I know that I’ll probably be stepping into controversial territory the moment I start talking about souls. After all, whether you approach it from a theological perspective or a more literary point of view, any talk of soul necessarily invites debate.
And I welcome this debate. Seriously. Because it’s easy to see where the contours are, but once we look into the actual ebb and flow of the discussion and the arguments, it’s not as solid as we think.
First of all, theologically speaking, the idea of soul can actually be traced back to the ancient Greeks. No less than Socrates himself said that, you may be able to destroy my body, but my soul will continue to live long after me. In other words, he is talking about the indestructibility of the soul.
The idea being that flesh is flesh and anything that is non-flesh or spiritual in nature has its own distinctive set of qualities. According to this thinking, actions and decisions that impact the flesh, philosophically speaking, cannot touch on things that are not of flesh.
Besides the logical gymnastics involved, there’s also the issue of tradition. Because the Greeks have always said that when people do something bad in this life, they have to be punished. Not just in terms of what happens to them while they are alive, but what happens to them once they have passed to the great beyond.
In other words, they believe in eternal hell because they could not accept the possibility that evil people might do something really messed up in this life and die. In other words, they get away with it. There seems to be like this unquenchable human thirst for resolution and closure.
Accordingly, the idea of eternal life makes a lot of sense to some people because at the very least, at that level, justice is done. This really forms the core of the essence of the theological origins of soul.
Now, what does this have to do with the French soul, much less a love-centered life? Well, our historical fascination with soul as something that transcends the flesh and transcends the everyday politics as well as considerations and needs of the emotions has a lot to do with the French sensibility because sensibility is different from emotions. It’s different from just a raw intellectual way of looking at life.
Your sense of personal style says a lot about your soul. And when it comes to this particular aspect of the human experience and condition, the French have no competitors. Really, they are a class of their own. They are on a completely different level. A key part of this is romance.
Now, you may be thinking that romance has to necessarily involve love. Well, not quite because romance, in the typical western imagination, involves some sort of possession or territoriality. But the French conception of this is actually more universal.
Living a love-centered life means being in love with the moment and enjoying the moment as it unfolds. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve taking possession of somebody, controlling somebody or having sex with somebody. Instead, it’s really just about being in the moment.
And to a certain degree, this has a lot of similarities to eastern traditions like Hinduism and Buddhism. If you’ve ever done any kind of mindfulness or meditation practice, you know that, at its core, these practices train you to think and be in the moment.
That’s how you are freed from the guilt, regret and worries of the past as well as from the anxiety of a future that has yet to come. You just focus on your breathing as it plays out in the here and now, and believe me, it’s the most liberating experience in the world.
The same applies to the French romantic approach to living in the moment. They focus on falling in love with the moment as it unfolds and it truly is a beautiful thing. And that is a love-centered life. And when we do that, we adopt bits and pieces of the French soul.