Spirit vs. soul

An online class participant asks:

I hear the words “spirit” and “soul” used often, and they seem to be used interchangeably. Is there a difference? If so, please clarify.

This is a topic that confuses a lot of people. Yes, people use the words interchangeably, but they are distinct in their purpose. There are a number of ways of looking at this, so we’ll tackle a few of them for you.

From a purely Biblical standpoint, the generally accepted idea seems to be that “Soul” refers to the individual existence (you), and “Spirit” refers to your connection with God, or “The All.”

In some New Thought circles, people see the Spirit as the individual expression or identity of the person (call it “personality”), and the Soul as the accumulation of experiences through many lifetimes.

A similar philosophy is that the Soul is the part of us that reincarnates from life to life, while the Spirit does not. The body is the container for the soul (much like the brain is a physical container for our mind), and the soul is the container for the Spirit. The three together form our unique expression.

Yet another idea is that the Soul is our physical self, and the Spirit is our higher self.

While these explanations might seem to contradict one another, they may be more similar than they seem.

We have a tendency to want to categorize things, and this is no different. We see things as black or white, good or bad, physical or spiritual. When it comes to us as humans, it’s more complicated. We have a physical body, but there are clearly parts of us that operate in a way that is more than just physical. We can think. We have emotions. We can love. These are not physical things, though they might be triggered or inspired by the physical things that happen around us. We aren’t just one or the other, but a combination of both physical and spiritual attributes.

After some thought and discussion, our class came to a consensus that the Soul and Spirit are not two separate distinct things, but two aspects of the same thing. One of our participants described it as the Spirit being the ocean (the All), and the Soul being a wave moving on top of the ocean (the part we see). They are both part of the ocean, but we just see them in different ways.

Another bit of inspiration revealed the idea that the Soul and Spirit are part of an eternal journey, with the Soul being the journey itself (and the experiences we have over many lifetimes), and the Spirit being the principle (or motivating force) of the journey. Maybe a better way to explain it is using terms we know in life. Many businesses have vision and mission statements to make it clear what their purpose and function are. The “vision” states the purpose and the “mission” explains the function. They work together, and neither is complete without the other.

In terms of Soul and Spirit, the Spirit would be the “vision” and the Soul would be the “mission.” Our spirit is the part of us that motivates us to accomplish what we want to achieve in one or more lifetimes, while our soul is the part that lives through the experiences and makes sense of them so we understand the lessons more clearly. Motivation doesn’t accomplish much without action, and action doesn’t accomplish much without motivation.

The 1920 book Our Unseen Guest by Darby and Joan explores a couple’s accidental discovery of Spirit communication, specifically with a man named Stephen who was killed in battle during World War I. Through various methods, which improved with time and practice, Joan was able to discern messages from Stephen, who tries to help them understand the concept of “quality” vs. “quantity” in terms of here (earthly life) and there (spirit side of life).

Quality is the knowledge that we gain by studying and learning. Some people call it “book knowledge,” or “conceptual knowledge.” Quantity is the time we spend gathering experience that helps us gain true understanding of the knowledge we have accumulated. This is what some people call “life experience.” We can’t truly know something without experiencing it, and we can’t truly experience something without knowing what we are experiencing. I think this is similar to the concept of Spirit (quality – awareness of universal Truth) and Soul (quantity – the collective experience brings understanding of that Truth).

No wonder it’s so confusing! The Spirit and the Soul are as different as your left and right hand, and just as similar!

These are just ideas, because we may never know with absolute certainty. We suggest that you meditate on these concepts, and discover what is revealed to you in your quiet time with the Infinite. We know you will find an answer that is meaningful to you!