The Leaning Soul of … Us!

Let’s revisit perhaps the most famous bell tower in the world, the “Leaning Tower of Pisa”:


In one of my earlier entries I posted a picture of this tower, and mentioned that it is actually a freestanding (freeleaning?) bell tower, or ‘campanile’, adjacent to the Cathedral, or Duomo, of Pisa.  It was built primarily in the 12th and 13th centuries, but further adornments and other work was added over the following two centuries as well.  The tower actually began leaning shortly after the work began, in 1173 A.D., as the weight of the marble and stone structure was much too heavy for the sandy ground on which the tower was built.  Fortunately, the work was interrupted soon thereafter, as the Republic of Pisa became frequently engaged in war with surrounding city-states in the late 12th and most of the 13th centuries.  Thus, no work was done on the unfinished tower for nearly 100 years, which allowed the soil undergirding the tower to fully settle and firm.  Once wars ended and the ground seemed more stable, the builders decided to carry on to completion, relying on God to keep the tower from toppling.  So far, stand it has!

Actually, two past efforts to stabilize the tower have been successful.  The last effort, made by digging down under the lower edge of the tower and pouring concrete down underneath to stabilize, and then using expansive lifts to straighten the tower, decreased the tilt from 5.5 degrees to 3.99 degrees.  In fact, the engineers believe they could have fully straightened the tower to 0.0 degrees tilt, but it was felt that this would severely cripple tourism, which would greatly impact the economy of Pisa and the Tuscany region of Italy.  I would agree.  Unless you’re like me and have an unnatural love of bell towers, would you go out of your way to visit the Non-Leaning Tower of Pisa?


Please consider a few quotes regarding the soul …

“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”  Aristotle

“The reason it hurts so much to separate is because our souls are connected.”  Nicholas Sparks

“What Is Love? I have met in the streets a very poor young man who was in love. His hat was old, his coat worn, the water passed through his shoes, and the stars through his soul.”   Victor Hugo

“Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.”  Marilyn Monroe

“Whatever you are physically – male or female, strong or weak, ill or healthy – all those things matter less than what your heart contains. If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior. All those other things, they are the glass that contains the lamp, but you are the light inside.”  Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel

“Whatever satisfies the soul is truth.”  Walt Whitman

“Inside us there is something that has no name; that something is what we are.”  Jose Saramago, Blindness

“Prayer is not asking.  It is a longing of the soul.  It is daily admission of one’s weakness.  It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”  Mahatma Gandhi

“What is soul?  It’s like electricity – we don’t really know what it is, but it’s a force that can light a room.”  Ray Charles

“I simply believe that some part of the human Self or Soul is not subject to the laws of space and time.”  Carl Jung

“Why do you hasten to remove anything which hurts your eye, while if something affects your soul you postpone the cure until next year?”  Horace

“Be careless in your dress if you must, but keep a tidy soul.”  Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, 1897

“You are a beautiful soul hidden by the trench coat of the ego.”  Mike Dolan

“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”  St. Augustine


We (I?) concluded during our last rendezvous that a belfry, while being primarily distinguished from other similar architectural structures by the necessary inclusion of a bell, really cannot be reduced to the bell(s) alone.

belfry in kenai peninsula

The essence of a bell tower consists of the entire structure, including the bell.


Thus, the walls, the floor, the roof, the windows, the rafters, the bell, the ropes and pulleys attached to the bell, and some crazy bats are all necessary parts of a belfry.

Bats roaring out of the belfry!


Is a human being similar, or different?

By way of reminder, in my last entry I spoke of a quote by C.S. Lewis:  “You don’t have a soul.  You are a soul.  You have a body.”

Lewis’ assertion is that a human is actually, in essence, a soul.  That “soul” is then intrinsically linked to and possesses the body that we associate with that particular human being.  By extension, then, anything else that makes up that human being would therefore also be a possession of that same, central soul.  This would include the brain, which allows us to “sense” or perceive the world around us, to think, to remember things, and to feel emotions.

Now, what do you think about this line of thinking?  Is this so?  Ought we to think of ourselves as primarily a “soul”, whatever that is, walking around “clothed” in a fleshly body, and possessing a brain capable of consciousness, rational thought, and emotions?  And if so, and if we think in this way, would this change the way we live?

My answer to these questions is … “Probably”.

