Soul Existence

The late James Hillman (1926-2011) taught that soul is our capacity to make meaning, our ability to deepen events into experiences.  Sustaining and nourishing, soul deepens us and raises us, allowing us to travel inwards and outwards.  With all of the soul’s vitality and mystery, its kinship with God is no surprise:

By soul I mean, first of all, a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a thing itself.  This perspective is reflective; it mediates events and makes differences between ourselves and everything that happens…

It is as if consciousness rests upon… an inner place or deeper person or ongoing presence that is simply there even when all our subjectivity, ego, and consciousness go into eclipse.  Soul appears as a factor independent of the events in which we are immersed.  Though I cannot identify soul with anything else, I also can never grasp it by itself apart from other things….

However intangible and indefinable it is, soul carries highest importance…frequently being identified with the principle of life and even of divinity.  (Hillman, from Re-visioning Psychology)

Ancient talmudic sages spoke of similarities between the soul and God, including the shared feature of being a foundational inner place or deeper person.  For the rabbis, both God and soul dwell in the innermost place/b’haderei hadarim:

In the Psalms, David said five times: Bless the Lord, O my soul!  Why five times?  It was because of five similarities between the Holy One and the soul.  Just as the Holy One fills the entire world, so does the soul fill the entire body.  Just as the Holy One sees but is not seen, so the soul sees but is not seen.  Just as the Holy One sustains the whole world, so does the soul sustain the whole body.  Just as the Holy One is pure, so is the soul pure.  Just as the Holy One dwells in the innermost place, so does the soul dwell in the innermost place.

Let the one possessing these five qualities come and praise the one with these five qualities!  (Click here for Talmud passage in Hebrew and English)

Both the soul and God fill their domains, yet both inhabit the innermost place.  It is there that one image meets the other, one imagines and deeply knows the other.

Hillman might say to each of them, and to us:  When you are in need of an ongoing presence that is simply there, turn to the soul image upon which you can rely.

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