top of page
  • Dr. Shelly Harrell

What Is Soulfulness?

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”


I offer soulfulness as an orientation to meditation and other contemplative practices (like journaling, creative expression, deep listening, & conscious movement) that centers contact with “soul”. We know soul when we experience it, but it is hard to define.

Well, I think soul is certainly a feeling that is transmitted in one way or another...

It’s something that’s very empathetic—and it’s deep. Soul is deep.

-Aretha Franklin

What is a soul? It's like electricity - we don't really know what it is,

but it's a force that can light a room.

-Ray Charles

Psychological, spiritual, and cultural perspectives on soul converge in many ways and point towards the following as characterizing "soul".

  • An experience of depth, a deeply felt sensing

  • Authenticity and “realness”

  • A source of truth, wisdom, and knowing

  • A sense of aliveness, an inner liberation, being “moved” from within

  • A source of strength and resilience

  • An inner resource for healing and refuge

  • A source of inspiration (e.g., for creative expression, for action in the world)

  • A reminder of our own humanity and our connection to the humanity of others

  • A profound sense of resonance and connection with shared lived experience (personal and cultural)

  • An experience of our transcendent interconnectedness with humanity, nature, spirit

  • Our deepest core where our humanness and spiritness meet

I conceptualize soulfulness as a quality of experiencing life in a deeply connected and connecting way, an enlivened inner attunement that illuminates authentic lived experience and radiates into outer expression. It is an “interconnected aliveness” that is often experienced as a resonating, liberating, life-enhancing, spiritually-infused energy of deep connectivity and inspired expression.

Culture is part of the soul.

~Duran, Firehammer, & Gonzalez

In my own lived experience and cultural context growing up in Detroit in the 1960s, soul resonates powerfully-- soul music, soul sister/brother, soul food, soul power. Soul both brings me home and sets me free. The development of soulfulness is infused with themes emerging from diasporic African cultural influences and inspired by an African American cultural sensibility. These themes include an ethos of interconnectedness, a relational/communal sensibility, the centrality of spirituality, a holistic orientation to human experience, emotional expressiveness, creativity and improvisation, resilience and overcoming adversity, and struggles for liberation in the context of historical and ongoing dehumanization and oppression.

Through processes that strengthen a sense of being “energized within”, soulfulness practices aim to enhance inner attunement, invite contact and connection with the experience of soulfulness, and deepen resonance with the soulfulness of others. Soulfulness practices honor a feeling-level knowingness and include a variety of methods for reconnecting with one’s authenticity and truth, for listening to the stirrings and callings of soul and whisperings of soul wisdom, and for being deeply touched, “moved”, and inspired through soul-level experiencing. Soulfulness invites experiential awareness through the door of "soul" and utilizes music, poetry, meditation, and other contemplative practices to touch the place of soul-level experiencing.

A Soulfulness Approach to Meditation

Take a day to heal from the lies you've told yourself and the ones that have been told to you.

-Maya Angelou

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

-James Baldwin

Connecting to soulful experiencing is connecting to the truth and essence of something. "You have to see it to free it" is my soulfulness meditation chant. I emphasize and center the idea of “meditation for liberation”, with experiential, relational, and collective emancipation underlying all soulfulness practices offered.

A soulfulness orientation to meditation and other contemplative practices is grounded in the knowledge that soulful experiencing is a resource for healing. A holistic approach to healing, informed by diasporic African wisdom, must include attention to soul. Through contacting, illuminating, and listening to soul-level experiencing, meditation can be a link to deep wisdom and embodied truths, a source of joy and communion, a door into enhanced awareness, an opening for spiritual and transcendent connection, and a source of resistance to racism and intersectional oppression.

My conceptualization of soulfulness offers it as both an expression of, and path to liberation– experientially, relationally, spiritually, and collectively. A soulfulness approach to meditation aims to facilitate seeing beneath and beyond the illusion and lies of oppression. As a liberated and liberating process, soulfulness meditation is about unshackling and unchaining, breaking free from what holds us back, holds us down, or imprisons us (including ways that we hold ourselves back and keep ourselves imprisoned). It is about seeing what we are chained to and entangled with so that we can be clear that we are more than our conditions or circumstances, know the truth of our own beauty and brilliance, connect to ancestral wisdom and the cultural strengths deep within, and access the energy within to participate in the liberation of our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls. Taking the "sacred pause" that meditation provides creates space to restore, reconnect, and realign with our highest truths so that we can co-create, liberate, and actualize the highest possibilities for ourselves, our communities, and our world.

Here's a link to my 2018 introductory article on soulfulness from The Journal of Contemplative Inquiry. My understanding and thinking continues to evolve as I get experiential and participant feedback from my soulfulness offerings. I will be posting blog articles on different aspects of soulfulness, its development, and its practices. Stay tuned!


bottom of page