Cultivating Soul


The main thing is, that one has a soul that loves truth and that accepts it where it is to be found.  Goethe

I love soul.  I love the depth and substance it brings to life.  I am much more drawn to peoples’ souls than I am to their accomplishments or what they own or how conventionally attractive they are.   I love soul in the eyes of animals and art that conveys soul.  I could live without most things but it is hard for me to imagine a meaningful and satisfying life without soul and soul connection.  Which, I suppose, is largely what drew me to study for two degrees in Psychology, though I didn’t know at the time that ‘psychology’ essentially means the ‘study of the soul.’

Unfortunately, anyone who has taken a university course in Psychology can tell you that most of contemporary psychology is bereft of soul.  You will learn lots about behaviour and cognition but not the soul.  Psyche, the Greek term for soul, is defined in English as mind, and in the west, at least, mind is mostly interpreted as brain.

The brain is currently the focus of an enormous amount of psychological research, and I even heard one prominent psychologist refer to the brain as ‘the holy of holies.’  Research on the brain is interesting but the brain is not synonymous with soul.  Apart from the likes of Carl Jung and James Hillman (it is the rare university Psych. course that addresses their work in any depth), soul is mostly ignored in ‘the study of the soul.’  Therefore, I propose, only partly tongue in cheek, that we develop a true study of the soul and call it Soulology.

First, of course, we would have to ask what we are referring to when we speak of soul, and as I discussed in my last post, this is a difficult, if not impossible task, as we cannot locate it.  It does not seem to exist in physical reality.  Still, we need to address questions such as how we differentiate it (or not) from the higher self and the spirit and so on.  Is the soul spiritual or psychological or both?  Is there an anima mundi (world soul)?  Do all living beings have souls or just some? 

Of course, plenty has been recorded regarding these topics going back to the Egyptians who believed there are five aspects of the soul, the most important being heart.  Certainly philosophers and theologians have written more about the soul than psychologists.  Soulology would have a foundation that would only need to be integrated.

Ultimately though, it might not really matter what the soul is or if we can ever truly define it.  Perhaps what matters most is the development of the soul, with which numerous theorists from Carl Jung to Teilhard de Chardin to James Hillman to the poet John Keats have concerned themselves.  Theologian, Cynthia Bourgeault believes it is “our obligation”  to develop our soul.  How then, do we develop the soul?  It seems there is an essential clue in the word psychology (soulology) itself.

The psychologist Thomas Moore must have had the true meaning of it in mind when he wrote his book, Care of the Soul, because when you go deeper into the etymology of ‘ology’ ('study of') you find it means ‘to devote yourself to’ and ‘to cultivate.’  Psychology  (Soulology), in essence, means ‘devoting oneself to and cultivating the soul.’  The essential clue to the development of soul is in the meaning of ‘ology’ and for me, particulalry in the concept of cultivating.  While care is important (the soul thrives on beauty, music, substantial food, fine craftsmanship, etc.), cultivation can take development even further.

We can cultivate in test tubes and therefore it might be possible to cultivate a soul in a space station (after all, some astronauts have had profound experiences in space), but I suspect there is something about earth that is essential to the cultivation of the soul.  It also needs the waters of life, nutrients, light and darkness.  The soul needs enough room, and we need to protect it from pollution, which includes noise pollution.  The soul apparently thrives on truth, authenticity, and genuineness, which we also call nature.  It meets itself in nature, and finds itself reflected in world soul.  Pruning is important, that is, removing and letting go of what is no longer alive.

We need to keep an ‘eye’ on our soul , that is, we need to attend to it to make sure it is flourishing, and make any needed adjustment.  And as Harold Buhner says about communicating with plants, we can listen to them if we are centred in our hearts.  I suspect this is true of listening to the soul.  The soul itself is our main source of information of what it requires.  It will communicate with us if we know how to listen.

I think it is important to remind ourselves that we are not the ones inventing or creating soul. As with anything in nature, all we can do is do our best to provide the best conditions. Whether something thrives or struggles is, to a great extent, out of our hands. 

Richard Rohr believes the soul is formed at birth and we need to discover it, which is different from Bourgeault's view that we are born with only the potential of a soul.  Where they are in agreement is that we have a destiny, and as Rohr puts it, if we do not "live our destiny to the full" our (soul) "will never be offered again."  He adds, "the discovery of our soul is crucial and of pressing importance for each of us and for the world." And he suggests there is more to discovery than awareness.  In fact, he seems to imply a kind of cultivation when he says we must "grow them up."  

Of course, a field of Soulology would take all of this much further, and it is certainly an area of study that I could see devoting myself to.  I realize now that when I decided to major in Psychology, it was the soul which drew me.  However, much of my learning about it has been apart from formal education, which is maybe as it should be.  Anyone can be a soulologist.  There are no degrees required.  It really just takes some devotion and some basic gardening skills.