Taking things further, though, can any of us define the “soul” in words?  Ray Charles admitted in one of the quotes above that, like electricity, he couldn’t really tell you what a soul is, but he knows it sure can light up a room!  Jose Saramago says it’s the part of us that has no name, but it is who we are.  Carl Jung stated that he believes it’s that invisible part of us that “is not subject to the laws of space and time.”

I think most of us would allow that, if soul exists, then it is something that:  is not physically visible or “touchable”; is not infinite (that is, that I have a soul “assigned” to “me” and to me alone.  In other words, we don’t all share the same infinite, spiritual soul); and is something that lies underneath all the physical and mental “stuff” in our own consciousness which we are most aware of most of the time.  It has to be something that is at our “core”.

So, a soul would thus be an invisible, intangible, spirit-world entity.  It would travel around “inside” one’s body, but would not be something you could find in a surgery or autopsy inside that body.  But, there must be more to it than this, I would submit.

Let’s consider something:  I have long had the belief, since my days of consulting in nursing homes, that persons who are born with profound intellectual disabilities, who have extremely limited or even non-existent ability to communicate with other humans, still have a soul.  If this is true, what can or what does that soul do within those persons?  Well, in my way of looking at it, their soul is the spiritual part of them that:

–  is aware of God and other human souls;

–  can connect with others, beginning with their Creator, at a level deeper than conscious awareness or language.

The soul connects (or not, if it so chooses) in ways other than words or language of any sort, in ways other than physical touching, or even than “emotional” touching.  I don’t believe that, even though your brain may be highly limited in intellectual capacity, or in its ability to speak or to understand speech, your soul must also therefore be “limited”.  In fact, I believe, if souls do in fact exist, and I believe they do, that THEY are the things in humans that are “created equal”, NOT our bodies or brains.  Does that make sense?

Do souls “think”?  I don’t know, but I don’t think so.  I also don’t believe the soul “feels”, either.  I believe they simply “know”.  They are “aware of” things, and others.  Mostly others.  (Because, in the end, even though we are meant to be good stewards of the natural world we live in, including plants and animals, life is mostly about God and Us.)  I believe souls operate within one primary sphere, along one primary axis:  to yearn for, and lean toward, stronger and deeper connection with God and/or other souls, or to lean or push away from those connections and thus to pursue isolation and “self-satisfaction” alone.

To me, this is the “root” of the soul – connecting with other soul beings, or avoiding that connection.  The connection doesn’t have to be verbalized, such as getting to know someone better by conversing over a cup of coffee; nor does it have to be physical in any way.   But, as Nicholas Sparks noted in his quote above, our souls nevertheless can and do connect with one another.  And when they do, and it’s a good connection, it can be very strong, and have a great effect on the quality of our lives.  Because the soul is not infinite, though, being physically apart, or being unable to communicate with someone with whom we share a connection, can hurt.

The soul, then, is the very deep part of us that, moment by moment, decides either to lean toward a humble yielding to our Creator, toward joyful connection with that One, or lean away from that kind of connection, and thus rely on itself as it goes through life.

The soul therefore “leans”, much like certain bell towers!

Hearkening back to the biblical account of “The Fall”, in the Garden of Eden:  The soul was the part of Adam and of Eve which chose, at the time of the Serpent’s deceitful sales pitch, to pursue its own goals on its own terms, to “be God” within those two lives at the moment of choosing to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  It’s my view that the information coming into Eve’s brain/mind from the serpent, that she would NOT die if she ate the fruit, but would rather become like God, wise and knowing many things, and then from her eyes, seeing how tasty and beautiful the fruit looked, all filtered its way into her soul, which then decided to “lean away” from God and the boundaries God set up to provide peace and joy for her.  This “leaning away” was a decision thus made by the deepest part of her in that moment.  This decision, now working its way back, led to her mind rationalizing how good this choice to eat the fruit would be, her emotions already starting to feel a “high” at the delicious thought of biting into it and then being flooded with new wisdom and insights.  From there, her “will” – the executive part of her mind and brain – directed her body to carry out the act of eating the fruit.  Thus, information came in, was believed, and filtered down into her soul.  The soul leaned in a new, different direction, which then percolated back up through her mind, emotions, and will, working out in her physical life the inner leaning of her soul.

A little while later, Adam went through essentially the same process, the only differences being the serpent’s words came to him through Eve’s mouth, and the fact she had not died once she ate the forbidden fruit was, I’m sure, a boost to his confidence!  Otherwise, it was exactly the same, with his soul’s change in leaning again being the critical driving force.

