The Individual and Collective Soul

February 11, 2022

In the first essay in this series I introduced the process of creative illumination and as I see it, this can best be understood as the soul’s journey to wholeness. I outlined the contours of this path as it unfolded in my own life in the book The Path of Spiritual Breakthrough. The practice of creative illumination is the means through which we journey into the higher dimensions of our being and support our soul to grow to its full potential.

Often the human soul is thought of as a phantom-like inner being that contains our conscience and moral fiber. It is the ghost in the machine so to speak. But I think the vision of the soul developed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Ralph Waldo Emerson offers a much more useful way to think about it.

For Coleridge the soul was the living substance of the universe. It was the source of life. There is a personal soul which is the living part of each of us individually, and there is a collective soul, which is the living source of all of humanity. In his masterwork on theology, Aids to Reflection, Colleridge writes, “LIFE is the one universal soul, which, by virtue of the enlivening Breath, and the informing Word, all organized bodies have in common, each after its kind.”

The soul is the essence of every living thing and each member of a species shares a common soul. Every horse emerges from the same collective soul and therefore is a horse in its essence. Every human being emerges from the same collective human soul in the same way that every daffodil arises from a common soul.

This is a fairly straightforward notion, but it raises an important question: where do the collective souls exist? As I read Coleridge he does not see the soul as existing in any particular place. It is not inside us, it is not outside us, it is everywhere and always. It would be more useful to say that it exists in a different dimension.

Perhaps thinking of the soul as the music coming from a radio station helps. The signals from many stations exist in the air all around us. They are all available to the radio, but the radio is able to tune into any one of them ignoring the rest. Perhaps in the same way, all horses are tuned into the soul of the horse, while all humans are tuned into the human soul.

Coleridge goes on to claim that human beings have become a living soul. We do not merely possess a soul, we are one. I believe by this Coleridge means to say that we are more than beings that emerge from a shared soul essence. We are unique individuals possessing unique souls. (I think this gift of uniqueness extends beyond the human species, but for now our discussion is limited to humans). I share a human soul with all other humans, and that makes me human, but I also have an individual soul, my soul, Jeff’s soul, that belongs to me and no one else. That makes me me, with a unique soul essence.

My soul does not exist inside me, it exists always and everywhere in a different dimension of reality. The signal of a radio station always exists everywhere but that signal remains completely invisible and useless until it is picked up by a radio station. In the same way the essence of me, my soul, exists always already everywhere but is invisible until I am born to express it. I am here to express my soul essence and the characteristics it holds.

The soul is the essence of who we are, both as a human being and as a unique and particular person. We are human because the essence of the human soul and all of the characteristics and capacities that it holds is flowing through us. I am me because the essence of who I am as a unique individual is flowing through me and being expressed in how I live. I am not just a human being, I am a particular human being. I am Jeff.

Neither the collective human soul, nor my individual soul exists inside me. These soul aspects of who I am exist everywhere, like the signal from a radio station waiting to be played.

Also in this series:
Essay 1: Inner Freedom and Creative Illumination
Essay 3: The Gifts of a More Highly Developed Soul

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