“What does it mean to you to live a good life?”
Earlier this year, Jonathan Fields posed that question to me. It’s the very last question he asks his guests on his Good Life Project podcast.
I’d forgotten entirely that he would be asking me that question, and I hadn’t given any thought to what my answer would be. So in the moment he asked it, I had to stop and consider, “Hmm, what do I think makes “a good life”?
When I repeated the question back to myself, I heard an answer, fully formed, right away.
But I didn’t want to say it. I knew that the words I’d just heard in my mind weren’t very palatable or understandable.
I wanted my answer to be something like, “A life of loving and being loved,” or “A life of serving others while being true to oneself” — a definition everyone could agree upon and admire, something just mainstream enough yet just countercultural enough to be cool.
I considered giving one of those substitute replies, but of course, I did not.
I said what was in my head.
“A good life is a life in which your soul learns what it came here to learn.”
I know. It’s a bit opaque. It is disturbingly free of words like love or freedom or abundance or fulfillment or pleasure or connection. That’s what’s troubling about it, and what’s radical about it.
A good life is a life in which your soul learns what it came here to learn.
That is the deepest “good life” truth for me; that the real good life goes beyond the personality’s experience of ease and difficulty, wins and losses.
What I want to propose to you today is that there are two rooms in the house of your life, and in each of them a different play goes on.
In one room, there is the play of your ego. In this play there are things you hope for and want, and you celebrate when you get them or worry or complain or try harder when you don’t. There are events you deem positive and events you deem negative, often according to a rather narrow story of what’s supposed to happen, or our collective norms around what good and bad events of life are.
In the other room, it is as if a different set of characters are experiencing the same drama. They experience the same plot events of your life, but these entities experience it through the lens of the soul. In that room, it’s not about things being positive or negative. It’s not about wins or losses. It’s about the lessons being learned. It’s about the core questions being wrestled with. It’s about the polarities (self/other, order/chaos, active/receptive), being danced between, the balancing points between them being sought.
An example from my own life. A few weeks ago, I learned that, for some unpredictable logistical reasons, my carefully crafted childcare plan for the coming months was not going to work out. I was upset. I had my vision of what was supposed to be. I had my plan, people! And of course I had my beliefs about why the plan, as it was, was very important for myself and my family.
From my ego’s perspective, I had a problem.
A few days into worrying and complaining and holding this as a problem, I asked myself, “What if I look at this from the soul perspective?”
The ego experience of worry and “I don’t like this!” didn’t go away, but I could see a second view of the situation: that this particular problem was really forcing me deeper into questions of my mother vs. writer identity, of self vs. other, of consistency vs. change – questions my soul was already grappling with and is clearly here to grapple with this lifetime.
Remarkably, when I considered each other person involved in the situation, I could see how it, for them too, it was providing a kind of intensive curriculum in just the core issues I already knew them to be grappling with in this life time.
And when I think of the greatest tragedy in my life – a painful, ongoing issue – from the ego perspective, I’m filled with frustration and pain. When I think about it from the soul perspective, I feel all that it is teaching me about compassion, acceptance and the costs of fear.
When we touch into the soul-room of the house and see the drama being played out there, the oddest thing happens.
We experience the difficult in our lives without the feelings of difficulty, even if just for a moment.
There is a gorgeous neutrality that the soul offers, instead of our comfort and discomfort. That doesn’t make it all easy and smooth. The soul’s territory is one of wrestling, of layering and layering on experience to turn it into wisdom. That is gritty, rough, dense work.
But asking ourselves to see any situation from the soul’s perspective takes us out of the shallow story of life as a series of triumphs and misfortunes. It takes us into the richly dimensioned helix of experience, through which life teaches us the most important lessons our soul is here to learn.
You know you’ve tapped into the soul perspective when:
- you see the connection between the experience and the big questions you have been grappling with for long time
- you see the learning and growth purpose of the experience
- you feel some distance on the pain and pleasure the experience is bringing you
- you feel a sense of mystery, larger picture, and even the sense of being loved through the experience – even if it’s difficult
How to see the experience from the soul perspective? Start by asking the question, “What does this situation look like from the soul perspective?” or “What does this have to do with what my soul is here to learn?” See what comes.