Powers of the Soul

This article includes excerpts from Living an Extraordinary Life by Christina Grote and Pamela Kramer. Find more information in the book.

Since the writing of The Life We Are Given, Michael Murphy has further developed the concept of the soul, informed by his teacher Sri Aurobindo, psychologist James Hillman, and others. He sees the soul as having two parts—one part that is participating fully in this material world, playing the game of life and evolving through its experiences, and the other part that is observing and untouched. To illustrate this idea, he tells the ancient Vedic story of two birds sitting on a branch of a tree: one enjoys the sweet fruits of the tree (of life) while the other stands apart and does not eat. These two birds symbolize the immanent and the transcendent aspects of our existence, our two souls, the mutual relationship of the finite self and the infinite Self. The immanent or evolving part of the soul is experiencing the world, learning and growing. The transcendent part of the soul is beyond thought, beyond feeling, beyond anything that can be observed. Despite this, it has a uniqueness that is distinctly our own. ITP concerns itself with both aspects of the soul. The practice addresses the evolving soul by encouraging us to listen to our soul’s needs and use our path of practice to fulfill them. It addresses the transcendent soul through meditation and other practices that may bring us into a state of pure being. This state, known as ananda in Sanskrit, can be described as self-existent delight, a delight without cause. It is just there, always—and always available.

One way that we can connect with the soul is through the sense of awe. Awe, like the soul, is very close to us, as close as our breath. But given how deeply involved we are in the minutiae of our everyday lives, it often takes a powerful experience to awaken us to the extraordinary all around us.