Q9 -Do you have a soul?
If we're being really honest (like super honest), religions suck. Don't you think? For one, religion is one of the – if not the – biggest cause of conflict throughout history. Just think of world war 2, the crusades, ISIS; everything, and you'll find that the common thread for all of these conflicts is the unshakeable will for forcefully spreading one's own religion onto others. One of the many reasons I'm an atheist is the lacking evidence of otherworldly beings, but also the fact that every religion claims to cancel each other. Your god is false, ours is true. Doesn't that mean all religions but one are false by default? Thirdly I'm kind of a fan of science.
Now, I'm not here to bash on anyone's beliefs. Even if my own don't match with yours, if it brings you meaning or peace to believe in something then it works for you, right? You do you.
As part of being atheist, I don't really believe in the concept of a soul or the afterlife, but rather that once your body withers, brains with it, you just lose the ability to be conscious and thinking. I find that calming, at least. However, as persistent as I am with that notion, the idea of a soulless existence began losing its hold last December when I participated in my first silent meditation retreat. I will use one of the experiences there as a device to explain what that means. Therefore, let us discuss the question...
Do you have a soul?
Now, the best way to open the debate would be to ask ourselves: What is a soul? Hell if I know, to be honest. The soul is said to contain one's spirit, whatever that means. According to some religions, when the physical vessel dies, the soul keeps on traveling and either discovers a new vessel for rebirth or ends up in the afterlife. With this in mind, could we think that our physical body is completely separated from the soul; While the material body is left behind, an ethereal light keeps on going. Are the two completely different things sharing a mutual living space? Is the soul a sentient thing which acquires its experiences from within the physical vessel? Could a soul be the nagging voice in your head, maybe? Does this discard the possibility of complete loss of consciousness upon death? Ultimately, could this mean that you as a person (sorry, I forgot your name) are not one with your soul?
No. Of course not.
Have you ever thought of death and what comes after as this pure, pitch black, odor- and colorless void that has no end; A space where time doesn't exist, where light particles don't visit? Have you ever tried to understand what ”forever” means. It means that the void never ends. ”Forever”, ”never” and ”ever” are some powerful words that get thrown around a lot, but do we actually know what they mean? Try it. Take a moment to really imagine it. Here, I'll give you some space.
No, stop thinking about what comes after.
You need to look further into the future.
Forever is going to be longer than the universe is old, times a million.
When you finally think to have grasped a little bit of what forever looks like, your mind gets terrified and returns. It cannot understand what endlessness is. I used to do this as a young child and start weeping.
The problem with this puzzle is the assumption that we indeed are capable of clear thought, even after death. In a way, we die every single night by falling asleep. Are you capable of clear thought there? When you pass out, are you still aware of what's going on? If you suffer serious brain damage, does your ability to think remain unhindered? If you answered ”no” to all of these questions, we're on the same page. Your mind requires a brain to work. Indeed, it seems most logical that you will come to a dark place once you have passed away. However, even black isn't black in nothingness; it's transparent.
Despite all this, I think I've discovered something that can only be described as ”the soul”: Something completely separate from your body and mind, the most unbiased, pure thing in the existence.
And here's how I encountered it...
I think it was the fourth day of the retreat and time was around noon. We all had gathered in the meditation hall for another meditation session to receive a new technique. Same time yesterday we were introduced to metta, the essence of empathy and goodwill. We were invited to envision a dear person in our minds and wish them love, happiness and safety. I personally found this exercise rather captivating and emotional, though that was not entirely the point. Like this, every day we would be taught a different way to practise mindfulness. Today, on the fourth day, we would be introduced to something called ”not-self”.
This idea helps us separate from what we've come to know as ”I”, such as your body, your thoughts, your desires, your fears, you. What you consider as you isn't really you. We tend to cling onto our senses and thoughts and claim them as our own, often rejecting or desiring for more. This exercise is used to lessen the affection that comes when you feel itchy or want something, as if they were just like the sounds around you. You don't feel the need to react to the sounds – as they do not concern you – and this is no different. Once you convince yourself that the body you inhabit nor its senses are your own, you've made a leap towards separation. Once you manage to remove yourself from the body, it's time to do the same for the mind... Wait, what?
