Have you ever tried to explain something to a friend and you just can’t seem to get the point across? You understand it without any trouble at all, intuitively, but your friend just can’t seem to pick up what you’re laying down. Honestly, I find those times to be VERY FRUSTRATING!
Just recently, I was trying to explain how I understand the words “self,” “soul,” or “spirit” to a friend that just never really got it. So I will write this post as a new attempt to explain it to my friend and also to create a little bit of a framework for some of the future posts I have in mind.
Before I get started, though, I want to acknowledge there are likely to be logical threads of reasoning that I have not yet explored. This means I reserve the right to continually refine my understanding of these ideas as I continually test them and think them through.
SELF – I view the “self” as the entire essence of my unique and individual personhood. This is the personhood that reasons and feels emotions and interacts with other “selves” (other people) in the day-to-day. In other words, I see my “self” as a unique and individual entity in this world (or all the other worlds and/or dimensions I could be in). I was given a name at birth, to make it easy for other “selves” to interact with me, or refer to me, but my name is not me.
My name is simply a convenient way for other “selves” to identify me. Some of those other “selves” also refer to me by various nicknames or affectionate titles, such as Papa, Dad, Babe, Sweetheart, etc. And every so often, other “selves” use different names for me (such as “a-hole,” “jerk”, etc) in an effort to degrade my “self,” at the very least in their own mind. But none of these names has any real impact on who my “self” is, moment to moment. As Shakespeare once said, “a rose by any other name….”
SOUL – I view the “soul” as the part of my “self” that includes my semi-eternal divine nature. By semi-eternal, I mean that I believe my “soul” had a specific beginning point within space-time, but will now continue to exist until the end of space-time. Yes, my current understanding is rooted in my very typical Judeo-Christian upbringing, in which I learned that only God is fully eternal (ever existing and unbound by the limits of space and time). I acknowledge and accept that other traditions see all “souls” as fully eternal and also see individual “souls” as parts of the “all” (my term) that have been separated from the “all” for some reason I do not know.
I see my divine nature (also called my “human nature”) as divine because of my typical Judeo-Christian upbringing, in which I learned that I was created in God’s image. But realize, by divine, I do not mean to imply only the “good” side we often associate with the word “divine.” I fully acknowledge that my divine nature (my “human nature”) includes an inclination to sometimes do “bad” things, in my mind or in the world. The ancient Chinese yin-yang symbol depicts this idea – that no person is either fully good or fully evil.
SPIRIT – I view the “spirit” as the driving force, the life force, the force that makes my “self” be alive. I see this as the energy that animates my day-to-day expression of my “self.” And not to get to “woo-woo,” but I see energy (as expressed in human form) as having both a “state” and a “flavor.” This means that my “spirit” also has a state and a flavor, which can vary from moment to moment, depending on many factors.
When I say “state,” I’m thinking of things like high energy, low energy, or something in between. When I say “flavor,” I’m thinking of things like “sad” or “happy.” So, it’s possible for me to be at a high-energy happiness (e.g., elation) or a high-energy sadness (e.g., depression). Or, I might be at a low-energy version such as mildly amused or a little sad. Or, very rarely, I might find myself in a neutral state.
I am sure there are many, many other ways to understand these concepts and use these words. But these are my current understandings of each, and the way I am currently using each. And as I continue to explore my own faith and other faith practices and traditions, I might change – or even abandon – my understanding and use of these words.