Remembering the Ancient Concept of Soul
Therefore, we may consequently state that this world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence … a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related. — Plato, Timaeus
I was raised in a western religious tradition that teaches individual souls to seek eternal salvation, and to concern themselves with the fate of others — people who should fear eternal damnation in its various horrific, imagined forms.
While I personally reject ideologies that call for me to live for rewards that follow the shedding of my human form, I won’t say that the various wisdom traditions have no value.
Rather, I would urge us to return to what I feel is a healthier and more realistic view of the human soul — one that is deeply connected to all of life.
The age in which we live is not one that I detest. Far from it. I am enthralled with technological innovation and so many of the amenities that life in the current era offers us. Yet I do recognize that, as opposed to our ancestors, our feet rarely touch the earth.
And we rarely use our legs, because we have automobiles, elevators, escalators, and Segways. We most often do not grow our food, but pick it up in plastic between concrete walls, air conditioning, and lighted ceilings. Because of these things, it is easier for us to become disconnected from what I would say actually is our soul.
As opposed to an entity that can be extricated from a human body, I would argue that the human body constitutes a portion of what animates soul. Likewise, soul can be thought of in terms of relationship. Each of us being unique means that we all have a special place in relationship to each other, and to every other life form.
The concept of Indra’s Web from the Vedic cosmologies, illustrates the concept of necessary interconnection poetically.
In this teaching, the Universe has a net that is comprised of wires running horizontally and vertically, stretching to infinity, and at each crossing of the wires, there is a pearl.
Each pearl represents a life-form, whether it is an atom, a plant, or an animal, to include human apes.
Within the the shiny pearls, the reflections of all of the other pearls can be seen. Therefore if something changes in one of them, that change is reflected in all of them.
Within the net, there is no life-form that is more important — no entity superior to another. Rather, there is simple necessary interconnectedness holding the entire web together.
That is life. It is a web, not a hierarchy.
This is a beautiful metaphor given to us by an ancient wisdom tradition, and there are many others. Yet we also know from a scientific perspective, that interconnectedness is not just a “feel good” concept designed for elevating us to euphoric moods. The very basics of biology and ecology emphasize inter-species and environmental dependencies.
When it comes to our personal philosophies, it would seem that embracing scientific and spiritual concepts that are congruent with each other would prove to be most beneficial to all of us.
The more we can attempt to reconnect, allowing our feet to touch the earth, whether or not we actually get them dirty, I believe the more we realize our own soul and true human potential.
Bill Plotkin, in the essay “Care Of The Soul Of The World”, says the following:
An authentic adult is someone who experiences herself, first and foremost, as a member of the Earth community, has encountered her soul (has had a revelatory experience of her unique mythopoetic place in the Earth community, her ultimate place in the more-than-human world), acquired some practical and culturally-effective means for embodying this place among her people, made a commitment to doing so, and is doing it.
Plotkin’s description of soul departs from many modern versions, returning to centuries before when we seemed to understand better our place within the circle of life.
In his version, we still retain and celebrate diversity and individuality, but in doing so, we offer our gifts to our cosmological community, understanding that there is no way, scientifically speaking, to disconnect ourselves. To live otherwise is to live in sickness and disillusionment.
We can revisit soul not as an entity that departs from a human body, but celebrate what we can know of it in the here and now, using its unique talents to do what only you, the unique, individual can do. We need you for that. We need you to connect to your soul and allow it to speak. Here. Now.
Within my chosen wisdom tradition, we would say that we can be “co-creators” of our reality, and that everything we think, do, and say, through its energy, has an impact on everything and everyone around us, and collectively, our choices determine our reality. True, many results are felt with an impact while some are subtle or even undetectable to us.
We may never understand fully understand how the purchase we made today impacted a village across the world. We will not be able to consciously know all.
But we can choose to become more aware, and more awake, and enlivened with regard to living connected. Right now we have this luxury of still thinking about it.
But see the photos of the animals I’ve shown. See them critically endangered. And then see how that pearl in Indra’s net can only mean one thing. That reflection will at some point be our reality if we do not consider the way we live.
We can remember the Anima mundi, the “Soul Of The World” and realize consistently, that it is all of us.
Please join me on my wildlife and conservation journey and let’s promote a spirit of community that nurtures all life on this precious planet.
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