But... if I have no mind, how am I able to exist and do this exercise? At which angle should I even start approaching this task? I was at a dead-end. For the remainder of the session and many that followed later, I kept myself floating between my body and the confusing corridors of my mind. It felt like a maze. What I'm invited to do contradicts the very ideology that I base my life on, and yet still I'm eager to find a solution.
The way I envision my separation from the body and its sensations takes place in this cosmic playground, where every little thing (itch, pain, warmth, touch) would be an independent object, fenced off like an art piece on display. I would navigate this space as a small, red, textureless ball. Don't ask why it's red. If this playground consisted of what my body sensed, perhaps there's a way to address my thoughts into this exhibit as well. Excuse me, not my, but the thoughts. Up until now, I would have consciously pictured every single sense in my body and constructed this area to put them. In a way, this is a very manual process. In order to let go, I would need to automatize the stream of thoughts and pay no heed to them. Just like the senses, I'd let thoughts come and go however they pleased and retain myself from clinging into any of them. This felt extremely relaxing in a strange way.
Is this it? Have I finally separated myself from my mind? No, since I'm thinking this I haven't fully let go.
But if something like letting go of your thoughts is possible, then......... what am I? What am I in this immediate moment? If I'm not the one who's thinking these thoughts or receiving these senses, what does that make me? Is the place I've withdrawn into truly just an empty space? It's like stepping into the vestibule of a building and just standing there, making bystanders wonder whether you're entering or exiting. It's confusing. The whole point of this exercise is to let go of myself, so while ”I” (Miko) remains in the process, something else had withdrawn from it.
Or maybe nothing had changed after all. Perhaps it's just me (Miko) looking into a different place. Since I'm still seeing the feelings and acknowledging the passing thoughts, something is clearly feeding them to... me? This is getting ridiculous... The goal is to remove the me, myself and I. It's the body and the mind just doing their thing as always. What I've always known as ”Miko Lankinen” is just doing its thing. As always. Then, what is the thing that's glaring from outside, that I'm currently using as my point of view? Is this the soul? By withdrawing from the shallow layers of the body experience and diving through the mind experience, have I truly discovered the core of everything, the one thing that watches everything and remains unchanged. Maybe it doesn't even watch, it just exists there, taking it all in. Maybe it doesn't even remember anything, maybe it doesn't even have an opinion. It just is.
Just like touching the ”forever”, what the mind just saw was too difficult for it to understand and it got afraid. I collect myself. I've resufraced from the depths, finally scratch the itches away and once again manually take control of my mind. The meditation bell chimes and the session ends.
What did I learn?
I view this experience from the second person perspective. In fact nothing happened. I didn't really retreat into the back of my mind. I just imagined the viewpoint from there. I was looking at myself, just like you do in the mirror.
If the soul is something that lurks somewhere inside, what does that make us? It is told that the soul is the sole thing you cannot lose, even upon death. Am I the passenger (the soul) or the driver (Miko) then? The one that is writing to you right now is undoubtedly Miko and all of this are just the thoughts of Miko. If, upon death, the ”soul of Miko” drifts off to a new vessel that was named ”Adam”, does the soul still have ”Miko” left in it? Since it doesn't remember or have an opinion, doesn't that erase the previous person from it? Adam and Miko could really be totally different people.
When Miko dies, his characteristics, views, dreams and feara are all left behind. The soul doesn't cling to anything, nor remember anything once it passes on. What we knew as Miko was just the physical vessel that came from earth, lived and returned to the earth. The soul just carries on regardless of what ”Miko” or ”Adam” or your pet dog or anyone was. So, yes...
I do believe we have a soul.
Ah man... This shit always makes me cry. Reminds me of last March. Cheers.
7th of November 2019
Images from pixabay.com