The world in a grain of sand? How about your soul in an atom of hydrogen?

14 Sep

My son has a new girlfriend.

The young lady is lovely, though my son initially described her as a Smurf. She’s tiny, except in certain places where tiny is less than desirable, and she has blue hair. Well, not completely blue, but the Farrah Faucet-y bits around her face are definitely blue.

But before he described his lady love’s appearance, our son told us, “She’s an atheist.” I didn’t realize how important his religious stance was to him, though, until he started preparing us to meet Girl Friend for the first time. He repeated the “she’s an atheist” bit and then said, “I told her you guys are atheists, too, and she thinks that awesome.”

“You told her what?” I asked.

“That you guys are atheists.”

“But we’re not,” I said.

“Dad’s an atheist and you’re a Buddhist. That’s the same as being an atheist. You told me yourself, ‘Buddha’s not a god’.”

Now, I can tell the kid to start the oven for the pizza, or move the wet clothes from the washer to the dryer, or bring our entire collection of drinking glasses down from his room and he forgets within minutes. I have no idea how he hung onto “Buddha isn’t a god” but I was definitely wishing he hadn’t. Some days you want to help your kids with the big ideas and some days you don’t.

I took a deep breath.

“Ok, you’re right. Buddha isn’t a god, but that doesn’t mean that I’m an atheist.”

“Do you believe in God?”

“You mean white guy on a cloud god? No.”

“Then you’re an atheist.”

I sighed.

“Yes,” I said, “I suppose you’re right.” He smiled the smile of those who believe they’ve won the argument and the subject is closed, so he didn’t really hear, “but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in a spiritual life, that I don’t have a soul.”

But the subject isn’t closed. Not by a long shot. Since that conversation, I’ve mulled the idea of soul and spirituality on a daily basis. I now have a headache.

I’ve thought about soul on my runs, which has led me—consistently—to finish them singing, “R, E, S, P, E, C, T!” Not a bad way to end a run, but not the resolution I’d hoped for.

So, I asked other bloggers what they thought about soul. The G’nat at G’nat’s Eye View is an existentialist. His response made me realize that there are some seriously deep people in my virtual world. G’nat said:

I don’t think there is a difference between the soul and the self. Purpose? Purpose is our creation. Life is a blank canvas, and the self (or soul) holds both the paint and the brushes. The self (soul) not only has the freedom, but also has the responsibility to paint its own purpose.

I took philosophy in college. I really liked it, back when I had a lot of time and a young brain. I’m not saying I’ve gotten slow, but I had to read G’nat’s very thoughtful response a few times before I really understood his view. I think there’s a reason I read mainly trashy fantasy novels these days.

But the G’nat doesn’t get at the spiritual component of soul that nags at me. I’m not the only mom prodded to address religious issues because of her kids. Dinnerversions, who happens to publish a pretty wonderful food blog, said:

My own feeling is that our ‘soul’ is the energy within us. Neurons firing, chemical messengers moving across a gradient, the electrical potential between the cells of a heartbeat, the positive or negative charge of an amino acid….All of that is energy and when we die, that energy leaves us. That’s about as deep as I get.

I think that’s pretty deep. And she seems to be on to something. Hello Sailor has a similar view:

I believe everything has a soul and a soul is a type of energy, or a life force. Logically my brain wants it to know that it is just neurons and chemical messages, but in my heart there is something mystical about it, because where did that energy come from in the first place and where does it go when we are finished?

Maybe the energy gets recycled? Nevercontrary believes in reincarnation. I’ve tried; I’m not sure I don’t. It certainly explains having an immediate and intense reaction to someone, as I’ve had on meeting several people in my life. Mad Queen Linda at The Magic Bus Stop, equates the soul with consciousness and I like that, seeing as how it leaves room for lower and higher levels of consciousness. My cat, for instance, is on the same level as, say, Adolf Hitler and is likely just as irredeemable.

A few bloggers thought I was over thinking, which is really nothing new. Racing thoughts of all sorts kind of go with the bipolar territory. (Am I doubly bipolar if my thoughts are racing while I run? Does that make me quadripolar? Are my thoughts racing right now?)

Courtney Hosny of oneweektocrazy considered her immortal soul and decided whatever is at the end is at the end and figured the point of soul-searching was moot. Societyred once had a discussion about whether or not a rock has a soul. My kind of guy! He gave me a lightbulb moment with his retort to someone asking if he cared where we spend eternity: “I told him I had too much to think about in the here and now. Isn’t this time part of eternity?”

This time is, indeed, part of eternity. Certainly, some things feel like they take an eternity, like pre-school Christmas holiday pageants.

In the end, I believe that there is something beyond our physical bodies that makes us wonder about things like, is there something beyond our physical bodies. Areyoufinishedyet offered an explanation for the “something beyond” that she promised would blow my mind. It did.

