I talk a lot about the soul these days. It irritates you. You’re intelligent and sophisticated people, after all. But should it? Is a soul just a fairy tale? Let’s think about it as clearly as we can.
If we dare to speak about a soul, then instantly, we’re suspiciously tagged as fabulists, magical thinkers, sentimentalists — we can’t be serious, can we? So we’ve come to deny the existence of anything in us that we can’t touch, possess, acquire, buy and sell with money. So here we are.
Decrying the fact that there’s nothing money can’t buy or sell, and yet denying there’s anything else we are. See the contradiction?
So. It’s the greatest flaw in modern thinking: denying the soul. Go ahead and roll your eyes — and then ask yourself why the world is teetering on the brink. But what we don’t often realize is that it’s perfectly reasonable to be an atheist, rationalist, materialist, whatever, and not deny the soul. There’s no contradiction there: “isms” are just beliefs, but a soul is an empirical experience, requiring no belief whatsoever.
So let’s see if we can find it together.
Let me tell you a story about a man....
He's disabled. The sunlight can kill him in hours. Yes, really. Now, his parents didn’t love him any less. They loved him more. His wife didn’t love him in spite of it. She fell in love with him because of it. None of this is in the least rational or material. Rationally self-interested agents wouldn’t love a person like him, because there is no material, selfish advantage in it whatsoever. He's weaker than a blade of grass — at least that grows in the sun.
Now, the same is true for you. You love the people you care for not because they are perfect, immaculate, pure. But for their fragility, flaws, weaknesses. Their pain and their truth. If you don’t, then you don’t love at all, you only idealize and intellectualize, and such a relationship will break at the slightest pressure.
So what is it in you that loves? Nothing else in you is capable of it. Not your mind, not your thoughts, not your perceptions, not your senses, not reason, belief, calculation, desire, instinct. Nothing. Just your soul. No soul, no love. No love, no meaning, purpose, happiness. So in this way all the things that really matter to you come straight from your soul. Fight it if you want, but it will only make you more and more unhappy.
Now let’s see if we can go deeper into it. What is this thing called a soul? Well, to love is simply to see. You feel loved only when you are really seen for who you are, right? If someone cannot see you, that’s when you suffer: you feel rejected, hurt, small. So the soul is the part of us that sees, because love is being seen.
So there’s no complication, no mystery, at all, about this thing called soul. It’s the most natural thing of all, the easiest to explain, feel, hold, express. We don’t need to deny it as some kind of magic. When we do, that’s when our problems really begin — because then we are trying too hard to explain life as something it’s not.
Now let’s go even deeper, into the true mystery of the soul. When two people are in love, they are seeing each other. To be loved, though, we must be naked. Because we cannot be seen if we are not naked.
What do lovers see? Lovers don’t see form, shape, pleasure, desire. Not really. Those are manifestations, expressions, perceptions, feelings. They are not what is seen. When you there is someone before that you love, as naked as the spring, what do you really see? You see everything in them. Not everything that they are — everything that is.
You see the river becoming the ocean. You see the tree becoming the sky. You see the valley becoming the mountain. You see all this, instantly, without knowing it. You can deny it, sure. But that is only your rational mind telling you a lie. Otherwise why would you chase love at all? It is because everything is seen and held in the beloved that we need to love. Otherwise, we would be perfectly happy with some finite amount of objects, wouldn’t we? But we are not. Only because everything, which you can think of as oneness, is there in love do we feel so incomplete without it. So through seeing everything in the beloved, we gain a glimpse of what the soul really is.
The soul is everything, right there in you. As I often say, the whole universe in every beat of your broken heart.
Now let us come back to mundane reality. We have soul problems in the world today. We don’t see each other anymore. We see skin color, creed, race, ethnicity, nationality. We see the sons and daughters of the soil, and the unwanted. That is not seeing at all. Everything is in everyone. That is what a soul is, and that is the way that we must learn to see one another, if we are not to kill one another off with hate, spite, greed, and fear.
Soul problems. We try to solve them with politics. Electing this leader or that. But our problems are much deeper. By denying the soul, we have gone blind to the truth of one another in the first place. What’s the result of that? Of course one result is consumerism, which leads to inequality and stagnation. Another is bigotry and extremism — because if you don’t have a soul, then they don’t, either. But to me the most poisonous is just distance. Distance from life itself. And in that distance suffering is born. Suffering is like a disease. We give it to one another, because we can’t bear it alone.
And yet suffering is not like a disease in another way. It needs no cure. It only needs to be seen, naked, by the seer in you that sees anything as everything. That is the experience of love, and that is why, and how you know, you have a soul.