In the pragmatic model used in these teachings, the soul and ego-self (or personality-self) are very clearly distinguished. The soul is divine and pure; while the personality-ego is conditioned by social and existential factors, and this ego is often compulsive, selfish, lustful and manipulative. This model has a pragmatic use, because it simply and clearly makes this distinction between possible opposing forces; though of course, these do not have to be opposed if the personality can be open to the spiritual soul latent within it.
Yet in another model - the human self is understood as having levels, from high to low, or from more deep to more surface. The inner Spirit is the highest/deepest level of self, while the compulsive and habit-conditioned ego is at the lower/surface level. In between are various middle levels of self, the number of levels depending on how the model-system divides things up. This can be called the vertical-continuum model of self, for although it distinguishes a higher divine level from a compulsive ego level, these two ends are nonetheless connected in a continuum and all are regarded as levels of oneself. The lower self might even be thought of as a world conditioned self. The journey upwards, back to Realized Spirit, can be regarded as the journey of a soul.
So, the distinction between soul and personal ego can also be understood in a vertical continuum model. In this model of understanding, there is no exact or fixed boundary between soul and personal ego. Instead, both are regarded as 'self'; though the soul is the highest aspect of self, while the ego is the lowest, along a continuous vertical pole. Thus, in this is a continuum of self-ness (call nafs in Sufism) the personal ego is always lower, relative to the higher soul.
At the lowest level of this continuum is the self-contracted, self-fixated and basically selfish ego. And as one traverses higher up the continuum (of soul/ego or self) there is less of this self-centeredness at work, and more of the higher spiritual qualities such as expansive/inclusive love, divine awakening and goodwill. Second to understand is that the persona ego can be transformed by the soul, and finally become soul-infused. That is, the soul infuses into the persona ego, such that there is no more distinction - eventually. Then, the personal ego has become a spiritually conscious and spiritually related self, which is the goal of soul-being. The two [parts of us, soul and ego] become one integrated self - on a spiritual journey.
Soul and ego are thus distinguishable but also share similarities. Both are modes of self-consciousness. Both are powers of will, with goals and intentions; though the soul has a distinctive spiritual will or will to love and serve, rather than the selfish will of a typical ego. Both are modes of individuality with limited mind and being. However, the soul is larger in mind and being than a personality ego. This is the relative relation between them. Behind and potential to every ego is a soul that is greater in mind and being, and this soul is the potential guide or master of that personal ego. Yet likewise, behind and potential to every soul is an even greater soul, of greater mind and being, which is the higher potential and guide for that soul, and this principle continues in a vast hierarchy of soul-beings stationed at levels along the ascending continuum up to the Solar-Being and then beyond that as well.
But again, what distinguishes soul from personality ego, generally speaking, are the ego's typical traits of selfish concern and narcissism, which are not traits of a soul. As well, every soul has a conscious relationship with higher/deeper divine energies, inspirations and intuitions; even if these are not completely developed. In addition, every soul is consciously on an ascending path to greater gnosis, and every soul cares about service and divine manifestation.
However, we should not make the mistake of assuming, necessarily, that every mode of personal ego is simply narcissistic or without any spiritual quality. It is possible for an ego to be quite lacking in love and spirit, but in many cases of personal ego there is at least some degree of soul infusion or emerging spiritual qualities, whereby the ego is soul-reflective to some degree. Thus we can find some spiritual qualities in most egos, in spite of the ego's tendency for selfish concern and narcissism.
This reflection of soul-qualities in a personality ego makes sense when the relation between soul and ego is understood. The individual soul, as a conscious light within the One Great Light, is incarnating on earth, seeking life experience and opportunities. Yet as the soul works to embody in physical form, the demands and energies of this physical form and of its cultural-social circumstances greatly influence and virtually entrap the soul consciousness. The personality ego then develops as a growing self-understanding and ability to control energies. This ego stands between the physical form and the soul. It grows out from the physical circumstances, but it also grows out from the soul.
