Soul (noun) – The spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal. (from the Oxford English Dictionary)
Do you have a “soul”? Your answer might depend on who is asking – the spiffy kids who knocked on your door and stood on the porch with excellent posture? James Brown?
If you’re a reasonable modern American, you might tend to dismiss the question.
Because… “Who cares?” Nobody has ever seen a soul.
Many of us may not like to use the word.
We may sense that some essence within us interacts with this universe in ways we cannot understand.
We may know that what we do today affects other people, and that tomorrow those other people will affect more people. We may know that this process will go on and on, whatever language we use.
We tend to believe in something very soul-like no matter who we are, or what we call it. Maybe the fact that we all feel it means something.
The most die-hard atheist, full of impressive and snarky rationalizations, might release balloons into the sky when his grandmother dies.
Maybe he has good reasons not to use the word “God” and “soul” in a funeral service. But in a place behind the eyes and beyond the words, what does that letting go of the string “mean” to him? What does he feel as he watches that red balloon twist lazily toward the heavens above and shrink from his view?
Why do people tend to believe in a soul-like-thing? Why do we start wars over what to call something nobody has seen, when it may not even “exist”?
Maybe its because we all feel it, and we all know it is important.
We argue over what to call our “souls.” How important is the diction? Humans think labels are important. Do labels truly contain meaning? Did the letters W,A,T,E,R in sequence ever quench your thirst? Labels are useful because they appear to contain meaning, but they often constrain it.
Meaning is useful when we think that it’s shared. Can a really big ball of ice be a “planet”? It might ask us what we’re thinking of when we say “Pluto,” or when we say “planet.”
Can we understand this universe well enough to label it and call it done? Does reality fit in a box?
If you would attempt to limit your own soul to something you understand – you have traded the freedom of your being for the safety of your mind.
That is your choice, and you have free will to make it.
We can give the word “soul” a hearing and a sentencing, and lock it away in a jail cell of syntax in the prison of English. But we are only able to lock up the idea in our head – not what it points at in the cosmos.
There are advantages to putting ideas into boxes. It often helps us feel certain that we know what will happen next. We know that if we call “Here boy!” at a four-legged animal, a “d-o-g” will come to us, and a “c-a-t” will only stare. Labels can let us know what to expect by sorting our world into categories.
It’s tough to sort things you can’t see directly with your eyes.
Some ideas, like the Soul, may not fit into words. Words can only point toward them.
Can English contain all that is true? Can part of one language contain the wholeness of reality?
The soul cannot be seen with the naked eye. Nor can the wind that blows around us when we allow ourselves to step outside. Why attempt to constrain truth in scientific or psychological jargon? Can important truth be contained only in religious terminology?
You were born in a blizzard of this world, and your special snowflake of consciousness swirled and danced on the winds of change.
You opened your eyes and saw light through the lens of your own perception. Someone held you and fed you, and you grew. You opened your mind and tinted your memories in the shades of your own understanding. You are nature and nurture intertwined in a growing helix that reaches forever up.
You have known what it is to be alive in ways that are singular to you. And that makes a difference to the universe.
Want to use the big words of science in English to decode the “soul”? You are a pattern of DNA that created a unique pattern of 100-billion cells we call a brain, that in turn creates patterns of electrochemical signals we call a mind. Those electrochemical signals guide the motions of a body comprised of another 37.1 trillion cells as it interacts with an environment.
This environment is full of other people, who have their own thing going on and their own stuff to do today.
This singular creation you are, ALL THAT YOU ARE, has consequences for all of us.
Never before in the history of this universe has a “you” existed. Yet your atoms and the swirls of your electrons were once stars, and will be stars again. The pattern of you, created by the fractal interrelation of your “material” and “immaterial” dimensions and their environments, will alter this universe irrevocably.
You cannot help but “make a difference.” You cannot help but “matter.” You ARE matter. Matter is energy. That energy can be seen as “material” or “immaterial.” It can be seen as particles or waves.
As a being of matter and energy, you have the ability to do “work.” Call it “work” if you’re a physicist. Call it “works” if you’re religious. Or:
“We are all here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” – Mark Vonnegut
Every day you will touch the lives of other people. One of those people may be our next global dictator, who will one day crush all life from the planet as he tightens his grip. Or, you will meet the man who develops the terraforming process for Mars that allows mankind to survive countless generations. You might cut one of them off in traffic.
You may be the butterfly who beats his wings, and sends a huricane halfway around human history.
You are and always will be that butterfly, affecting everything in this world with everything you are.
You may help or hurt on accident, but you also may also consciously align with all that you are, and help others to do the same.
Let’s not pretend that we need the right label for a thing to “exist” and affect people and the universe. Let’s not argue about what we’re going to call something so vital to the experience of being alive…
Soul (noun) A person’s moral or emotional nature or sense of identity. “In the depths of her soul, she knew he would protect her.” Emotional or intellectual energy or intensity, especially as revealed in a work of art or an artistic performance. “Their interpretation had soul.” – (Oxford English Dictionary)
Soul (n.1) A substantial entity believed to be that in each person which lives, feels, thinks and wills. Old English (sawol) “Spiritual and emotional part of a person, animate existence; life, living being.”
From 971 AD “Spirit of a deceased person” is attested in Old English. “Person, individual, human being” dates from early 1300s AD. Distinguishing soul from spirit is a matter best left to theologians.
soul (n.2) “Instinctive quality felt by persons as an attribute,” (1946) jazz slang. Also from this sense are soul brother (1957), soul sister (1967.) Soul music (1961.) William James used the term in 1900, in a spiritual/romantic sense, but in reference to inner music. (Etymonline)