Sunday, June 29, 2014
DISCOVERING THE SOUL
The beginning of a new year is a good time to think about and perhaps revise or fine tune our values and what we believe, for often we have grown so much during the past year that we need a new structure for living. That is really the purpose of New Year's Resolutions, to help us release the past and move forward. Values are important because they help us focus on our goals and give zest and vitality to our life.
Today we explore another fundamental belief – the idea that we are more than just a mind, a heart and a body, that we also have a Soul. Where did the idea of a Soul come from? It certainly is not a new idea.
Back in the dawn of time of humans, ancient cultures noticed that part of us disappeared during sleep and when we fainted. They noticed that part of our mind could go off somewhere else when we were imagining or remembering and we could be both awake and not conscious at the same time. What was this part that took off? Why couldn't we see it and where did it go? So these early cultures determined that there was something more to existence than meets the eye or that we could actually measure with our five senses. And they called that part the Soul.
The Samoans describe the Soul as "that which comes and goes." The Fijians represent the Soul as a miniature replica of the body so small as to be invisible. The Dyaks and Sumatrans bind various parts of the body with cords during sickness to prevent the Soul from escaping. The ancient Hawaiians rubbed the big toe of a person who drowned to bring the Soul back into the body and revive the person.
And as cultures grew, the idea of the Soul continued to fascinate their great thinkers. There has been much discussion, arguments, and even wars fought over the definition of a Soul and who can claim it. Even today most of the world's conflicts have to do with who has a Soul and who doesn't. Some believe that only certain humans have a Soul and animals do not. Some believe that all humans and all animals, in fact, everything from the tiniest form of life to the great stars in the Heavens have a Soul.
I was amazed at how much information on the Soul can be found on the Internet. Here are only a few ideas about the Soul that have come to us throughout the ages. The ancient cultures of India taught of the comings and goings of "manas," which is mind or Soul. They believed that the bodily life is a mere transitory episode in the existence of the Soul, which is indestructible. In other words we are merely living a chapter in the Soul Book of our life. They also taught that the spiritual body, or the soul is part and parcel of God and is made up of three elements: eternity, knowledge and bliss. Krishna taught that the Soul is conscious and consciousness means endowed with freedom and it is the Soul's choice for its entanglement in the material world. The rest of us just comes along for the ride.
The ancient Chinese believed that every person's Soul had two parts, one the visible personality indissolubly attached to the body, and the other a more ethereal part that can go traveling while the body is lying in a trance-like state elsewhere.
In Greek and Roman times, the Soul was considered a kind of cosmic force that animated the whole of nature. Heraclitus described the Soul as fire. He said the cosmic ether or fire is the subtlest of the elements, the nourishing flame which imparts heat, life, sense and intelligence to all things in their several degrees and kinds.
Pythagoras, the great mathematician, taught that the Soul is a harmony, its essence existing in those perfect mathematical ratios which are the laws of the universe and the music of the heavenly spheres. Aristotle's definition of Soul is it was the breath of animation. Aristotle emphasized the closeness of the union of the soul and body.
The Epicureans said that the Soul consists of the finest grained atoms in the universe, finer than those of wind and heat, hence the exquisite fluency of the Soul's movement in thought and sensation. They also believed that the Soul-atoms could not exercise their functions if they were not kept together by the body. If the body is destroyed, the atoms escape and life is dissolved.
I like this definition of the Soul from the 8th century BCE: the Soul is "the unseen seer, the unheard hearer, the unthought thinker, the unknown knower, the Eternal in which space is woven and which is woven in it.”
Philosophers tend to define the Soul as part of the Mind. Descarte believed the soul was essentially "thinking substance" and the Soul was located in the pineal gland, which supposedly controlled the various organs and muscles through the "animal spirits" – a kind of fluid circulating through the body.
Religions have also defined the Soul in many ways. Islam views the Soul as the intangible part of an individual's existence that is pure at birth and has the potential of growing and achieving nearness to God if the person leads a righteous life. Jewish Kabbalists teach that the Soul has three elements: the lower animal or physical and psychological nature; the middle Soul or the ego that develops moral virtues; and the higher Soul, the Higher Self or super-soul that is aware of the existence and presence of God.
