soul friends

Posted on April 22, 2011


I’ve struggled with the idea of soul mates for many years. I want to believe that there are such relationships and that each of us will experience this. But my experience has cut me off from living this out. I have caught glimpses throughout my life of such closeness. My parents are very close and seem so at ease with each other. I’ve seen that all of my life and have watched it grow deep and more full of peace.

And then, there is my grandparents…

They had such a special relationship, just a sweet spirit between them, the way they looked at each other, the knowing smiles, the things they said, how they said things…

Grandpa was an orphan earning his way through childhood by working on farms of relatives. He was a self-made man, a successful entrepreneur, coming to Reed City with $10 in his pocket and leaving 40 years later a wealthy man; earned in the grueling fields of the oil industry. He had a determination that accomplished incredible things with his hands; those huge, gnarly, vise-like hands. Just shaking his hand was memorable. It might have been dangerous if he hadn’t had such a quiet, gentle spirit. My dad at times worked with him in his oil fields. Dad says he was the strongest man he has ever known. Although he rarely needed help himself, he lived to helped people. After retirement, the days he got up in the morning with a real spring in his step were those days he would use his hands to help somebody out.

In Atlanta, when we were sitting at their breakfast table, I had the privilege of listening to a conversation I’ll never forget.

The situation was that Grandpa was getting Alzheimer’s and struggling with his memory. Just the day before, we went to K-Mart. Grandpa headed for the tool aisle while my son and I tagged along with Grandma. She chuckled at him heading off through the store and said, “He’ll probably get lost.” I was alarmed and said, “I’ll go with him so he won’t get lost.” She said, “Oh don’t worry, there’s only one way out, and he’ll find it eventually.” I smiled and shook my head.

Meanwhile, at the breakfast table…

Grandpa: “Sometimes, I forget things (silence… as a look of desperation overtook his face). Sometimes . . . I forget . . . my own . . . name.”

Grandma: “Oh James, don’t worry about that.” And then, she very slowly and confidently reassured him, “I know your name.”

. . . I know your name . . . I know your name. I’ll never forget that.

Well, I’m not so sure of anything anymore and as my memory goes and I struggle to remember my own name, I’d love to have someone tell me that. But at this stage in life, after all I’ve experienced in two failed marriages,

I wonder if what I am looking for is deeper.

I wonder if what I long for is that spiritual connection with an Other.

I wonder if that is something I can expect during this life time.

I’ve learned that my expectations do not define my reality. Often reality ends up much different than what I expect.

So I learn to dream about the best of the best, hope for what is good, and receive what is given. This life is not here to serve me, but rather for me to serve it.

So if we go deeper, what might we find?

The Irish believe in a special sort of friendship that they call Anam Cara.

“The Celtic understanding of friendship finds its inspiration and culmination in the sublime notion of the anam cara. ‘Anam’ is the Gaelic word for soul; ‘cara’ is the word for friend. So anam cara means ‘soul friend’. The anam cara was a person to whom you could reveal the hidden intimacies of your life. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. When you had an anam cara, your friendship cut across all convention and category. You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the friend of your soul… Central here is the recognition and awakening of the ancient belonging between two friends. Since the birth of the human heart is an ongoing process, love is the continuous birth of the creativity within and between us. …longing (is) the presence of the divine and the soul as the house of belonging.” (John O’Donohue, Anam Cara, A Book of Celtic Wisdom, p. xviii)

The ancient Celts often practiced the ritual of Anam Cara to formalize friendships in the same way that marriage rituals formalize the bond between lovers.

“When we feel this strong inter-soul connection with another person, we feel the confidence to share everything, knowing that we need them as much as they need us . . . and that no matter the distance we are never apart.”

“Friendship is always an act of recognition… in the moment of friendship, two souls suddenly recognize each other… there is an awakening between you, a sense of ancient knowing.” (John O’Donohue)

“This art of belonging awakened and fostered a deep and special companionship. When you love, you open your life to an Other. All your barriers are down. Your protective distances collapse. This person is given absolute permission to come into the deepest temple of your spirit. Your presence and life can become their ground. It takes great courage to let someone so close. Where a friendship recognizes itself as a gift, it will remain open to its own ground of blessing….. When you are blessed with an ‘Anam Cara’, the Irish believe, you have arrived at that most sacred place: home. This bond between friends is indissoluble: ‘This, I say, is what is broken by no chances, what no interval of time or space can sever or destroy, and what even death itself cannot part’”. (from “Anam Cara…Wisdom from the Celtic World“, by John O’Donohue)

“Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious. Where you are understood, you are at home. Understanding nourishes belonging. When you really feel understood, you feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person’s soul.” — John O’Donohue (Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom)

Is it possible that this sort of relationship could be? With so much abrasiveness and friction between people in this world, could this be for real? If it is, then why do we not see this more often?

When I go deep within my soul to the silence at the heart of my knowing, I come away resonating with the truth of the Anam Cara. Not only of the existence of such friendships, but also the essential nature of these friendships. This sense of belonging, of home, is the essence of who we are, why we are here, where we are heading, and what gives meaning in life and in eternity.

Down deep, I can’t help but think that we will experience Anam Caras. If not now, then throughout eternity. The soul friend connection, I believe, is beyond time and space. It is eternal and it is an act of recognition.

And if “home” is defined by such relationships, then I wonder if “home” is beyond time and space. I wonder if there are not only soul friends but maybe even a soul group that we go back to… The thought of a soul group waiting for me, when I first heard it, sent literal chills of resonance down my spine. Could this be? I wonder… could this be…?

The Kalyana-mitra: Noble friend

“The Buddhist tradition has a lovely concept of friendship, the notion of the Kalyana-mitra, the ‘noble friend.’ Your Kalyana-mitra, your noble friend, will not accept pretension but will gently and very firmly confront you with your own blindness. No one can see his life totally. As there is a blind spot in the retina of the human eye, there is also in the soul a blind side where you are not able to see. Therefore you must depend on the one you love to see for you what you cannot see for yourself. Your Kalyana-mitra complements your vision in a kind and critical way. Such friendship is creative and critical; it is willing to negotiate awkward and uneven territories of contradiction and woundedness.” (John O’Donohue, Anam Cara, p. 25)

Maori greeting, Aotearoa (New Zealand)Moari greeting

The Maori greeting and custom of touching foreheads and noses together allowing one to share the same breath is called the Hongi. It is a way of seeing each other on a soul level, seeing each other as equal…