"The moment we arrived on earth, we were given bodies, the vehicles that carry our spiritual essence. You and I do not live inside our bodies. Our bodies live inside us.  They're the means through which we travel in time in this life journey.  None of us knows how long this particular vehicle will last. But rather than worrying about when its warranty might run out, it's much more important to concern ourselves with the journey itself, with the knowledge, hopes and dreams our spirits guide us to along the way."

Mary Manin Morrissey

In the modern version of Western Civilization we are inclined to identify our sense of self with our bodies. Many of us think, "I am this body." We think our mind is merely a development resulting from  the processes and experiences of this body. Consciousness is commonly viewed as a side effect of the activity of that large gland, the brain.

As psychology developed, its practitioners believed they needed to focus on the observable in order for psychology to be considered a true science. So they ignored ideas like the soul. Some took this exclusion a step farther and ignored the mind, focusing their studies merely on behavior. These relatively few individuals had a powerful influence on the way many of the rest of us think about ourselves.

The work of Sigmund Freud revolutionized the way we think of the mind, yet we seem to have misunderstood him. James Masterson points out in The Search for the Real Self:

 "Another factor that led generations of psychoanalysts farther afield from the self was the unfortunate fact, pointed out recently by Bruno Bettelheim, that when Freud did speak of the self, which he called the 'soul,' the word was lost in translation. In his famous "three provinces of the…soul," the more humanized terms I, it, and above-I were translated as ego, id and superego. What Freud called the 'structures of the soul' became 'mental apparatus,' and the phrase 'organization of the soul' was translated as 'mental organization.' All of which fostered the impression that Freud was concerned with the mechanics of the human mind, not the mysteries of the human soul."
So maybe we should take another look at this whole soul issue. What if, as innumerable sages and spiritual masters have believed through the millennia, we are a soul that has acquired a body? If we do not live inside our bodies, but our bodies live inside us, how does that change the way we do our lives? How does that change what we feel about ourselves? What if our spirit does survive earthly death? How would that change the way we live before death?

If the soul survives death, and perhaps returns to a new body, what is it that survives? What characteristics of your so-called self would persist if your body was no more? What might cause consciousness to persist in the absence of a body? Where might the idea of attachment fit in? Could the soul be persistent, but not permanent and unchanging?

Sit quietly, and think on these things. Give yourself time. Let your thoughts and perceptions percolate through the layers of your mind. Let them sit, then come back to them later.

"One day as I was about to step on a dry leaf, I saw the leaf in the ultimate dimension. I saw that it was not really dead, but that it was merging with the moist soil in order to appear on the tree the following spring in another form. I smiled at the leaf and said, 'You are pretending.' Everything is pretending to be born and pretending to die, including that leaf." 

Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ

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© 2002 Tom Barrett