I chose the story of the Garden of Eden and the fateful fruit choice because to me it illustrates and symbolizes perfectly the constant dilemma and choice that our souls face in life:  whether to lean toward, and ultimately to “lean on”, our loving Creator, or to lean away from the Creator and toward our own self-directed motives, and thus choose to lean only on ourselves as we journey along through life.

And so, if the views I’m presenting here are true, how does one get his or her soul to change the way it leans?  I can tell you what I believe, though I freely and humbly admit that I am not as effective or as diligent with this as I wish to be.

I believe the soul is most closely connected to the “heart”, which in my view is partly based in the body and partly based in the soul (so, part flesh and part spirit).  The heart represents and contains the deepest yearnings we have.  It is the part of us that contains our inner motives, as pertain to ourselves and others around us.  It is the part of a person that, as Jesus taught, serves as the “root” of the tree that is our life, and will thus lead to our lives producing either good fruit or bad fruit.  It is through the heart, I believe, that the soul can then be influenced to change its leaning.  The heart can be “opened up”, or made willing, to receive influence from new, truthful information, in many cases coming from other persons whose own hearts and souls have opened and are now leaning toward healthy connections.  By opening up, the yearnings of my heart can then change, from selfish motives to more selfless ones, as I seek after and discover these “truly true” insights in life.  This then finally can lead to a directional change in my soul’s leaning, allowing me to connect with God and others in that deeper, beyond the physical, way that we discussed earlier.  From here life can become more giving, less contentious, more joyful and contented.

Unfortunately, this can also go in the reverse direction.  When we begin to receive and then to believe and accept information that is false, but we (want to) think it is really true (i.e., delusion), this filters down into our hearts and then we tend to “close off” the heart to all other information which might contain real truth.  This false information then reinforces more self-centered and selfish motives and intentions, and tends to then pull the soul away from life-giving sources and connections, and toward isolation.  This eventually leads to a more insecure, more frustrated, more taking, less satisfying life.

I certainly hope that with all the material above I have not been too confusing.  I doubt I could explain my thinking any more clearly at this point in time, but I am still pondering these things and am sure this may evolve over time.

Again though, for me, the things I want now, compared to before I came across the quote from C.S. Lewis about truly being a soul, are:

–         to be more aware that I AM a soul;

–         that my soul, in harmony with an “opened-up” heart, and from there working out through my mind (seeking to discern truth from falsehood), my emotions (enjoying the people and things in life, but not “running the show”), my brain, and my body, can thus “lean” my life in better directions;

–         that the first direction I want to lean in is toward my Creator God, and from there toward others, seeking to connect with them and to give to them.

These paths are the ones I hope to follow, the ones I hope we all can more diligently follow.  Leaning, therefore, might not be a good thing for a bell tower, but is a very good thing for your soul, so long as your soul is leaning in the right direction!  Peace to you.

Craig Meek, M.D.


Every once in a while …

… I come across something that makes my eyes open wide, makes me sit up and REALLY pay attention, gets my juices flowing, and makes me realize that my life might soon dramatically change.   I think I am in the midst of one of those instances right now.

Last week I was sorting through emails and happened to click on a link back to my friend Shelly’s blog:  On Being Mindful

There, in one of her posts she had posted a link to another blog entitled:  Evolutionary Psychiatry

Being a psychiatrist, my first question was, “what in the heck is ‘evolutionary psychiatry’?!!?”  Images of a bushy-haired, disheveled shrink leading a distraught patient through exercises in personal “evolving”, from simian to java to neanderthal to cro magnon to homo sapien, and finally to transcendental “sidha” states, popped into my mind!  On first visiting I then saw that the author was on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, and so then I was fully betting on some kind of quackery.  After all, we ALL know how those nerdy eggheads at Harvard are, right?!!?  😉

Well, I can tell you that after reading a couple of posts from this psychiatrist, Dr. Emily Deans, I could not stop reading.  I did everything listed above … sat up in my chair, felt my adrenaline begin to churn, my eyes opened wide, anxious to learn more.  I scrolled back to the earliest posts she had written in June, 2010, and have spent the majority of my reading time over the last 5 days reading her posts, and reading materials from other websites she has linked to.

