Filet of Soul

First published in WNC Woman Magazine Relationship Issue

Borscht isn’t what springs to mind when you think of soul food, but borscht was on the table the first time someone sliced right through his heart and offered up a sliver of soul for me to savor. As a muscle, the lean tissue of the heart is one of the most nourishing meats, Whether sautéed on your plate or fed to you morsel by morsel in a spicy conversation. Interestingly, at Earthfare they sell heart pre-wrapped and stocked in the freezer where they store the marrow-rich bones and other nutritive cuts people use for dog food, but I digress…

 As with other muscles, the heart strengthens the more it is used, and is tenderized depending on how it is used. But life’s essence is below even that. To speak from the heart’s surface fibers can feel like meaty conversation—at first, but to refuse to scrape into the deep just scabs over the outer casing like armor. Those deeper layers feel so soft that they bruise under too much pressure. But to stop self-excavation here is like showing yourself in masquerade, nestling behind a plaque-lined artery that creates a convenient barrier to what lies beneath. The juicy meat of the heart is in its center, and within that, in the heart’s hidden marrow, behind its last desperate defenses, is the tender core of soul.  

Prior to this meeting in a Russian café over borscht and skunky Russian beer, no one had cut through to soul and offered it to me in an invitation to an intimacy that reached deeper than the coupling of bodies, beneath the range of any vocabulary, to the wild open field that Rumi speak of; the field beyond the boundaries of right and wrong, good and evil, and the endless minutiae of judgments that stifle the brave bearing of soul.

I’m not sure that he even knew he was doing it, offering the most delicate part of himself to me. We hadn’t known each other long, and were “just friends”, as if friends, or even strangers, can’t be more intimate than some lovers. He had been freshly pulverized by loss, so maybe that savory filet was the only part of him unbattered in that moment, and he craved a way to rediscover, or perhaps discover for the first time, the unscarred being beneath the straw facade that life had burned away. That’s the thing about soul, when you keep it buried within, safe from the risk of judgment or ridicule or rejection, you hide it from even yourself.

Truly, I didn’t know what to do with this sudden morsel. Was I supposed to admire the freshly cut flesh before me? Season it and take a bite? Was there etiquette? Luckily, in the absence of a rote protocol, everything I’d learned about decorum collapsed, and a deeper knowing rose up in its place. I let the moist filet of his soul breathe in the open air for a bit, admiring the cleanness of the slice and the courage it took to cut it loose—the soul may be the most resilient of organs, but to carve to it requires you to be nakedly, achingly vulnerable. I breathed in the tang of it; it was surprisingly sweet, with a pungent infusion of hickory smoke, and a loamy earthiness that reminded me of bare feet sinking into freshly turned soil. I sampled a bit, and let the flavors dissolve through me. Then in what seemed the most natural next step and stabbed further into my heart than I ever had and offered back a filet of my own.

I won’t tell you what we shared beyond the borscht and beer and samplings of soul, but we sat there for hours, two young twenty-somethings fumbling for footholds as we wandered beyond the walled boundary that defined the common themes in our upbringings, into the sun-splashed wilderness of Rumi’s field. There, beyond the accusing fingers pointed at who you were that you weren’t supposed to be, or what you’ve done that you weren’t supposed to do, we found the solace of simply being in presence—of soul, of one another, of life. Free to explore the raw mystery of this new terrain. From time to time we slipped into the slow dance of writing back and forth when spoken words were too slippery or too fast to hold onto. At times we lapsed into silence, the intuitive language of soul, where we basked in the vastness of Rumi’s field, awed by the pulsing stillness that connected us to each other, and, it seemed, to everything else.

At the end of that leisurely feast, I felt as if I had been initiated, but I had no idea what. The experience left behind an elusive aroma of soul, that hazy, bubbly radiance that breathes from the silence within the heart—every heart, though is spoken from aloud by precious few. Luckily, once you have connected with someone from the soul, it acts like a touchstone. For years I reached back into this experience to remind me of the flavors, the smells, the texture of that communion. But like a nibble on an empty stomach, that taste left me hungry for more.

Stepping back from Rumi’s field at the end of that mea; shocked me with the abrupt loss of that depth of connection and left a sudden cavern that I had no idea how to fill. It was as if cutting myself open in that innocent exploration had left a Promethean wound. No matter how much I tried to heal it with noise, with food, with the busy-ness of life, it just opened back up again, a gaping hole aching to be filled.

What I wanted, but had no paradigm for it, was to live my life from Rumi’s field, from the depths below even the heart. But you can’t just follow the plot points on a map to get there, nor can you follow the footprints of someone whose been there. Everyone’s way there is their own. You can’t even follow in your own footsteps because the route for each visit is different. The way to that field is to cut to the quick of your soul, to slice into your vulnerability, and offer it up in invitation to another, the way my friend offered himself up in invitation to me. As much as the way to the field is a solo journey into the shadows of your mystery, and the great mystery, we arrive there in twos and threes and sometimes more.

In recent years, I’ve found other people who have been longing for this way of living, too. It’s easier these days to meet people there, to set out lawn chairs and lounge intertwined in the silence, or spread out a blanket for a rousing picnic in this field. I’ve found friends who I’m there with even if we never talk about it directly and friends who I can’t have a ten-second conversation with before they are dragging me over to look at some glorious flower bud or another that they found there. I’ve been there in short exchanges with people in the grocery store line or when walking past them at the beach, and in a brief and teary-eyed handclasp with a man I stood with at the hospital whose wife had relapsed into cancer. Opportunities, if you are open to them, are everywhere. But it does take that first fearless filet served up from your soul.

You never know who will take you there, or what it will look like when you arrive. It’s different each time in the way that a forest changes each moment, and yet you know when you’re in it that you’re in the same forest you’d visited before. All I know is that in that space beyond limitation, beyond judgment, beyond even words, Rumi is waiting for you. And if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll meet you there, too.

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Kristine Madera

About Kristine

Pushing the edges of my consciousness has been my passion for as long as I can remember. This has flowed me into writing, podcasting, and becoming a hypnotherapist to help others push past limiting perceptions and expand their awareness and possibilities, too. Welcome to my world. Thanks for visiting!