What is the purpose of our ‘Soul?’ An analysis of how Soul tries to answer the most difficult question of Humanity
What is the purpose of our soul? What is the meaning of our ‘Soul’?
The one question that has tormented every soul on earth at one point or other — why on earth are we on earth?
Unlike every other animal on earth, we are blessed (or cursed) with consciousness and that just stops us from enjoying life and makes us ask stupid questions like — what is life about?
Every religion has its answer to the question.
Siddhartha left all riches of his life because his soul was tormented by the question. Every year people leave their lives to become a monk.
Artists try to find meaning in their work, lovers in their beloved, parents in their children, entrepreneurs in the ‘value they create’.
The question is not as old as time but as old as conscious thought.
The thing about Pixar is it finds itself doing the tough job of making movies for both kids and parents. Simple and engaging enough for kids and meaningful enough to keep parents hooked. And around a topic which is relevant to both plus allows them to perhaps have a conversation when they reach home. Movies for kids are like English teachers — they are supposed to just narrate a story but find themselves being the moral caretakers of the universe. At least, that’s what my 11th class English teacher Tishya ma’am had told me. (Thank you Tishya ma’am)
Pixar’s Soul tries to answer no small question but simply THE toughest question in the world — What is the purpose of life?
So let me review how Soul attempts to answer it. And how as humans it can help us find some answers too and does it match up to the wisdom we already have in the world through wise men and women and religion? Or does Soul tell us something new?
The movie starts with a passionate man Joe who loves Jazz. In the earlier scripts, Joe was an actor but somehow getting behind an actor is tough. Actors crave fame and admiring people who crave fame is tough. But a jazz pianist who just wants to perform? Isn’t that someone we can all love?
Joe is a 46-year-old middle-school band teacher who has loved Jazz since his dad took him to a live-performance to make him realize of the importance of the amazing contribution of Black America to the world — Jazz. Ever since Joe’s soul seems made up of Jazz. He gets lost in the music when he is playing and feels the rhythm in his veins and this is the first theme of Soul
- Happiness is Immersing Ourselves in the Moment
When all the kids laugh at little Connie for losing her sense of the present and getting lost in the moment, it is Joe who reminds us that losing ourselves is fine — it means we are passionate.
Anyone who has known passion and happiness knows what it is like to be in FLOW, the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. Joe feels this love for Jazz in his very being.
2. We find our Spark before our life
All the new souls are mentored by great souls to find their spark. A spark brings shine to our eyes, makes us excited about something on earth. And what we do when we get excited? We embark on the journey towards life. That is what all souls do. They get excited about something and then they get life to explore more.
There is more to this spark which I will come back to later, for now, it is important to remember — the spark is excitement.
3. Meditation is the connection between our world and our soul
Meditation simply means being focused. It can be in the way the saints do it or the way artists are lost in their art and Soul picks it up beautifully. Humans on the earth when in Flow get reflected in the other world as in ‘the (spiritual) zone’ an area people enter when their passion sets them into a euphoric trance because of the spiritual connection meditation creates. This is where musician’s souls come when they play music and scientist’s soul comes when they are in their labs. Some truly deep souls also wander around in the zone being completely free and connecting on a spiritual level with other souls of the earth calling themselves ‘Mystics Without Borders’.
This is in complete sync with the concept of meditation in all religions especially in Buddhism which claims meditation or Dhyaan to be the ultimate path to looking inward for connecting to your soul and finding the true meaning of life. Folklore is full of stories of sages, witches, and learned people connecting with another world through mantras, focus, and meditation.
The other world is just a meditation away.
4. Flow without awareness of life is just obsession and anxiety
This ‘zone’ that resides spiritual souls also resides ‘lost soul.’ Lost souls are people who are immersed in an activity without an awareness of life. This awareness includes awareness of themselves, awareness of joys of life, awareness of what does their work entails, and its impact on the larger world. They are simply doing something without any joy. Such an obsession can lead one to keep doing something with no consciousness of life passing them by. Not just missing out on parts of life including family and life’s finer moments, the person does not fairly understand why they are doing what they are doing. There are engineers from companies like Facebook who speak of being unaware of building a hate machine when they were building it. Makes you wonder how can anyone be so obsessed as to never question the meaning and impact of their work.
The problem with lost souls is in the name — they are lost. The soul doesn’t get nourished but simply feeds an obsession to shield the many anxieties and insecurities.
