Is There a Difference Between the Spirit and the Soul?

Is There a Difference Between the Spirit and the Soul?
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Photographer: Kristina Kaine

Thomas Moore had some great things to say about the difference between the human soul and the human spirit in his interview with Oprah. He spoke about the movement of the spirit and the attachment of the soul. This is a great way of distinguishing the difference between our experience of soul and spirit. Why would we want to do that you might ask? My reason for wanting to do it is so that I have more control of my responses to life.

Attachment, while giving me security, can also be painful. Movement gives me the experience of freedom. When I am aware of my inner attachment and movement then I can work out how to move from being attached to feeling free. Although, the feeling of attachment, as Thomas says, gives us a sense of where we belong, of our family, friends, and colleagues, but at the same time, we must admit that strong attachment can bring pain.

Not that pain is a bad thing, it certainly has its place in making us stronger, but being aware of the patterns of attachment and freedom mean that we are more self-aware. I know that if I become too attached to an idea that doesn't work, or a person I have outgrown, then I have to go through a stressful separation. I have experienced relief from this stress through the movement of my spirit. This usually arises when I see the possibility of a new idea, a new friend, or a new opportunity.

In many of my blogs and books I talk about the ancient Greek language used to write the New Testament. I have discovered the importance of identifying the specific words for spirit -- pneuma, soul -- psuche, and body -- soma or bios, which can be translated wrongly. We are so aware of our body and the way it is in touch with the outside world that there is a tendency to think that we are only physical beings. The translation of sacred texts comes into question when the word body is used instead of soul or spirit. The translators may not have been aware of the difference it makes to speak of the soul or the spirit.

This takes on more meaning if we consider that our spirit and soul use our body, bios, our biology, as a means of expression. Compare this to a motor vehicle: The driver is the spirit, the engine equates to the soul, all working through the body of the vehicle. We know that a vehicle isn't of much use without an engine and a driver.

This leaves us asking how we can be more aware of our soul and spirit. The best place to start is to think about how we connect to the outside world. The outside world enters into us through our senses. All that we see, hear, and feel enters into our soul and there we make sense of what is outside us. If the impulse is familiar, we quickly work out what it is, but if we see or hear something for the first time, it can take some time to figure out what it is.

A good illustration of this is a story about Charles Darwin's voyage to South America. They anchored the ship, the Beagle, and went ashore. It was a large ship, larger than the natives had ever experienced before. A sailor asked a native what he thought about his ship and the native replied through the interpreter, "What ship? All I see is a large bird out on the water."

I often think about this story to help me become aware of the activity of my soul; I see something, then I think about it, giving it personal meaning, and then I can act on what I saw, or decide to not to do anything. This is what happens in my soul. As Thomas Moore says, we do this with attachment. We all have certain feelings and thoughts about things, and we have particular patterns of behavior. This comes up in relationships with our friends and family. "Oh, dad won't like that." Or, "What will mum think of that?" "My husband/wife/friend won't be happy when I tell them about that."

If we can overcome our initial reaction to situations, detaching from our habitual responses, then the movement of our spirit assists us to be more accepting of another person's behaviour. The movement of our spirit opens us to the future. The spirit moves in our soul, making it more mobile and pliable. Through our spirit, we can change, releasing ourselves from past patterns that hold us back. Those who allow this movement of the spirit within their soul are usually more content with life, more inspiring, accepting change and changing themselves to meet the future.

Kristina Kaine

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