Our bodies are made up of about 50% hydrogen atoms. When the universe was born, ALL of the hydrogen and helium atoms were formed. And since matter can neither be created nor destroyed, that means the hydrogen half of you is 13.7 billion years old. I think that definitely speaks to the idea of soul, and the continuity of the soul. Maybe the soul is the collective experience of those hydrogen atoms. We are imprinting our own story on the atoms inside our body as we live and breathe, and that story will be taken with those atoms once our bodies are gone, transformed into something else.

I would like to thank everyone who so thoughtfully responded to my call for input on the idea of “soul.” They all certainly have it.

27 Responses to “The world in a grain of sand? How about your soul in an atom of hydrogen?”

  1. kelloggs77 September 14, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    Thanks for prompting the pondering to begin with. As a religious person, a spiritual person, and a skeptical person, I think about things like this probably more than I should. But it’s nice to know there are other souls out there muddling through their own uncertainties about what lies beyond our bodies. Lots of interesting points to consider here. But I guess when it comes down to it, it really all goes back to what your runs seems to end with: RESPECT. If we live our lives with respect for ourselves and others, that puts us in a pretty good place for whatever may be there on the other side of death, or at the very least, properly feed the soul that exists in us now…whatever it turns out to be.

    • jmlindy422 September 14, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

      As I was typing about my Aretha-inspired runs, I was thinking that,though I was being irreverent with my pondering, “respect” isn’t a bad motto to have in life.

  2. The Writer's Codex September 14, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

    This was a fascinating read Snide, and I certainly wish I had been there for your call out, I would have certainly put in my own two meandering cents. I don’t always know what those cents are, or what they mean, and they often change on me, but there has to be something out there. Something more.

    I often believe that we are all a part of something bigger. Not one thing or one god, but a miasma of connectivity, and that doesn’t end at death. How else, like you mentioned, can you explain familiarity with people you’ve never met. How else can you explain deja vu, and I don’t mean the kind where you get a vague sense of having done something before. I mean the kind where you know what someone is going to say before they say, because they HAVE said it before.

    There are too many unexplained phenomena in our world, and too many great things to enjoy and interpret for there not to be something greater. After life exists in some form or another, who knows, maybe we get to decide what it’s like.

    • kelloggs77 September 14, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

      This makes me think of the writings of the Transcendentalists. Particularly Whitman who spoke of the connectivity of the body and soul and of humanity…and of Emerson’s “transparent eyeball.”

      • jmlindy422 September 14, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

        When I attended a Unitarian Universalist church in Oak Park, the minister quoted from the Transcendentalists A LOT! Those were some of the best sermons I’ve ever heard. Thanks for reminding me.

      • kelloggs77 September 14, 2012 at 8:43 pm #

        I used to teach high school English, and the unit on the Transcendentalists was always one of my favorites to teach. I call it “feel-good literature.”

    • jmlindy422 September 14, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

      Codex, if you subscribe to my blog, you should have gotten the call out. It was titled “The Soul Train” and it went out Monday of this week. That sense of being part of something bigger is what prompts me to believe in a soul, for lack of a better word. I always think, “Well, who made the Big Bang go bang?”

      • The Writer's Codex September 14, 2012 at 7:26 pm #

        I must have just missed it is all. No big deal.

  3. Joan Cleather September 14, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    That was a very thoughtful post and it reflects the sort of dialogue a lot of us have with ourselves, although not often while jogging! I looked up the bloggers whose posts you referenced and came to the conclusion that most of them are rather sad or pessimistic on the whole. I prefer to focus on a universality of spirit that connects everyone in a positive way, even though many won’t acknowledge it and resort instead to intolerant and violent behaviour. Unquestioning, untutored adherence to religious dogma is what worries me the most.

    • jmlindy422 September 14, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

      Oh, I don’t find Mad Queen Linda at the Magic Bus Stop or Society Red are pessimistic or sad. Society has lots of posts and pics about his lovely nature hikes and Linda can be just terrifically funny. I’ve never been the unquestioning type when it comes to religious dogma; probably why I didn’t fit well in the Catholic Church.

    • kelloggs77 September 14, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

      At first I thought, “Hey! I’m not sad and pessimistic!” Then I realized my latest post was about exposing my super neurotic mommy anxieties. Ha! Hopefully I’m not judged by that post alone. Seeing things with a self-depricating humor actually helps me keep things in perspective and often times reveals the silver lining for me.

      • jmlindy422 September 14, 2012 at 8:51 pm #

        I didn’t think your mom anxieties post was sad; I though it was funny. I hate, hate, hate waiting for a train with my kids. I’m always afraid some nut is going to push them onto the tracks. Rational? Nope!

      • kelloggs77 September 14, 2012 at 9:07 pm #

        Oh my god. On our vacation to Chicago this past summer, we took the train everywhere and I always had a death grip on my kids for that very reason! But I can see how someone could read my post and think, “Geez lady! Can’t you just have fun with your kids?” And the answer is no. No I can’t. 🙂

  4. Elizabeth September 14, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    This post really hit home for me. I am also a buddhist and my husband is definitely an atheist. We have 3 children who are not yet old enough to date but are apporoaching that stage very quickly. I had a good chuckle thinking about what it will be like when one of kids comes home and wants to introduce us to someone special and what they will tell them about us.
    I believe that we all have a soul and that it does remain even after death. I’m still not sure what I think happens to it after death but I would like to believe that it’s out there, whether eventually its reborn or floats around. It’s all energy and while alive we are surrounded by all kinds of energy connecting us together with each other and all living things. It’s hard to deny. The one thing that’s impossible to know is the one thing that we all ponder have different explanations for.

