Soul of Systemic Psychology © Martyn Carruthers 1996
Feeling Connected gives Sense of Life
“The soul is the same in all living creatures, although the body of each is different.” -Hippocrates, 460-370 BC
This is one of the first articles I wrote about Soulwork.
A meaningful life seems to require a sense of connectedness and integrity. I referred to this experience as Soul and called the process of getting there – Soul Work. The names stuck.
In in the 1980’s, I worked with a family therapist in Germany, Annegret Hallanzy, to explore ways to live more meaningful lives. We developed a methodology that became a basis for what Annegret called VoVa (Visionsorientierte Veränderungsarbeit) and for what I called Soulwork Systemic Coaching.
We developed effective ways to help people end self-sabotage, solve emotional problems and enjoy healthy relationships. We help people clarify relationships, resolve conflicts and manage emotions, unconscious objections and limiting beliefs. We found that most of these were relationship issues that, if resolved, lead to an experience of connection that Annegret called Vision and I called Soul.
This sense of life or experience of integrity need not diminish over time (like fun or motivation), nor depend on the behavior of other people. Accessing this experience, however, is strongly influenced by people’s conscious beliefs and unconscious bonds.
Annegret and I found that this experience, once accessed and stabilized, can inspire people from diverse backgrounds to improve their lives, manage past disappointments and choose important goals. Yet this experience is neither an altered state nor dissociation (as commonly sought using drugs or hypnosis); nor is it a set of values, rules or behaviors.
What you called Soul was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.
My life made sense! I defined my steps to where I wanted to be, and changed
some relationship habits that somehow stopped me living my life fully. London
The Soul of Soulwork may be an experience of a totality of oneself – an experiential answer to, “What do all parts of you simultaneously want?”
During this experience (‘integrity’ is the word I often use to avoid religious or New Age discussions), most people describe being intensely present and sensitive to their feelings, environments and relationships.
When people describe this experience of integrity, they interpret their experience and expose their emotional maturity. They may use spiritual words e.g. “Spirit talks through me”; religious descriptions e.g. “I am within Christ“; or abstract metaphors e.g. “I am a child of the universe”.
Most people who have experienced Soul usually agree with any of these metaphors, while people who have not experienced this often try to interpret such words literally or analytically, and build philosophical arguments.
That which you seek, if you find it not within yourself,
you will never find it without.
Soul as a Stable Experience of Integrity
What is soul? I cannot answer this question for you. Instead, I help people explore the experience we call soul. For me, Soul refers to an experience, not to a theory, dogma, philosophy, personality or altered state.
Martyn, I cannot describe that experience.
My words seem to break and crumble under the strain
I have helped many people* access this experience of connectedness. Some people call this experience “the real me” or “my true self” – although not egotistically.
(* In my experience, those many people rarely include children, immature adults, people suffering brain damage, dementia or psychosis, drug addicts, dedicated cult members, highly dissociated people and people with no healthy relationships.)
I saw myself more clearly than ever before, and felt the burden of my errors,
yet with a tenderness, like a fire within which comforted me while it burned,
a fire that connected me to a million million other fires.
Soul as a Stable Experience of Connectedness
For me, Soul is an experience of connectedness. People describe feeling connected to other people (such as children or a partner), to all people, to all living things, to the planet, or to the universe. They may say things like, “I am a tiny part of the whole – and the whole is part of me“.
We help mature people use ecstatic experiences and altered states as steps to integrity – but not under the influence of psychoactive drugs, nor “just for fun”.
Soul as a Stable Experience of Integration
People often act as if they are fragmented. They may say “I don’t like the part of me that…” or “Part of me wants to do this but part of me doesn’t”. We can now help people integrate or assimilate these split-off personality parts to access the identity that existed before dis-integrating.
We can help motivated adults acknowledge and integrate the memories and wisdom in which they created these parts.
Soul as a Stable Experience of Identity
During Soul experience, people can evaluate their relationships and goals, and decide how to enjoy relationships that support this sense of life. Ego becomes a perceptual position within a matrix of relationships; and clarity, responsibility and honesty characterize decisions made with integrity.
