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.
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.
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.