The Whispering Soul

I woke up at 5:30 a.m., perked some coffee, toasted a slice of whole wheat bread and went for my favorite raspberry jam. Couldn’t find it. I looked everywhere in that darn fridge. Finally, giving up, I graced my toast with butter only. Not the same. An hour later I opened the door to the fridge and there staring me in the face was raspberry jam. I don’t understand, but I know well it is my special jam.

Can you identify with me? Have you ever looked for your cell phone while you are talking on it (asking for a friend)?

My soul acts like raspberry jam. I know it well, it is right in front of me, and yet, at times I cannot find it. There are those who spot the jam the moment they open the fridge, for others it is not so obvious.

For millennium, philosophers and theologians have debated the illusive nature of the soul. It is a concept that is understood differently in various cultures. For example, Plato gave the soul three components: logic, spirited emotion, and appetite or desire. The Old Testament understood soul as the vital principle which distinguished living beings from inanimate objects. Christian tradition argued the soul is the essence of a person (Augustine, 354-430) and immortal (Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274). In Hinduism the soul, Atman, is the true self and eternal principle. A materialist would say the soul is simply a creation of the brain.

Recognizing and expressing our own soul is a personal journey for each of us. The following is one man’s experience of soul—mine. The goal is to provide a perspective for the reader to accept, reject, and/or place into conversation with his or her experience of soul.

I believe the soul transcends time and space and is ever evolving. This is, of course, a faith statement. Soul is associated with feelings, essence, depth, and relates to core values. The soul is “being” and is closely tied to the heart that calls us to “doing” through love. Physically the heart is a muscular organ about the size of a fist, but it takes on deeper meaning when related to the soul. The heart guides a soulful expression with love.

I believe the heart prompts action where there is reverence for life. We can have respect for one person and not another, but reverence is a universal term that defines how the soul views all life.

I am reminded of a simple story from my childhood. I was six years old and selling lemonade on a street corner in Boise, Idaho. The mailman, Walter, always stopped to buy a drink. I have never forgotten his small, yet large kindness.

Forty years later I met Walter’s father, Clyde, in a nursing home. I visited Clyde weekly and shaved his whiskers with an electric razor I had purchased for him. Clyde let me help him.

Both Walter and Clyde held a reverence for life and expressed it through their hearts and actions. To me they were teachers, mentors, soul men. You never know when someone opening their heart and soul will help you recognize and share your own.

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Today we awaken each morning to a world experiencing severe climate changes, global pandemic, resource scarcity, and radical racial and political division. Where are our hearts and souls, if we can even define or find them, in the midst of an uncertain future and a world in peril? 

Without a connection to our inner world, we are left feeling unconnected to life, wandering in an emotional desert. When we are confused and angry as individuals, struggling to find meaning, it is reflected in our society. We can become rigid in our views and judge others self-righteously, not recognizing or revering our shared humanity.  As individuals and a society we can lose our way, unable to find the jam that is right in front of us.

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The other day my dog, Yoda, took me on a walk in a direction we had never gone before. Eventually we were walking a quiet side street where small, humble, low-income apartments are located. There was a tattered sign in one of the apartment windows. I was looking at it when the door opened and out walked Trisha, an obviously kind person who had faced many trials in her life.

I asked, “Would it be okay if I took a picture of your sign? I would like to use the words in an article I am writing.”

“Of course, you can, Honey, as long as you use my name, it’s Trisha…and give me a copy of the article. Right now I have to leave or I will be late for the chiropractor. “

The words on the sign are simple. Here are some of them:

Be Thankful.  Live Simply.  Be Kind.  Do Your Best.  Cherish Family and Friends.  Help Others. Laugh Often and Love Lots.  Listen To Your Heart. 

Bumper sticker words?  Perhaps. To me they are the whisper calling us to grow with courage and recognize the power of soul, reverence, and heart. What lies in the deepest cave of our hearts may emerge like a butterfly, shy at first, easily missed, but crying to be seen, expressed, and shared...our souls.

As I bring these thoughts to a close, I must confess, understanding my soul remains mysterious to me. The great Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, said it well a few months before his death: “Isn’t it a strange thing that we understand least of all what we know best of all, or rather, we know best of all what we do not understand at all, our soul.”

  Leo Tolstoy (1828-November 1910), from diary entries for 15 January and 1 July 1910)

It is in the mysterious soul we know so well and understand so little, where direction for our personal and community lives finds commonality and hope. What we all know best, the whispering soul, welcomes us to a new day.

Written by: Hartzell Cobbs

Hartzell Cobbs is the retired CEO of Mountain States Group (now Jannus, Inc.), a diverse nonprofit human service organization.  He is the author of the recent book, RavenWind, that is available through outlets such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Archway Publishing. His first book, Thanatos and the Sage: A Spiritual Approach to Aging, is available through Amazon.

More about Dr. Cobbs’ latest book, Ravenwind…

From ancient lore, down millenniums, traveling through worldwide mythologies, legends, and folktales, the mythical raven is entwined in the history of mankind. Most researchers agree that about twenty thousand years ago the first Americans came from Siberia across the Bering Land Bridge to what is now North America. The Siberians and their shamans were accompanied by the mythical raven who mediated between the physical and spiritual worlds.

With the Siberian influence, Northwest Native American mythology speaks of the raven as creator, destroyer, and trickster. As in Siberia, raven soars on the wind between the great spirit/mystery and the physical world. Raven teaches respect for earth and the oneness of all that is.

In RavenWind, author Hartzell Cobbs offers at look at the raven’s role in world history and in Native American myths, legends, and folktales. He tells how the raven of folklore calls one to follow, to listen, and experience life with all its complexity, insight, ambiguity, contraction, and humor. With an emphasis on Native American tradition, Cobbs explores the presence of mythical raven in the mundane.