spirit, soul, body, mind

“The soul is placed in the body like a rough diamond, and must be polished, or the luster of it will never appear.”      — Daniel Defoe                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

spirit and soul

In his remarkably helpful book Soulcraft:  Crossing Into the Mysteries Of Nature and Psyche, Bill Plotkin delineates between soul and spirit. I use his categories and definitions. 

By soul I mean the vital, mysterious, and wild core of our individual selves, an essence unique to each person, qualities found in layers of the self much deeper than our personalities. By spirit I mean the single, great, and eternal mystery that permeates and animates everything in the universe and yet transcends all. Ultimately, each soul exists as an agent for spirit.

Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche, p 25. New World Library. Kindle Edition. 

Your soul is what makes you unique. It is very much the same as your “nature." In fact, there is a very close connection between soul and nature.

Spirit is that dimension of our experience in which we sense something larger than ourselves. It has nothing necessarily to do with “religion,” although the two are often confused and conflated because many religious practices and teachings have to do with the spirit. Perhaps you are one of the thousands of people today that describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” Whatever one might mean by “spiritual,” in my vocabulary we all from time to time are aware of being a part of something that transcends us, that links us to something big, indeed as big as the cosmos itself. Some have experiences of the supernatural. Some manifest visions, powers, wisdom that the rest of us don’t. But nearly everyone has experiences of awe, wonder, and even surprise at being able to do something that we would ordinarily doubt we could do. Those are some of the ways in which “Spirit” shows up in our lives.

Plotkin says that "the soul is an agent for the spirit.” Daniel Helminiak says in Meditation without Myth that there are three ways to access the spirit. One is the body. One is the psyche (the Greek word for “soul”), and one is directly to or through the spirit itself.  

body and soul

Yoga, the martial arts, mindful eating, conscious breathing, singing, dancing, rhythm, movement, sexual ecstasy, fasting, and the ingestion of certain foods or other substances all are ways in which the body makes possible shifts in consciousness that make one receptive to the spirit.  

kneeling warrior

Just as it is true that we only know a fraction of what can be known about our bodies, so it is true that we usually only know a tiny bit about our souls. Until we learn to pay attention to our souls, we lack an important means of understanding the great part of our life that is non-material. Meaning, connection, the various colors of the emotional spectrum, imagination, sense of purpose: all these things belong to the province of the soul. If we are living at odds with one or more of these things, we are to that extent out of touch with our souls. We are living in a way that is contrary to our nature.  

As a soul friend, I help you pay attention to your soul. I help you  learn new ways of relating to your body, your soul’s companion and container. And in all you and I do, we open ourselves to greater, higher, deeper responsiveness to spirit.  

Sometimes the work of “soul friend” is called “spiritual direction,” as you can see in the letter from a client below. Although I sometimes use that term, I much prefer to describe myself as soul friend and my work as soul friendship or soul work or soul craft. I am particularly grateful for Dorothy’s comments below. She elucidates something I would not necessarily have singled out as I call to mind the many sessions we had together. And that is laughter. Certainly she did not embark on a soul journey just for laughs! But along the pike she found herself able to laugh at herself, and to enjoy the process, taking herself lightly. That is not necessarily what everyone finds, but I’d hold out for saying that being able to laugh at ourselves is a telltale sign that our souls are awake and stretching us toward the amazing spirit that pervades all.

Thank you a lot for taking time with me.   You have a great gift in spiritually directing in a real and human way.   You help me break through hang-ups from being in a rather conservative atmosphere for a lot of my life. AND you help me laugh at myself which is incredibly therapeutic/divine.   Perhaps I laugh more on the way back to work than when I am with you, but nevertheless, it is great!

                                               Dorothy, Tucson, AZ


mind and soul 

Mind, like “ego,” sometimes seems to be discounted in soul work, as if somehow the inflated ego were all there was to the ego, and the rational, analytical mind the only type of mind. Just as humans need healthy egos,  so we need balanced minds. One of the modes of soul awareness is mindfulness. Mindfulness is paying attention to what is happening, to what one is doing or experiencing, even if it is nothing. Without mind we would obviously lack the faculty for paying attention, which is integral to soul work. Mind is not the enemy of meditation, but rather both the means of grasping what true centeredness and contemplation are, and also the producer of thoughts that teach us, through observing them and letting them go, how not to let thoughts deflect us from our path.  

We need to think. We need to be able to weigh matters, to be critical, to analyze, to sort things out clearly. Great minds enrich us. Use yours! Don’t settle for fluff or pablum because neither will provide any sustenance. But don’t be deluded into thinking that thought alone will suffice the soul. Much of the Western experience in the last several hundred years has driven us into a backwater eddy. Soul work is not something we can figure out in our heads and then apply. Spirit is not something that we can access in the abstract. And whether or not you or I believe something has nothing to do with whether or not it is true.  

Wisdom lies in leading a balanced life. Sometimes we have to wake up the parts of us that have been unconscious in order to let them come into harmony with the parts we know better.  

Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas. For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction. Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing; and let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.                 

                       — Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet                                                                                                                                        

     © Francis Gasque Dunn, DMin. • 1328 Park Road, NW, #32A • Washington, DC 20010 • 202.422.2329     frank@thesoulinyou.com                      blogfrankdunnsblog.blogspot.com