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The soul is considered to be a non-corporeal essence inside each of us, which survives death. Being non-physical, it is difficult to demonstrate that it exists. Some traditions say that only humans have souls, others say that everything has a soul including stones, mountains, trees, streams, etc. The terms spirit and soul tend to be used interchangeably.
It is remarkably hard to prove that there is a non-corporeal essence for each of us that survives death. Instead, in the model that I am present for the human soul below I am referring to soul qualities. I could equally term these qualities of spirit or our higher emotions and mental abilities; or the essence of our spiritual being. I cannot prove that it survives death or that our soul reincarnates in successive physical bodies. Indeed a better model may be as stated by Paramahansa Yogananda that a human life is like a droplet of water from the ocean which is thrown in the air by the wave movement where it briefly enjoys a short period of unique existence in the air before once again merging back into the ocean.
In some Gnostic/ancient Egyptian writings there is the notion of seed atoms, and- humans are said to have three seed atoms; one for the physical body, one for the emotional and one for the mental body. These are said to survive death and pass from one bodily incarnation to another. I haven’t found any evidence to support this theory.
A common model for the qualities of the soul is shown on the right. The soul is said to have these qualities:
- Power – the ability to express itself
- Freedom (or free will)
Being qualities, the essence of the “soul” is like a seed of underlying desires or driving impulses which manifests through physical, emotional and mental bodies in order to express itself. DNA is not the soul. DNA are part of the cells of the physical body, and it contains the blueprint used to form the body, and perhaps it has an influence on the type of emotions and thoughts that we express. It is possible that memories from the parents or other ancestors could be passed on through DNA (though nothing has been proved in this regard), but there is no suggestion that the soul is synonymous with the DNA. The soul is non-corporeal. Perhaps it is able to influence the DNA by way of activation of genes leading to specific forms of physical or emotional expression.
These essential qualities map quite nicely as the higher expressions of human desires as an extension to tables presented earlier in the section on the Emotional Body.
Where is the soul?
Interestingly, if you ask someone where their soul is they will probably point to their stomach (ie the digestive system, or the ENS) or their heart. The middle of the body. Why do we do this? The notion of the soul being in the centre of the body goes back a long time. The Egyptians thought that the soul was in the heart. The ancient Greeks believed that the brain was a heat exchanger to cool the blood. More recently it was conjectured that the pineal gland is the seat of the soul. This came from Descartes, and also from some spiritual masters in deep meditation, feeling where their consciousness appears to be concentrated. New knowledge about the structure of the pineal gland in the brain makes this seem unlikely. If the soul is really non-corporeal, it doesn’t have a physical expression and may not be centred anywhere.
I believe there are a couple of reasons why we believe the soul to be in the middle of the body. Firstly, there is belly button – the connection with our Mothers by the umbilical cord prior to birth. We may feel that life entered our body through that connection (indeed, it was our physical form of sustenance for the first 9 months of our life). Secondly, there is the connection to the Enteric Nervous System, the gut; the rarely acknowledged second brain that we all have. It is connected with our brain through the unconscious autonomic nervous system. We have this vague awareness of our guts (eg “gut feel”) and that there is something there within us. Which there is; and we are cut off from it somewhat. It is an intelligent entity, and it is part of us physically and not really the “soul”.