Soul experience can guide Meaningful Life
People may describe Soul experience as the true me or my highest potential. Some people visualize a perfected self-image, or hear a compelling voice of conscience, while others have experiences apparently similar to those called enlightenment, satori or Samadhi.
The experience that we call Soul seems to bridge the abstraction of connectedness with the details of everyday life. Unlike brief transcendental experiences, people can refer to Soul for insight and guidance during important decisions. Integrity can become a compass when making decisions.
Soul experience can evaluate Relationships
Many people feel connected to other people by limiting beliefs and fixations, which represent conditions for relationships (e.g. I stay with you because I am scared to leave). As many people avoid recognizing such bonds, we often call them taboo bonds.
We can help people evaluate and change their bonds, beliefs and fixations, gain relief from strong, negative emotions, and change unwanted habits.
Soul experience can evaluate Life Events
Do you want to enjoy a life that makes sense? Each life experience, no matter how apparently toxic or abusive, can be a valuable learning opportunity. We help people manage abusive or traumatic experiences, and use those past experiences to motivate the fulfillment of their life goals.
Soul experience can guide Life Purpose
If you have congruent goals (i.e. no internal objections), you may find that each step to a goal increases your sense of fulfillment. There seems to be no limits to the happiness of human relationships that include a shared sense of purpose. (And there appear to be no limits to the suffering of unpleasantly bonded relationships).
The Soul of Soulwork is an experience of connectedness
that can help you make important decisions.
It provides a basis for love without sympathy
– not even sympathy for yourself.
The experience we call Soul has little in common with the psychological, metaphysical or philosophical theories that I stumble over. In the context of our work; there are some things that Soul is not (including soul music, soul food and esoteric entities).
Soul experience is not a philosophical concept
We do not try to persuade people to accept any theory, belief, dogma or philosophy. This experience of integrity seems to be available to mature adults who can enjoy quality relationships.
Living with integrity is always a choice – we cannot push people to choose wisely, although we may point out some of the consequences of ignorance.
Soul experience is not a personality part
Soul is closer to that which connects. It seems to underlie ego-states, inner children and parts. It is closer to a connectedness to people, to nature or to the universe. Soul seems closer to the experience of resonance if you and another person choose to love (accept, encourage, respect, etc) both yourselves and each other – simultaneously.
I might describe Soul as a multi-dimensional experience that is both a
source of human connectedness – and a sense of being connected.
Soul experience is not an emotional state
If you accept your emotions as communications of your inner personality parts and of your outer relationships, you need not judge feelings as bad or negative. Rather you can recognize that ignoring negative emotions often results in dissociated behaviors (e.g. substance abuse or obsessions).
During Soulwork, we accept emotions as valid and important communications
… and as potential steps towards integrity or Soul.
Soul experience is not inner dialogue (self talk)
The main functions of inner dialog (self talk) seem to be to learn from the past, to analyze the present and to plan the future. Uncontrolled inner dialog may be experienced as endless self-criticism.
In Soul experience, people often say, “It’s quiet inside me!” –
a goal of many transcendental philosophies.
Soul experience is not a desire
You probably have many desires related to survival, family, power, stability, success and your family. Do you have goals that you are afraid to fulfill because, “there would be nothing left to live for!“?
Soul is closer to, “This is how I want to live my life!“
Soul experience is not ego
I sometimes liken ego to a dissociated (split off) teenage personality part. I sometimes describe Soul as the ego of the ego – a raw experience of existence before that experience is filtered through self-talk, beliefs, values, philosophies and cultural norms (i.e. through bonds).
When people experience Soul, they often describe a perceptual viewpoint that can fluidly move within and between members of relationship systems.
Soul is not physical reality
A ruin, a mountain scene, a country garden or a home may be places where you can look at the world with a sense of magic and mystery, and perhaps better access a sense of self-in-life that we call Soul.
Do you want to manage your emotions and resolve relationship conflicts?