Embodying Soul: An Interview with Keri Mangis

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Keri Mangis has worn a lot of skins — or roles — as a human in this lifetime. She has studied or taught yoga, Ayurveda, herbal medicine, energy work, aromatherapy and many other healing modalities. She has explored Buddhism, Hinduism, Tantra, Christianity, and other spiritual teachings. She has been a speaker. Her writing has appeared in Elephant Journal, Urban Howl, The Sunlight Press, Grown and Flown, Rebelle Society, The Good Men Project, Stitch, Literary Mama, and elsewhere. And most recently, she has donned the skins of author and self-publisher.

Her first book, Embodying Soul: A Return to Wholeness, the story of a woman who finds that self-acceptance is the key to joy, launches in the Twin Cities on Valentine’s Day.

A launch party and book signing will take place from 5:30-8 p.m. (book talk at 6:30 p.m.) on February 14 at France 44, 4351 France Ave. S., Minneapolis. Bring only your curiosity and playful spirit. Signed copies will be available. No RSVP necessary and the event is free to the public.

On Sunday, Feb. 16, Keri will speak about her new book at the 10:30 a.m. service at Lake Harriet Spiritual Community, 4401 Upton Ave. S., Minneapolis. She will sign books and offer a soul care gift set following the service.

The Minneapolis-based author spoke with The Edge on what led her to write Embodying Soul, as well as the insights she gleaned during the process.

You began your book in a place often referred to as “the dark night of the soul.” What was taking place at this time in your life?
At the time several ventures of mine had ended — and they ended unceremoniously. I didn’t really understand why they weren’t working out. I couldn’t quite figure out then what I was supposed to do with what I believed were my skills and talents. There just really wasn’t another direction to go. I exhausted the obvious directions, and the ambitious seeker inside of me really wanted to continue that, finding that next thing, but I had to instead just sit in silence with myself for a period of time. That’s really the place the book was birthed out of, a place of silence and solitude and letting go of all of the labels and identities that I had craved and attached to and desired for so long.

What eventually sparked the way forward for you?
Once I started writing the stories, I realized how much power there was there and how much healing still remained. I thought that I had healed a lot of my life stories. That wasn’t true, and that’s really what this journey was about for me — going back into my stories and writing them again and again and again until I could see them more clearly for their purpose and their view and what I learned. That was the way forward, just valuing my own journey instead of disparaging it because I hadn’t arrived somewhere imaginary.

A place that you thought you were going to be at that time in your life.
Right! I mean, I was in my early forties. My husband’s career was taking off and my kids were moving out the house and I was nothing — and that was a really frightening place to be at at that time in my life. I was really lucky to have a lot of guidance and support so that instead of continuing to avoid that dark night, which was what I was doing in the beginning, I went directly into it. A lot of things fell away at that time. A lot of friendships fell away, a lot of opportunities fell away, and it was really hard to not do the things that I loved to do. For five or six years that’s pretty much what I did: rewrite my stories, go back into it, and look at them through all these different perspectives. The healing that happened was absolutely incredible.

You began to see your life from a different perspective?
I was able to see my life from many different perspectives. First of all, I was better able to see it from other people’s perspectives, those who were involved in the stories, which I hadn’t ever really done before, not to that degree, anyway. I saw how I hurt other people — how I hurt other people sometimes even intentionally — and I was in denial of that part of my own self up until that time. That gave me a great opportunity to do a lot of atonement, a lot of forgiveness work, a lot of compassion work, which led to a greater sense of my own wholeness and our own oneness as human beings.

That’s really what the story of the book is: seeing my own life journey, but not from my ego’s eyes, which were so attached to a straight-line path of success and achievement. I was able to see my life through the eyes of my soul, which looks at my life stories with curiosity and adventure and wonder. It looks at this and looks at that, and it sees what you learned here and there, and it gave me such a beautiful way to look at my own life rather than this start-to-finish path. I saw how healing it is and how every story really does guide you right into the next one and the next one. My life suddenly was the hero’s journey.