    • jmlindy422 September 15, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

      So many people are weighing in with the idea that the soul is energy. Certainly we feel energized when we connect with certain people on a deep level; maybe it’s those hydrogen atoms getting excited. Can’t wait for you to have the pleasure–and anxiety–of your kids dating. It’s a trip!

  5. dinnerversions September 14, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

    I love Areyoufinishedyet?’s concept of the ancient hydrogen atoms! That speaks to me. And when our energy leaves the body….I guess it just dissipates. I wonder what would happen if someone died in an electrically charged environment….spontaneous lightning? Talk about going out with a bang! That would be cool. Thanks for highlighting me and my blog, I was very flattered and I appreciate it. –Lisa

    • jmlindy422 September 14, 2012 at 8:51 pm #

      You’re welcome. Pretty soon, I think you’re going to run a recipe that my entire family will eat and I’ll post about that, too!

    • kelloggs77 September 14, 2012 at 8:52 pm #

      Thanks, but I can’t take credit for it. Here is where I read about it: And I share the thankful sentiments for highlighting our blogs. It gives me some new ones to check out!

  6. societyred September 15, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    Wow you win the prize for planting inspiring seeds with an post! Great work! Loving the thought provoking follow-ups! And thanks for the shout-out and character defense. I’m pretty sure I left my pessimistic, sad self at the confessional booth about a hundred years ago but if it ever sneaks out feel free to virtually slap some sense into me 🙂 ! I look forward to hearing how the conversation with the smurf goes.

    • jmlindy422 September 15, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

      I’m sure the Smurf will become a regular character. My hope is that it’s in a good way!

  7. The Waiting September 15, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    Thank you for sharing this post! I didnt answer your original question because I’m in a weird place right now about what it is I believe. I grew up in a Christian family that definitely never forced their beliefs down my throat but at the same time didn’t really offer me the opportunity to search myself and claim my beliefs as truly my own. So now that I’m an adult (and have been one for some time) I still get uncomfortable when asked to talk about what it is I believe because I am afraid someone is going to tell me I’m wrong or press me on why it is I believe what I believe, and I won’t have a good, solid answer that I am truly convicted by.

    Anyhow, all this to say that from reading this post, I had a moment of realization that no one is really 100% sure of what they believe, so decent, realistic people like yourself don’t judge others on their lack of surety. It’s OK that I’m not sure about my soul; it’s OK that I am nervous to make a leap of faith. Thank you for compiling this and always coaxing me to think, Janice.

    • jmlindy422 September 15, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

      I think thinking about religion puts most people in a weird place. I remember having a conservation with my brother in law, who just assumes that everyone who goes to church know that alot of it is mush but they really enjoy the community. He was astounded to learn that my parents believed ALL of it. You might enjoy a Unitarian Universalist congregation. When we lived in Oak Park, we attended Unity Temple which is a thriving congregation that just happens to call Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous church it’s home. Lots of questioners in Unitarian congregations.

  8. philosophermouseofthehedge September 15, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    Terrific post – will return and muse when have more time ( and less distracting …have to keep soothing Molly who is having horrid terrifying nightmares..who would have thought…something involving soul here…)
    I raised my kid to be religious/spiritual but not really churched. It did cause issues – to others – not her. Some cannot get that that is even possible and condemn her. But she hold life and death daily in her hands as a surgeon and I’d trust her spirituality and understanding of life, truth, and good more than many of the most well dressed always there-when-the-door-opens church ladies
    Great post – more later

    • jmlindy422 September 15, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

      Wow, your daughter is a surgeon? She really must have a reverence for life. Looking forward to hearing more from you on soul.

  9. Mad Queen Linda September 16, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    There’s so much food for thought here I’m going to overeat. I laughed when I saw that I’m considered pessimistic and sad, but it’s a bright and happy moment for me that I’m not getting defensive about that (though my Christmas card list just got one name shorter). I have been sad and blogs like yours have helped me understand why, and begin to be not sad. But the comment about eternity being right now really, really sticks with me. And on another note, yes, we are all stardust of untold age. So, maybe we are a collective soul, each of us having a part of the larger whole.

    • jmlindy422 September 16, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

      Happy to be part of a soul with you! I’m awed and “awww’d” that so many people have found this post touches them. Thanks for getting your sad, pessimistic (NOT!) two cents in.


  1. And the Award for Favorite Blog Goes To… | Are You Finished Yet? - December 7, 2012

    […] just makes sense sometimes. Or makes me laugh about Christmas decorations. Or gets me thinking all philosophically…and stuff. It’s like a good mixed […]

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