The Story of the Shell: The Birth of Soulence


In the spring and early summer of this year, I had found myself involved in a number of speaking engagements.  Some were planned, some impromptu, but all of them shared one theme: voice.  

In my work as a spiritual director, Reiki practitioner, and with women's empowerment, the theme of voice has been a common thread.  Like many women, my voice has been silenced, unheard, or overpowered on numerous occasions and in numerous contexts.  I struggle to say what I want to say, because I know there's a good chance I won't be heard, and/or I'll be met with negative consequences for speaking up and speaking authentically.  

In these recent speaking engagements, however, I had been sharing about the throat chakra, the place where our breath and voice interacts with the world around us.  It's a sacred encounter between “within” and “without.”  There is a lot of vulnerability and a lot of power in this!  Do we dare say what we are really feeling, talk about what impassions us, or name our deepest desires?  What is at stake, and what is to be gained?  Even between and among women, it may not always feel safe.  Every situation warrants its own discernment process.  But there’s also a need to reflect on why we engage.  Do we engage to be safe, or do we engage to transform?

I must pause here and say that, as part of my own struggle to be heard, I realize that I often feel the need to preface things I'm about to say, so that they will be heard and understood rather than judged and dismissed.  I wish this weren’t the case.  And yet, I feel the need to do it for this story.  What I need to explain is that I've struggled with the "name-it-claim-it" theology that comes from white, western, capitalist, patriarchal Christianity.  So I want to be clear that when I connect speaking with Spirit, I am talking about a holy connection and exchange, rather than a dominating claim to power and riches.

Now. On with the story....

Earlier this summer, our family went beach camping with a number of other families.  I love the beach and I could spend endless hours just looking for shells, rocks, and any other ocean treasures that wash up.  This is what I spent a lot of time doing both alone and with the children in our group.  We lingered at the shoreline where most of the treasures were small shells or broken pieces- beautiful nonetheless.  Now and then, we'd wonder out to the sandbar, where the water was calm and clear, and where we found virtually nothing but smooth sand beneath our feet - no shells except for some very tiny live hermit crabs wandering close enough to satisfy their curiosity of the human activity at the beach.

At one point, back at the shoreline, my daughter, her friend and I were collecting shell pieces. I can’t remember what prompted me to tell them that I had always wanted to find a large, beautiful conch shell in the ocean but never had.  That was it - I simply named a desire without any expectations.  I wasn't doing it to make a point or to consciously exercise my throat charka, even though that would have been fine to do.  I just spoke it.  I took my desire and put it outside of me, into the world.  

Not five minutes later, I was walking the sandbar with my daughter. I wandered a few steps ahead of her, and there it was - right in front of my feet.  A large whelk shell.  Almost in disbelief, I scooped it up and held it high.  I showed the girls and their jaws dropped open.  We took it up to the blanket and admired its barnacled exterior and smooth, colorful interior.  My daughter's friend exclaimed, "YOU JUST SAID THAT!"  Deep in my own teachable moment, I replied that it is important to name our desires.  It felt important to underscore this process, particularly in front of these young girls.

Around this time, Soulence, still unnamed, was stirring within me, preparing to be birthed into the world.  It needed a symbol and name, and this shell provide both.  The shell is a symbol of the throat chakra, and it is a very feminine form - a spiral.  The shell is also a symbol of listening.  What do people do with these shells?  They hold them to their ear and listen for the ocean.  But what are they hearing?  They are hearing the energy of the life around them being bounced back to their ear.  This quiet attention to life is so symbolic of this work of deep listening and engaging authentically with the world.  In fact, this relationship is crucial.

Since finding the shell, I've used it as a talking piece.  It has given many people permission to share their truth when they hold and caress it, while they process and name what is happening within them and speak their questions and desires aloud. [And just a note that voice can be expressed in many ways that aren’t verbal, i.e. art, music, dance, etc.]

Recently, when I typed some of my own thoughts into my phone under the title “Shell,” my phone autocorrected it to “She’ll.”  She will.  She desires.  She becomes. 

The profundity of all of this is that my voiced desire was only one part of the equation.  The appearance of the shell was not my part.  There is a Divine conversation happening, and this is why it’s important to join in.  This is the space in which miracles happen.  The realm where washed up shells, presumably dead and empty, are reborn to us to continue to hold life.  The “shell” is different for everyone.  The point, however, is to notice and to respond, to continue to be part of the conversation.