In your book you talk about your soul, and you actually give her a name, Serene Voyager — known as Sëri in the soul realm — as well as a personality dialogue and a journey all of her own, which progresses alongside her human ego partner. It’s clear that you consider the soul as more than just an abstract concept. What do you think our souls are and why did you present your soul with such detail?
To me, our soul is our purest, deepest and most essential truth. Our soul inhabits our wholeness. Our soul is the sum total of all that makes us human and alive and animated. Our soul encompasses all of this and, yet, it’s attached to none of it. When we embody the soul, then we are our fullest self. We understand our weaknesses and our shadows just as easily as we understand our gifts and our strengths. We honor our emotions, the messengers that they are, rather than trying to suppress them or belittle them or ignore them. We follow our intuition and our gut instinct and the guidance of our own bodies. When we are in body we are in our fullest, most complete, self acceptance.

What is your definition of an embodied soul? Aren’t we all souls living in a human body?
The embodied soul is the part of us that is completely inhabiting every single moment of our lives. There is an incarnation that happens at the beginning of our lifetime where the soul moves into the human body. That happens once. That’s an event. Embodiment of our soul is a process and a journey — and many people never truly embody their souls. They live completely through their ego self their entire lives. For those of us who do decide to go on any kind of a path of self-acceptance or self-love, we will automatically be embodying more and more pieces of our soul. As we accept more and more of our wholeness, that is soul embodiment.

And that process doesn’t end in terms of bringing in more aspects of our soul?
I don’t think it has an end, not as a lifetime. I think it is a journey. For me, every single day is a practice of embodiment. It is an opportunity to continue to express myself from my wholeness. One of the most essential characteristics of myself that I learned through the writing of this book was my own curiosity, a character in the book named Endless Curiosity. When I am in my curiosity, when I am in a place of wonder about the world and my life, I am in my most joyful, whole and healthy state. When I shove aside my curiosity or decide that my voice isn’t necessary or needed or wanted, then that is when I start to get more wrapped up in what my ego is thinking and feeling and wanting. Both of these things, soul embodiment and ego identification, happen side by side and fluctuate throughout every single one of my days. My intention is to continue to live more and more from the place of soul embodiment and less and less from the place of ego identification.

Is it becoming easier for you to know the difference and to switch from one to the other?
Yes. There are plenty of times when that’s exactly the dialogue going on in my head, and there are times where I choose consciously ego identification over soul embodiment. Sometimes it’s too hard, it’s too scary, and I just can’t get there, and that, too, is a practice, because now I have to practice forgiving myself for that choice, for the choice of deciding to be in my ego rather than my soul.

It’s not really a mistake to do that or something you need to forgive.
I don’t see it as a mistake. It’s just different when it’s a conscious choice than before when it was an unconscious habit living the way that I always did, growing up as an adolescent. Now when I can actually see the choice in front of me and I choose it, I see it not as a mistake, but as an opportunity to ask what was it about this situation that scared me so much? What was the ego most concerned about? And is this another place where I can deepen my own healing and my own growth? Everything from my soul’s eyes is opportunity.

In our quest for more presence in our lives, there is an emphasis on quieting the mind, on stilling the thoughts. However, your book details a personal inner journey that reveals how emotions often speak the loudest. Why did you give emotions such prominence in your book, and what realization did you have about your emotions and the role they serve in your life?
I love this question. When I started studying yoga and I learned what you’re talking about here, that the process of yoga was about stilling my thoughts and quieting my mind, I took a hammer, essentially, into my mind and for every thought that popped up, I was slamming it back down. That’s what I thought I was supposed to do. I didn’t appreciate the actual nuance of that teaching at the time. I do now.

I had spent so much of my life trying to control my thoughts and be a good girl or be accepted in this way or don’t think that. I had come from an upbringing where I was already very much in judgment of my own thoughts. The worst thing for me to do was suppress them more at this time in my life. What I needed to do was start observing them from a place of distance and awareness. Once I started actually listening to my own thoughts, I noticed how busy my mind was, and I was able to name some of the different voices inside my head.