Basically, this incredibly sharp physician (my most humble and heartfelt apologies to her and to Harvard doctors everywhere!) focuses most of her own curiosity and study on the whole supposition that, over thousands (she and other “paleo” followers would say ‘millions’, but I like my views better) of years, we humans have adapted best to a set of nutritional and lifestyle guidelines.  And, we would be most healthy and happy if we continued to follow those patterns.  Their belief is that over the past two centuries we have gotten away from those “hunter/gatherer” principles, most especially in our eating, but also in our activity levels and our culture in general, and as a result we have created many disease states that have become premature killers of human life (coronary artery disease, diabetes, depression, stroke, etc.), and numerous other diseases that are highly disabling (obesity, arthritis of various sorts, anxiety disorders of many types, and almost all of the autoimmune diseases, etc.).  What we eat is the big culprit, the area in which we have changed the most.

Now, there are literally uncountable tons of written material out there about our diets, what we eat and how we eat it, and how we ought to change this, and change that, eat this and not that, etc.  You know the routine.  There seems to be no way to have any clue about who’s “right”, and which way is most healthful.  Most of us tend to give up and buy and eat what we want, having given up on sorting stuff out.

Well, Dr. Deans and her friends have compiled an incredible amount of research and factual data that seems to solidly undergird their beliefs about making basic food changes.  In fact, the mound of data is immense, and growing.  This flows out of a movement which I noted above has entitled themselves, the “paleo” lifestyle, a title which I presume refers back to the Paleolithic Age of earth’s history.  In that age, humans seem to have existed largely on diets of various wild game meats, fish, and fowl, and wild-grown vegetables and fruits.  There was very little “dairy” (milk and all of its derivatives), and virtually no grain.  And, of course, there were NO refined sugars, no bleached flours, no synthetic fats and oils, no chemical additives, no artificial sweeteners.  All of these are gifts we have given ourselves in the past 150 years.

More coming below …


Speaking of learning new, potentially revolutionary stuff that could turn your whole belief system upside down, what would you think if you learned that some people out there are actually trying to get bats to move BACK INTO belfries?!!?

I mean, come on!  Here we are over here, trying to exorcise all the bats we can from our mental belfries, and here is a group of folks trying to dream up ways of coaxing bats to roost once more in bell towers!!

Turns out that past efforts within the Anglican Church to clear bats out of belfries, where they were causing much damage, had an unexpected result:  the bats began finding ways to get into the sanctuaries, and have been hanging from the ceilings in there, thus leading to a lot of uneasy worship services, and a lot of guano piling up on the floors and pews.

Well, in England bats of all species are protected, and they can’t just exterminate them … so these churches are now reversing course.  They are now opening bell towers back up, and trying to better seal off the sanctuaries, in hopes that these thousands and thousands of bats will  return to their thousands of belfries, which, while not the optimal nesting ground, is better than messing up the interiors of the halls of worship.  Here’s the story:

A big bat reversal!

Anyway, just goes to show that some things we THINK will make a positive difference in the world aren’t always the best idea …

… such as chasing bats from a bell tower, or adding wheat and sugar to our food array!


In short, it appears – though I do plan to continue to investigate more sources and more information – that I might have been missing the boat on what real nutrition is all about, when it comes to how to best match up our metabolic machinery, our immune systems, and our real energy needs.  It may well be that I need to put a few big bats back inside my own belfry.

Actually, the concept of matching our diet to the foods we humans are best equipped to handle, I had first seen in the writings of Dr. Robert Atkins, the guy for whom the famous “Atkins Diet” was named.  His main premise was that we were primarily designed to have the solid majority of our energy intake in the form of protein and natural fats, NOT carbohydrates or synthetic fats.  By changing the primary focus of our “healthy nutrition” message to encouraging low fat, lean protein, and plenty of bread and pasta, we succeeded in arousing the sleeping (but wicked) giant:  insulin.  And insulin, now flowing wildly and frequently, in response to all of the sharp spikes in blood sugars brought on by our sugar, starch, and grain-centered diets, is the main culprit in the emergence of many of the diseases I listed above.

So, while I will continue seeking to learn more, I’m already beginning to try out some changes:  like trying to eliminate all kinds of sugar and sweeteners from my diet, to keep breads and grains to a bare minimum, and to stick to only olive and some canola oil in terms of oils.  I also want to try out some different forms of exercise.  But beyond personal change, I want to see if perhaps I can actually do more good for some of my patients by prescribing major diet changes than I can by carefully prescribing medicines.  I’m very curious …

Two books I am looking to read soon are:  The Primal Blueprint, by Mark Sisson,  and It Starts With Food, by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig.

I’ll let you know if either or both lead to any more of those “every once in a while” moments!

Craig Meek, M.D.