Soul can also be about identity. Christian spirituality attests that hidden in the mysterious depths of soul is the essence of who we are. To nourish our soul is to love that deep self. Sometimes this nourishment means being other-centred in our actions and intentions, sometimes it does not. Ultimately though, all love of soul is about growing in a love that is not self-obsessed. Self-obsession is not consistent with Divine Love or the deeper self. Human maturing is about the risk of growing into a forgetting of our own self-consciousness, and so losing self-obsession, so we might express in ever growing fullness that deeper essence of who we are. That deeper, truer self has no need to neither remember itself nor forget itself. It is simply being-in-love and already at one with the Divine within us. The Christian mystic St. Theresa of Avila calls this deeper self simply our spirit.
The question ‘where’s my soul’ is often about the search for a way to live from this deeper self. It can be a question, however, that risks leaving us at the ‘surface’ of soul as we search for something deeper. ‘Where’s my soul’ can be a self-conscious question keeping us at the self-conscious level as we attempt an answer. It can work against going deeper.
So what can we do to go deeper? What can we practically do if we are to live from and experience this being-in-love and our deep oneness with Divinity?
Tim and Neil Finn start to point to an answer in the words “I’ll go up with my conscience clean, down below they’re looking for me, and I know you’ve got my soul”. These lines remind me of the poetry of St John of the Cross (another Christian mystic). The image here is of someone ‘going up’ to experience something deeper, away from the surface looking of self and others and into the experience of forgotten deep soul. This dynamic, in the Christian story, is called contemplative prayer. It means loosely to ‘co-temple’, to experience communion with the Divine and all in our own being-in-love.
The practice of Christian meditation could be seen as a readying for contemplative experience. Through the practice of giving more and more of our attention to a mantra, over time, there happens a transformation in the way energy is used in the soul. Over time there occurs deep healing in the soul and the need for self-consciousness grows less and less. Some of us may need other ways as well such as therapy and/or the working through of painful memories and hurt in this process. The overall goal here is to gently and naturally move past the surface of soul so that more and more energy is then available for the deep soul.
The commitment to a mantra helps with this process of moving attention to the deeper soul. In this process it can be important to feel the mantra sounding in the lower body, in the chest or the gut. This helps to move attention away from the head. The head is that part of the body where we tend to experience life at the surface of soul.
With regular practice there will be a sense emerge of deepening into the soul as grace through the mantra moves attention downwards. Hand in hand with this there will be a growing experience of inner silence and stillness. Don’t, however, go into meditation expecting these things to happen. Expectation can be a distraction during meditation. Expectation, like other ‘residents’ of surface soul (elements like thoughts and images) will be forgotten as attention falls deeper. What is most important first is a growing faithfulness to and trust in our meditation practice.
Any contemplative experience of the Divine and our being-in-love is a divine gift. Meditation cannot make it happen. Meditation prepares us for the gift’s reception into our lives. Only the Divine can give the gift. Whether it is given or not is secondary. What is of greater importance is the energetic transformation of soul. The ongoing practice of Christian meditation is, for many, an integral part of this transformation. The fruit is an ongoing and practical growth in the life of love and silence. Through this ongoing transformation all of soul, both its ‘depth’ and ‘surface’, come to participate more and more in the loving nourishment of all.
Who are we? Ultimately we are being-in-love made for Love. Our mysterious and true identity could be described then as an ideal. Human maturing is the gentle and compassionate, limited and humble, at times painful, other times joyous and at all times soulful movement towards this ideal. While it is not possible for us to live fully this ideal here and now, it is possible, with grace, to experience something of it and allow this ideal, this fully Real that is the divine life, to change us bit by bit into who we most deeply already are.