Searching For Soul

March 11th, 2013

soul with a body

Is there any such thing as a soul? If so, what is it, where is it and why does it matter?

People often think of the soul as something that’s added to a person at conception and leaves them at death. Then there’s the belief called “Frisbeetarianism” where the soul leaves the body at death and gets stuck on the roof.

Like a Frisbee on the roof, the soul has proven hard to find. In the 17th century, Descartes argued that it’s located near the center of the brain in the pineal gland. His evidence for this theory was about as wobbly as a Frisbee in the wind.

Locating the soul has been like a game of Where’s Wally. Maybe no one can find it because it’s not a separate part of a person. Maybe we don’t HAVE souls. Maybe we ARE souls. Paulo Coelho said,

I’m not a body with a soul, I’m a soul that has a visible part called the body.

This was the Hebrew idea of the soul. In Hebrew thought, the soul was the whole of a person, their life force. It wasn’t one thing isolated from the body, but the body itself in complete harmony. Portuguese author, Jose Saramago said, “Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are.”

It was the Greeks who separated soul from body, influencing most western, religious thought on the soul ever since. Outside of religion, taking a cue from Descartes, people started interchanging soul with mind and consciousness. Enough of the mini history lesson.

The closest thing to scientific evidence for a soul is the near death experience; where some sort of consciousness/ memory/ sensation seems to carry on after the brain stops functioning. People report some common experiences of light and peace.

My take on the soul is not that it’s something that leaves your body when you die. I think the soul is all that’s left when you strip away everything that is non essential. Maybe the soul isn’t added to a person at birth. Following from the Hebrew idea, I see soul as another word for the essence of who you are. Waking up to this essence is when we really come alive.

I came to this view partly after spending time with some people as they died. In one unforgettable experience, I was with a friend named Les when he died. I had the privilege of gathering with his family as he breathed some big last breaths. With each breath, it felt like he was letting go of things, saying goodbye and purging himself of any last regrets. His last breath was the biggest. It filled the room and seemed to hang in the air. Then we held our breaths and waited, but Les breathed no more.

Later I reflected on the experience. We spend so much energy in life being something we aren’t, things we think we’re supposed to be. Often, the essence of who we are gets buried under layers of pretense and protection. Death is the final stripping away of this pretense. After the words, there is just breath. After the breath, the silence. Nothing to prove and nothing to fear. I think the soul is all that’s left once you have stripped away all that is changing, temporal and finite.

We don’t need to wait for death either. As Kami Garcia said in the novel Beautiful Creatures, “Dig deep. Find your way to your soul.”  Thinking about the soul this way can lead to an immediate turn around. Start stripping away things that aren’t essential NOW. Start living the essence of who you are NOW! At your essence, everything is whole, peaceful and soulful. What could be more satisfying than to live this essence?

The Irish poet John O’Donohue, describes this soul process-

Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. The eternal makes you urgent. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment.

More on soul and imperfection here.

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  1. [...] dig a little deeper into the idea of the soul. I introduced the topic by defining soul as essence. When you live soulfully, does it mean you’re [...]

  2. Sharon says:

    Thank you for this. Beautifully described. I especially relate to the John O’Donohue quote, as you awaken, the search really does begin and you can never go back to that deathlike slumber! Your life becomes a beautiful mystery to be revealed, the world becomes a wonder to behold! I agree completely that our only role or “job” in life is to peel away the layers until our true soul/self emerges. Why we are so determined to deny the existence or hide this most beautiful and wise part of ourselves is a human mystery, but when you get your first glimpses of your true beautiful soul and realise what is possible when you follow your souls desires…. Oh boy! There really is no turning back.. My goodness why would you??!! Life becomes magical!

  3. ian says:

    Well said Sharon

  4. “I see soul as another word for the essence of who you are. Waking up to this essence is when we really come alive.” Beautifully said! We die in life when we deny who we are, try to be something we are not (or our parents want for us), and when we focus entirely on a means to an end rather than being. What a wonderful article!

