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I have always believed in soulmates. While my belief might have sprung from an adolescent fantasy many decades ago, it has ripened into a surety—something solid enough to hold in my hands or place in my coat pocket.
If you believe in reincarnation (which I do), then it’s not a stretch to imagine that some souls travel in clusters across lifetimes, to help each other through difficult stretches in which support, or solace, are hard to come by. Or simply to love each other; because pure, unconditional love is so elusive these days. But alas, I’m nearing my fourth decade as a single person. And sometimes I wonder if it’s time to give up, once and for all?
To make matters worse, I’m feeling more and more alone in my belief in soulmates. When I raise the topic amongst friends, my inquiry is met with derision, disbelief, or even a patronizing pat on the shoulder. Why have we collectively tossed the idea of soul-mates in the bin? Are we post-modern folk too smart? Too cynical? Or has our belief in science—in what can be seen and proven—dealt a crushing blow to the notion of soul-mates?
My hairdresser tried to shed some light on why he doesn’t believe in soulmates. While snipping my hair he said, “To find a soul-mate, you’ve got to be in tune with your soul. But nowadays we’re too distracted, too busy, to listen. No wonder we don’t believe in soulmates anymore. Who in today’s world is really connected to their own soul?”
After the blow dry, I sat quietly for a long time thinking about his words. Back in my early thirties, when I was keen to marry, I prayed with all of my heart to meet my soulmate. But then, when it didn’t happen on my timetable, I went out and tried to make it happen all by myself. I blind-dated and Internet-dated, and when I finally met my ex-partner, I was so focused on figuring out whether our friends and families would get along at the wedding that I scarcely took the time to consult my soul about the depth and quality of our connection.
You see, I liked the idea of a soulmate but I preferred to make impulsive decisions using my head and heart, rather than wait for my soul to speak to me. When I look at a cross-section of my friends and their mates, it’s clear that I’m not alone. I don’t begrudge those who marry to share the burden of child-rearing and home ownership, or even those who want to avoid loneliness or the stigma of being single and undesirable. These are difficult times. Why shouldn’t we marry for practical reasons? It’s hard work to get and stay connected to our soul, and harder still to nurture a soul connection with a partner.
But I’m also certain that when we engage the soul, the quality of our relationships rises far beyond what is possible when we use only our heads and hearts. I have a handful of soul friends—women and men whom I loved almost from the first instant—whose love has sustained me when I felt most lost or alone. With a soul friend you feel completely “seen,” deeply at ease, and secure in a way that defies reason. My soul-friends are people I could ring up after 20 years and be certain that they would be there for me. In contrast, friendships inspired by lifestyle compatibility or work or proximity rarely survive the trials of time.
But nurturing a soul connection takes faith and fortitude. Even as recently as last year, I let my rational desire for a partner override my soul’s voice. It was shouting, “This relationship is not right for you!!” while my head was busy coming up with reasons to pursue it. It took breaking out in hives in this man’s presence to finally let go. The experience taught me that I’d rather be alone than in a relationship in which my soul’s voice must be smothered, or engaged with someone whose soul is a complete mystery to me.
But today is a new day. I (finally) have a regular meditation practice. I’m part of a Buddhist community in which I can study and explore matters of the soul on a regular basis. And most important of all, I have faith that if I nurture my soul—and really heed it’s call, no matter where it leads me—then I will be capable of recognizing my soul mate when he finally rides up to my house on a white horse and carries me off into the sunset. [Smile.]
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Several years ago, I was contacted by Lisa Cherry—a woman feverish with a book idea. I’ve been in that place before, and so we began a conversation. She had been physically ill and credited much of her healing to an intensive yoga practice. Her story resonated with me—as yoga helped me shift my life purpose from focusing on self-centered goals to learning to love and serve others. We both agreed that the true power of yoga went far beyond reshaping our bodies—in our experience, yoga was a means to alter your entire perspective, your whole life.
Fast forward several years and what seemed like hundreds of edits later. Voila! The book, Stories from the Yogic Heart was published earlier this year and my essay, entitled, “Finding my Perfect Self,” was included in the anthology, amongst stories from yoga luminaries such as Sting, Russell Simmons, Sonny Rollins and Sharon Gannon.
I was amazed at how many of the essays in the book focused on yoga as path to healing physical illness. My story was focused on healing my psychological and spiritual dilemmas—but as someone who has rarely been sick or injured, I haven’t had much exposure to how to harness yoga to wrestle with disease or kick-start the healing process. Those stories inspired me to continue my practice—so that I can utilize yogic breathing and asana to come to terms with aging, illness and physical death in future decades.
There were other stories that caught me off guard. Sharon Gannon—the co-founder of Jivamukti Yoga—wrote about how yoga had not only helped her recover from an injury, but also helped her realize that her aspirations for the world first had to take root in her body. Yoga taught her that being an activist wasn’t about seeking revolution outside oneself. So she began to practice her beliefs in her own body—living her values in the way she walked, ate, danced, slept and spoke.
Zo Newell’s essay focused on how her introduction to yoga helped her survive hundreds of electroconvulsive (shock therapy) treatments as a teenager who was institutionalized by her parents. Rather than becoming disembodied during this difficult period, yoga practice helped her stay in her body, and to preserve her equanimity in a situation where many others would simply lose their minds.
Yet another story focused on how yoga practice helped a mother find hope after giving birth to a premature baby who weighed just over one pound! Her practice gave her the tools to bring peace into her body instead of giving in to her worst fears. And it helped her connect with her sick child—so that she could send strong vibrations of love as her daughter struggled for her life in an incubator in the NICU. Yoga was also the tool that helped her manage the vicarious suffering inevitably felt by parents of a special needs child during her tumultuous life.