Most Christians regard the soul as the immortal essence of a human - the seat or locus of human will, understanding, and personality - and that after death, God either rewards or punishes the Soul depending on how a person lived his life. St. Paul said there were three parts to the perfect man: body, soul and spirit. St. Augustine taught that as God is the good of the Soul, the Soul is the good of the body.
Swedenborg, the father of New Thought, believed that each person's soul is created by the Lord at the same time the physical body is developed, that the soul is the person himself and that the soul is eternal and has an eternal spiritual body that is substantial without being material. After death, he said, a person immediately becomes conscious in the spiritual world.
The Baha'is teach that individuals have no existence previous to their life here on earth. Just as a human being spends nine months in the womb preparing for entry into the physical life, so too does the new Soul spend its time on earth preparing for its entry into the spiritual world.
Then there are those Christians like Martin Luther that believed a person's soul somehow derived from the souls of his parents. And others say that women don't have a Soul because God only breathed life into Adam, and so Eve's Soul is derived from Adam.
Crisscrossing many religions is the idea that a person's Soul has a spiritual, emotional or mental connection with an particular animal and that the Soul can go back and forth between the human and the animal. Some believe Souls in some way "echo" to the edges of this universe, or even to multiple universes with multiple possibilities, each presented with a slightly different energy version of itself.
Modern scientific studies of the Soul tend to be based on the study of the brain and the mind and have been so far inconclusive. It is generally agreed that conclusions about the existence of the Soul will have to wait until better methods and measuring devices have been developed. There is agreement among the scientists however that there is something non-material out there, they just don't know what it is, nor in which dimension it exists.
A modern online site believes that the Soul exists and is very valuable. You can have your Soul evaluated on this web site and make a contract to sell your Soul to them. Selling the Soul is a very old idea.
The reality of defining the Soul is that we can't define it. We don't know what the Soul is and if it actually exists. We have our own individual beliefs about the Soul and an inner knowing that something exists within us that is different from our physical body and our mind, but we can't put into words exactly what that is, but we keep trying. There are as many ideas about the Soul as there are people trying to describe it.
I believe that we do have a Soul and that it is that part of us that is connected to our Divine Source in many dimensions. This part is spiritual and immortal. We can't see it with our physical eyes, but we know it is real in our heart and in our mind. It is the higher part of our existence that guides us, that reminds us of Who We Really Are, but only when we listen with our inner ears. I believe that it is the Soul within that is growing and unfolding. It is a spark of the flame of God that dwells within each of us and within each bit of Creation and longs to return to its Source. I believe that understanding our Soul is part of our personal journey of discovery and each of us will understand in a different and unique way. Believing or not believing in the Soul shapes the foundation of our life and helps to formulate our values.
Here are some quotes about the Soul from other people:
I simply believe that some part of the human Self or Soul is not subject to the laws of space and time. — Carl Jung
One certainly has a soul; but how it came to allow itself to be enclosed in a body is more than I can imagine. I only know if once mine gets out, I'll have a bit of a tussle before I let it get in again to that of any other. — Lord Byron
Why do you hasten to remove anything which hurts your eye, while if something affects your soul you postpone the cure until next year? — Horace
When you do things from your soul you feel a river moving in you, a joy. When action comes from another section, the feeling disappears. — Jalal ad-Din Rumi
What is 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
One may have a blazing hearth in one's soul and yet no one ever comes to sit by it. Passers-by see only a wisp of smoke from the chimney and continue on the way.
— Vincent Van Gogh
I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam: I looked into the soul of another person. — Woody Allen
Say not, "I have found the truth," but rather, "I have found a truth." Say not, "I have found the path of the soul." Say rather, "I have met the soul walking upon my path." For the soul walks upon all paths. The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed. The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals. — Kahlil Gibran.
Let us pray. Divine Soul of the Universe, we give thanks that we are a part of Your unfolding. Help us to remember that we are more than a body or a heart or a mind, that we are all these and more and that we are infused with the living flame of Your Divine essence. Amen. And so it is. Pau.