So this ego can be understood to be between soul and physical form. The soul is able to bring some of its finer qualities to the embodied form and mind of the person-ego, but much gets lost and forgotten due to the influences of one's physical and social existence. Still, some soul qualities develop in the person-ego, and the fullness of soul qualities always remain as potential within or underneath the self-aware ego. Thus, the soul is like the 'spiritual unconscious' of the personal psyche.
The soul is like a deep lake of who a person really is, and the personality ego is like the surface of this lake, for it is what is most apparent to normal awareness and to others. But again, an ego can be more or less spiritualized or soul-infused. Yet until the personal ego is mostly infused and transmuted by the soul, the personality ego can be a major obstacle or opponent of the soul's purposes and emergence. This is of course the main internal conflict, or sometimes battle, in the spiritual aspirant.
When there is a self-identification and when this fixates, this is the ego. The personality ego has two basic parts: a fixated self-identification and a controlling power. First, the ego is a fixation on certain features or traits about oneself, which then becomes a self-identification, as in 'this is who I am'. Most egos tend to gain a pride in this identification, but it is possible to be ashamed of what one identifies as being oneself, and all sorts of unique personality quirks can result from this. An ego with self-pride is usually considered healthy, while the other is not. But from a spiritual view, both need to be released, since any fixed self-identification will only hold one back from the spiritual journey.
Next, also to be aware of is ego as a controlling power. This is a good thing, but can also be a spiritual obstacle. Without a healthy ego taking charge of the personality parts, those parts might tend to fight and disperse one's effectiveness in the world. So our ego is the self-manager part of ourself. Ego is who is in charge. Thus, ego is the I; ego is who you and I are, for much of our wakeful daily time; though for much of man's usual waking time, desires and reactions are probably more in charge.
Yet for now of main importance, in this discourse, is how to transcend the self-identifications of ego and also how to transcend the controlling power of ego. For yes, these all have practical uses in personal life; however, along a spiritual path towards Self-realization and higher expression, this stage of ego self-identifying and ego controlling power has to be transcended. For in order to journey upward through the possible levels of self, there has to be continuous transcendence from our usual self-identifications and our usual self-managing. There will still be an inevitable self-identification and also a needed self-management, which is ego, but for each ascending level of self this will be a higher level of ego or a more spiritually refined ego.
Thus, at each level or step upward there will be a newly formed ego, with a newly formed self-identification and new managerial style; so these will continue at each level. But they will be gradually refined and spiritualized. And at each ascending level there will be less fixation and less controlling; as one gradually allows the descending Spirit to be realized as oneself and also allow the higher Spirit to work through oneself. Thus, at each level or stage, up along the vertical continuum of self-possibility, there will be some degree of identification with that stage of self, or with the kind of person one is at that level. This is inevitable. Also there will be some degree of self-control or self-management, which is necessary in order to not just become passive to circumstances and to not be fragmented in aim and activity.
One can also understand the self as personal at the outermost end and universal at the innermost end. The Essence of the innermost core of self is Spirit, which can also be called God. This of course is quite a radical statement; that God is the innermost Essence of our self.
The outermost level of self is the personality, or we could say it is a composite of personal will, mind, emotions and body. These four parts (or functions) of the personal self are interrelated, with the personal will at the helm, though for many people with undeveloped personal will one of the other parts is controlling. If the personal will is in control, then this is a strong ego. The personal ego/will is primarily self-concerned, as interests and goals tend to be personally oriented.
In contrast, the will of our soul is love oriented and primarily concerned with the good of everyone. The soul-will realizes itself as a servant or instrument of the Universal Divine Will, or as a reflection of this Great Spirit. The soul's will-mind-heart is really meant to be expressing through the personal will-mind-emotions-body, infusing the personal outer level with its soul-qualities.
At the very Essence of self is Spirit, the Universal Divine Will/ Consciousness/ and Love, which is ever-seeking to unfold through soul and then through the personality self. We can then understand the self as a tripartite of Spirit, soul, and personality; corresponding to a tripartite of will, heart/mind, and body. Essence/Spirit is the innermost dimension, personality and ego are at the outermost level, while soul is in between, mediating Spirit/God into the personal triad.
Note also that soul-will eventually replaces ego-will, so that the soul will eventually replace ego-will as the overseer of mind-emotion-body functions. This is called divine infusion or soul infusion. At this high stage, Spirit will then be able to work through the person without ego distortions.
