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Outer Spirit, Inner Soul

by Aaron Hoopes

Much is said about spirituality these days. We seem to be perpetually searching for ways to become more spiritual in our lives. Yet, as is often the case with concepts such as this, it is rather difficult to actually define what spirituality is. On the one hand it, appears to be the process of merging with the consciousness of the universe as a whole. On the other hand it seems to be about self-realization and discovering our personal relation with existence. In fact there are two different processes taking place, both of vital importance to a complete understanding of our purpose in this life.

The first process is one of spirit. Spirit flows through all things. This concept is central to the teachings of Taoism. The Tao is all encompassing. It is the flow of energy through everything in existence. Our connection to spirit grows as we cultivate a life that resonates in harmony with this spirit. Rituals and ceremonies honoring spirit leave footprints that open the pathway to spiritual realization. The more we engage in spiritual practices, the more we are able to maintain a sense of spirit in our lives.

The second process is one of soul. Soul resides within each of us. Our soul is the core of pure being, deep within us, that is unique throughout the whole of creation. Soul gives us the ability to sense, feel and express emotions. It is the spark of individuality that gives us the belief that we can become something better. Soul work is deeply personal and often very challenging. If we are able to persevere in exploring our soul and work through the barriers we have erected within us, we can begin to understand ourselves and where we are going on this journey.

In many holistic/alternative practices spirit and soul are often used interchangeably. However, here I’d like to separate the two so that we can more fully understand which of the two we need to cultivate at any given time. One concept I find helpful in this discussion is Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang represent the two poles of existence, which are opposite but complementary. The two aspects are in opposition to each other but they are also interdependent. Yin and Yang can be described as dependent opposite forces that must always be in balance. They flow in a natural cycle, one always replacing the other. Each contains the seed of the other, which is why we see a spot of Yin in the Yang segment and vice versa. They do not merely replace each other but actually become each other. Yin implies shady, secret, dark, mysterious and cold while Yang signifies clear, open, bright, fiery and hot.

If we look at spirituality through the lens of Yin and Yang we can see that the soul can be thought of as Yin, while the spirit can be imagined as Yang. The soul can be envisioned as a dark, mysterious part of us that lies hidden deep within us. The spirit can be imagined as a bright light that exists throughout creation which shines upon all things. The two are intimately intertwined. There cannot be one without the other. Soul without spirit is base, dark and destructive, while spirit without soul is shallow, flighty and pointless. They both need to be cultivated in order to bring ourselves into balance.

Soul work is concerned with our relationship to our self. It is about turning our attention inward and discovering that part of ourselves which never sees the light of day. Soul work can take many years and challenge you to the core of your being. It is a journey down to the depths of the self to hidden places that may not want to be exposed. However, it is vital work. Until we can process our experiences, heal our wounds, and face our fears, we will not be able to know ourselves fully and completely. For some this is acceptable. Soul work can be painful and traumatic. It is not for everyone. But for those who are truly walking the path of self-realization this work is essential and mandatory.

Spirit work is concerned with our relationship to everything else. It is about turning our attention outward and seeing the light and energy that exists within all things. Spirit work is primarily about creating a relationship with the natural world. When we have a relationship with the plants and animals they become more than commodities or resources. When we cultivate a relationship with the five elements (Earth, Wood, Fire, Metal, Water) we begin to realize the unbounded energy they posses. When we honor the sun, moon, stars, wind and the four directions we encourage a dialog with them. This dialog is unspoken yet more powerful than any words could be.

Soul work and spirit work can take place simultaneously. Zen Yoga, Tai Chi, Shamanic Healing, Qigong and the meditative arts are all practices that encourage a deepening of soul and expansion of spirit. Cultivating a relationship with the spirit that exists within all things is a recognition of the soul which resides within us, just as exploring the secrets of our soul opens the door to realization of spirit and the connection between all things. Soul and spirit are intimately connected. We cannot have one without the other or we are simply going through the motions of spirituality.

Aaron Hoopes is the founder of Zen Yoga and the creator of the Zen Anti-Diet. He is the author of five books. He teaches online courses and a Zen Yoga instructor training program as well as classes and workshops at the Ledge End Retreat Center in the mountains of Vermont. Websites: www.artofzenyoga.com and www.zenantidiet.com

Email: breathe@artofzenyoga.com

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