“I’m a Soul Man…”
- Sam & Dave (Jake & Elliott too)
Let’s dive right in.
Many among us dispute whether an afterlife exists at all. There are agnostics, atheists, secular humanists – the list goes on. And then of course even among those that believe in an afterlife, there are plenty of arguments about what that entails, and what one might do while alive to increase your chance of that being a positive experience. Enter the religious, and the spiritual-but-not-religious. All of those good folks have varying ideas about what happens after you die, and what you can do while alive to bend odds in your favor.
And while there is clearly plenty of disagreement about what is to come, there is certainly less disagreement (except for in the “life vs. choice” discussion, which we’ll hold off on for now) about whether there’s a distinction between life and death, and what constitutes that distinction.
Even if we can’t agree on the beginning of life, we seem to be able to agree at least on what defines the end. There may be some discussions around heartbeat vs. brain function, etc. as indicators, but eventually you have to decide whether that is a person, or a person’s corpse.
And assuming there is such a thing as a corpse, however that came about, that means first of all there is indeed a difference between a person’s body, and a person’s corpse. And then carrying the argument further, there must be a difference between “the person” and their packaging – whether body or corpse.
If a person passes, and leaves a corpse…that kinda begs the question, “If a person is not their corpse… then what is in fact the thing that is NOT the corpse? What then is… the person?”
I think we can safely say that a person differs from their corpse in that the person has a consciousness, and in a corpse, that consciousness has departed, for hopefully greener pastures. So at least we can call it “consciousness”.
Now whether that consciousness continues on, or is in fact a soul, or reincarnates, or goes to either heaven or hell – all of that is a bigger question. And since it’s a question which has been around as long as humans have been around to record it, maybe it’s still a question that has no answer.
So, in that case, I’d like to shift the question from “What happens to ‘us’ after we die?” to “What is it that is really us” …and “Where does that ‘really us’ come from?” “If that thing is ‘the real us’, then that must be our true essence, right?” …and “If that is our essence, then why do we need a physical body, which it turns out is not ‘us’ at all?“ …and “………. Just…Why?!? To what end is all this??”
OK, I cheated. That is not one question, but actually a few.
But moving on… if we are not the body, but are the consciousness (or soul?) which inhabits the body, and after death our consciousness vacates the premises, well, what’s the point of having a body, or maybe I should ask, “Do we need a body to have a place to house our consciousness?” or “Can our consciousness exist outside of our bodies?”
In response to my own questions, I guess I’d say that some people would recognize the existence of a consciousness, even if they wouldn’t call it a soul. They would likely say it needs a body to be housed in, and probably exists somewhere in the brain. Others might call it a soul, but would suggest that that soul is what leaves upon death, and goes to heaven or some other spiritual realm. But it (the soul / consciousness) definitely exists outside (or within?) the body – but it’s not the body.
Then there’s a group of people who would say that our soul, or at least some element of our consciousness is what reincarnates from lifetime to lifetime. Over time, this soul, or whatever it is you want to call our deeper essence, inhabits many bodies.
But all seem to be in agreement that we are not just the body – if you include some notion of consciousness (whether it’s a soul or not). And that “thing”, whatever you call it, is the “real” us. And so if that’s the real us…is there a reason we inhabit these cumbersome bodies? Why can’t we just be consciousness? It seems so much easier, and would result in less lower back pain, for sure.
To repeat: hardcore secular humanists would likely acknowledge the existence of a conscious awareness, which departs at death. But they’d say at that time of departure, the person (both body and consciousness) cease to exist. Hardcore Christians would say that the consciousness (soul) goes onward to its great reconciliation, (virtual) fingers crossed, hoping for a better (rather than worse) eternity. Hardcore Jews and Muslims have their own notions of Heaven as well – but all of this requires the existence of an eternal soul, which can take residence in an eternal place/condition.
Then there are the pesky Hindus and Buddhists, who suggest that there is something that cycles round and round, apparently for reasons that it has to ultimately dope out for itself. But there is definitely something there, soul, consciousness, whatever.
And why would that thing incarnate to begin with, given it is separate from a body – in fact, separate from all the bodies it inhabits over time? And if this is how it is, why is this how it is? (Answer: Who knows.)
But luckily, luckily, luckily, some ancient sages gave this a lot of thought, and they came up with a few ways to look at this process.
And what they suggest is that our souls, our consciousness, grows and evolves and becomes more and more aware of the absolute enormity of existence as it makes its multiple passes in and out of incarnation. Our essence incarnates, again and again, in order to come to understand what really matters, and to be put through the experiences which impart those lessons. (It’s not good enough to just read about it in a book, or to Google it and find the answers on Wiki?? C’mon…)
Well, apparently none of that is good enough. We need to take incarnation, in order to learn how to become broader and deeper perceivers of existence, and ultimately of that which creates and sustains all of existence, call it what you like. Some people call it the universe (though it’s really a complex multiverse), some infinite cosmic consciousness, some the Creator, and some various names for God.
It’s all the same – it’s the thing / being / consciousness that has created and sustained (and sometimes destroyed) it all – the Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva trinity, the Godhead, or just plain ol’ God.
But what does that have to do with us each individually?
Well, we are here to experience the fullness of it all. We are here to learn about it all. We take incarnation to feel it all, to embody the lessons and the awareness of it all. And to try to learn what, in the midst of the experience of it all, really matters.
It is about our experience of All – one lesson, one expanded ring of awareness, at a time.
