The following phrase from the French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin, is a frontal challenge to materialistic thinking:
"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience."
If this is true - that our essential existence is as spirits or souls, then we are eternal, without beginning or end. This leads to a totally unconventional area of exploration. This is far beyond the popular idea that the physical universe came into existence (somehow) and that life appeared on it (somehow) and evolved (somehow) into its present forms. The soul seems to have no place in Darwinian thought. And if we are souls, what is the meaning of taking a body and passing through the human experience, especially considering the possibility of reincarnation? Both experiences have to be relevant - the spiritual and the human. At least we should be open to seeking the meaning to life's greatest puzzle - who am I and what am I doing here?
No one has seen a human soul through the eyes. To prove its existence using physical means and instruments has proved daunting. Very little real information has ever been available let alone proof. I remember reading about experiments in the late 19th century, in which researchers into these matters tried to catch the soul escaping from the body by putting a glass bottle over the forehead. They thought that the spirit was perhaps some gaseous being that could be captured and labeled - herein is the soul of the great so-and-so. The only real proof can only be in the laboratory of our lives.
If the above phrase from Chardin is true, then our deepest identity is as a spirit. Automatically this becomes the beginning, middle and end of spiritual endeavour. ‘End’, because what we call death would be just this spiritual, conscious energy leaving the confines of its physical vehicle, the body. Knowing ourselves deeply also becomes the door to meaningful relationships with others, the Divine and therefore to a life of greater freedom. Yet, it is such a basic and foundational concept that we often forget to preface what we do with this consciousness. One could even say that everything that happens in the world that forms around each one of us is a specific reflex of the extent to which we understand and accept ourselves. Those who come to this understanding get the chance to dive deeply into what moves and shapes reality. They move a few steps up on the ladder of self-progress.