Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke of the soul as our capacity to directly experience the divine. He criticized the religions of his time for merely setting up rules and dogmas that followed the traditions of the past but offered no opportunities for today. He said,
…within this erring passionate mortal self, sits a supreme calm immortal mind, whose powers I do not know, but it is stronger than I am, it is wiser than I am…I seek counsel of it in my doubts, I repair to it in my dangers, I pray to it in my undertakings. It is the door of my access to the Father… It is the perception of this depth in human nature—this infinitude belonging to every man that has been born—which has given new value to the habits of reflexion and solitude.
The soul for Emerson was linked to his understanding of the divine, not as a being external to us, but present within us, available to us. The soul was like a well whose depth kept getting deeper—there was no limit to this interior life, it was a doorway into the infinite.
The fifteenth century Indian poet Kabir also speaks about the soul as our capacity to experience the divine. He said:
Jump into experience while you are alive!
…What you call “salvation” belongs to the time before death.
If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive,
do you think
ghosts will do it after?
The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
just because the body is rotten—
that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death.
If you make love with the divine now, in the next life
you will have the face of satisfied desire.
Kabir suggests that we can’t wait for some sort of salvation after we die. He reminds us that we must cultivate this seed—it won’t grow automatically. We must do the work of our souls now, right here, we must connect with the Mystery while we are alive.