I did not truly understand the term “soul mate” until recently.
Even though I am in relationship with a soul mate, I still lacked insight as to what exactly that meant.
Then I had the following epiphany:
The most important part of the term “soul mate” is not the word “mate.” In fact, we could replace that part of the term with another word and would still retain the same significance. For instance, the German language uses the term “soul relative” (Seelenverwandter) instead.
“Soul relative” is actually a more accurate phrase for a number of reasons:
If we tried to replace the word “soul,” we would change the term’s meaning. Thus, to truly understand the term and understand what we are getting ourselves into if we meet our soul mate, we need to slow down and focus on the soul aspect.
By definition, it’s impossible for us to find someone who qualifies as a soul mate without getting more strongly in touch with our own soul in the process. If we are not willing to get into deeper contact with our own soul, what we really are looking for is an “ego mate.”
At first, this may sound like a trivial insight. Needing to get more in contact with our own soul may seem like a small price to pay for a beautiful relationship. But the reality is that we often are not even aware of the large rift that tends to exist between our soul and our ego, and getting in touch with one’s soul may be uncomfortable and truly confronting to the ego’s security and safety.
The clash between the desire of our soul and of our ego may show up in many areas of our lives. For instance, while our ego may want to have a fancy house and car, our soul’s most important goal may be to be of service in the world. Thus, the question of who gets to call the shots has actual practical consequences in terms of how we live our lives.
Basically, our soul and our ego tend to exist in different realities. Unless these two aspects of ourselves are in complete harmony with shared values and goals, the distinction between an “ego mate” and a “soul mate” has large ramifications on our lives.
Here’s how ego mates and soul mates are different:
Characteristics of an “ego mate.”
While the term “ego mate” may sound harsh, I intend it to be neutral. Some realms of spirituality shame the ego or try to transcend it. However, our ego is not the enemy. It is part of what makes us who we are, and helps us to function in the world.
Thus, when I use the term “ego mate,” what I mean is someone of whom our ego approves. Generally this is someone who possesses characteristics we find attractive often as a result of our own conditioning.
Realizing that someone is our ego mate is not a judgment on them as a person. It only describes the role they fulfill in relation to us. Our ego mate may be someone else’s soul mate and vice versa.
An ego mate does not fundamentally threaten our current way of being by getting us in touch with deeper aspects of ourselves. A relationship with an ego mate is more superficial, which makes it easier for us to get involved with them.
Since in our culture we often find ourselves much more engaged with our ego than with our soul, it is hardly surprising that an ego mate relationship tends to come easier to us. An ego mate relationship does not require a lot of transformation on our part. While some things change in our lives as a result of being in a couple, we can fundamentally continue to be who we were before meeting that person.
Thus, the main challenge we may experience in a relationship with an ego mate is that we do not really grow spiritually and emotionally. As a result of this, the relationship may become stale over time, after the initial crush wears off.
With that being said, there is nothing wrong with being (or wanting to be) in an ego mate relationship. Finding an ego mate allows us to enjoy the company of another human being without going through intense transformation that we may not be ready for at this point.
Characteristics of a “soul mate.”
A soul mate will get us more into contact with our own soul. Since most of us experience at least some (conscious or unconscious) conflict between the desires of our soul and those of our ego, this is not always as romantic or ephemeral as it sounds.
In this conflict an “ego mate” will generally strengthen the ego’s side whereas a “soul mate” will generally ultimately lead to the soul having a greater say. While we might ultimately be able to find a middle ground between the desires of soul and ego, the change in our center of gravity can be uncomfortable and may also entail changes in our external circumstances.
Unlike our ego, our soul can take and may even yearn for intense growth and transformation. Being in a relationship with a soul mate tends to give us exactly that. While this is ultimately for our best, the level of change it entails can be terrifying.
I think that we can intuit the “danger” that a soul mate represents to our sense of identity and our established way of being. I believe it is for this reason that a potential soul mate tends to bring up more resistance in us than an ego mate.
Depending on where we are in our lives and in our own journey, we may not wish to embark on a soul mate relationship in this moment. And that is perfectly okay. Arriving at the conclusion that we do not feel ready is a sign of our ability to be honest with ourselves.
