This post is my response to UU Salon’s May 2010 question: What is a soul?
What is a soul? I smiled when I read the question, the first for the UU Salon blog’s open invitation for UU bloggers to address a Big Question each month. I’d been poking away at a post on our essence of being, and this question helped me frame my thoughts.
I’ve never given much thought to the soul until the last few years, despite a childhood steeped in church. My Methodist and Catholic upbringing and six years of Catholic school followed by seven years at a Jesuit university didn’t lead me to consider the soul. So why, now that I’m a Unitarian Universalist, does the idea of soul become so central? It’s certainly not part of the seven principles or six sources, although I’d argue the soul is at the heart of all those UU lists. We’re a religion without creed, so of course there’s no guidance using the word soul. But it’s the underpinnings to our shared philosophies, I’m sure.
As I see it, the soul is the essence of our being. It’s the “me” under me, what’s left when I strip off my ego defenses, upbringing, wants, desires, and all that I’ve always identified as me. My soul’s been with me since my start and will continue to accompany me on this journey of life. It’s not the part of me that’s UU, white, middle-class, homeschooling mom, divorced, liberal, free thinking, tactile-sensitive, or introverted-yet-sociable. It is what remains when all that dissolves. It’s the part of me capable of great compassion and love for those my ego-self finds hard to find worthy of compassion and love and the part that yearns for a community of peace for all, not because I want it to be so but because it’s what humans should have. It’s unselfish, kind, patient, undemanding, unassuming, endlessly loving, and deeply in touch with my divine nature and therefore in touch with the divinity of the universe. It’s me with all the “me” left behind.
It’s in every one of us, a gift of the universe. I don’t know (and, at least now, don’t care) where it goes when my physical body returns to the earth. I believe it is with our soul that we connect to one another, to all that came before us and all that carry on after us. Can we bury our soul? Definitely. Can we work to remove the shades covering our soul, thus increasing the time we work from this divine being within us? Certainly. But it’s not an easy road. The more I work to let my soul lead, the more tender I become: the more I risk in this world. It’s a vulnerable way to live, soul exposed, and I know I’m only living there a small fraction of my life, although I’m working on increasing that time. It’s living with the soul that leaves me most fulfilled as human, most compassionate and loving of life around me. And that’s worth some pain.
Are you searching for your soul?
Then come out of your own prison
Leave the little stream and join the river that flows to the ocean.
Like an Ox, don’t pull the wheel of this world on your back
Take off the burden, whirl and circle
Rise above the wheel of the world
There is another view