By the time I finished the Stories from the Yogic Heart, I felt as though my personal story was rather ordinary. Yoga had opened my mind and heart—but now I could see that it had the potential to do so much more. The book was a reminder that at it’s best, yoga helps us to look deeply within . We might not like what we find, but when we allow ourselves to see it—plainly, accurately—we can begin to work with it. Healing begins when we turn towards, rather than away from, our dis- or un-ease.
As I reflected on the book, and my small contribution to it, I felt an overriding sense of hope. My story ends with the realization that advanced yoga practice isn’t about holding complicated postures with our bodies—it’s about learning to harness the power of our hearts. After reading nearly 30 essays that echoed the same theme, I could see how yoga would catalyze an important movement in human history–as millions of newly opened hearts cannot help but transform the world.
As a writer who writes about all the “big stuff” we face in our
lives, I have shied away from one topic for a long time–love between two
adults. I’m single, and have been for a long time, so I fell into the
trap of thinking that only married folks–more specifically, those who
are happily married, or have been married for a long time–should write
about adult love. So I blogged about family love instead–loving my
daughter, my parents–and more recently, about self-love.
But back in December, as I peered around the corner into the New
Year, I decided that I wanted to change my long-held stance on what I
should and should not write. I had to recover from too many years of
listening to literary agents and editors tell me that writers ought to
have demonstrated expertise–or an enormous marketing platform–to
legitimately write on a topic. And so I promised myself that in 2011, I
would write from the heart, and as fearlessly as I could. I also vowed
not to self-censor–because finding to courage to write about the stuff
we fear most is how we writers affirm our delicate souls.
So here is my story about love. I met a handsome and delightful man
sometime last year. And for the most part, I did what I do best. I
opened to him and we had all sorts of wonderful adventures together.
And then, satisfied with what I had learned and experienced with him, I
turned my attention to making him fit into one of the Love Boxes that
might apply to a single man in a single woman’s life–boyfriend, husband,
best friend, colleague, neighbor, drinking buddy. But I couldn’t check
one of the boxes. None seemed to fit. And the more I tried to squeeze
him into one, the unhappier we became. The magic disappeared. If it
reappeared, it did so in small spurts, in ever decreasing quantities.
If we continued down this path, I knew we would destroy all of the
goodness of “us.”
“Happiness lost” is one the most painful experiences I’ve ever
known. Because deep down you know that you were solely or partly
responsible for the loss. You know that the alchemy of the relationship
changed because you couldn’t let go of your need to control or re-shape
what it was. You know you let your impatience or insecurities take the
wheel instead of gently forcing them into the backseat.
I sat with my “happiness lost” during many meditation sessions before
I felt ready let go. Not to pretend to let go and then find more
subversive ways to get his attention but to really hand the matter over
to the universe and trust whatever transpired. I was finally willing to
accept any range of outcomes–from not seeing him again to re-engaging
with him. Then I let go, and waited for something, or nothing, to
Something did happen. We started to email each other–short notes
brimming with kindness and topped off with a hint of laughter. I didn’t
expect his messages–maybe that’s why they were so delightful. I let
the exchanges unfold naturally, without pushing to make plans or probe
his emotional mindset. And it felt really, really good.
Then I bought him a Christmas gift. It was a gift offered from the
heart, with no strings attached and no expectation of return. He sent
me a note after Christmas saying that he loved the gift and then
surprised me by making a donation to my nonprofit. I couldn’t have been happier. The magic was beginning to return. But this time, I stayed out of the way.
And then, last weekend, he asked me to attend a small gathering he
had planned. I meditated on whether I should go–if I did, I wanted to
be clear about my intentions. The only good reason to go was to enjoy
myself, not to test him or to see if our connection was still alive. I
also knew how much he loved hosting events, and I relished the idea of
seeing him happy, even if I wasn’t the sole cause. So I went.
We were mutually happy to see each other. We chatted a little bit,
and then I talked to other friends in the room. I was completely at
ease–I dressed for comfort not sexual appeal and talked about what I
cared about, even if it didn’t make me the center of attention. When I
felt like leaving, I left. And as I prepared to leave, he sent me a
strong beam of love–the kind that leaves you feeling warm and full, and
floating a few inches off the ground.
As I left the party, I realized that I could spend hours analyzing
the meaning of his gesture or I could just accept the gift of love. For
so many months, I had denied myself this gift with him. My desire for
control had left no space for love offered freely, without any
conditions. This time I embraced the gift–and it stayed with me for
There were so many important love lessons in this experience.
Letting go is a powerful tool, so rarely practiced by seekers of love.
When I got out of the way, I cleared the path for us to receive what we
really needed from each other–companionship, kindness, love. Many
spiritual writers describe the importance of letting go, but so little
is said about the joy of buckling oneself into the passenger seat. It
takes courage to let go but boy, does it ever feel good.
I also began to practice, in small ways, the act of not giving myself
away in the name of love. I’m a type-A personality–always impatiently
pursuing the “end” and willing to trade off “the means” to get there.
But I’ve learned that love has different operating instructions from a
toaster. Unless I make it to the altar with myself intact, the love
won’t survive or be worth committing to for a lifetime. And I’m
learning that when you love yourself, you don’t question whether you
deserve to be loved. The two pieces fit together perfectly.
A year ago, I would have viewed this love story as a failure–that I
failed to convert a perfectly good prospect into a husband. Today, I
see it differently. Here’s how I describe it to myself: Love
arrived unexpectedly and I embraced it; then it disappeared and I let it
go. Then it returned, and I embraced it again, but much more loosely. And now I have a new box to add to my list: “Loving Friend.” Check.
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