FAT SOUL, HAPPY SOUL
(A Little Soul-Fattening Exercise)
Patricia Adams Farmer
HOW BIG IS YOUR SOUL?
“Happiness.” That word, that singular word made up of three scintillating syllables, entices us every time we hear it or read it or think it. Even if we are sad or cynical or, even worse, confirmed happiness atheists, we still yearn for it, don’t we? Are we to pursue happiness for ourselves? Is that selfish? Delusional? It can be. But I believe there is something noble—even beautiful—in the pursuit, something process thinkers like myself can embrace, especially when we think big, as in what I like to call the “fat soul " after the famous process theologian Bernard Loomer, who is said to have peppered his public lectures with the the question, "How big is your soul?"
What is a fat soul? A fat soul is a beautiful soul, a resilient soul, a never-quite-full soul because it continually indulges in delicious things like fresh ideas, empathy, curiosity, listening, gratitude, and generosity of spirit. These are fat words because they hang over the belt of our personal space and connect us to the world, to many worlds—big and small and far away worlds. “Fat soul” connects us to the deepness and wideness of life itself. In this way, the fat soul helps us discover the meaning of Beauty (with a capital “B”), the meaning of life.
MAKING ROOM FOR A LITTLE IRONY
This is Big Happiness, something quite apart from our usual notions of happiness, for this kind of happiness can even—must, even—include sadness. For a soul that has not been shattered by loss has never experienced the depth of a meaningful relationship or the poignancy of beauty: a small soul, indeed. And in this world of constant change—of “perpetual perishing”—the soul needs to be very wide and very deep and very resilient to embrace all that sadness. So, a fat soul knows sorrow and confusion and anger at injustice and moments of despair. Inside a fat soul, there is room for such things that make up a meaningful life, a truly happy life.
Another note of subtle irony about the fat soul is this: despite its largesse, it has boundaries—integrity, if you will. So you don’t embrace everything indiscriminately; sometimes you have to say no to a thought, an idea, a person—but even in that, you can do it with kindness; not a violent pushing away, but a letting go, a gentle release of that which does not engender beauty. For a fat soul is not a chaotic free-for-all, but a soul in search of intense harmony.
This means that you have to apply the same generosity of spirit that you offer others to your own soul—taking care of yourself, acknowledging your own pain, and treating yourself with big helpings of loving kindness from time to time. Without this ability to indulge in loving kindness towards yourself, happiness will elude you, and everyone around you will be a little less happy, too.
A DELICIOUSLY FATTENING TWO-LAYER EXERCISE
Meditating on this idea, I envisioned a little mental exercise for fattening the soul in a way that protects the vulnerable self, enhances feelings of well-being, and then—without even trying—contagiously overflows into the world. It all starts inside, with an inner plumpness. Try this exercise when you’re feeling unhappy or angry or sad—or even better, as a daily spiritual practice to keep your soul plumped up and ready for those slings and arrows of everyday life, which, when they hit a fat soul, might just bounce off—or at least not sting quite so much.
One: A Layer of Loving Kindness. Acknowledge that there is, within your soul or psyche, a suffering and vulnerable “child”—insecure, fearful, frightened, sad, lost, confused. Or maybe your suffering child is presently throwing a tantrum, as you are feeling angry, jealous, greedy, lustful, envious, or even filled with murderous rage—and that’s just your relatively tame conscious self. Not a pretty picture, but there it is. We are all sinners, as the Bible says. We are all suffering as Buddhism says. Whatever religious or spiritual tradition we inhabit, we are reminded that we are painfully flawed. Some of us could use more contemplation along these lines. But others of us who tend to obsess over our flaws need to work towards acceptance of our imperfect selves and find liberation through forgiveness and affirmation. As Jay McDaniel says, “Some people need to say ‘I have sinned’ and others need to say ‘I am beautiful.’ Most of us need to say "I have sinned and I am beautiful.’"
So, for the first part of this mental exercise, think of that vulnerable part of your soul and imagine a soft, fat layer of loving kindness gently surrounding the pain. I particularly like Thich Nhat Hanh’s “suffering child” meditation and practice it when my own inner child begins acting out or screaming bloody murder. He suggests that we try to evoke an image of ourselves at the age of five or six, what we looked liked then. You might think of your first school picture and see yourself as you were then, right down to the shiny freckles and missing front teeth.
“Breathing in, I see myself as a suffering child.
Breathing out, I care for myself as a suffering child.”
