The western concept of “soul” became of great interest in Japan in the late ’90s. An editor from Fili Magazine attended one of my sensory awareness workshops and asked me to write an article about the soul. It appeared in Fili Magazine in Japanese in 1998.
by Judyth O. Weaver, Ph.D.
To me the soul is the most important, ineffable aspect of our existence. It is the us that is before we come into our physical self, it is the aspect that holds us all together while we are on this plane, and it is the essence of us that continues after we have physically ceased.
I recently finished leading a four-week residential workshop in British Columbia, Canada, which I titled “Somatics, Community, and the Soul,” so you can imagine the soul is quite important and alive for me.
The word “soul” is currently being used a lot in Western society. One of the most popular new age magazines in the United States, New Age Journal, has, for the past few years, organized conferences in various major cities around the country with the name “Body and Soul.” These conferences have been very popular and attended by thousands of people. I participated in the very first “Body and Soul” conference ever offered, which was in Seattle, Washington, in 1996. This last October I was one of the presenters at the “Body and Soul” conference in San Francisco, California. There is so much interest in the subject of “soul” lately, but what is it all about? If we know or think we know what we are saying, do we all share the same understanding when we talk about “soul?” In the United States we have “soul food” and also “soul music.” We use terms like “It was good for my soul.” But what do we really mean?
I’d like to relate a wonderful experience I had while I was in Japan recently teaching workshops in Sensory Awareness. For those of you who have not heard of Sensory Awareness, I might simply explain that it is a process that offers us many ways, many opportunities to realize ourselves more whole, to feel more fully, to be more ourselves. It is the practice of coming back in touch with our true, authentic beings. Students are invited to participate in simple experiments that offer safe opportunities to explore and experience themselves fully. These experiences give us clarity and chances to have more deep contact with ourselves, with our ways of being, and with others.
In this instance I was leading the group in an experience of working with partners and having one person touch the other person’s shoulder. It was nothing complicated, just the simple task of one person bringing their hands to touch another person’s shoulder front and back — not massaging, not moving the shoulder, just touching it and each person noting their experiences.
After the experiment we often gather as a whole group to share what our experiences were and how we are affected. A young man spoke up and said that initially he thought the task was just to touch his partner’s shoulder, but that in fact he had touched more than her shoulder, much more. He felt he had touched her soul. I smiled and nodded “yes,” for he was correct. That is why I am in this work.
When we come in contact with a person, whether it is physically or even just in speaking, what do we come in contact with? Is it just the shoulder, as in this case? What about the person whose shoulder is being touched? And also what about the person doing the touching? Is it just hands that are doing the touching? In speaking to someone, is it just a voice that is making contact? Or even a thought? No, of course not, it is the whole being that we are always dealing with…it is also the person’s soul. But sometimes we don’t pay much attention to that essential fact.
In the western world an unfortunate term has become very popular. That is the term “body work.” It has come to commonly mean any form of somatic work that deals with touching the physical body. But in the graduate schools and workshops where I teach I always tell my students that “body work” is what I have done to my car. By that I mean if a dent is in the bumper I take my car to a person who can take out the dent. He doesn’t worry about the essence of the car or how or whether it can drive. He doesn’t concern himself with how far my car has traveled or even how clean it is or what is lying on the seats or is stored in the trunk. All he needs to deal with is taking out the dent in the bumper.
If I have a sore back or a tight muscle or even a broken bone, I will go to someone who is trained to deal with just such a detail, but when she or he touches me or lifts my arm or rubs my back she or he will be affecting much more than my arm or back or bone. She or he will be touching me very deeply. She or he will be touching my essence. How she or he touches me can make a great difference in my healing even before the bone or muscle begins to recover. This person will be touching my soul. In fact, this person’s soul will be touching my soul. And how she or he touches my soul can make all the difference in the world to my healing; whether it will go easily and quickly or take a long time and be difficult. It will also make a lot of difference to my self esteem, to my place in the world and to how I relate to others in the world.
The great psychoanalyst, Wilhelm Reich, who influenced me and many other people working in this field is the forerunner in this area. He was the instigator of all the body/mind integrative therapies in western psychology. These various psychologies and therapies that work to support the essence of psyche and soma as whole can trace their lineage back to Reich.
The “soul” is US. It is all of us, the entire, completeness of our beings – mentally, emotionally, physically, and yes, spiritually also. The truth of the matter is that we cannot be separated from our souls. And in fact the spiritual aspect of our existence is the balancing, the weaving, the full, deep, growing integration of us into the integral whole – the unique, soulful being that is each of us. It is that fullness, that acknowledgment and acceptance of our wholeness, that non-dualistic way of being and living which is to me the spiritual way of life, the soul’s way. All the attention and emphasis on only one aspect or another of our whole being is a clear statement of how out of balance and one-sided our modern societies have come. In contrast to this it is the balancing of our whole beings that is our true work on the spiritual path.
Some years ago, when focus on ” the body” began and the unfortunate term “bodywork” became popular, it was a reaction to the realization that much of our modern, western society had been focusing mostly on the head. Mind issues and work with the mind and thoughts had been foremost and we were loosing connection with our physical selves. People began to jog and do aerobics and other physical exercises, some of them in “mindless” ways, and many of them became injured. It was another example of how far out of balance this society had become and how unbalanced we were in trying to come back and retrieve ourselves.
I feel that this surge of interest in “soul” is also a statement of how popular western society has lost touch with its soul, its true, authentic being, and is trying, in so many various ways, to recover its basis.
In addition to teaching Sensory Awareness, some of the work I do in my private practice is deeply connected with pre-birth and birth therapy. I work with people (both adults and children) who have had difficult gestation periods, traumatic births, and early infancy experiences.
From my experiences in this work it is very clear to me that we all have souls from the beginning. By beginning I don’t mean when we are born. I mean we are sensitive, vulnerable, full-being souls even before our physical bodies are mature enough and ready to come out into this world and live more on our own. We are sensitive, sensible souls as we are riding around in our mothers’ bellies. As prenates we are fully connected with what is happening around us. Some people even feel and remember their pre-conception journeys, and we all are very much in tune with our physical and physiological surroundings as we develop in utero.
What happens to us, then? What brings us to such disconnection, to such lost feelings that we cannot feel free and happy? Why is it that so many young people are searching for their gratification through drugs and violence?
I feel that it is our modern educational systems, and the unnatural pressures that our mechanical, industrial societies are putting on us that have played a large part in our loss of soul which is the same as the loss of our sense of our selves.
When a baby is born each one has in him or her the full potential of a vital, vibrant, feeling, reactive, responsive existence. Every being has inherent right to happiness and wholeness.
The truth is that we were never divided, except as we have done so ourselves. To reclaim our birthright we need to listen, to feel, to allow ourselves to be who and how we are in our own true nature. We must get back to our true nature! True nature includes us reconnecting with the natural world. Being aware of our natural environment – outdoor physical nature as well as our own inner sensory awareness – is a very important part of the whole soul development. It also holds great consequences for the condition of our world and societies. In accepting ourselves, our own true natures, we will also be able to accept others and allow them to be their own authentic selves. We will then all be able to live in a much more peaceful, fulfilling, body/mind/spiritual/soulful world.