My first draft of this post started with my saying that I knew how to spell the word “soul” and knew how to use it in a sentence—but that “soul” was an empty word as far as I was concerned, a word without a concept.
I wrote of feeling put off when people used the word with the same certainty as, say, “leg” or “boulder,” as had happened at a Yi Ren Qigong seminar I had recently attended based on “The Secret of the Golden Flower,” a classic Daoist/Chinese-Buddhist guide to meditation.
But the post was never quite right, although I’d worked and reworked it nigh unto death.
And then this morning, as I was watering my houseplants and rewriting the post yet again in my head, it occurred to me that actually, I did have a concept of soul, or at least I could have one.
Six weeks previous, I’d had an experience (which I wrote about in “Fear—Beast or Bunny?”) of being gripped by fear and then, after doing some qigong, feeling the energy of my fear drop away from my body, away from my calves and ankles and out onto the floor. This experience of energy leaving my body was unlike anything I’d felt before. The energy that dropped from my body was almost palpable, almost visible—well beyond denying. However, at the time, I was mostly just grateful to be less afraid. I wrote a post about the experience and went on with my life.
But as I was watering my plants, it occurred to me that if the energy of my fear had had near tangible form as it dropped away from my body, perhaps all the energy associated with my being alive—indeed, my qi, which might include or even equate to what could be called my spirit or soul—would similarly leave my body when I died.
I have heard people speak of being with a loved one when he or she died and being aware of something leaving the person’s body, something almost tangible that they took to be the person’s spirit, or soul—something similar to the energy of my fear.
Wow! Here was a concept of “soul” that actually meant something to me, that might even be in the same general ballpark as other people’s concept of “soul.”
Some may see my realization as no big deal, or may find me silly or even delusional, but to me all this is very exciting. Indeed, in some subtle way that I can’t quite put my finger on, it feels like a whole new door has opened into my understanding of life and death, the universe and qi.
Of course, this is also one more reason why I should keep writing this blog, because if I hadn’t been trying to write about the subject of soul, I would not have been thinking about it this morning and might not have had this realization.
Indeed, I had had the experience of fear dropping away from my body before I attended the “Golden Flower” seminar, but I didn’t connect it with all the talk of “soul” and “spirit” that went on there.
In “Golden Flower,” at least in the Thomas Cleary translation of the book, the essence of the mind is referred to as primal spirit, or upper soul. This primal spirit is connected to universal spirit. It is intuitive and pure, without the baggage of feelings and thoughts that encumber consciousness, or conscious spirit, or lower soul. The book teaches a method of looking inward to observe this essence of mind.
It doesn’t speak of reincarnation, at least not that I could tell, but that concept was definitely part of the discussion and even more off-putting to me at the time than talk of the “soul,” since there’s no way reincarnation can sound like anything but a fantasy if you don’t have a concept of “soul.”
However, even though I am now willing to say that I have an energetic concept of soul, I still don’t know what happens to soul energy when it leaves the body—and I am particularly far from embracing the notion of reincarnation (or of heaven or hell, for that matter).
Both reincarnation and going to heaven or hell would seem to require that the soul, or spirit, be a discrete package of energy that continues to hang together as “the soul that was Joe” after the body that was Joe is dead.
Somehow this seems unlikely.
Many years ago I took a meditation class from a minister who likened a person’s spirit, or soul, to an ocean wave. When a wave rises from the ocean, it becomes “that” wave, but when it sinks down and merges back into the ocean, it loses its identity. He suggested that it might be similar with people, so that when a person was born, their soul or spirit, their consciousness or their “I-ness,” would rise from universal spirit, and when they died, it would merge back into that universal spirit, or ground of consciousness.
I don’t remember the man’s exact words—whether he said spirit or soul, for example—but I can visualize today the wave he drew upon on a large pad of paper.
I thought at the time that if there was something about a human being that was more than body, that if indeed there was spirit or soul, this image would make more sense than the idea of soul energy hanging together as a discrete entity after a person’s death.
I still think so.
Of course, there’s really no point in my trying to figure this out by thinking about it; thinking can only get you so far.
I now have concepts for two words I once considered to be imaginary constructs—“qi” and “soul”—and I arrived at them not by thinking, but through experience, through the practice of taiji and qigong.
Who knows what concepts I will discover next, and what words I will embrace….