I am “retired” from full-time work, so not under that familiar pressure of doing what I’m told and being under the pump for paying the mortgage or putting food on the table for my wife and five kids. But I remember one day, at work (I was a high-school teacher), I had a thought: You bring your soul to work with you but there’s nothing in the job description that allows it to participate, or to contribute. It’s just not required!
Now that’s not absolutely true – you can have an inspiration that develops into a practical idea which ends up helping everyone in the workplace. But mostly, if you stop and begin to dream up a song or a poem, say, or even just looking out the window for a few moments, you will be noticed and told to Get back to work! you’re not! being! paid! to! … blah blah blah …
Whatever the word soul might mean, it for sure is putting it plainly that there’s more to me than a body which is bought and owned during work hours by somebody out there. And, by soul, I guess I mean that part of me that wonders about things – like, What am I? … What is really going on here? … Why do I find that woman so attractive? … Why do I feel all funny, just looking at the ocean? … And it’s the part of me that could even be the whole of me, and certainly the part that needs fulfilment.
It may have been Aristotle, I don’t remember, who said something like: Humans will stand in awe and wonder at the vast oceans, the mighty rivers, the immeasurable starry sky – but they overlook themselves, their very own self – the most wonder-full thing of all!
Carl Jung said something similar when he pointed out that our sleeping dreams and our odd, strangely contradictory behaviours indicate there is more to us than our conscious selves. Thus, we now know of the unconscious, both the personal and the collective unconscious.
We might wonder if that’s where the soul might be residing, for all practical purposes. The psyche (Jung called it) he said, is the most wonderful thing and the least studied thing in the whole universe, and if we don’t understand the unconscious, it will continue to act, but it will appear as if it’s outside of us, in the world. So the unacknowledged split within our psyches will manifest as a conflict in the world outside!
The classic, everyday version of this is we project our shadow – the bits of ourself we don’t like or we’re ashamed of and don’t want others to see – onto another person and then judge/despise him or her. Simply, then, I must start with myself, withdrawing that projection, acknowledging the dark side of my own psyche. I must first sort myself out. Difficult. Hard work, sometimes. But what alternative is there, in reality?