What is the Soul?
If awareness is the timeless, spaceless light that connects us all from the outside, then the soul is the eternal, flowing darkness that connects us all from the inside.
Awareness is the clarity of the mind, while the soul is the intuitive felt-sense of the body. It is the interconnected meaning that creates order in the cosmos.
We need both of these things; you cannot have light without dark or dark without light. A plant cannot grow without the nutrients of the rich, dark soil, nor without the light of the sun. There is a way of seeing this dualistically. The light and dark are like matrices that play off each other and interweave through space-time.
Or there is a way of experiencing it non-dualistically. In this way of being, the light and dark create the depth that allow us to be immersed in our lives. Between them creating meaning and understanding.
One translation of anatman is no-soul and it is one of the core beliefs of Buddhism. It is pointing towards the concept that we do not have a permanent, fixed self.
While I believe in the soul, in some ways I agree with the idea of no-soul. In the same way that we do not have a piece of awareness that is ‘me’ or ‘mine’, we also do not have a piece of soul that is ‘me’ or ‘mine’. It is a shared soul across the entirety of humanity and the Universe. It is the higher cosmic order that stops things being an incomprehensible chaotic mess.
The mind is a sense organ – our minds connect with the awareness and will turn this into thoughts and perceptions in each moment.
In the same way, our entire beings are an intuitive sense organ – our intuitions connect with the soul creating a sense of meaning and resonance that ripples through experience.
It’s the sense of resonance and meaningfulness that shapes our sense of the world.
This part of experience used to be taught about in Buddhism, through the concept of karma. Karma was believed to be the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.
This part of the teachings has largely been dropped or forgotten about. Possibly partially because Buddhism taught some fixed ideas about what karma is, including that individuals are responsible for their karma and their rebirths into future lives. This doesn’t resonate very well with a modern understanding of the world.
The language that I use to describe this part of experience is very fluid. This is because it is the part of experience where meaning and resonance arises from and meaning depends on context, so the best language to use will depend on the context it is being used in.
It is the part of experience that is abstract from our hearts, minds, bodies and environments or all the parts of experience that have a more fixed, concrete or logical aspect to them.
It is the aspect of experience that is mystical, magical, creative and ineffable.
Our culture focuses on the mind or awareness aspect of experience as the place where the truth of reality or experience can be found.
This is reflected through both science and most meditative practices – we believe that it is something we do with our minds, or to purify our minds.
But it is just as important that we connect with our creativity and a sense of meaning. If we don’t, then it doesn’t go away, it is just in shadow for us – it becomes something we are repressing in experience.
I believe it is much more meaningful and rich to works towards a spirituality of wholeness and balance between these different elements of ourselves.
Here are some of the different aspects of this part of experience that the different language is pointing towards.
This part of experience is where our life force is arising from. It is what drives us forward in creative expression. The things we describe as soulful tend to be expressions of deep creativity.
Creativity is the process of connecting with a sense of the abstract and ineffable and allowing something to emerge. This is a very soulful process that tends to be steeped in emotion.
Soul mates are people who we connect with on some deep, inexplicable level. They inspire something in us where we feel that our life force is in some way met, seen or being fuelled.
This life force can also be described as eros and the soul often has a lot of erotic energy connected with it. Opening to our sexuality and deepest desires is another way of accessing this part of ourselves.
The archetypal realm is rich with symbolism, but it also has a lot of physical energy held in it. This can be quite mystical, but it can also be really simple.
If you put on a power outfit and your favourite song and stand up tall, you can feel how the energy is different to if you are cuddled up on the sofa in your favourite sweat pants, for example.
Through accessing archetypes, we are freed up from being our fixed selves. We can give ourselves free rein to access different parts of ourselves without getting hung up on what it says about us. We can feel that we are all embodying different characters and playing different roles in life all the time.
We can notice how this comes out through our individual behaviours and spot the ways that it ripples across humanity.
We can use archetypes to access part of ourselves that we have rejected, or pushed into shadow, in order to liberate that energy and find a more natural freedom of expression.
We can also use this to heal parts of ourselves that experienced trauma – by meeting ideal archetypal figures who can help us on our journey.
We can open to this realm through dreams, imaginal practice or shamanic journeying. We are taken on a journey through the symbolism and energy that we need to experience in order to see things clearly, to process our emotions, to move forward in life or to heal aspects of ourselves.
I use the word cosmos to describe the interconnected meaning that infuses the entire Universe. Depending on your appetite for letting go of the idea of free will this can run incredibly deeply.
On some level we are all one organism. In the same way that the bacteria in our gut are all working together to keep us happy and alive and it would be absurd to think of individual bacterias, humanity or the Earth could be seen as being like this for the Universe.
