For many years I believed that I had, or was, a soul. This idea was comforting, because the spiritual philosophy I followed taught that the essence of human beings was non-material, pure consciousness, and everlasting.
Worse case was, it, or I, would be reincarnated as another bodily life form. Best case was, my soul, or True Me, would leave matter and mind behind forever. In this case, soul-me would exist in a "heavenly" realm beyond time and space.
Now, it was always hard for me to imagine what such a soulful existence would be like. This was understandable in one sense, because all I knew was living in this physical realm.
However, descriptions of the Indian/Eastern version of the above-mentioned "heaven" were disturbingly vague -- which led increasingly skeptical moi to question whether the gurus who talked about this stuff had actually experienced a bodiless existence.
The fact is, most religions believe in some sort of soul. But just because they all use this word (or a term in another language, such as atman), doesn't mean there is agreement about what "soul" means.
Along that line, here's an interesting passage in a book I'm reading, "The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life." It starts off a section called A Brief History of the Soul.
Common to virtually all conceptions of literal immortality is the idea of the soul. Otto Rank proposed that the soul is one of humankind's earliest and most clever inventions, enabling humans to dodge death by perceiving themselves as more than just physical beings.
As Rank's translators put it, "the soul was created in the big bang of an irresistible psychological force -- our will to live forever -- colliding with the immutable biological fact of death." Unencumbered by finite flesh, the soul's existence was not only conceivable, it was also certainly more welcome than the alternative prospect of total annihilation.
Throughout history, humans everywhere have had souls, although the specific nature of them varies considerably across time and space.
For some, the soul is a physical entity with mass and volume, ranging from a full-sized shadow to a miniature replica of the body. For others, the soul is immaterial, but no less real.
In some cultures, only humans have souls. In others, all living things have souls. In still others, all living things and minerals have souls.
Some souls are completely independent of their body; they can come and go as they please, and they often appear in dreams and ritually enacted spiritual experiences. Others are connected to bodies to some degree. When bodies die, souls depart, either wholly or in part, depending on how the relationship between soul and body is construed by the culture.
Some have an autonomous ethereal existence of their own. Others join a general pool of ancestral "soul-stuff." Some souls are reincarnated into other life-forms. Others are reunited with their resurrected bodies. Regardless of the differences, all soul concepts render the prospect of immortality feasible because souls are detachable from their corporeal containers.
Well, that's good news.
But if soul is real, seemingly there should be more agreement about what soul is like. So I'll be pleasantly surprised if my soul-consciousness continues after death.
I'm not going to bet my life on it, though.