Soul Business

(Originally published in the Chicago Tribune on 12/6/99)

Every decade seems to have a buzzword that captures the essence of the state of American culture at that point in time. The 60’s were about change, the 70’s were about peace, the 80’s were about greed. And the 90’s were about soul.

I’m not talking about soul in the religious sense. I’ve always thought of that kind of soul as a sort of invisible armor that surrounds the body and floats up to heaven as soon as your body has done its job on earth.

The soul of the 90’s is of the chicken soup variety. The Mars and Venus variety. The meditations for daily life variety. The Oprah-inspired Change Your Life variety. We can live our lives in simple abundance but have something more.

My soul is trying to tell me something though. My soul is asking me if I really need to buy another book of daily meditations, another calendar of uplifting quotes, another day book of inspirational cheer leading guaranteed to fulfill needs I didn’t even know I had.

I have begun to be skeptical. What started as a sweet trend toward self-discovery and self-improvement has now escalated into a full-scale assault on our individual and collective psyches. If we are not in touch with our inner child, if we are not charting and journaling our dreams, fears and pain (in specially purchased journals and day books), we are clearly not leading fulfilled lives full of growth and spiritualism.

I realized that my own soul was rebelling against embracing the light, when I picked up the latest in a deluge of books meant to inspire and uplift. If only I could follow each day’s perky yet soulful meditation, I too could lead a fulfilled life.

It seemed almost too easy.
Spoil yourself by buying yourself flowers. I tried that one, but I didn’t fool myself. I knew the flowers were from me, and it depressed me that no one else had thought to send me flowers. Major bummer.
Light candles and use scented oils when you take a bath. The last time I took a bath, my children interrupted me a total of 236 times, and I fantasized about submerging myself under the water until I passed out. Then they would all be sorry.
Make someone’s day. Tell them they did a good job. I tried that with the cashier at the supermarket. I said, “You skillfully rang up my entire order without overcharging me for a single item. Good job!” She popped her gum on one side of her mouth and reached for the security call button.
Write to a relative who caused you pain in your childhood, and tell them you forgive them. That one was easy: Dear Mom…
Every morning look in the mirror and visualize your dreams coming true. Say your
dream out loud several times. “I will look like Cindy Crawford by this weekend. I will look like Cindy Crawford by this weekend.”
Celebrate your authentic style. Think to yourself, “No one else would wear these sagging sweat pants and spit-up stained t-shirt! I can wear them soulfully, and people will only see my inner beauty.”
As you spend the day cleaning, and picking up other people’s clutter think of how you are creating a haven for your family in your home. I’m not sure how peeling used dental floss off the bathroom floor equates to creating a soulful ambiance for family togetherness, but I’m trying to keep a positive attitude. Really, I am.
Use aromatherapy to feel like a new woman. A scented facial or body massage, or diffusing your home with the fragrance of essential oils will transform you. But what about the science experiment that’s been sitting on the kitchen counter for four weeks? You know, the one that involves the chemical changes encountered when eggs soak in vinegar over a long time period? And trust me, an infusion of lavender is not going to compete well with the omnipresent odor of teenage boys’ socks.

The quest for soul is nothing new; a hundred years ago Emile Coue inscribed the formula of his faith cure on his sanitarium wall, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” The 90’s version of soul searching and healing simply mirror pop culture – we watch television and turn too earnestly to its celebrities to tell us what we need to lead more fulfilling lives. Let’s meditate for a while on why we do that.

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