy. When we invite joy in and make space for it, it is almost impossible to feel our world is falling apart. When we access and allow ourselves to be joyful, our souls sing which allows our human condition to ease and heal.
Painter, Wassily Kandinsky, said, “Color is a power that directly influences the soul”. He and all great artists know that color evokes emotion and when we “paint” our lives with the brightest colors, the heaviness of the human condition melts away.
Let’s make a commitment to color our souls more vibrantly so we create a more radiant and aligned world!
The world needs your prismatic soul.
~Amy Leigh Mercree