If you stop for a moment and ask yourself, "Who am I?" at first the answer seems very clear: I'm Msmuffintop, who are you? Think a moment deeper, quietly. and ask yourself as you observe yourself doing this thinking process - who is the observer? Who is being observed? Can there be two of you? Is the soul separate somehow from the mind? For many people the intuitive answer is "Yes." Whether they believe in reincarnation or hell and heaven, it feels inherently "right" that the soul would continue to exist after the body is done.

There is much unverifiable proof for this feeling. First, there is the knowledge that in a closed system energy is never lost. It is converted into some other form of energy. Thus if our body functions with energy and electricity, where would that go when we die? For those of us who have recently lost a loved one, the thought is a little closer to home. We feel the presence of our loved one from time to time, most intensely right after the passing. Could it be really them? Some how close by still in contact? Still others actually see ghostly images, not necessarily of people they even know. Which leads them all to believe the soul is some how separate from the mind. The brain is seen like some kind of engine or robotic device, while the soul dances, romantically, above that all on a different plane.

Other people find the belief counter intuitive. The brain has thoughts, so the brain must equal the mind. How could there be anything else. When we pass the brain ceases to function. There fore we can't imagine being dead because when we are dead, we can't imagine. It's a very straightforward line of thinking. Logical, and yet counter to every major religion created since the beginning of time.

Mental health therapists usually take the dualistic approach. The brain can be addled, people confused by drugs, by trauma, by any number of stresses while the soul remains pristine. The basic New Age premise is that people are basically good. Doing the best they know how. That their actions out picture as bad or self-centered does not negate a well meant motive. There for the soul is somehow remaining pure. "Bad" is simply our human judgment although at any given time we don't actually have enough information to judge what is "good" or "bad." Conversely the Christian world is exactly the opposite, that we are born inherently flawed, sinful, incapable of doing good until we accept Christ as our savior and allow him to work on us. Although the two philosophies appear to be diametrically opposed, they both buy into the idea that the soul is separate from the body and mind.

Its curious that we put so much energy into this belief. The other day someone was trying to explain to me the four pillars of life were financial, physical health, spiritual and mental. "But how is my mental life different from my spiritual?" I asked. Rather than answer my question she calmly repeated her premises. "But really," I said, "Isn't my religious belief all in my head?" I still wasn't getting the material difference between a "spiritual life" and a "mental life." In my opinion my "spiritual life" was just another thing I believed with my brain.

My friend defined spirit, and my spiritual self as completely separate from my "mental" thoughts. As if the decision to be hungry or happy or depressed or in love was somehow happening in a different brain than worship. I found that hard to understand. What if the brain IS just a brain. What if prayer is just another function, like digesting food, or breathing oxygen. Or flip that, what if breathing oxygen was just as sacred as loving your neighbor as yourself?

When I do feel lonely or sad or overwhelmed I hit the road. I go hike, alone, in the remote mountains by my home and I feel strangely refreshed by the still of the forest. It isn't about talking things over with a tree. It's just being with them, wordlessly, seamlessly, that has a way of curing anxiety. Too much noise might be what splits some people in half, or the low grade stress caused by insidious traffic, annoying neighbors and sadistic employers. There is power in union, unity with the universe, a unity that is abundantly clear when one is immersed in nature, less hard to see when removed from nature.

Stay away from people long enough, in these remote locations and the line between the soul and the mind blurs. As well as the line between the soul and "other." To litter in the forest is to destroy one's self. Nothing that is bad for the environment could be good for us. Its that simple. The connection goes so deep. One begins to contemplate animals. Do they have souls? They certainly have brains. If the brain and the soul are one and the same, its clear. If they don't have souls then what are we connecting with when we feel their pain? What are we touching when an animal bonds with us?

The alternative thinkers are fond of saying they are "spiritual" yet not "religious." What are they trying to say? That they've given up on rules? On Doctrine? On organization? Some religions are beautiful in their ritual. Services can connect people. Churches make gathering places. Couldn't they be spiritual? Some people do find God in the most unlikely places. I think it's still possible to find God in a church. Why would "he" be everywhere BUT there? That said, I think even a rock is striving for existence, is some arm of consciousness, is filled with energy and raw potential. God smiles in the vast space within atoms. The attraction between the positive and the negative, might be rightly called "Love." After all, some force fights entropy striving to pull us together despite every chaotic discourse. If not "Love" than what? What would you can "it"?