“You don’t have a soul; you are a soul.” People often attribute this quote to CS Lewis but it is much, much older than that, though the source remains unknown.
In key 8 of my book “8 Keys to Recovery From an Eating Disorder” I wrote with Gwen Grabb, we talk about an aspect of healing that is often left out of conventional treatment. We discuss what I call the “soul self” the essence of one’s being, one’s spiritual nature, and how developing that connection can help people become fully recovered and stay that way. Spirituality and soul are words that have so many interpretations they are surrounded by misunderstanding and confusion. Spirituality is different from religion. Religion can be a path to spirituality but I heard something once that really resonated with me, “Religion can be a bridge to spirituality, but people often get stuck on the bridge.” Unlike religion, Spirituality does not have rules to follow or dogma, it is simply about transcending a limited view of oneself and recognizing you are more than an individual ego or the voice inside your head. During your life you have had different thoughts and emotions and watched the world pass before you. Spiritual awareness means understanding that you are the witnessing presence or consciousness that is aware of those thoughts, emotions, and events. This witnessing presence is your inherent spiritual nature, providing deeper meaning, purpose, connection to and re-enchantment of your everyday life.
Most people who suffer from an eating disorder are disconnected from, and likely at war with, their body. In my own eating disorder I certainly was. When suffering from an eating disorder your mind is in a state of constant chatter, judgment, and comparison. You are critical of yourself and others, out of balance, caught in habitual behavior patterns, and living in the past or future. You are unaware of your true essence beyond your body and your mind, because the environment we live in provides little mentoring to help us understand and develop who and what we truly are beyond these things. An eating disorder is the epitome of disconnect between body, mind, and spirit. Reconnecting not only helps people heal, but brings deeper meaning and purpose to life.
Like most people, if you have an eating disorder, you want comfort, security, love and happiness, but as long as you are striving to achieve any of these things through the pursuit of thinness or the comfort of food, your behaviors may have meaning and purpose temporarily, but they will keep you in a state of striving, misery, and unhappiness. You have fallen into the illusion that your worth is tied to the external, what you own, what you accomplish, how you look. Furthermore, you may not fully realize that it is your own thoughts and behaviors keeping you from the happiness you seek.
Even if you partake in religious or spiritual teachings, these can hardly compare with the amount of energy poured into you through thousands of hours of media and advertising, all conditioning us into believing that humans exist to look good, work, earn money, and get stuff. Image consciousness has replaced spiritual consciousness, and consumerism has become the dominant world faith. It is no wonder we feel disconnected, empty and search for connection, meaning, and fulfillment in places where they cannot be found.
We are trained to look for happiness as if it is a state outside ourselves that we can somehow reach. Unfortunately, happiness is never finally “reached,” it is a feeling that comes and goes. However, you can learn to experience more happiness if you understand the You that is the witnessing presence, and strive to live your life from this deeper state of awareness. Doing so will not only increase happiness but bring far more peace and contentment.
Being spiritual does not mean you have to believe in concepts or beings that you can’t prove exist. The root of the word “spirit” is spiritus, Latin for “breath,” which basically means life force. Current scientific knowledge of the universe reveals that the life force inside of us is the same as that connected to everything else. Your spirituality is about your understanding of and actions toward recognizing this life force as your intrinsic essence and your connection to all other beings and the world around you.
Whether you have strong religious beliefs, or you are turned off by religion because you cannot accept what can’t be proven, or you believe scientific evidence contradicts religious beliefs, what I share about leading a more spiritual, soulful life is not incompatible with any of these stances.
Learning to recognize the difference between ego and soul, and how to show up from your soul self, has a profound aspect on healing, as well as facilitating a more fulfilling life.
EGO AND SOUL: WHO ARE YOU?
Make a list of a few things that describe who you are.
If you made a list, chances are you described yourself using characteristics about your age, gender, appearance, profession, achievements, hobbies, or perhaps even your thoughts and emotions. These are all aspects of your ego, your thinking mind, and your identity. The word “ego” comes from Latin, meaning “I.” Your ego is the part of you that relates to “I,” “me,” and “mine.” It is the part that defines you as separate from others.
Your ego is not bad; it is necessary to maintain a personal identity, negotiate the world, think effectively, plan, prepare, and provide. Obviously it is important. However, problems arise when you think your ego is all that you are. Unchecked, your ego will fall endlessly into comparisons, judgment, and disconnection. “I am fat,” “She is skinny,” “I am not good enough,” “I feel hurt.” When you criticize others or feel criticized, your ego is at work. When you are in resistance to “what is,” your ego is at work. If you have an eating disorder, your ego has taken over and is running your life.
You need your ego to have a cohesive identity and navigate living on the planet. But when you cannot quiet your mind, accept what is, and be in the moment, you have confused yourself with your ego and lost connection with your soul self.
I use the term “healthy self” with clients to help them distinguish the difference between their eating disorder and the healthy voice they also have inside, the one they can bring out for others but not themselves. I use the term soul self to describe your inner being, beyond your ego and even beyond your healthy self. It is a state of awareness or consciousness that is both independent and yet connected to the source of consciousness, the part that witnesses the coming and going of thoughts, feelings, identities, and experiences without judgment, knowing none of them are you because you are the one aware of it all.
The term soul self is a way to describe your conscious awareness, but it is not the exact same thing. Your soul self is the way you manifest your connection to this deeper source of awareness or consciousness in the world. Your ego is the way you manifest your identity, wants, and desires.
When you are connected to your soul self, you can witness all the concerns of your ego passing before you, like waves coming and going in the ocean. You can witness them and let them return to the sea. From this place, you are more interested in your awareness of your thoughts than in the thoughts themselves. From this place, you don’t have to act on the thoughts or the feelings; you can acknowledge them, but you do not have to react. In this state there is no place for an eating disorder to gain footing. There is no need to binge, starve, vomit, or reach a number on a scale. These things have no meaning or significance for your soul self and are matters that your ego takes up.
See if the words below written by clients discovering this concept are useful in your own exploration as a client or someone helping clients to recover.
Quote from a client on discovering her soul self
"Taking the time to connect with my soul self made me realize that it was only my ego that was concerned with numbers and scales and fat grams. Sitting quietly for a few minutes day after day, I was slowly able to sense a different part of me that felt no pull toward those things. I realized I was not my thoughts, I was the one who could watch them come and go, just like a bouncing ball or characters in a movie. I was surprised that sitting with my eyes closed, and paying attention to my breath for a few minutes every day, connected me to a deeper part of me, my soul. Once I had that connection lots of other things I used to get caught up in began to take on less and less meaning and importance and eventually my whole view of things and thus my behaviors toward them changed. —j.f.
“I used to think I had no soul. I was not a religious person and could not imagine what else having a soul meant but to accept religion and believe in something no one could prove was true. However, when I stepped back enough times and mindfully separated myself from my thoughts, my soul simply came through. I can now recognize my thoughts and my emotions as stories from my ego. I can watch them come up and let them go and not get pulled into or react to them.” —lr