So in this model there is the pole of Spirit at the highest, while the ordinary human ego is at the lowest. Then, in between, the one who is making the journey would be called the soul.
The goal in this model is to rise above from lower levels of self to higher levels of self, then finally to consciously be identified with pure Spirit. But in order to rise up, the lower self needs to surrender its dominating and commanding tendency, so that the higher self can lead the lower personality vehicle - of mind, emotion and physical body.
Spirit is different from soul in that the Spirit is the same for everyone. There is a your soul and my soul, but there is only One Spirit, which is the Supreme Highest. Some will say it is the highest level of the human self, while others place it transcendental to the individual. Yet there is agreement among the mystical and esoteric models that every human self is intrinsically connected to the One Spirit and is truly born from this One Spirit, and also Spirit can be found subjectively within.
So to resolve all possible confusions on this, let it be understood that Spirit is Universal, rather than individual. And there is only One Spirit, whereas there can be a plurality of individual souls. Spirit could be understood as the Divine Light, or even understood as God. So there are not many Spirits; just One. It is true that there can be many individual lights (so in esoteric terms these are called souls); but each of these lights are really just the same Light, but limited and individual instances of that same Light.
Therefore, the One Spirit is the deepest essence for each individual self, and this is also the highest potential self-realization. Thus, Spirit is within each self and is the self's highest possible realization. Yet nonetheless, Spirit itself is transcendental and not merely individual. So at the highest end of the vertical continuum is the Divine Universal Spirit, which is the Ultimate Source of all consciousness, love, intelligence, and the finest of possible self qualities.
Then at the other end of the continuum is the individual self at its most uniqueness from other selves. This can best be called the personality or a related term, personal ego. Thus, at the highest end of this self-continuum is the Absolute Universal Self, while at the lowest end is a very unique particularization of this Universal Self, which is the personal self. The personal self is me and you, in our uniqueness as individuals. When we meet one another this is what we see and notice about each other, that is, what we express and how we express.
Mostly, we meet each other and know each other as personalities, rather than as higher levels of self or as Spirit. And this actually makes sense, since other people will understand us according to how we express ourselves. Personality is what is shown; but it is also how we tend to know our own self as well. However, this is really just the outermost level of our being. There is much more within and much more possible. But it does make sense that we ourselves tend to identify with our outermost layer of self, just as others tend to see us this way, since this is the most obvious and most manifested part of our self. But again, there is much more to be discovered about oneself, much more possible to realize and to be expressed.
In this model, consciousness is along one vertical continuum between the poles of Universal Spirit and individual self. Therefore, this vertical pole of selfness includes the One Unity of Being, yet also the One Being individually manifesting. Both are connected in a reciprocal relationship, whereby each needs the other.
An individual can become somewhat disconnected from the Spirit-Source, when trapped in its own self-separative illusion, but there is always at least some connection. As is said in the Sufi tradition, "God remembers and loves man, even if man forgets or loses love for God." God is always here for us, so we are always connected with God, even when we are not conscious of this.
Yet if we are not conscious of God the Spirit, or in forgetfulness of our Source, then the divine connection is poor, just as an electrical or radio connection is poor if the receiving end is weak or damaged. But if the receiving end is receptively strong, then the connection is stronger and the Source is more able to flow into the receiver. A humble and receptive self is the best medium for realizing and manifesting the Divine Source. The humble receiving self becomes the servant of God, the transmitter of God, and even the expression of God.
The individual self can become the knower of God. It is said, "God longed to be known, so He created the world that He might be known." He might be known, but maybe not. There is a required effort and willingness, along with a required openness and receptivity, in order for the Divine to be known and realized.
This knowing can be discovered in a journey inward, into a Deeper experience of oneself. Thus, the lower-to-higher continuum is also a surface-to-Deep continuum. In this Deep experience of oneself we can discover and experience God, Spirit, our Source; because the I Am of God-Being is the source and essence of my being. My Deep self-knowing is God's Self Knowing. Through my Deep self-experience, I am God's Self-experience.