The words “soul” and “spirit” are two of the most commonly used words to denote a sense of connection to something greater than ourselves. They each have numerous layers of potential meaning, depending on who is using them, but in general, they are used as poetic shorthand to indicate one believes in some form of a hidden aspect of reality that moves and shapes experience in mysterious ways. Some will even use the terms interchangeably, which is fair game in the love and war of words. However, if we first use them to play off each other, then bring them into a dance together, we find they reveal a path from a place of dislocation into a realm of wholeness.
Ascent of Spirit & Descent of Soul
When the alchemy of Soul and Spirit begins, we first work to separate in order to discern. Spirit is revealed to be the upward, ascending, and perfecting movement of life. Spirit seeks the mountaintop, the immaculate alignments of sacred geometry, and the simplicity of mindfulness, presence, and silence. It desires to rise out of desire, into a realm of transcendent bliss where all is one and one is all. It is the path of the mystic that seeks to penetrate into the depth of the mystery of self in order to free oneself of said self. Put into such words, it appears paradoxical, and as such easily becomes a bypass to its own fruition. Yet an intuitive pulse, though so quiet as to be silence itself, can bring one across the divide of seeking to rest back into the irreducible, non-objectifiable fact of awareness.
Soul would seem to want nothing to do with such austerity. Soul moves downward, into the soil, mingling with the creepy crawlies of the dark and fecund subterranean forces that shape our foundational forms. When such impulses to root are denied, Soul pushes harder, arising in one’s life in the form of crisis. It brings about some experience of pain to draw attention to that which needs tending. As we learn to tend to our depth, an expanse of beauty that we could never suspect was possible forever deepens before us. As such, Soul is a play between grief and joy, shadow and beauty, trauma and laughter. Soul is work and the enrichment that is yielded from it. And though we may begin with some notion of “my soul” as being the shaper of this path, as we deepen into this terrain, such notions of ownership are dissolved on the fringes, and we find that all Soul is the All Soul of us all.
The Dance of Being & Becoming
These two forces at first appear to contrast. Spirit wants to be free, and Soul sees that freedom as a dissociation from our humanness. Soul wants to deepen and embody, and Spirit sees such moves as a naive wallowing in the mud of temporary incarnation. There is no instruction manual for bringing them together, yet there is a place where they briefly touch. And in that place, with our attentive interest and insistence, we can bring them ever more into each other. This bridge is formed when Spirit realizes that the moves of Soul are moves that liberate us from the fetters we did not know we had, deeply rooting us which then allows us to rise higher. This bridge is strengthened when Soul realizes that the moves of Spirit are forces that deepen one’s presence into what is and are the very magic of tending to the depths which Soul seeks.
Once seen, this marriage of Soul and Spirit becomes an undeniable constant in one’s life, yet it continues its play of coming to be and passing away as it ever has, as all perspectives do. At times this pair appears as they truly are: not two. At other times they need space in order for the alchemy of life to undergo the essential processes of the moment. They are not forces we master, though they are not necessarily our masters either. To come to the understanding of this integration is to resolve oneself into the mystery of being and becoming. This is the nexus point where the pattern plays out its expression of limitation, all the while doing so in the field of inherent wholeness. So while we may have “spiritual” practices we restrict ourselves to in order to be freer, and “soul-work” the presence of which forces us to take forms we would never have chosen otherwise, we begin to understand that they are each the heart, the essential counterpart, of the other.