I’ve been reflecting on the meaning of soul this since reading ‘Care of the Soul’ by Thomas Moore. It’s a great book for anyone who leans toward existentialism, it works for me because it is spiritual without being religious. There’s a lot of wisdom in Moore’s words that has helped me in my effort to find compassion for myself.
Moore says that we often see ourselves and others as being selfish or selfless, but not soulful. Being soulful is important because it isn’t about focusing on self or being selfish, it is taking care of your soul and in turn your part in the world’s soulfulness. So if I care for my soul, then I respect the world’s beauty and the beauty in its people and creatures.
I guess this could be confused with arrogance. Looking at etymology, arrogance comes from Latin (via Old French) and means ‘claiming for oneself’. That’s quite a striking difference to today’s definitions that relate arrogance to an inflated sense of ego, or an exaggerated notion of one’s own importance.
Making a claim on my life for myself doesn’t feel arrogant to me. It’s not an exaggeration, it is merely stating to myself that I am important. I’m a typical abuse survivor; I have rock bottom self-confidence and pretty much no self-worth. So this simple affirmation is a powerful one. If I tell myself I can claim my soul as my own, then I can recognise that caring for it will help me contribute to soulfulness around me.
Contrasting soul with self is helpful to me. My self is the exterior, it is my physical being and what I project to others and receive from them. My self and all its physicality are inextricably linked with the sexual abuse I suffered as a child. In my body I cannot detach from the shame, the emotional flashbacks and the disgust.
If I see my self as this superficial shell, I can visualise a soul beneath it that hasn’t collected all the debris of the past on its journey to now. I can visualise something clean, pure, something with an essence of who I was born to be. I see this small, yet powerful part of me that is free from the trauma and the memories that cloud my consciousness. And that can be immensely reassuring as I face the cyclical struggle every day to get myself through to tomorrow.