by Mateo Sol
Matilde, one of our readers from Switzerland recently asked: “What’s the difference between the mind, body, spirit, soul and the self? In an article, you say that we should question who we are and that we will discover that we are not our minds, but that we are nothing and everything at the same time. But what about the soul? Is the soul individual? Are we all separate souls? Or are we the self, and we are all one?”
I’ve come across this question a few times. Knowing the difference can liberate you from who you think you are, to love who you truly are.
The Difference Between the Mind, Brain and Body?
In order to understand the difference between the mind and the self, we must first learn to distinguish between the body and the mind.
The body is an intricate organism that is composed of several parts that allow the mechanism we know as the “brain” to function. Take away the heart, liver, or kidneys and the brain won’t work for very long. To think of our brains as separate from the rest of our bodies is a mistake.
We are all born as empty slates with new brains every time we enter this world, but not with a new mind. Let me explain this further: our minds are composed of information and different forms of conditioning that we have been taught throughout our lives. This content manifests itself through the brain and remains within a layer of consciousness after we die that Carl Jung referred to as the “collective unconscious.” This is precisely why so many people can remember “their” past lives.
Using modern technology we can create a simple analogy: Our brains are the computers or smart phones, and our minds are the operating system within that device. If the device breaks, all the data can still be transferred to a new device.
In this way, the mind is the ultimate software because it can only know what you teach it. You can teach it mathematics, physics and history and it will be able to recollect all of this information, creating more – but this is all that it can do. This is why if you pursue truth, living through the body and mind are incomplete without the Spirit.
How the Spirit, Self and Soul are Connected
There’s a divine driving force guiding us all known as Spirit. Spirit uses the mind to create an identity (the “Self”) in order to aid our survival.
This “Self” (or ego) you possess, is composed of all the memories you have that you identify as belonging to “you,” e.g. your name, your nationality, your political/religious beliefs, your life ambitions, what you’ve grown to like and dislike, and all the personality characteristics that are the result of your environmental experiences or genetics.
Most people go through life believing that they are this story, believing that they are the thoughts they are thinking, instead of the essence that is experiencing those thoughts.
Do you see the difference? If our conscious experience of life was a cinema, most of us would be so absorbed in the movie that we would forget who was actually the person sitting in the chair watching that movie.
It’s this subtle shift in awareness from being the movie to watching the movie that we can refer to as the Soul.
If I insult the beliefs of a person who believes themselves to be this mental “Self” they become angry, insecure or upset. If I insult the beliefs of a person who lives from a more Soulful place, they will acknowledge my statement with much less emotional reaction to it. Why? Because they have cultivated a degree of inner freedom by learning not to identify with the mind, personality and self.
A person who identifies with, and believes themselves to be their passing thoughts and emotions, will suffer in life much more than a person who has found the centred of their being, their Soul.
Mind is the Beginning, Soul is the End
While the mind comes at the very beginning of our existence, the Soul can be said to be the very end of our existence. The mind and Soul complete a full circle; the mind is a beginning with no ending, and the Soul is an ending with no beginning.
Spirit was there since the dawn of time and will be there once we leave.
The mind, on the other hand, was the beginning of our “individual selves,” however the end to this illusory division only comes when we learn to expand our conscious awareness and live from the Soul.
In the English language, the brain and mind have almost become synonymous, and this is why it can sometimes be so difficult to understand these concepts. That is why I like to turn to the languages of ancient cultures who dedicated themselves to the quest for Truth.
For example, Sanskrit has the word “chetana” (consciousness) and they also have “manas” (mind). In their understanding, “manas” was limited to the physical senses and could only yield “vijnana” (information), but it could not provide “jnana” (wisdom) or “vidya” (understanding). Sanskrit also distinguishes the unconscious mind from all these other elements, calling it “chitta.”
As we can see, we are multi-layered beings.
How can we be everything and nothing at the same time? Are Souls individual and separate from each other?
Imagine our life energy, Spirit, as a massive ocean. Now imagine each wave in the ocean as a Soul. If the wave uses its “mind” to think about itself, it will look and compare itself to the other waves and “think” it is separate from them. It is only the fully present wave that is truly “experiencing” itself, that is truly aware. A single swell of water is just as much a wave as it is the entire ocean.
Mind, Body, Spirit and Soul
Taking care of our bodies helps us to maintain a healthy and clear-minded awareness. Becoming more aware of our Soul helps us to cultivate greater awareness in our lives that allows us to be liberated from all the mental layers that form obstacles on the way back to the ocean of Spirit.