The Shape of the Soul

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By: Dr. med. Olaf Koob

Grandma sits in the circle of her grandchildren, telling them stories of life. One little girl asks her, "what color is the soul?" The wise grandmother reflects a while, then says, "it is the color of water which takes on all colors around it, the sky, the clouds, and the trees. It is the basic stuff of life.

Whoever reflects on the soul is struck by its dual aspect—inner and outer. As it is impossible to describe the outer world in its endless variety in a few words, so it is impossible to portray the whole cosmos of soul in a few images. Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, comes to mind. He said, "the soul's boundaries could never be fathomed even if you walked through all the streets of the world: that is how vast its being is."

Although the soul is endless we can give it a framework which will allow us to better understand its essence, and to better treat it in moments of illness. We can do this in the same way as we categorize the elements of nature, mineral, plant and animal, which embody the dead, the living, and the ensouled with their separate laws.

In general we differentiate between body and soul. While normally not aware of what takes place in the inner functioning of our body and its organs, we do recognize our feelings very well, because they are our means of expression. Of course part of our soul experience is determined by our body, as is often expressed in psychosomatic illness; or, when the soul is caught in the earthly-material and only wants pleasurable experiences via the senses. Pain too can be experienced through the body, although it is often internal; a heightened sensing of the inner organs. We well know the bodily, earthly side of the soul, the side which strives outward, in the relationship with the world. This is the will aspect of the soul, living in physical materiality which, if it becomes too dominant, takes the form of addiction.

The inner aspect of our soul, and with it at our center, gives us pure feeling, in the ebb and flow of many and often opposing sensations such as love, hate, longing and desire.

Our soul life also has an "above" where we develop thoughts and ideas that go beyond personal feelings, into philosophy and eternal values.

In this way we see three distinct realms our soul is active in, and we call them willing, feeling and thinking. Although our healthy ego can easily differentiate between each of these three "sisters" they are, of course, closely interwoven in us.

Now there are many inner and outer influences which may either bring these three domains into chaos, or so isolate them from each other that the soul's unity breaks. This allows for certain illness tendencies. Abstract thoughts can never satisfy our feelings, nor can they fire our will. One-sided intellectualization must eventually hinder the soul's maturing. An ever growing number of school children, bored and unfulfilled by the abstractions they are taught, may try to supplement their feelings with substances. A few years ago an analysis of the school system in an American paper was entitled United In Boredom.

Soul chaotizing can also take the form of depression which fixates thoughts on past experiences, with feelings of fear, despair and shame, and laming of the will. The opposite illness is the violent outburst or aggression. Here people "lose" their reason; feelings such as shame or remorse are wiped out, and their experience is entirely one of unbridled destructive willing. In older times children were taught the virtues (such as wisdom, reason and strength of courage) using certain pedagogic methods, to balance the soul and keep it well. One method we can employ today is teaching art; in it understanding, esthetic feeling and formative will act in concert.

The three soul forces are closely tied to the threefoldness of our being, our physicality through which we develop our will, our true inner life of feeling, and our spirit which culls its ideas from the eternal world of thoughts through inspiration and intuition. The soul proper is at the center, between body and spirit, but is dependent on both for its life and activity. How can the healthy soul develop—whose purpose is not just to passively receive external impressions but to digest them in order to produce something from within—if more and more surrogate experiences are offered it through the entertainment industry?

Will it still be self-aware, or will it dimly vegetate? Our soul is always in danger of being imprisoned and of losing its own human values. In legends we find this danger portrayed in imaginative forms: the feminine soul, a redeeming maiden or king's daughter. The masculine intellect and will, a king's son, and the destructive forces, evil, a dragon. Many soul deformities and perversions are instilled into our childhood via the media; they influence soul development with gruesome pictures, the glorification of violence and one-sided sexuality. We usually only notice the after-effects in later life when inter-personal conflicts arise; or envy, untruth and hate surface. Today such symptoms require an army of psychologists and psychiatrists to help people in their soul straits.

If we lose the creative forces of soul our whole further development is in danger. In this electronic and hypertechnical age we must prevent the true soul element from disappearing from our deeds, words and thoughts. The alternative is depersonalization, soulless activity which becomes routine,

with which one can no longer connect. In a depersonalized encounter people can only meet as masks, recreating convention. Their word husks, determining social and political daily life, become empty catch phrases.

Much must be relearned. Traditions are gone and everything needs a new context. May we remember, during this dark season of the year, that besides our bodily inheritance we have a soul light which we can let shine, not through consumerism, but through the soul gifts of love, understanding and good will.

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