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Spirit and Soul: Discovering a Personal Meaning

Apr. 10, 2022 Psychology Today

In late 1991, I was walking down the hallway of the hospital visiting a friend. I glanced in a room and saw a young man that I had briefly known, named Mark. He was lying quietly with his eyes closed and a tear running down his cheek.

I walked in the room and asked him if he remembered me, which he did. He explained to me that the doctors had told him that morning that he had little time left. 

Mark had moved to the city recently and hadn’t made any close friends. His parents had “disowned” him because he was gay. He was all alone.

I asked Mark if he had any thoughts about what was next on his spiritual journey. Did he believe in an afterlife? His response was profound: “I just want to die and be forgotten.”

Because of the profoundly intense sadness of that statement, he is one of the lost souls of the AIDS crisis whom I remember most. That response burned into my heart. No one should have to die alone. No one should die with that level of shame. Mark is a soul that will live with me forever.

I sat with Mark for quite a while, simply holding his hand while he cried, and hopefully giving him one small hint of connection.

Wherever Mark is today, his light still shines bright in my heart. Most of us perceive death and afterlife from different perspectives, however in my mind, the souls that have left us physically still remain in our hearts and memories. As long as we remember them, their soul is alive.

Is that a form of spirituality? Are spirit and soul connected?

What is soul? It’s easy to recognize the soul in artists and musicians. Not only do they feel compelled to release their talent and expression, but others are moved by the reflection of their soul. Many of us are not gifted to create music, but we feel the incredible connection to the soul when we hear it. The same is true for art or performance. So many statements express it: “I felt in awe.” “I can’t explain it.” “It brought tears to my eyes.” Tears are the number one symbol for feeling your soul. They are your emotions solidified.

That feeling of spirit and soul can be expressed in our everyday lives. Seeing a young child play and giggle, or watching them explore something new, or crying in fear … we are watching their souls be created. We feel animated. It is their soul that animates our spirituality.

For many, religion is the basis of spirituality. It is community. It is motivation and purpose for why we are here and where we are going. A modern definition of religion is, “The subjective experience of a sacred dimension. It is the deepest values and meanings by which to live. It is one’s own inner dimension.”

For others, spirituality is not about religion. It is connecting to an energy outside of oneself. It is about connecting to the universe. Humility. Finding meaning.

It is these beliefs that can make us strong through a challenge in life. 

Finding the purpose and discovering a personal meaning can completely change perspective when living in fear and hopelessness.

We might very well have broken our closest connections when we go through a trauma. Finding something to trust, other than ourselves, can begin a new journey when we feel like no one can help us. Hope is always waiting in our souls.

Spirituality can also be defined as acceptance. Acceptance of others can be calming and result in greater awareness. Acceptance of yourself and your life as it is at this very moment is as important as acceptance of others. Accept yourself. Be compassionate for your life. And please, more than anything else, accept and respect the beliefs and spirituality of others. It is beautiful, not competitive.

Difficulties in our lives will challenge our faith. The reality is that those difficulties can only strengthen it, but we have to truly contemplate and make every attempt to find the positive forces of our soul, or our spirituality, whatever that might be. Mark did not have time to find that last stage of acceptance. At the young age of 23, he never had the chance to find hope.

Ask yourself three questions:

  • If I could tell the entire world one message, what would it be? Pretend you just won an Oscar, you are standing in front of the microphone, and the entire world is waiting for your message. It is criminal to say something as horrible as, “I really don’t have anything planned.” Or, “I guess I just want to thank my family.” As an old entertainment writer, I can tell you that when you thank someone in an acceptance speech, you make one person very happy, and the rest of the world is bored. So what is the message that you would like to convey to everyone?
  • Secondly, what is a gift you have that you think you are meant to give to the world? I don’t mean a literal gift, but a trait, a talent, or knowledge. What is your soul?
  • The third question is what you still hope to learn from the world that it can give back to you. What is something that you still hope to experience or learn?

As Mark faded in his final hours crying, there was no question that his soul was completely filling the room, and yet he was not aware of it. He felt he had no purpose. 

His soul wrote this post.

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