What is The Soul?


Somewhere along the way, I picked up this phrase which, given my emerging belief in an “eternal” soul, really resonated with me:The body is the garage in which the soul parks itself for a life-time.  And I just found this variation in a notebook: “The body is a vehicle which the soul is here to learn to drive.”

And then, in 2007. I came across these comments by theologian Matthew Fox: Now how is soul related to the body? I just want to say this one sentence. I have found it in Hildegard … [of Bingen] … in the twelfth century, Aquinas from the thirteenth … and Eckhart from the fourteenth…. All of them have this sentence: The soul is not in the body but the body is in the soul…. which means that our souls are as large as the world in which we live, as the fields in which our mind play, as the fields in which our heart roams. (Emphasis is in the original).


Gabrielle Roth says that, “Our soul, our true self, is the most mysterious and magical dimension of our being“.

Next, here is what I might call the theoretical basis for soul as described in James Hillman’s The Soul’s Code, In Search of Character and Calling (Random House, New York, 1996).  He writes:

It is impossible to see the [guardian] angel unless you first have a notion of it.

The puzzle in therapy is not how did I get this way, but what does my angel want of me?

Without time for loss, we don’t have time for soul.

We forget that the soul has its own ancestors.

As Plotinus tells us we (i.e. our soul) elected the body, the place and the circumstances that suited the soul and that, as the myth (i.e. Plato’s Myth of Er), says, belongs to its necessity. This suggests that the circumstances, including my body and my parents whom I may curse, are my soul’s own choice – and I do not understand this because I have forgotten.

We breathe, expand, and let go, and something comes in from nowhere. Something always has you in mind. 

Each person enters the world called…. Sooner or later something seems to call us out onto a particular path … this is what I must do; this is what I have got to have. This is who I am…. [But] …You don’t know what you are going to get into when you follow your bliss.

A calling may be postponed, avoided, intermittently missed. It may also possess you completely. Whatever; eventually it will out. It makes its claim. The daimon does not go away…. It is immortal, in that it does not go away and can’t be killed off by merely mortal explanations.

Each life is formed by its unique image, an image that is the essence of that life and calls it to its destiny. As the force of fate, the image acts as a personal daimon, an accompanying guide who remembers your … [soul’s] … calling.

The daimon motivates….It has much to do with feelings of uniqueness, of grandeur, and with the restlessness of the heart, its impatience, its dissatisfaction, its yearnings. It needs its share of beauty. It wants to be seen witnessed, accorded recognition, particularly by the person who is its caretaker.  It is slow to anchor and quick to fly. It can’t shed its own supernal calling, sensing itself both in lonely exile and in cosmic harmony.

A child defends its daimon’s dignity. That’s why even a frail child at a “tender” age refuses to submit to what it feels is unfair and untrue, and reacts so savagely to abusive misinterpretations.

Though this accompanying image shadowing your life is the bearer of fate and fortune, it is not a moral instructor or to be confused with conscience.

In Handbook For The Soul, edited by Richard Carlson and Benjamin Shield (Little, Brown & Company, Boston, 1995) Thomas Moore wrote:

I’ve come to believe … that the soul is really very broad…. it encompasses not just the higher or transcendent level of consciousness, the realm that we traditionally call spirit, but also what we might refer to as the lower level of consciousness – the soul in everyday experience … everyday life.

The higher level has to do with developing an overview or philosophy of life, a sense of moral conviction, an idea of what the world is all about and our place in it … [The] … lower level is the value of living one’s day- to-day life with attention to everyday essential qualities such as beauty, intimacy, community, imagination….

In our culture, however, we are so focused on success and progress that everyone talks about going up the ladder – no one talks about going down the ladder. We have lost the sense of how we might find religion and piety in the most ordinary experiences…. [So] … I think many of the troubles we run into are due to our treating the sacred as something abstract. This attitude is what allows us to do great harm to nature and ourselves…. [Consequently] I think we would be able to live in this world more peacefully if our spirituality were to come not just from looking into infinity but very closely at the world around us – and appreciating its depth and divinity.

He then suggests our close relationships with others are possibly “the most soulful aspects of our lives” and continues:

We need people in our lives with whom we can be as open as possible … but …[that] … involves courage and risk…. to be able to express our most intimate feelings and thoughts without fear of betrayal is one of the great quests of the life of the soul. And an important step in soul care is to give time and attention to those relationships that allow us to do this.

Note: Similar advice is given to people diagnosed with cancer: “If you want to heal, eliminate toxic relationships from your life and focus on the nurturing ones.”

