How Your Soul Dies

It had been too long since I’d last had a fire.

The next morning the smell of wood-smoke on my shirt stopped me in my tracks.

I didn’t wash that shirt for weeks.

After watching Avatar for the first time, I was racked with cravings for the feral life.

I wanted to drink blood from a horn, to let my body grime over with grease and gore.

The ancient Japanese in the Last Samurai and their lives rich in rock, fire, iron, and wood got me the same way.

You don’t sell your soul in some Faustian bargain.

You bleed it out slow, one sterile, plastic, right-angled day at a time.

You try to jump-start it with nostalgia.

You look back to your golden years, when you were a god.

You look back to that time you trekked through Nepal, or the summer you lived out of your pickup truck, broke, tan, and happy.

You look back and think “God to be single again.”

But that’s not it.

It’s not the large commitments you’ve accepted, but the small ones you’ve shirked.

Remember how simple it all is:

Music. Put on headphones, lose yourself. Drift into sleep with the sounds of the masters in your ears.

Writing. Dust off your journal. Write down your theories, your could-be futures, your unhinged rants.

Outside. Unplug everything. Walk a mile in the dark. Build an unreasonably large bonfire.

Poetry. Put the business book down. Try some Buber or Whitman or Ted Hughes instead.

Conversation. Ring up the best conversationalist you know and take him to lunch. Light each other’s minds on fucking fire.

You know this.

So why did you stop?

You have a wife? You have kids? You have the busiest, shittiest job on the planet?

Who gives a fuck.

Abandon your health, and your body will fail you.

Abandon your SOUL, and it will grind you into dust, destroying all meaning until you are lost in ways you cannot imagine.

It’s not hard.

No need to take some month-long “find yourself” trip to India.

Stack enough of these simple little twenty minute things together, and that will do just fine.

A hike in the woods, a run in the rain, a fuck in the grass.

All that’s at stake is everything.


  1. very poignant…and well…. to late perhaps for most….
    it started that journey 40 or 50 years ago when i read a similar poem in a groovy book called
    “i am a sensation”….the poem in the book was called “school”…..not sure what it was about it exactly though it touch and resonated something and set the journey in motion
    but the fact that the author who was perhaps “This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you” Vincent a song
    by Don McLean….took his life,,,,,,, well any way….it seems you’re in the process of buying back your life…its a tough go …good luck …wish i could spare at few bucks but well the secret to that…seems to be “doing without’

  2. “Abandon your SOUL, and it will grind you into dust, destroying all meaning until you are lost in ways you cannot imagine.”
    So true, and you don’t even know what is happening to you. It is like a dark storm that is creeping up on you that you try to outrun but just can’t seem to find the strength.


  3. Thank you so much for this. Some excellent points and advice.

    Amazing that you mentioned Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass is the book of poetry that set me on fire. His poetry is so rapturous and honest and celebrates life and the earth and mankind unlike any other poet I have read.

    “I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
    And what I assume you shall assume,
    For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

    “I resist any thing better than my own diversity,
    Breathe the air but leave plenty after me,
    And am not stuck up, and am in my place.”

    “Whoever denies me it shall not trouble me,
    Whoever accepts me he or she shall be blessed and shall bless me.”

    That’s good stuff right there. I also take as many moments as possible to be outside, in nature, and take big gulps of wildness whenever possible: walking and running barefoot, hiking, camping, swimming in the river, climbing a tree, getting dirty, using all my senses to absorb life. And I do all this without shirking my responsibilities at work or losing sight of my priorities as a husband and father.

  4. Krista Leonard says

    I truly enjoyed this whole piece! Its not a wake up call to read this stuff we live this every day feeling all these things sometimes even feeling like were sinking way deeper then can even be explained. I liked when he stated: “Conversation. ring up the best conversationalist you know take him out to lunch. Light each others minds on fucking fire!” Its one of the more possible positives in this piece and its great to hear some one besides yourself talk it really is and to listen and respond its a great thing weather the conversation is gone sour/ deeply true or hilariously funny. I could read this over and over its was very cool to me.
    thanks for sharing that.

  5. Mickey Smith Jr says

    Wow! Great piece to read and exactly what I needed to hear in my life right now. I continue to look for the great big “answer” to make things easier. Taking vacations to get away only yet needing more time after the vacation to recooperate because it was stressful hype. I’ve tried the “stay-cations” and they actually work better for me. I’ve even asked the wife to escape with friends and set the kids up with their friends so I can have a “King in his Castle” moment alone at home. After a few hours I’m over it and start missing the family , calling them back to be with me. The best part of the piece is striking up a conversation with that person you know who sets your mind on fire….iron sharpens iron and when you have that person who can share that conversation fire with you those moments are the most satisfying. Great reflection of how sometimes the simplest of things are the best things in life.

  6. Oh… my… goodness. I am sitting on my front steps, escaping from a maddening marital situation, and performed a web search using the terms and phrase “ground to dust” and “poetry” (while waiting for the tune “Peace of Mind” by Boston to load on my phone) and came across this piece. What timing. Thank you.

  7. Why does the old warrior live? His sword is sheathed but it is HIS sword that walked thru the war to the few who survived to the end of the battles. Asked his time in Service to be included or not for benefits. What are the benefits of war? Injured and removed from his platoon, he re-enlisted for Navy Corpsman to return to his combat unit older, and was sett off by himself re-titled as “DOC” to care for 2-platoons from the loss of the only other Corpsman. For the next 9-months, Doc carried and buried the young and brave to get them home to the life they should have had. When one was lost, he took it as his failure and carried another arrow or anger in his soul. Doc is old now, old and faceless who lives alone asking himself the daily question, “why does the old warrior live” _ when being the best was not good enough for himself now.

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