5. The passion theory is questioned
On his second visit to earth, Soul questions the whole premise of passion as the purpose of life. Joe believes his life is meaningless till he gets a Jazz gig. His understanding extends to not just his own life but all of humanity. He believes Dez is miserable because Dez wished to be a Vet but couldn’t be. Even though Dez is so in love with his work that Joe had believed all of his life that Dez was born to be a barber, Joe takes less than a second to conclude that not getting your wish means one is miserable. Dez had an inconvenience in life which is not being able to afford Vet School but that does not stop him from living his life and being great at his job like he was born to do it. Dez unlike Joe does not believe he came to earth with a pre-destined purpose and picks up his path along the journey of life whereas Joe’s notion of pre-destined purpose stops him from enjoying anything else. This is further amplified by the fact that Joe is amazing at Jazz and his soul truly lights up when he plays his music.
22 too inside Joe’s starts liking life — she loves being able to eat food, she loves looking good in the clothes, she loves talking to Colleen, she loves walking, she loves — just living.
For the first time — she feels excited — which if you would remember is what happens when something sparks joy.
This leads 22 to conclude that she is now ready to get an earth pass and maybe come to earth.
At this, Joe belittles her by telling her that what she likes is just ‘simple living’ and not ‘purpose’. The purpose has to be some earth-shattering spark and passion.
6. Purpose of life
When Joe finally gets the gig, he realizes he doesn’t feel anything new or different after it. To which Dorothea replies with a story of the fish who wanted to go to the ocean and escape the water.
The conclusion of this story beautiful — even when the fish is in the ocean she is always surrounded by water similarly we humans no matter what large and big thing we do, don’t stop being ourselves, we still feel what we feel. All we experience and feel is our own emotions. Nothing more. You are still you. You don’t change.
We continue to live the same life.
Through many other such moments, Joe truly realizes the meaning of life which was clear all along — to live.
Yes, the meaning of life is to live literally, and the answer through all the soul searching by Joe.
The big and small things of life — all add up to just living. The spark excites you to start living and then on earth, you have just one purpose — to live.
Happiness is just feeling the moment. The love, the life, the beauty which is us and everything around us and enjoying it. Nourishing our soul.
For Joe, this means enjoying Jazz but continue to know that Jazz is not make-all, end-all. Jazz sparks his joy but does not give meaning to his life. His life is made for him to enjoy, he does not need to give any meaning to it.
These are also his words when given a chance to live a life again, he says“ I am going to live every minute of it. “
Yes, That is what life is for — to live it.
This also completely aligns with spiritual learnings of just being in the moment, detaching yourself from expectations, and just enjoying life as it comes.
There are other themes the movie explores through its characters
7. Lost Souls and darkness and 22
22 has never felt good enough to come to earth because nothing has till date sparked her joy until she accidentally lands on earth and realizes the small of things of life which make up the bulk of living spark her joy for life. Belittled by Joe and the harsh words of her earlier mentors make her escape to her cocoon and shield herself to become a lost soul — an ode to every person on earth who has been told they are not good enough to live because they don’t have a passion.
She has an excitement for life which according to Soul is the only thing needed for life. Her darkness is simply made up of the words of everyone who told her she is not good enough.
It is kindness from Joe and him giving her the Maple leaf which she had loved on earth and her excitement for life that makes her shed the darkness that others’ unkind words had brought upon her.
8. All Systems Don’t Work — Jerry and Terry — No one knows it all
Joe’s journey is so incredible that the Jerrys get inspired and grant him his life again.
Jerrys are soul counselors who run a perfect system of counseling all souls, preparing them for the earth, and sending them to Great Beyond, and yet they could not figure out for millennia — why nothing sparks 22’s joy. Because the thing is — nobody knows everything. Soul counselors cant help the lost souls, they can’t control what personality is taken by which soul and there is still room for being inspired for even the Jerrys.
Just like life. None of us have it figured out. No matter how sorted someone looks — even Dalai Lama does not know it all. We all are figuring it out and the only thing which we are left control over and to enjoy — is to live life.
Does Terry represent anything? A person obsessed with going through things in a very very systematic manner because he thinks that as long as we are in the system and counting, everything is fine?
But it is not. Not everything needs to be according to a system. Systems ensure a lot but systems need exceptions too. Systems are made for life, life is not made for systems
In the end, I will just reiterate what I already wrote — Life is about enjoying your life and live it: All the big things and the many small moments and everything in between.