desert, mountains, swirling clouds
In a recent post I referred to "my soul," and the use of this word set one person into a tailspin as he angrily responded to me, "There's about as much evidence for the existence of a soul as there is for the existence of pink unicorns."
When he saw me use the word "soul," I am sure the person was thinking of the way the word is popularly understood. "Soul" - a real and impermeable spiritual "substance" housed inside the body that is released when you die. I actually think that understanding the "soul" in this way may be similar to believing in pink unicorns. However, I do not at all define "soul" in this way, and neither did the church in the earliest days of Christianity.
Ancient peoples were tribal - they defined themselves, not as isolated individuals but as a "community of people in relationship to one another." In the biblical tradition and in the ancient church, the soul was understood as "the community of believers animated by God's spirit."
It wasn't until the middle ages that the soul got a "makeover" and became understood as a spiritual substance within an individual. Reviving the principles of ancient Greek philosophy, the theologians of the day posited a Platonic body-soul dualism. In essence, the idea of a soul separated from and housed within a body is more an invention of Plato and Aristotle (appropriated by Christian theologians) than a concept found in the biblical tradition.
The later philosophies of the Enlightenment (like those given to us by Descartes) along with the development of modern-day psychology (given to us by Dr. Freud) pretty much ensured that when we would talk about the "soul" in our own day, we would be thinking about it tangibly as something an individual possesses -something thought of as real (like a personality) inside a body or a brain, with the individual being responsible for feeding his soul, caring for her soul, and saving his soul so that when she died the soul would be released into heaven.
I far prefer to rely upon the ancient biblical tradition for understanding my "soul" - I am a community-in- relationship.
I also rely upon the wisdom of the Buddhist path to help me gain insight into the nature of the "soul." The Buddhists teach that all beings ARE a dynamic, interdependent relationship. The idea of an isolated and separated self is an "illusion," and when we focus on feeding that "ego" illusion, we cause ourselves suffering.
I also look to the dynamic new discoveries of today's "new scientists" to help me understand my "soul."
Looking into the world of swirling masses of atoms, quantum physicists, molecular biologists, neuroscientists, and string theorists are all uncovering a complex web of dynamic interdependence- everything and everyone, the vast galaxies of the cosmos and the tiniest of quarks all interconnected, all interdependent, a common energy running through it all. The scientists today are unveiling the "soul."
This is my soul: the vast interdependent connection of all that is and was and ever will be.
And when I understand my soul in this way, everything changes. There is no separate or separated "me" and so there can be no separate "other." Otherness does not exist - everything is a community of relationship- no foreigners, no strangers, no one better or another less, all the creatures of the earth, the oceans and the sky-all part of who I am: a community-in-relationship.
This is my soul.