Moore ends his essay this way:

If people are having trouble finding ways to care for the soul, it may be that they imagine this task is too big a project. It really isn’t…. The key is to give up the project of making yourself something shiny and big and to recognize that we are very ordinary people. By learning to discover and value our ordinariness, we nurture friendliness towards ourselves and the world that is the essence of a healthy soul.

The following quotes are from his Soul Mates, Honouring the Mysteries of Love and Relationship, (HarperCollins, 1994):

As the Greek mystical philosopher Heraclitus taught, “The soul is its own source of unfolding.”

A soul mate is someone to whom we feel profoundly connected, as though the communicating and communing that take place between us were not the product of intentional products, but rather a divine grace. This kind of relationship is so important to the soul that many have said there is nothing more precious in life. We may find a soul partner in many different forms of relationship– in friendship, marriage, work, play, and family.—it is a rare form of intimacy, but it is not limited to one person or to one form. 

The only thing keeping you from deep, satisfying, soulful relationships is your imagination. 

Intimacy begins at home, with oneself. It does no good to try to find intimacy with friends, lovers and family if you are starting out from alienation and division within yourself. 

Being a friend to yourself is no mere metaphor or purely simple idea it is the basis of all relationship, because it is a fundamental recognition of soul. We may feel tension in our lives and assume it is due to problems in a relationship with someone, but that seemingly outer tension may be an echo of inner conflict. 

The soul is always complicated. Most of its thoughts and emotions could never be expressed in plain language. You could have the patience of Job and still never understand your partner, because the soul by nature doesn’t lend itself to understanding or to clarity of expression. 

We not only need to know more about ourselves, we also need to love more of ourselves in an unsentimental way. We need to be close to the movements of soul that run deep and yet have everything to do with the way we act and feel in life. 

Such love of the soul, sometimes felt as nothing more than tolerance of its unreasonable demands, is the basis for intimacy among people. Honouring that aspect of the soul that is irrational and extreme, we have far fewer expectations of each other, in ourselves and in others — one of the most corrosive elements in any relationship. This kind of self love also spills over into the kind of love of another that is tolerant, that knows the soul’s tendency to move into new, positive areas through odd and apparently negative behavior. The truly soulful person may be surprised, but is not completely undone by unexpected developments in those he loves. 

Without intimacy, soul goes starving, for the closeness provided by intimate relationships fulfills the soul’s very nature. To the soul, there is hardly anything more healing than friendship…. In friendship there may be more not-doing than doing. Friendship doesn’t ask for a great deal of activity, but it does require loyalty and presence. After all, what the soul wants is attachment—a detached friendship is a contradiction in terms. 

Eternity makes itself felt in both lasting relationship and those who last only for a time. In neither case is the soul concerned with literal time but rather with the tone of the event. If it evokes eternity, then the friendship itself remains in imagination for endless time, even if the personal relationship does not.

Next, from The Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav, (Simon & Shuster, New York, 1989) come these thoughts:

It is the health of the soul that is the human experience … [which is] … an experience in movement and thought and form, and, in some cases, an experiment in movement and thought and form…. Let us do it in wisdom and love and joy. Let us make this the human experience.

It is not until you have the courage to engage in human relationships that you grow…. Our deeper understanding tells us that a truly evolved being … values love more than it values the physical world and what is in it.…. you will come to understand that love heals everything, and love is all there is.… [But] without commitment, you … [will not] …learn to see others as your soul sees them – as beautiful and powerful spirits of Light.

Only through emotions can you encounter the force field of your own soul.

The soul is. It has no beginning and no end ….The personality emerges as a natural force from the soul. It is an energy tool that the soul adapts to function within the physical world…. Each soul comes to the Earth with gifts. A soul does not incarnate only to heal and to balance its energy, to pay it’s karmic debts, but also to contribute its specialness in specific ways… It does this with purpose and intention.

At the beginnings of medicine, the shamans, or medicine men, defined illness not in terms of pathology but in terms of the soul ….illness was “soul loss“, a loss of direction, purpose, meaning, mystery, and awe. Healing involved not only the recovery of the body but the recovery of the soul. 

And, lastly, from Osho:

Nobody can live without a soul. And once you start thinking that there is no soul, your life starts losing all its meaning. The soul is your integrating concept; without it you are cut away from existence and eternal life. Just like a branch cut from a tree is bound to die — it has lost its nourishment ~ the very idea that there is no soul inside you, cuts you away from existence.