Defining Spirituality, Soul and Spirit
Originally published in Coaching for Transformation
One realm (spirit)…turns upward toward the light, …helps us to disidentify from the commotion of the strategic mind so we can reclaim the inner quiet, peace and wholeness of our true nature. It is about cultivating the blissful experience of being fully present in the moment and one with all creation.
The other realm (soul) leads not upward toward God but downward toward the dark center of our individual selves and into the fruitful experience of nature…it shows us where and how to make our stand. On this half of the spiritual journey, we do not rise toward heaven but fall toward the center of our longing. — Bill Plotkin
Many see spirituality as a mystery beyond comprehension. For some of us spirituality is our birthright. For nearly all, spirituality is connected to the point of view that there is more to life than meets the eye, that we are each a unique being with a value beyond our worth to our economy, or our village, our state, or nation.
There is surely no easy way to say exactly what we mean by spirit or spirituality. The Book of the Tao famously states that “The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.” Even from a pure coaching perspective, descriptions differ from person to person.
For some, spirituality is another term for religion. For others, spirituality is the antithesis of religion, a connection with meaning that doesn’t involve the supernatural in any way. You may find some of the following commonalities in your explorations of spirituality with clients:
A quest for meaning in everyday life—a feeling that life has value, or meaning.
A commitment to values, and living in accordance with them.
The pursuit of transcendence to life beyond self, or beyond the material realm.
An appreciation of the connectedness of life between self, others, a divine presence and nature.
A commitment to transformation into a more enlightened, more connected or more fulfilled
A connection to something larger than one’s self which could include a group of people with a common purpose such as societal transformation or challenging injustice.
The soul is the personal, unique aspect of the self that embraces the essence of our individuality. When clients refer to the “real me,” they tap what is most wild and natural within. In his poetry, David Whyte has several phrases that describe soul:
One life you can call your own.
Shape that waits in the seed of you to grow and spread its branches against a future sky.
That small, bright and indescribable wedge of freedom in your own heart.
The one line already written inside of you.
Your own truth at the center of the image you were born with.1 Our unique purpose is our soul imperative. We each come into this world with a seed inside that is the work we are meant to do in the world. Soul is that deep place in us that holds our purpose and never lets it go. We receive clues throughout our lives that can point us toward what is ours to do. Soul work then is a developmental process, an ongoing quest to understand that deep purpose inside and to discover how to best fulfill our soul work in the world.
Spirit is the broad, communal aspect of pure energy, shared among all souls. Mysterious. Limitless. When clients experience the interconnectedness of life, they are connecting with spirit. This spirit, God or life force is referenced in many traditions, some which worship deities and some which do not.
Connection to Everyday Life
Connection to soul and spirit is a current under all day-to-day living. As a coach, you help clients become more of who they are. When you see your clients deeply, it impacts how they see themselves.
Taoist writings say:
“In ancient times, people lived holistic lives… integrated mind, body, and spirit in all things… If you want to stop being confused, then… Allow your work and your recreation to be one and the same… Serve others and cultivate yourself simultaneously… understand that true growth comes from meeting and solving the problems of life in a way that is harmonizing to yourself and to others.”2
In the Bhagavad Gita, one of the central scriptures of yoga, Krishna, an enlightened master, says to his disciple Arjuna: “It is better to do your own duty imperfectly, than to do another’s perfectly.”3
The soul, that connection to self, is made visible in the world through core powers. These core powers are values, knowledge and abilities that are made visible through action in the world. Values are those parts of us that have to be present for us to be congruent with our innermost selves (integrity, adventure, passion, security, etc.). Knowledge here refers to that power in you that simply knows what is best for you. It is not learned information, but the core of your knowing. Abilities refer to your skills and talents that help you to create and manifest your core self.
Our first core principle of coaching speaks about clients as being whole while simultaneously moving toward a greater expression of their wholeness. As coaches, we work with our clients to realize even more wholeness by confronting everything that has them live divided.
A “small, still voice” speaks the truth about me, my work and the world. I hear it and yet act as if I did not.
I pay a steep price when I live a divided life—feeling fraudulent, anxious about being found out, and depressed by the fact that I am denying my own selfhood. A fault line runs down the middle of my life, and whenever it cracks open—divorcing my words and actions from the truth I hold within—things around me get shaky and start to fall apart. — Parker Palmer
1 Whyte, David (1997). The House of Belonging. Many Rivers Press.
2 Walker, Brian (1995). Hua Hu Ching: The Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu. HarperOn.
3 The Bhagavad Gita, Translated for the Modern Reader (1996). Nilgiri Press.
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