Yeah, I do. I think we all have something near to whatever your definition of a soul is.
And this is about as mystical as you'll ever hear me get.
Because I tell stories for a living, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the concept of story. On those occasions where I'm paid to teach writing, I teach story. A story is a lens through which we apprehend our world, our circumstance. Everyplace I go --- and I've gone to well over 100 countries --- I ask about the local creation myth. It is always, of course, a story.
We Homo sapiens told stories --- I'm assuming --- from our earliest days on earth. We told stories around the campfires, Homer spoke his epic poems, Guttenberg allowed us to widely disseminate stories and we read stories on the internet.
Telling stories is what humans do to make sense of our world. Your ancestors were good hunters and gatherers, otherwise, you wouldn't be here. And if we listen to the stories of hunter-gatherers --- those of the Australian Aboriginals, for instance --- we hear explanations of why we exist, why certain trees bloom in certain parts of the year, and how a geological formation came to be.
Stories are baked into our DNA.
In my mind, I have always envisioned a blinding curve of energy, a great story arc in the sky.
When I write, the first 20 minutes or so is generally throw away stuff. But as my friend Richard Wheeler (author of 60 novels) says, "it is like a rusty old outdoor water pump. You work the handle and all you get at first is rusty muddy water. But if you keep pumping, the water runs clear and clean."
So it is with writing. If you are working well, sometime in that first 20 minutes you forget yourself. The prose becomes cleaner, the story sharper, elements you hadn't even considered in your outline enter the flow and those annoying loose ends begin the tie themselves up into neat little knots.
Meanwhile, you may have been sitting there for 3 hours, but it seems like you've only been working for 30 minutes. You went somewhere for a while and there you consulted the Great Story Arc and it was there that the stories of our history on earth lit you up and informed the best of your writing.
I know you've all had roughly similar experiences writing, even for some essay project in school. Couldn't get the damn thing started and now it's four in the morning and, damn, this isn't bad.
I think the act of losing yourself in the work is much akin to Eastern Meditative states.
I am not alone in this thought. In 1990, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Hungarian psychologist, and (at the time) University of Chicago Psych professor wrote a book entitled Flow, the Psychology of Optimal Experience. He found that painters, for instance, experienced flow states while working. A musician writing a passage on paper may not hear the doorbell ring. A neurosurgeon may experience a complex five hour operation as 15 minutes of work. A ballerina, on the other hand, may sense that two seconds of movement have slowed down to two minutes. An athlete in the flow is said to be "in the zone."
Csikszentmihalyi described the flow as "being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost."
Some folks use meditation to get to that state of ego-less flow and what I think of as "creatural" thinking (rather than thinking in the ordinary brooding mode). Without self critical thought or ego, these folks may feel they've begun the perceive the meaning of life.
I think a basketball player in the zone shares some of that comprehension. I mean, I guess you can get there doing a Buddist "stare at the wall for a day" exercise. Some of us just need a little harder bump.
Which brings us back to the soul.
When I'm writing and in the flow, I often have no idea where that element of the story just came from and why the piece wants to finish the way it demands to finish. I just pulled that stuff down out of that blinding curve of energy, the Great Story Arc.
And what that has to do with the soul is this: you are part of it. I am part of it. Every human being is part of it. As soon as you are born, your parents start telling your story. And as a child, you will skin your knee or walk naked into your parent's dinner party, you'll suffer a broken heart, hit the zone in your chosen sport, have children of your own. And that all becomes part of the human story. It folds into the Great Story Arc and alters it if only very slightly. And there it is --- in that blinding curve of energy that lasts forever --- that is where your soul resides.
I know I rag on you, but that was sublime