Heart, soul, self, ego, spirit; these are words we bandy around in the spiritual world and everyone has a different definition for each one.
It does help to understand the levels within us, so here’s a handy guide as to what the Western Mystery Tradition that I’ve studied for the last 25 years has to say about them. You may disagree, of course, that’s your prerogative, but I’ve always found these definitions extremely helpful.
In a nutshell:
- Ego is who we think we are.
- Self is who we really are.
- Heart is who we truly want to be.
- Soul is who we have become over many lifetimes and who we are meant to become this lifetime. Our soul is always connected with a soul group. It is a ‘we’ rather than an ‘I’.
- Spirit is the unifying point of all existence – I believe that Dark Matter is spirit – the love that binds the Universe together in its cycles.
And beyond that is divinity/God, whatever you want to call it which is the light from which all creation flows and to which it returns.
Next, it’s important to understand that our ego, which is the part of us that runs our everyday lives on automatic, saying the same things, thinking the same thoughts, doing the same actions, is also the part of us that frequently believes that it is our soul. That’s because a healthy human soul is loving, discerning and at peace with the world and, if we’re in any aspect of holistic health, we naturally want to present the face of someone kind, good and caring even if we’re frantic, overwhelmed and broke. It’s the same if we’ve been raised by people who required us to be ‘good’ — it will become our ego’s practice to behave in a way that benefits our family or tribe. This is entirely normal and it’s the way we get people to like and/or admire us which is what the ego needs to feel in order to be validated and even safe.
Ego is fully formed by the age of seven. The Jesuits have a phrase: Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man. It is formed according to our parents, our peers, our tribe and our astrology. Your astrological Moon sign will show you how your ego operates and, as most of us work from ego most of the time – and that isn’t necessarily bad. Most of us present to the world from our Moon sign rather than our Sun sign which is one reason why so many don’t take astrology on board: ‘I’m nothing like my Sun sign!’ No, but you are meant to be!.
A quick way to check whether someone is presenting from their heart or soul or from their ego is this: If they tell you that they are coming from heart or soul, they are not!
If they are coming from the ego, they will need to say that they are ‘soul centred’ or ‘coming from the heart’ whereas heart and soul simply don’t have that need. You can have some fun watching out for this one!
Heart is the opening point to the soul; your heart is yours alone; your soul is a part of all of humanity; more, it is a part of the cosmos. The soul works for the good of all, not the good of the individual or the family or the tribe.
The heart works for the good of ourselves and perceived others. i.e. those whom we come across. The heart will do what is good for what it can see and for the part of the human family that it knows and understands. The soul will act for the greater good even if that may not be apparent – or popular. The soul will allow your – or another’s – death if it will demonstrate something vitally important to the evolution of humanity. In contrast, the heart will preserve life. Heart is understandably a lot more popular than soul.
In Kabbalistic teaching, our ego’s purpose is to collate information and experience and present it to the self so that the self can use the discernment of the soul and the kindness of the heart to make a decision from free will. However, most of us react from the information and experience that we know rather than responding. To re-act is just that – do the same thing again. To re-spond is to think anew. The word used in the Gospels for ‘repent’ is metanoia which also means to think anew – to think differently; to re-think.
Is the ego inherently bad and the soul inherently good? No, not necessarily. A damaged ego and a damaged self and a wounded heart can all impact the soul negatively – and through that, the all-embracing womb of Spirit and the fate and destiny of humanity. But that’s the subject for another blog…