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Soul Food

Fara Choi Ashimoto
Headington Institute, 2012.


Knowing what we truly value in life, and why, is one important piece of the puzzle of active spirituality. But being actively spiritual is not just all about thinking. We can intellectualize our spirituality by focusing exclusively on how we interpret and understand issues of meaning and purpose, but the richest experience of spirituality is more than that; it is also feeling whole, alive, joyful, and connected with something beyond ourselves. It is not necessarily feeling like this all the time – that’s probably impossible – but it is having some heart in your experience of spirituality, not just all head.

What do I mean by “having some heart in your spirituality”? I mean experiencing soul food by feeling and sensing it. I mean being nourished and moved – being refreshed, renewed, or reoriented. This sort of soul food can be especially important for humanitarian workers who have jobs that simultaneously feel meaningful and satisfyingly purposeful, but also overwhelming, emotionally exhausting, and spiritually challenging.

It’s hard to define exactly what activities or experiences constitute soul food, because it varies from person to person. We all think, react, and respond somewhat differently, and will be fed and refreshed by different disciplines and experiences. But, in general: soul food is in line with our deepest sense of meaning and purpose, and tends to connect with us in ways that inspire or move us beyond simple appreciation of the action or the object.

So what do you generally experience as soul food, and how do you experience it? Some soul food can nourish without demanding too much. Along these lines people commonly cite spending time outdoors, reading inspirational books or poetry, listening to music, viewing a piece of art that resonates, or hearing a great speaker. Some soul food or spiritual practices, however, can be experienced as renewing and demanding at the same time. Common examples might be meditation, prayer, journaling, reflecting on your values, being a part of a small group focused on spiritual study, discussing issues of meaning and purpose with others, and undertaking creative disciplines such as painting, composing, writing, or dancing.


  • Do you generally have more “head” or “heart” in your spirituality?
  • What is something specific that makes you feel engaged, refreshed, renewed, or revitalized (e.g., a quote, a verse, a picture, or something that you think about, do, or notice)?
  • What do you generally experience as soul food, and how do you experience it?
  • What helps make/sustain you at your best? How has that changed over time for you?

Adapted by Fara Choi Ashimoto from our Peace by Piece series on spirituality written by Lisa McKay.

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