soul & spirit

As a young man in my early twenties I was inspired by the idea of meditation as a goal to help me reach higher states of consciousness. This had come about partly through my experimentation with hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD, and also through reading the works of Aldous Huxley whose book The Doors of Perception described the author under the influence of mescalin as he tried to grasp the nature of the mystical experience.

After many years of engaging with Buddhist meditation practices and attending longer intensive meditation retreats, I found a growing tension in my experience: between the desire for relationship, and engagement with the world, and this urge to transcend, to move beyond my current experience. The founder of archetypal psychology James Hillman calls these two aspects Soul & Spirit. He sees Spirit as concerned with transcendence, to move beyond, to distance oneself, the realm of ideas, clarity, masculinity. Soul in Hillman’s sense is not used in the way we sometimes think as an eternal part of us that will be liberated from the body after death. Soul in this sense is not a thing but a quality: dark, mysterious, moist, associated with the earth, the body, imagination and the feminine.

Both need each other, but for anybody wishing to explore what we call a spiritual path, it is easy to lose touch with soul and to consider themselves above others, and the mundane world and its concerns. This view of seeing spiritual practice as concerning itself with higher matters can lead to a tendency to escape or cut off from our lived experience and engagement with the everyday world, sometimes even leading to a desire to repress aspects of ourselves such as our sexuality and our relationship to our bodies. Any practices that help us stay embodied and in relationship to our body and the realm of feeling and sensation is vital if the flame of soul is to be kept alive. Yoga and meditation, dance, focusing, and other forms of body work if taught with a soulful perspective can be of great value. I will leave you once again with some words from James Hillman.

“The Spiritual point of view always posits itself as superior, and operates particularly well in a fantasy of transcendence among ultimates and absolutes.”