I am delighted to be an Invited Contributor on Arianna Huffington’s new site Thrive Global! In my first article I suggest new ways of seeing our soul as underlying body and mind rather than parallel with them.
What If Our Soul Is Not Our Core But Our Canvas?
It’s amazing how our unconscious mental images can affect how we feel and behave. We all have them; mental representations, beliefs and guesstimates about an endless number of things in the world which act as guidelines as to how we should respond. When we have the opportunity to meet people and experience events and things we may get a fairly accurate mental image of those people and experiences. But for other things, of which we have no personal experience, we have to rely on the reports of others, what we read about them, or simply our best guesses. When this is the case, we often don’t consciously consider these second hand reports, nor analyze their accuracy, but instead these other peoples’ opinions and hearsay gets absorbed unconsciously over the course of our lifetime, with little or no active consideration on our part. For most of us, this must certainly be the case for our concepts of the soul.
While some religions do differentiate the soul and the spirit, most of us refer to these concepts interchangeably, as that part of us that is completely unique, that part that seeks a sense of meaning in our lives; a sense that what we do and who we are is connected to a bigger picture, Something Greater or an afterlife.
Going back centuries, philosophers, mystics and religious teachers have written about the human soul and many of us will have read or heard of these teachings and absorbed them since childhood. Although these writings were products of their culture and age and some go back to ancient times, they still underpin our beliefs and mental maps about everything to do with matters of the soul today; whether we believe in its existence, whether we include it in our ideas about wellbeing, and how we as a society look after our people. Most traditions placed the soul at the core of our being and this was interpreted literally to mean at the centre of the body. From this evolved the mental image of mankind as body (the external shell and organs), mind (residing in the head) and soul, an inner core embedded inside the body’s outer crust.
Today, life coaches and wellbeing experts often ask their clients to draw their “life pie”. This means imagining their life as a pie which they divide up in to metaphorical “slices” according to how much of their time they give to different aspects of their lives such as family, exercise, work, friends and spirituality. Here again, the spiritual aspect of the person is differentiated from the activities of the body and mind —a different “slice” of the pie as it were. We continue to departmentalize our sense of self into the separate entities of body, mind and spirit.
But what would happen if we were to challenge this model and instead to ask the question ~
“What if our soul is not our core but our canvas, on to which our body and mind are painted?”
How might we change if we were to behave as though everything we do, everything we say and everything we feel was intertwined with our soul — that the body and mind were secondary; subsidiary to the soul? What if the needs of our soul for meaning, connection and authenticity could not be parked in Sundays, religious ceremonies or once — weekly yoga classes but instead permeated every aspect of our lives? How might adopting this new image of the soul as at least a working hypothesis change how we go about our everyday lives? How might the colors of our soul canvas seep through into the layers of body and mind painted upon it? Would it change them? Would it change how we interact with people, the ease with which we exercise, how we view others, how we phrase our emails or where we shop for groceries? Could it change our legal system, our education system, our health system, how we design architecture and how we do business?
Of course this approach is equally guilty of “it-ifying” the soul by still giving it a metaphorical place in the body as the ground onto which is added the figures of body and mind. But given the ever increasing statistics of the incidence of depression, and the millions of people who live their lives in lethargy and hopelessness, it might just be a worthwhile exercise. Mind-body medicine has come to recognise that the mind and body interact with one another in both directions; the body affects the mind and the mind affects the body. Maybe the time is right to challenge our outmoded mental image of the soul as being shut away from the activities of the mind and body for most of our daily lives — we might just be ready to create a new cultural view of the “all-ness” of the soul.
“Theologians may quarrel, but the mystics of the world speak the same language” ~ Meister Eckhart, Christian Mystic