What is a "Soul Sister"? Quite simply, a soul sister is a woman friend who tends to the needs of our souls. A soul sister keeps her eye on what really matters, even when we may not be centered on that ourselves. She is that person who recognizes the simple truth that while material security and professional success have their place in life, they cannot satisfy all our needs. Thus, soul sisters are those who are loyal to the innermost essence, the deepest heart's desire, of their friends. By maintaining a fidelity and trust to the better part of their friend's nature, they help nurture it into existence.
It is my strong conviction that we are each born, as Jungian thinker James Hillman has written, "called." Each person comes into this world, I believe, with a spiritual mandate, and the realization of that mandate is the soul's aim. Only a rare few, however, are privileged to know the secret of their reason for being from birth. Though we may have hints when we are young, our life purpose only becomes visible over the course of time, forged through life's trials and errors. As the heroine in the classic fairy tale must spin fine cloth from sheaves of wheat in order to win her freedom or the hand of the prince, so, too, must we each sort and sift through the childhood memories, social and cultural influences, dreams, emotional conflicts, and major life events that have gone into making our lives, spinning from them the fine cloth of our own particular destiny.
There is great meaning in the image of the Moira, or Three Fates, for women. Pictured with their spindles at the spinning wheel, they are the feminine forces dispensing threads of destiny. Together they weave beautiful designs in the shape of human lives, then cut the thread of life when the pattern is complete. We learn from them that fate is an ongoing creative process of interweaving bits and pieces of many colors, shapes, and textures into a complex, whole, and beautiful image. We learn from the fates that this is not a solitary task, but one undertaken with the companionship and involvement of others.
That is why we all need a soul sister--someone who, metaphorically speaking, can sit beside us at the spinning wheels of our lives--talking, laughing, crying, feeling--weaving, in the process, commonsense wisdom out of who we are and why we are here. This process between soul friends is what feminist thinker Christine Downing calls "the mutuality of soulmaking," the "reciprocal and equal love for one another's psychic development." Says my longtime acquaintance Jan Clanton Collins, a Jungian analyst and professor of anthropology, "Friends are steadfast companions on the spiritual pilgrimage. They are a grace that makes the journey worthwhile. Just to know that they are in the world and that we are not alone gives us courage to go on."
Delving into Celtic wisdom, Irish Catholic scholar John O'Donohue has called this kind of profound kinship anam cara
, or soul friend. Part of the role of one's anam cara, he says, "is to see for you in places where you're blind. There is a secret destiny in every friendship that awakens the hidden possibilities asleep in people's hearts. Thus part of the magic of anam cara is that the human psyche is given to each individual, but it remains relatively unborn--friendships help you to birth yourself."
Finding a Soul Sister
How can women find a soul sister? To begin with, I think any search must begin with an intention. Just like dream incubation begins with a process of soul searching, so, too, does the quest for a true friend begin with an honest survey of one's own life. While friendship is a process that facilitates awareness, we must have a certain measure of self-knowledge ourselves before we can engage at a certain depth with another person. Thus, a person seeking a friend might start out by first drawing a character map of themselves. They might sketch out the basic framework of their life, noting such basic conditions as whether or not they are married and meeting the demands of children and a husband, or whether they are a single parent, or have an all-consuming career. Next a woman should identify where she falls on the age continuum: is she young and just setting out on life's adventure, is she midstream and somewhat settled down, or is she entering the elder years of her life?
Asking these questions helps us to know from the outset what kind of friendship we are interested in building. As trust and truth are the foundations for any lasting friendship, a woman must be able to be honest about the kind of commitment she is capable of.
Once you have mapped out a sketch of what kind of friend you are capable of being to others, then formulate an image of the kind of friend that you would like to attract into your life. Paint a picture of her attributes: Is she politically involved, spiritually developed, strong-minded, funny, loving, or gentle? Is she an outdoors person, an artist, or a get-together-over-dinner type of girlfriend? Is she more thoughtful and serious, or is she extroverted and fun-loving? Next, determine if there is some specific area that you would like to focus on with a friend. It's often said that male friendships are centered on activities, while women mostly like to relate and talk, but I have found that women share activities and interests just as much as men do. Not the kinds of things that you want to be able to talk about with a friend: perhaps you are a writer, and would like the company of other writers; perhaps you are politically active and want to be able to talk politics with a close friend; perhaps you need to share the journey of motherhood with another mother.
In addition to setting an intention and making a descriptive list of characteristics, you may also want to be spontaneous and let life surprise you. Before I moved to Washington, D.C., for example, all of my closest women friends were Sufis, or on some other spiritual path. Thrown back on my own for the first time in my adult life, I was lonely and uncertain how to meet new people. When I decided to open myself up to friends who were not as formally involved with spirituality as I had been, I was delighted to meet and make friends with a number of women whose lives had been quite different from mine, yet with whom, years later, I share a deep and abiding relationship. Difference, as well as sameness, can sometimes be a refreshing component.
Loving a Soul Sister
Loving a soul sister as a friend can add untold depth and richness to your life. This is a meditation to help deepen an already existing friendship.
First, call to mind the friend you wish to honor. Recall the story of how you met--the events that surrounded your introduction, and what you said and how you felt at the time.
Then, go back in time. Because so many friends feel as if they already know each other even when they are meeting for the first time, it's possible that you have shared lifetimes together. My friend Taj and I, for example, often feel as if we must have shared an Egyptian lifetime together. Don't censor your imagination--just let the stories and images arise in your mind. If you feel comfortable, share them with your friend. These buried memories embroider your relationship with age and meaning. They link you in a long lineage of soul sisters. And they are a part of a momentum carrying you forward into more lifetimes and more adventures together.
Make a date with your soul sister. Before you meet, pick out an especially beautiful box that, to you, says something about the quality of your friendship. Then make a point during your get-together to share stories from the past--whether past lifetimes or events you have shared along the way. At the end of your time together, present your friend with a box as a container for all the special memories you've shared so far--and are looking forward to sharing more of in the future.