How does one define “soul”? Depth psychology makes the study of “soul” an important element of distinction from traditional orientations. James Hillman refers to soul as “the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, and fantasy”. For me, this evokes the idea that soul is a way of being, an imaginal perspective that makes space for all that there is, without interpretation or judgment; a pure state of oneness with that which surrounds me. “Soul” is a way of experiencing, a deep emotionality that moves one from an event into the bigger picture.

“Soul” has to do with how things matter, enhancing life with value and significance. For Hillman, “soul refers to the deepening of events into experiences”, a deepening that brings metaphorical and literal meaning. “Soul” allows for a deeper connection to a numinous reality, bringing forth a sense of purpose and possibility. “Soul” is both literal and metaphorical, does not deny one or another but makes space for both.

“Soul” is often communicated in love or by means of religion. It is through love that we can ultimately see “soul”: in the eyes of a lover, a smile of a child, tears of a friend, and the raw and messy details of suffering. “Soul” is the reflection in the mirror, the words of a love song on the radio, the last dying breath of a great grandmother surrounded by her loved ones, the loneliness of an elderly in a distant nursing home, a soldier’s painful memory of death in the name of patriotism. “Soul” can be felt in the hesitant touch of a man who both desires and fears love, and heard in the faint voice of a woman whose life has been a series of overwhelming events. “Soul” is the miracle of birth and the grief of death.

It is only when I allow myself to be deeply touched by another, my heart opens and I am filled with a sense of complete aliveness. It is then that I see “soul” everywhere.

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4 Responses to “What is “Soul”?”

  1. […] This post was Twitted by rashin […]

  2. Rashin, I love your definitions of soul here. Perhaps you know Dennis Slattery, a professor in the Mythology program at Pacifica Graduate Institute? He and I recently published a co-edited volume of essays titled "Reimagining Education: Essays on Reviving the Soul of Learning." Though the essays are all so unique in their exploration of the learning enounter, I believe there's a common theme which resonates with your idea that soul occurs when "I allow myself to be deeply touched by another." My essay in the volume speaks directly to those deep encounters that can occur in the classroom, as does Thomas Moore's, Christine Downing's, and many of the other contributors. And yet, education today is focused on the shallow encounter, not between teacher and student, but between student and curriculum. No soul there, nor on the standardized test which measures the success of the encouter.

  3. To continue: I've been so encouraged by my experiences at book readings and radio interviews and conference presentations when I share some of the insights from this book. Talk about bringing depth psychology to everyday life–everyone I meet understands intuitively and feels a raging hunger to bring depth of soul back to public education. As you state in your post, bringing soul to the educational encounter can bring "forth a sense of purpose and possibility" which is so lacking for most students at school these days.

    Thanks for your thought-provoking piece.

  4. Rashin says:

    Thank you Jennifer for reading, and sharing your thoughts on soul and the lack of it in our current educational system. I'm definitely intrigued by your essays and would love to read them. As a parent and having worked with children, I see the negative impacts of this "lack" on a daily basis. Perhaps together we can work together and bring back that sense of purpose and possibility in our youth.

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