By “Spirit” I mean that portion of ourselves which drives us to the heights; it is focused, disciplined, and single-minded in pursuit of its goals; it seeks “peak” experiences and has little patience with anything that compromises its quests and schedules. By “Soul” I mean that part of ourselves which seeks always to enjoy the moment fully; it is interested in almost everything, nonchalant in its commitments, indifferent to time, and more than willing to take detours; it revels in the loveliness of life’s lowland meadows, and in its relaxed sojourn through time and space, it wholeheartedly endorses the opinion of John Keats that this world is a “vale of soul-making.”
The problem facing every man and woman is that these two expressions of our humanity are frequently in conflict or, at least, in tension, each one, like rival siblings, demanding our full attention, and so much of our life is spent in what can seem like a perpetual tug-of-war with ourselves. An attendant dilemma is that when individuals are too deeply in thrall to either of what might be considered inner voices, they can be difficult to live with. When governed unduly by Spirit, we can become strident, tactless, and intolerant. When too much influenced by Soul, we can become moody, petty, and distracted. Uninformed by Soul, Spirit tempts us to reside at altitudes which can not, finally, sustain a life that is either meaningful or humane; conversely, unleavened by Spirit, Soul can bog down in trivia and never undertake worthy enterprises. Thus, if both Spirit and Soul are not in some measure complemented by each other, they risk falling into the miasma of narcissism and thereby losing contact with the wider world.
This dichotomy of Spirit and Soul is something neither abstract nor strange. Here is an imaginative exercise that should be familiar in character to nearly everyone. See yourself driving westward through Kansas on Interstate 70. You are under Spirit’s implacable suzerainty if you check your car’s cruise control every five minutes to be certain that you are going exactly 70 miles per hour, cursing aloud both the dullards who are going 68 and the irresponsible twits who are doing 72, while telling your children that, despite the urgency of their needs, consequent to the irrevocable demands of a rigid timetable, you cannot possibly permit them a restroom stop for another fifty-eight miles, lest you arrive in Boulder, Colorado ten minutes late. In contrast, you are attending to Soul’s seductive pleadings if, after seeing a sign that you have noticed but dismissed on many previous trips, you suddenly think that it might be a good idea to exit the Interstate and take a look at the world’s largest prairie dog.
What is true within ourselves is, of course, true in the public realm. We have all met people whose lives are too much governed by either Spirit or Soul, and I will provide two light-hearted examples. I ask you to recall that avatar of the Spirit, your old high school gym teacher, Coach Krag: “All right, people; drop to the floor and give me twenty. And I don’t want to see any slackers! You can fail this class, you know.” You must have equally pleasant recollections from your time spent with the very embodiment of things Soulful, your dear eighth grade art teacher, Miss Twiddledee: “Sorry I’m late again, children, but I just could not find my keys. Now let’s continue working on whatever it was that we were doing yesterday, and can someone tell me where I’ve put my grade book?”
On this web site I am going to attempt to nourish or, at least, to interest, both Spirit and Soul. Sometimes it is possible to satisfy both of their demands at once, and in support of this contention, I will again ask you to undertake an imaginative exercise. Picture yourself hiking amidst the Himalayas, with the physical rigors of the trek demanding your full attention. Staring fixedly at the trail rising to meet the snow-capped peaks ahead, you casually lower your eyes and find that you are walking on a carpet of small, variously-colored flowers. This unexpected discovery brings you to a pensive standstill, as you contemplate anew the fragile beauty of the world in its manifold expressions and textures and feel a neglected inner horizon suddenly expand boundlessly. In that moment, what had been essentially an athletic experience was suddenly deepened and complicated by an aesthetic one. This is but one example of the potential for mutually-enriching dialogue between Spirit and Soul.
In truth, nearly every moment is capable of providing us with this two-fold sustenance, for when Spirit and Soul, like a couple long-married, learn to cease their bickering and respond to each other’s differences respectfully, a pleasant harmony then governs their relations, a tacit accord in which each member of their inseparable team provides the other with balance and ballast. Thus, guided by what might be called cooperative criticism, Spirit and Soul find that many hitherto undreamt of ventures suddenly become plausible.
While this conversation between two parts of our nature is what I will encourage and seek to sustain on this blog, I also hope, my dear readers, that it will instigate a discussion between us. I’ll keep posting articles, and should you like – or dislike – any of them, I would appreciate your taking the time to write a response, however brief. In short, I’d like you to keep me informed about your journey though this world, and I, in turn, will keep you apprised of mine.