  5. Niki says:

    @Dr. Heather: but, critically speaking, couldn’t that also be an EGO ?ie: “who we are” is *not* essentially have to be proof of an ‘unproven’ Soul, but simply, merely, and naturally, just a human’s EGO.what is your take on this?

  6. Swazi says:

    Lately I have been having this nagging question on my mind ‘What if all this time I am the one who has been standing in the way of me?’ or better put ‘ What if I am the one who has been standing in my way?’. For me this article is making me pose the above question even better: What if my ‘finite, temporal and changing’ has been standing in the way of my ‘essence/soul? Almost daily now I use this question to unpack the layers or simply discard the excuses that I come up with that stand in my way. Can’t say it’s easy but hey I’ve got to dig deep, to find my way to my soul.

  7. [...] I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam; I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me. Woody Allen Is there any such thi (Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are.  [...]

  8. Brent says:

    Thank you for this article. My view on life is the following.The human experience is our Souls choice. The soul already knows everything. Life as we experience it is experiencing all that is already known. We are in the process of remembering, or more accurately put “Re Membering” . Our mortal existence is “The creator” living and experiencing its magnificence through us. We are all creators, we are all the living God.First of all, Love yourself, only then will you be able to Love one another as you love yourself. May we all be blessed to attain the living experience of love and Peace.

  9. LadyOmega says:

    I enjoyed so much to read the articles, a thank you to all who participated. Herewith a few facts that can not be ignored, FACT: you are not the Creator. FACT: you are the created, the Creator created you. FACT: you are a spirit living inside a fleshly body and the soul is part of the fleshly body. FACT: you only become aware of the secrets of the universe when your spirit communicates with the Creator. FACT: there is life on other planets and you do not have to go there to communicate with them. Thank you for your time. Be blessed! Peace!

  10. Trish says:

    Can I raise my hand here and ask how exactly you follow your soul and also still be a responsible adult/parent? Feel like all this follow your dreams stuff doesn’t relate to the poverty cycle.

  11. Sammy says:

    This was a great article. I believe the soul and body are one, but oftentimes the brain or heavy thinking gets in the way of our souls, the true essence of who we are. Peeling away at the layers put together from upbringing, culture, thwarted religion, and society is a worthwhile journey to take before we die even if it means having to sacrifice some things and endure pain. 

  12. This was such a wonderful and timely post. I have lost several friends recently, and I’ve also been keenly missing my dear father, who made me what I am today. Their souls are part of me, and in that way, I feel, they live on. I’m forwarding your essay to a friend who is dealing with a major loss of someone dear to her. Thank you!

  13. Marielle says:

    Beautiful article. I agree that we don’t need to wait for death to find our way to the soul. On the other hand it seems the whole struggle in life is rooted in our disconnection from our soul. We seem to be born into conditions which cause us to disconnect from the soul  early  in our life, only to start the journey towards the re-connection again later…

  14. Fran says:

    This is the message of Christ Jesus just that it’s coded. I’m not asking for converts but if you want guidance on how to awaken the Soul, christ gives pretty good guidelines.

  15. jeanne macdonald says:

    I love this conversation about the soul.  I just watched you and Thomas Moore talking about it.   It was such a pleasure to see your two faces together.  I had the great experience of  a day some years ago with Thomas and a small group of people.  One of the great experiences of my life. My son Eric lost his companion cat of 17 years on Mother’s Day.  We sat with her  all day.  She was 17 .  She was his baby, his heart.  Eric has many talents and sensitivities and also a problem with alcohol.  When he realized there was no hope he made the decision to let her go and burst into tears.   He knows he did the right thing he just cant bear it.  He said she is in my soul.  I know she is.  H e had such courage and strength but he keeps reliving her death every night..  The grief is so deep and larger than this one loss.  I do what I can.  It is so hard.    Also I have so much trouble navigating the soulseeds stuff.   Am I a member.  I am not great on the computer and I come to the library erratically.  I need simple clear directions.   Love to you all.