We get glimpses of this with experiencing deep synchronicities, that show us a side of life where we are all moving in sync with each other, like a flock of starlings.
Seeing the world in this way can help us feel more relaxed about whether we are getting things right or wrong. As individuals, we don’t know how our actions impact the wider story and it may be that something terrible is exactly what needed to happen.
Without some kind of cosmic order, the entirety of experience would be an incomprehensible and chaotic mess – we need some degree of interconnected meaning in order to function.
This cosmic order includes everything – all the stars and planets, every animal and insect, the computer or phone you are reading this on, the tiny sensations in your fingertips, the deep-sense of awe and the nagging sense of doubt. Every single tiny thing that happens is shaping and contributing to the cosmos.
Perceiving the details of this is the route to madness, but being able to immerse yourself in a felt-sense of it gives you access to a deep reassurance that everything is going to be ok.
From this place we can see that spirituality can only be understood as the entire eco-system.
Karma builds on the idea of the cosmos. I use this when I am specifically talking about the ways in which the Universe is improving itself all the time.
The Universe does not exist separately to us – we are the Universe. It is our individual actions that create a better world.
I do not believe that people deserve the suffering they experience in this lifetime. History is so complex and full with so much darkness and difficulty. Not just through human creation but also by the brutal laws of nature that we have to exist in. There is such a tangled web of grit, determination, suffering, heart-ache and difficulty that has led to you being here in this moment. Of course there is going to be some pain in your experience.
I do believe that the only way to transform suffering is for individuals to show up and take responsibility for not repeating the cycle. This can mean changing our behaviour, but it can also mean being willing to meet ourselves and each other in this moment with a compassionate presence. To be willing to feel the emotions that are here.
This understanding can inspire us through some of our darkest times – we can see that if we have the courage to be present with the pain or to face the darkness, chaos or confusion, we can transmute it into something more pure and less sticky. Our suffering becomes in service to transforming the painful energies and patterns that have arisen in this world and this Universe.
When I talk about magic or mystery. It is this part of experience that I am talking about. It is the part of experience that we will never fully understand. The darkness and the meaningfulness of it somehow make it inherently mysterious.
This is the part of experience that stops everything in the Universe just being a machine – unless you believe that we are the outcome of an inevitable chemical reaction or mathematic equation – then there must be at least a drop of magic in how we have come to be and what shapes our experience.
In my world, there is quite a lot more than a drop.
This part of experience is actually pretty terrifying for a lot of people. It is wild and uncontrollable but it can also be incredibly rich and nourishing in the right setting.
The shared story has a huge amount of force behind it. As individuals it is not our role to understand that story or to change it, but to connect with it in this moment in a whole-hearted way.
I do not believe that we are blank canvases. I believe that our physical bodies, our histories and our natural qualities shape us into unique individuals. Our bodies, our archetypes and our life experiences are here to contribute different parts to the story.
By opening ourselves to our natural life force and allowing it to express itself freely through us we are connecting with the shared story and giving our experience generously to the collective.
This sounds quite lofty – but it could be as simple as allowing yourself to feel what you feel about someone or something without judgement. Giving yourself permission to want what you want, or to be who you feel you really are. To meet your experience with love and understanding.
Most religion and spirituality has at best failed to explore this area of experience and at worst denied it exists or encouraged people to completely shut the door to it.
We cannot open to divinity, sacredness or being present in this moment without sincerely accepting how we feel and what is going on in our experience. If we are rejecting large parts of ourselves as either not real or not acceptable to feel, then people who have those rejected parts inside of themselves (which is all of us to some degree) aren’t welcome in the space.
We have to adopt false personas in order to belong.
It can also cause people to get stuck in a dark night of the soul. If they have opened to a new part of themselves but are unable to express what is inside of them, because it is not safe enough for them to do so or because they will be rejected, they will get stuck in a place that is deeply painful. We need to create spaces that allow people to move through this and express what is inside of them in a safe and loving way.
Closing off this part of ourselves also shuts the door to a large part of what makes life beautiful and meaningful. Eros, life force, creativity, magic and suffering are what makes life interesting and attractive. These are the things that give us joy.
We feel inexplicably drawn to certain people, places or things. We find certain words or images utterly compelling. We feel a strong urge to create something or contribute to life in some way.
I don’t know about you, but these are the things that I live for. This is what makes life meaningful.
For me spirituality needs to include all this aliveness. It needs to welcome people who have suffered (all of us) and provide a safe place for people to heal.
Ultimately, it needs to balance cultivating this whole-heartedness with the ability to cultivate calm clarity for it to have any meaning or relevance in the world.