That was very illuminating for me. I think I’ve always felt sort of an inner battle between do I want to do this or do I want this, and what I did in my book was name that: that was from my anger and that was from my fear, and guilt was over here wanting something completely different. No wonder I felt so confused. Now I have more recognition of those voices, the same way I better recognize my soul. I better recognize my emotions, and our relationship now is a lot more playful and we’re more of a partnership in this life than we are adversarial. They’re actually helpful.

Our emotions are important and they come with messages. They’re not always messages that we are supposed to heed or that we want to heed, but we at least should accept the message and not kill the messenger, right? Because when anger comes to us, there is an injustice, there is a sense of unfairness, there is some kind of a betrayal, there is something here. That anger has a purpose. If we just suppress it and push it back down into our body, it will come out in another way. As you see in my book, a lot of my repressed anger came out in the form of chronic hives, these red rashes all over my entire body. So, I had to learn this process. Now I can go back to some of the other practices of quieting and stilling my mind, because I am in a better relationship with my mind and with those thoughts. There is a time and a place for every practice.

The word “authenticity” has become more widely used in recent years and yet sometimes we need authors like you to share what it truly means and how it is revealed in our lives. What connection does authenticity have with the soul and why is living with authenticity more relevant today than ever?
I think that when we are embodying our soul, that is our authenticity, that is our essential nature, our original self. I actually like the word “original” more than “authentic” because I think of it as something that was original to us when we were born.

When we were children, for most of us, we expressed ourselves pretty freely. We were in our emotions, we were in our body, we were in our questions. We didn’t yet know that we were supposed to suppress things or quiet this down. As original beings, as children, we were just in this place of wholeness. It was original. The reason the subtitle of my book is called “A Return to Wholeness” is because I do believe that we all know what that feels like. Authenticity and originality or soul embodiment, whatever term we put on it, isn’t something we need to reach for; it’s something that we return to. It is our essential nature. We do know it and we do know what it feels like. We’re just afraid of it because we were taught as young children to start putting those things away, to grow up, to not cry, to be a big girl, for boys to man up as we got older. We were taught out of our own originality — and the return is just a reclamation.

In our society we are seeing women standing up and demanding to not only be seen but heard. Does that indicate that women are perhaps more connected with their souls and realize that the only way for humanity to move forward collectively without destroying itself is by connecting with the soul?
I don’t know that women are necessarily more capable of connecting with their souls or being in body, but by their nature they are a little bit more earthbound.

It does seem to be that women are the ones who are making these decisions right now, who are choosing to stand up and use their voices to be heard. Since they were children, boys and girls have had their own journeys of being suppressed. Boys don’t get to cry. Girls don’t get to be angry. But, I think it has been women’s voices that have been more suppressed over time, and that builds up. Now we’re seeing it finally released.

I don’t necessarily think women are more capable of connecting to their souls. I think that they just need it more in order for their own health and healing. There’s only so much that an individual person can suppress, and collectively there’s only so much that we can suppress. I think with #Me Too and the Time’s Up movement, we’ve just reached this collective place of intolerability. This expression now is very raw and it will continue to be cultivated and it will continue to be honed and hopefully more and more men are finding that, too. We do see that in Congress right now. The women are speaking up first. The women are standing up in front of their peers and speaking their truth, speaking truth to power in a way that is probably so scary, but so valuable.

The Declaration of Independence proclaims the pursuit of happiness as a right for each of us, and yet it seems most of us engage in just that, pursuing happiness. Why do most of us struggle to not only realize it, but to sustain it?
Partially because I think there’s a big difference between happiness and joy. I think happiness is transient. It is momentary pleasure versus joy. In my book, joy is the emotion that I identify as that more lasting state, talking about that more sustained ability to be in any kind of a moment, but just know that there is this sense of wholeness and oneness that is within. Happiness comes from outside of ourselves. Joy comes from within.

So, as long as we continue to pursue happiness, it’s always going to need to be refilled. We’re always going to have to go out to the next thing and the next thing, versus joy, which is a well that springs from within us. I see joy as being more connected to our souls, therefore more connected to all other beings and the Earth. That’s eternal. That’s a wellspring that can never run dry. From that place of joy, we can explore happiness, but it’s without attachment and need. Now it is with a very healthy state of mind. We can have two bites of a sundae and put the rest down or we can decide we want the whole sundae, but it’s coming from a choice. It’s coming from knowing that there is something deeper within us, that this happiness is temporary.