We need a forum, a gameboard, a world in which to experience that which we need to experience in order to grow. And over time, our experiences deepen and broaden, and encompass more and more and more.
We start off puny, isolated, and in fear. There is us, and then there is all that, so very much, which is not us – and all of which threatens and overwhelms us, threatens our very existence. Everything outside of us is a potential threat to our existence, and we live in fear – never knowing what is going to be our downfall. And we could stop there, with that limited awareness. And many do, trapped by fear.
Or, we might grow. We might take a chance here or there, and let something else overrule our knee jerk fear. We might share something with another being; we might help someone; we might be vulnerable with someone; we might understand another being or their situation well enough to be empathic, sympathetic, or even to be compassionate. And when we let that person in, or let our guard down enough, or expand ourselves enough to embrace them – we expand the perimeter of our consciousness.
We see their nature, and see that it is not so very different from our own. We see their fears, and their reactions to their fears. We see their wounds and their traumas. And we become less threatened by them, less fearful of them. We become less fearful overall.
And that changes us. It changes our approach to life. It changes the risks we’re willing to take. It changes each of our interactions. Without throwing caution to the wind, it still allows us to trend towards trust, towards optimism, towards connection, towards unity.
We really are all in this together. And we need to give each other a fighting chance at overcoming divisiveness and mistrust. We need to allow for the possibility that that other soul is not dissimilar from our soul.
The Rasta guys don’t say “we”, they say, “I and I”. The Hindus greet with “Namaste” – the divine within me acknowledges the divine within you. Even the Bavarians say, “Gruss Gott!” – I greet God, literally.
Deep down we all know we are not the body. But we live in fear of its protection and ultimately its loss. We need to embody (no pun intended) what we already know to be true: without consciousness, we are nothing. In fact, we are that very consciousness. We are the soul, maybe even possibly The Soul, each of us. We are the etheric, the ephemeral, and we are less different from each other than we think, and less divided than our separate bodies would otherwise indicate.
So, we begin the journey small and separate, alone and isolated. But we push forward, and with that we expand our concentric rings of awareness, of vulnerability, of empathy and compassion. Through that iterative process of pushing and experiencing, our fears diminish, and our consciousness, our heart, grows and expands.
We become deeper, and broader, and more encompassing. We are literally larger in our awareness. And because of that visceral expansion, we fear less. We are no longer small and weak and threatened. We are larger, stronger; we have grown in order to accommodate what we have begun to store inside us.
And what is that process of expansion? What have we stored inside us to make us feel larger?
We have expanded purely by releasing our boundaries. We have made room for understanding and compassion, allowing us to include the perspective, feelings, emotions, and awareness of others.
Had we remained behind the fragile walls of our own limited consciousness, we would have remained small, broken, fearful, isolated, divided – fearing all that we perceived as “not us”.
All of that would have been based on our physical bodies, which we determined were the least of us.
Instead, we push the walls of our perception, we incorporate the awareness of others, by acknowledging in them what we have acknowledged of ourselves: we are not our bodies; we are not weak and fragile and isolated; we are not divided; we are not separated by the least of ourselves.
We gained that strength, that new perspective, that growth, not by walling ourselves off. That would have left us as we started – just as alone, just as weak. We gained all that growth through expansion, through compassion, through empathy and recognition, and ultimately through love.
We risked testing out that we were more than body. We took chances with openness and vulnerability, and in that process we expanded, gained confidence, and gained strength. It was not through isolation and divisiveness that we grew – that would have only weakened us, kept us fragile and afraid, trapped in our self-imposed little cages of protection. It was only through risk and vulnerability that we came to see how strong we are, how similar we are, how resilient we are, and how much unity we all share.
Alone, behind walls, we cower in the dark, in the consciousness of fear. Stepping forward we take the risk of vulnerability but ironically through that we step into our power. And it is all done through openness, unity, and love.
Isolation is a stance borne out of our heritage of fear and mistrust, and it weakens us. Unity is borne out of the potential for love, and it only strengthens us.
We must always reject the limitations of the body and of separation, and of a fear-based model. It always weakens. We must always be brave enough to accept unity and oneness. It is the only thing which strengthens us, and the only thing which engenders the growth of our spirit and soul, and of our eternal consciousness.
We know we are not our separate bodies. Separation is an illusion. We are our connected ephemeral souls. Rejecting what we know we are not, we accept what we know we really are – consciousness itself. And so that is why, when all is said and done, I say, “I’m a Soul Man.” (Bah bah bah…)
So… if our souls are here for a reason, are there ways to help surface that reason, or to help us better understand it and connect to it? Are there techniques for connecting to the soul and to its purpose? What can we do to wash away the blockages that prevent a deeper conscious connection to our souls?
Well, of course there are.
There are many things at our disposal on the journey to uncovering more of ourselves. But basically, all of them have one important thing in common: quieting our noisy minds.
Whether we’re doing sound or tapping techniques, practicing formal breath, mantra, chakra, mindfulness or other meditations, engaging in gazing or theta wave generation exercises, or any number of practices, the point is we are working to clear away the debris so that we can better connect with our souls, and our soul’s divine purpose. It’s in the experimenting with these various techniques that we uncover what works best for each of us, and we start to build our unique and personalized approach to the unfolding of our deeper natures.
It’s all a journey to end up resting in our Natural State, in the Universal Mind, which is our mind. It is the nature of, and the purpose for, our souls – to find their way back to their own inherent fullness. It is the journey of the soul, and it is the destination for the soul. It is the pathless path back to what was there all along.