Soul – the danger of losing it

the lost soul 

There are differing definitions of what the soul is, and there are various accounts about the danger of ‘losing’ our souls.

Howard E. Collier was a Quaker – a member of the Society of Friends – and in 1953 he wrote a pamphlet about his personal religious experiences called ‘Experiment with a life’. This extract from it describes his realization that he had a soul.

‘On a certain summer afternoon towards the end of the first quarter of this century, I came home after a long and tiring day and, sitting down in the shade of the garden, I fell into a brown study. Quite unexpectedly I began to talk to myself, and to my surprise, I heard myself saying to myself, ‘If you don’t take care, you will end up by losing your soul!’ The humour of this remark struck me, since, as far as I was aware, I did not believe at that time that I had a soul to lose. Looking back now I realise that particular afternoon marked a turning point in my life. Anyone who begins to refer to their soul as something that can be lost and found has discovered a new field of experience and a new inner reservoir of facts to be studied and related to the outward facts of their ordinary life. This redirection of my search – from an outward search for truth in nature, to an inward search for truth in myself – was the next step necessary for the healing of my own divided mind.’

Collier felt that he then began to learn whom he really was – ‘less estimable than I had previously supposed, I was uncomfortable and ill at ease’. The initial feelings of emancipation and inspiration were followed by despair and deflation, but he gradually began to experience a measure of divine healing. He describes how Jesus – once ‘shorn of the sentimental trappings of Victorian piety that had hid Him from my view’ – came alive, ‘I had not hitherto realised that He was actually within the compass of myself.’ So, for Collier the soul was clearly linked to a sense of Christ.

The Jungian analyst June Singer sees losing the soul, as losing the connection between what we know of ourselves and the vast unknown and unknowable. She doesn’t personalise it as Christ, or, for example, Buddha nature, instead she calls the soul ‘the connecting ribbon’, and ‘a traveller’s highway’ between the conscious and the unconscious.

So why might we lose our souls? Perhaps like Howard Collier – too busy and involved in the realities of everyday living and working, and so having no time for space to reflect and consider – like his ‘brown study’ lost in thoughts. However, from the analytic perspective if we have experienced trauma in childhood then that connecting ribbon that Singer describes can fail to get established, and we become alienated from the original oneness, and the ‘splinter of divine radiance’ that we might call the soul. The development of the soul in infancy and early childhood depends on a reasonably empathic environment, where there is a sense of the soul safely indwelling in the body. Winnicott describes this as the pattern whereby the mother or mothering person ‘introduces and reintroduces the baby’s mind and body to each other’. The gradual development means the small baby becomes a whole person with psycho-somatic unity, but who embodies in their very centre a vital spark. Trauma, especially emotional trauma, interrupts the normal processes by which the true embodied self comes into being. That of God within, becomes cut off and exiled or deeply hidden to protect the soul from further damage.