What was the greatest insight that paved the way to joy in your life?
Knowing that my stories had a purpose and meaning. As we discussed at the beginning, when I started this book and when I was in that dark night of the soul, I lost my sense of meaning and purpose. I felt I had wasted time. All of these ventures had ended prematurely. When they ended, the purpose that I had instilled in that particular path was lost, too. But then, as I was writing my stories I saw this through line of purpose that connected all of what I had seen as disconnected, incomplete, castaway times in my life — wasted time. That was the motto that I had in my head when I was in the dark night of the soul: “How much of my life have I wasted? Why did I do that? That was wasted time.” And that was a very dark place to be in, to look at your life and think that any of it was wasted.

So, the way to joy for me was to see value and purpose and meaning in every single encounter, and it wasn’t about bringing everything to a natural conclusion. It wasn’t about everything having a bow at the end.

I was a runner when I was in high school and college and I had the mindset that you start at the starting line and you finish at the finish line. That was a metaphor for me in everything that I did in my life. So, when life wasn’t looking like that as an adult and I was coming off the race midway, for instance, I didn’t know how to wrap my head around that. It seemed like I had failed and disappointed myself — or even worse, disappointed my own soul.

That was one of the questions I came to the book with: “What did my soul think about all of these incompletes in my life? Was she disappointed?” What I learned was: not at all. This was fun for her. She loved moving through all of these different — what she calls skins — these playful roles. She doesn’t want to just be in one through our entire life. That might not be true for other people. For other people, that may be their path, but for my soul what she really loves is playing in all the different roles and skins. So recently we tried on the skin of self-publisher, and this has been a whole lot of fun. I have a different approach to it now than I’ve had in the past, which is that it may last for two years, it may last for five or it may last the rest of my life, but there is no more attachment to it. It’s just free and more playful. A lot healthier.

I’m curious about your insight on the life each of us leads. What is it we weren’t told about this human experience, about our individual journey and the meaning of life, itself?
A lot, actually! This is my experience, as I wrote about the soul realm: I learned that all of us, most of us — there are a few exceptions — came to this planet through the River of Forgetting. We forget our past lives. We forget what we’re here to learn. We forget what kind of traps we’ve fallen into in the past. The reason that we forget, because, trust me, I have questions, was so that we could play this game of life freely, without feeling this agenda hanging on top of us.

If we remembered all of our past and we knew all of the mistakes that we’ve made in the past, we might try to avoid those things again, but we would also fail to learn the remaining lessons that lie in those particular pitfalls, for instance. If we were standing at a crossroads in our lives and we knew what was going to happen down one path and we knew what was going to happen down another path, it would paralyze us in indecision. So, I think that we come here forgetting a lot of these things, but it’s all available to us when we seek and when we ask.

For me, my life is a process of remembering what my soul came here to do, for instance this idea that she came to play in lots of different skins. That was something that I remembered as I continued my dialogue with my soul. There is more for me to remember down the line as I continue to ask and as I’m prepared for the answers. I may never remember all of it, and that’s for a reason, and I trust that.

Is there a final thought, something we haven’t talked, about that you’d like to leave with our readers?
My final thought is really about self-love and self-acceptance, and how important these things are right now. I came to this through dialoguing with my emotions, through allowing myself to feel completely all that there is to feel, and to accept all that I am feeling as true and as good. I think that there are things in this life that we take too seriously, such as our title, or what kind of car we drive, or what kind of car somebody else drives, or what someone else thinks of us. And then there are things that we don’t take seriously enough, and that is the wisdom from our bodies, the validity of our emotions, and the information available from our instincts.

As we come out of this place of denial and come into more of a place of acceptance, we settle, we ground, and compassion comes more naturally, bravery comes more naturally, and empathy comes more naturally. All of these things that we’re seeking and wanting in our life spring from self-acceptance.

Contact Keri Mangis at [email protected] or www.kerimangis.com for more information.

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