You can add words of affirmation, too, such as “Even though I am imperfect (or angry or sad), I deeply and completely love and accept myself.” For some, a line of poetry or scripture can help. After a few calming breaths of this suffering child meditation, you will begin to feel yourself relax into that warm, expansive layer of loving kindness that protects and nurtures your best self. Like me, you might find it helpful to think about God in process-relational terms, the Soul of the world encircling your suffering child with divine empathy, that “fellow-sufferer who understands” (Whitehead). I like this personal view of God as found in both my faith and in Whitehead’s philosophy, yet it may not be for everyone. But for me, the sense of what Whitehead calls the “poet of the world” encircling me with loving kindness enhances my experience of beauty and causes my soul to inflate with joy.
Two: Adding Girth with Gratitude. Once you acknowledge your vulnerable self and are fattened up with that warm, encircling layer of loving kindness, then you move to the really fun part of this exercise, the most fattening part. Here is where you fatten up exponentially, because this part of the exercise allows you to indulge in gratitude as if it were chocolate cake or scones with clotted cream. It’s okay to indulge, for gratitude expands the soul as nothing else can. Begin visualizing and naming the things you feel grateful for—the sky, the sea, the birds, the people you love, the joy of work well-done, a poem, a work of art, a joke, a laugh, a beloved pet, a kind word, a cup of tea—you can imagine your spirit inflating to gigantean proportions with every fresh naming.
Now, being a philosopher above all things, I cannot let this gratitude experience pass unexamined, so indulge me a little further. If you take apart the things that make your heart soar, or stimulate a feeling of well-being—the things that make you, well, happy—you will find something really interesting. You will discover that the things you are looking at, envisioning, or naming in your gratitude exercise are not things at all, but rather experiences of beauty. It’s not the cup of tea in itself for which I am grateful. It is the moment when the fragrance of the steaming tea wafting from a paper-thin china cup co-mingles with the stimulating book I’m reading, or the comfortable conversation I’m having with a friend. It’s the moment, the becoming, the experience unfolding—the confluence of things that creates a sense of intense harmony in my soul. This brings us back full circle to the notion that a fat soul is, above all, a beautiful soul, a soul drench in beautiful becomings, a soul that lives for beautiful moments, a soul that glides along the corridors of the universe with a God whose yearning for beauty trumps all other desires of the divine heart.
FAT SOUL, HAPPY SOUL
This intentional expansion of the spirit through loving kindness and gratitude inevitably results in a profound sense of well-being. It might be what we call happiness, but it is what the philosopher Whitehead calls beauty. You are now more in touch with not only the most painful part of yourself, but also with the most beautiful part of yourself, creating an intense harmonious moment in time. Your expanding soul feels more deeply connected to the expanding universe—to the very Soul of the universe—and so descends upon your soul that peace “which passes all understanding.”
After this little exercise, you can now afford to be generous with others because you have so much. Even if you are a skinny person, you are big inside. You are HUGE. You are a walking balloon. If you don’t give some of your gratitude and love away, you might burst! In fact, you do burst. With every becoming moment, you are bursting something fresh into the world that wasn’t there before. Your inner fatness adds another layer of beauty to the world. You will find yourself less sensitive to the criticisms of others, less angry, less depressed by circumstances. And it’s all because you have allowed yourself a little self-indulgence into the healing realm of a fat soul, a happy soul—a beautiful pursuit, indeed.
LEARN MORE ABOUT "FAT SOUL" HERE: Six Characteristics of Fat Soul: An Overview, What is Fat Soul Philosophy?, Fat Soul Theology: Developing a Theology with Big Hips, Kurt Vonnegut and Patricia Adams Farmer, Crazier than Hell: A Whiteheadian Appreciation of Shamanism
Patricia Adams Farmer is an essayist and novelist in the tradition of process theology. She is the author of Embracing a Beautiful God and the Fat Soul Philosophy Novel Series (The Metaphor Maker and Fat Soul Fridays). She and her husband, Ron Farmer, live and write on the central coast of Ecuador. Other JJB essays include: The Quaking and Breaking of Everything, The Numinosity of Rocks, Replanting Yourself in Beauty, What is Fat Soul Philosophy?, When Things Fall Apart, Help! I'm an Introvert in an Extrovert World, A Lovely Luminosity: Why Process Thought Inspires Me, The Beauty of Imperfection, and The Art of Savoring
Visit her website at patriciaadamsfarmer.com.
Visit her website at patriciaadamsfarmer.com.