NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

September 21, 2012

Manganiello: The importance of soul

Health and Well-Being
Dr. Jim Manganiello

---- — If we aren’t connected to our soul, our life won’t be happy or satisfying, because it will be made small by fear, self-doubt and hesitation.

Our soul is our real or essential identity. It lies beyond our self-image-based surface identity — a surface identity rooted in fictional assumptions about who we are.

Without a connection to our soul, we’ll live in recurring doubt about who we are, our work and relationships, and what our life means and should be all about. If we live without awareness of our soul’s aims, needs and values, then conflict, confusion, and uncertainty will be our daily burden.

In the morning, we might feel OK about our marriage, our work, and our approach to life, only to have the sands shift by noon. Once they shift, we can feel just as sure that our marriage is a mistake or that we should have left our well-paying, but uninteresting, job to do other more meaningful work.

Then, the next hour or day, we can feel completely different yet again. Our values tend to swing so much that we sometimes can’t be sure of what to believe. We can find ourselves at the mercy of our last state of mind, the last expert we listened to, or the last book we read.

And, if all this wasn’t bad enough, when we’re stuck in our soul-less conditioned self-image, in our “surface identity,” we’ll feel more stressed, anxious, bored and bummed out. As a result, we’ll be more vulnerable to health problems and early death.

Without a connection to our soul, we tend to avoid the risks involved with learning how to do what’s necessary to live a more exciting, creative and rewarding life. Not because we don’t want to. We want a better life, but we doubt that our efforts to create one will be successful, and so we won’t act to discover and create what we truly want.

If we’re stuck at the surface of life, recurring periods of self-doubt, confusion and inner conflict will haunt us. The worry, indecision and resentment that come with these moods will force us to play it safe. We will live like a big corporation that has its worried eyes glued on the short-term bottom line. We’ll miss the big rewards that life can deliver when we live it as a long-term adventure rather than as an occasion to avoid short-term risk.

If we are too hypnotized by our family-based conditioned self-image, then we’ll be trapped in an identity that’s too small for who we truly are. We’re trapped because even if our self-image has little basis, we’ll in fact, think, feel and act in accord with it.

We can connect to our soul and learn to live from there with firm conviction and self-assurance if we can break free from the confines of our conditioned self-image. There is an art and a science to doing this, one that grants the knowledge and tools we need. Deep inner work, including awareness and mindfulness training, are important parts of this art and science.

Without the right knowledge and tools we can take wrong roads. One wrong road popular in our society is to try to escape from this soul problem through neurotic achievement. Those who do this flee from a good deal of self-doubt and insecurity, but just barely. They stay just a step ahead of it, like someone fleeing from a group of angry dogs right behind them. The angry dogs of self-doubt, confusion and uncertainty that come with being stuck at the surface of life can chase many people into a fierce struggle for power, position and wealth. It’s important for us to avoid this seductive struggle because it’s a false path; it doesn’t deliver what it promises.

I’ve worked with many people who fall into this category. They try to reason that great financial success and recognition will conquer their doubt, uncertainty and dissatisfaction. They place huge bets that achieving wealth and power will free them from confusion, disappointment and unhappiness.

They expect that money and power will bring a life of relaxed ease and deep satisfaction.

Our culture tends to reward this kind of effort to medicate fear and self-doubt by seeking certainty outside of oneself. It doesn’t matter how you get to rich and powerful, as long as you get to rich and powerful. But as Lily Tomlin told us — even if we win the rat race — we’re still a rat.

Big-time outside success always markets and promotes itself as a great antidote for our self-doubt and insecurity — but it never turns out to be that. It’s not a good remedy for the problem of being disconnected from who we truly are.

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Dr. Jim Manganiello is a clinical psychologist and diplomate-level medical psychotherapist based in Groveland and West Boxford. He is also an author and teacher focusing on stress, personal growth, meditation and “inner fitness.” His book “Unshakable Certainty” is available on Amazon. Email him at drmanganiello@comcast.net or visit www.drjimmanganiello.com.