Photo by Lucia Gherra on Unsplash
What is soul?
Have you ever tried ‘googling’ ‘soul’? 83,200,000 responses.
There was a car advert on TV recently that said (in a French accent that I find quite delightful),
“Wot eez soul? Ooo nose? We onlee no wen eet ees zere we love eet and wen eet ees gone we mees eet”
I like that , then again, it might just be the accent. I like the innocent contentment to leave it as an unfathomable mystery.
Religions, non denominational spiritual teachers, shamans and many private individuals seek to fathom those depths, spending lifetimes in contemplation, in search of the riches to be had there. Looking for the bliss, the joy, the light.
What do you do though, if you’re not content to leave it as an unfathomable mystery, but haven’t got a lifetime you want to dedicate to contemplation?
There’s many, many ways of defining it to be had. 83,200,000 at the last count.
We could pick a definition that feels right and go with that?
I’m very fond of Margaret Benefiel’s definition in her book
‘Soul at Work’.
” ‘Soul’ is the lived manifestation of spirituality in an
individual, a family or an organisation.”
Spirituality she defines as “the human spirit, fully engaged”
So there we are. Now we know what soul is. Are we done?
No, no…This isn’t just an intellectual exercise. I want the bliss and the joy and all those things. I want to get it off the page and somehow to live it.
So then a different question.
What does soul look like when it is lived?
We could be forgiven for giving up at this point. More effort than I have time for. Isn’t there a nice easy definition that I can pick up and run with, slot in mentally and measure against that in the future as soul matters arise?
Or,shrug our shoulders, say ‘Ooo nose?’ and get back to our very long, very pressing list of things to do that’s always there waiting.
But we’re very close. I’m hanging in there. I’m on a promise of bliss and joy and I’m not giving up now.
If it’s true that “Wen eet ees zere, we love eet.”, then to remember the moments when we’ve loved things would be getting close.
I love it when I see soul lived in other people or in what they have produced.
The character Billy Elliot dancing, a boy transformed, completely alive,magnificent and an absolute joy to watch. That’s it, it’s here. We’ve got it…we’ve got real joy.
A wooden bowl I have that has been carved with such love, care and attention. I can feel it. It is imbued with soul.
A sip of Reggiano Rosso wine. There is no way that it’s an automated process with a night watchman smoking and watching the TV. They love it…they must…you can taste it.
Gabriel Faure’s Requiem, Monteverdi Choir and Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique, that particular production is exquisite, it stops me in my tracks and has me sat stock still, feeling it flood through me. It commands attention and transports me. I honestly find myself in a blissful state.
You could argue that any choral track could do that, but that’s not what I’ve found. I’m not a great opera fan but I do love Carmen. I have one production of it on CD where it’s all rushed and they sound like they want more than anything to be finished and off to the pub. I have another, not any minutes longer, where I can feel every emotion as if I was in it myself.
It seems for me that if something has been produced by someone or a group living from their soul at the point when they produced it, then it will reach out and touch me.
Those are such joyful experiences that I think to live a whole life only witnessing soul in others would be bliss enough.
It seems enough, but for sure it delivers only a fraction of the bliss and joy that’s possible when you too live from your soul.
I think Walt Whitman was onto it. “Ask not what the world needs but what makes you come alive, because what the world needs, is people who have come alive.”
How would you rate your aliveness at the moment?
Someone once asked me, when I was in a low spot, “What makes your heart sing?” I realised as time ticket by without me finding anything to reply that it had been quite some time since my heart had sung. A fair few things about my life at the time were not condusive to coming alive.
Aliveness shows me I’m living from my soul. Other things too show me;
when I’m completely absorbed, flowing, lost track of time and quite unaware of anything other than what I’m doing
an absence of anxiety, guilt, shame, fear, ego and other things that have me make decisions or behave in ways I don’t like so much when I look back on them
How is it looking for you, what’s your soulful decision tally like as you look back over decisions large, like what work you’re going to do, or small, to rest or to dance this evening?
Who’s taking most of your decisions and shaping your life, your soul, true to you or your ego, worrying what others will think, feeling guilt, shame or fear?
I think it’s probably more than a human can hope for that all life is lived from your soul and every decision taken in consultation with it, but one more than yesterday is better than one less, and one at a time builds up.
I’d like it if once you got connected to your soul, that was it. You’re now in bliss and that’s how it will always be. Same as cleaning the house, I’d like it if that was that. It is now clean and that is how it will stay.
I find it unfortunately easy to lose the connection, moments of being busy and it’s gone. And getting the connection back in the midst of a so busy, so hurried life takes a desire to carve out the space on a daily basis. But I’m running onto another subject of how. The question today was what is soul and how would we recognise it if we came across it in a life.
Well, reaching some of the places where there’s joy , remembering the times that have been blissful….does that mean we’ve also found soul?
I say yes!
What do you say? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Leave a comment here at the blog
Ref Soul at Work, Margaret Benefiel, Seabury Books 2005.