I recently had the pleasure of sitting down for dinner with an old friend, a former colleague from my banking days. I had come to Dallas to tend to some business which gave me the chance to spend time with old friends. My time here coincided with the tragic deaths and funeral of another friend's parents (It was unreal). That morning I woke up to my own laughter. I had a dream that my friend and I were hanging out and laughing so hard our voices grew hoarse. My buddy has a particular laugh which is quite contagious, a feature that his daughter managed to inherit. In any case, we were long overdue for a get together.
He invited me to his home where I met his beautiful family and enjoyed excellent food, drinks, and sport while he educated me in a game of ping pong that he had set up in his back yard. It was "perfect timing", he claimed as it was his last day off of work for paternity leave while he and his wife had just welcomed their third child, Edison, into the world. We grilled pork chops and sipped beer while catching up. After dinner we engaged in a conversation on theism (my friend is a staunch atheist). Like any great debate we isolated the reasons for or against the concept of faith. Without getting emotional, I argued that faith comes down to belief in either random coincidence or divine providence. This understanding I said, "is the linchpin that determines intelligent design in the universe". Earlier in the day, my friend and his wife spoke out loud that they saw a man who reminded them of me, just hours before I reached out to him with a text greeting. It had been about 4 years since we last spoke after I moved to Austin.
I too have questioned the randomness that seems to fill the universe. Chaos, suffering, and death seem to discourage the spirit, however, I have listened quietly enough to hear bizarrely encouraging patterns. At one point, I kept a journal of serendipitous coincidences until I had completely filled its pages in a relatively short period of time. I stopped recording and just began to accept this phenomena as a normal fixture in my life. Philosopher/psychiatrist, Carl Jung, referred to these occurrences as synchronicity, or the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related yet have no discernible causal connection. Around the same time, a friend recommended a book, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, which addressed this mystic concept, “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”. Synchronicity is a central theme in the story.
Animism is the concept of the soul. It is what animates our bodies and gives us purpose and direction. It's one of the three components to our humanity which includes the mind and body. The mind is like a computer processor which is capable of storage, processing logic and reason, as well as comprehending emotions, feeling, and metaphor. The body is the hardware that allows our mind to control and interact with our physical environment.
It is written in the book of Genesis that God created man and when He had breathed into Adam's nostrils that he had come to life and began to move about. Many cultures believe in the idea of the spirit. In fact, we refer to alcohols, certain drugs, and various temperaments as spirits. The earliest discoverers of alcohol observed the vapors given off during the alchemical process of distilling and called this mist a 'spirit' (we also derive the word Alcohol from Alche-mist-ry). In any case, new life truly enters our bodies when we are born and draw our very first breath. Mystics subscribe to the idea that we are souls with bodies.
Our bodies serve as our vehicles of fulfilling our spiritual purposes on this earthly plane. Sometimes when we abuse drugs or alcohol we behave not as ourselves, but rather our temperaments become out of sorts with our natural character. Our bodies become hosts to these spirits which can be detected on our breath. This is why temperance is necessary to remain in control, something that comes with maturity. These spirits can haunt our bodies and without practicing moderation can cause catastrophic harm to ourselves and others.
The concept of free will is truly something to behold. A robot for instance can possess the sharpest "mind" or processor, and the most capable "body", but it does not have a soul. It can not function without instruction, it can only follow orders. It lacks its own purpose and direction. The soul of a person is what gives an individual a unique personality and agency to act. It guides the mind, which in turn guides the body to accomplish complicated tasks that include achieving one's dreams and desires. A robot cannot desire, at least not in the way a human can from birth. A robot cannot love (most humans can't even define this emotion let alone program it). A robot cannot laugh, cry, feel music or like art the way a human can appreciate a particular genre of comedy or frequency of sound; however, a child can. In fact, children are perfect examples of a soul manifested in a living, breathing, laughing body.
Our souls allow us to experience empathy and feel compassion by recognizing the divine spiritual presence in others, which can dispel ignorance, bigotry, and hate. It is the precious core of every human being on the planet which comprises the collective soul of something much greater than the individual. We cannot see this sometimes because we are spoiled with signs and miracles everyday and so we take them for granted, even to the point of arrogance. Our hearts and minds become hardened to see only what we wish to see instead of what is being shown to us (humility, gratitude, and prayer for everyday blessings help us to see). Our bodies will decay, our minds will eventually fade, but our spirit will remain. This world is a test of our character. We are trustees to this temporary life and someday we will die. Belief in God or the existence of a soul does not cost us anything but offers everything to gain, spiritually speaking.
In the end, you can't negotiate or force someone to believe or love. It's a gift offered, a choice, it's free will.