On the contrary, if we wish to be in a soul mate relationship, we can prepare ourselves by starting to get more in touch with our own soul, for instance through meditation, spiritual work and journaling.
We can learn to disengage more from our ego, for instance by questioning our own conditioning and trying something new.
We can also learn to care more about our own deep truths than about what others say and to embrace deep change.
It is only when we are willing to become a “mate” to our own soul that we are ever truly ready to be together with a “soul mate.”
This article was first published on Elephant Journal here.
“So was it love at first sight?”
The U.S. embassy official looked at me as he conducted my visa interview.
Thinking back to how my American husband and I met, I shook my head ferociously. “No!”
When I was on a few spiritually-related group conference calls with the person I’m now happily married to, I sometimes had to put the phone down because I couldn’t stand listening to him talk.
I did not hear harps playing when we first met. It was more like the eerie screech of fingernails scraping the blackboard.
My husband had a more favourable impression of me and thought I was cute. However, he’s more into emotionally expressive women—think the French artist type. So as a rational German lawyer, I wasn’t exactly his type, either.
Today, we are making up for this lack of lovey-doveyness when we first met. Just the other day, a stranger commented “You guys are so cute together” while my husband and I were waiting at the local IKEA.
That’s how I know from personal experience that love at first sight is dramatically overrated.
Of course, if it happens to you and you discover that you both happen to be the right partner for each other, great! Enjoy!
If it does not happen to you, know that love at first sight is not necessary to have the relationship of your dreams alongside real, deep and lasting love. In fact, the feeling of love at first sight can sometimes get in the way of us experiencing true love because it can be based on projections and unhealed wounds.
When we let narrow definitions of “our type” get in the way of real, deep and lasting love, we are depriving ourselves of what we truly want.
In heterosexual relationships, a typical example of that is the idea that the male partner should be taller than the female one. Over the years, I have known a few people who initially were concerned when their partner did not meet this criteria. Once they decided the height issue did not matter to them, they often went on to have a great relationship with the other person they might have otherwise excluded on paper.
Here are some ideas for how you can open yourself up to potential soulmate who may not be your type:
1. Become aware of the ways in which you are limiting yourself by liking a certain type only. Are there any common denominators between the people you generally find yourself attracted to? Are these the traits that are celebrated in your culture, such as in movies? If you find a common denominator, you could ask yourself how well it has been working for you to only date this type of person.
2. Explore what it is about your type that hasn’t worked for you in past relationships.
Often, a great strength in some circumstances can be a limitation in another. For instance, someone who can appear like an exciting first date, such as an emotionally unavailable man, may not be reliable and stable. If you feel a strong compulsion to be in a relationship with someone before you even know them, this may be reflective of projections, unhealed emotional wounds or trauma.
3. Check your preferences by going on a date with someone who is not your type.
If you always go for the same type (and haven’t yet found the love you want), it might be time to try something new. Think of it like being in a restaurant and ordering your favourite dish which looks good to you. If it also always causes you indigestion, you might eventually decide to try something else instead.
When you go on a date with someone who is not your type, you also have the potential to learn more about yourself. It’s possible that things you thought you didn’t like in a partner you actual do like now.
4. Pay attention to the subtle qualities in someone who is not your type as these can make a big long-term difference.
Things like a kind heart, deep listening skills, emotional vulnerability or reliability aren’t necessarily the things that make our heart race at first. And yet they are the qualities that can nurture our hearts in the long term. If your date is displaying any of these subtle qualities, it can be helpful to pay attention to that.
5. Keep your eyes on the prize—a person your soul can be happy with.
It’s also important to remember that the point of this exercise is not to find someone to settle with. It’s not to convince ourselves to end up in relationship with someone whose personality goes against our nature, just because they have some redeeming qualities.
The reason to engage in this practice is to open our hearts and minds to the right person for us, who we may otherwise overlook. Part of that process is also to learn how to identify those who are not right for us, using more discernment than before.
Real, deep and lasting love stretches our heart, soul and self-identity.
With these practices, we can get started on developing discernment and expanding our hearts right away, before we ever meet our soulmate.
This article was first published on Elephant Journal here.
The one thing we can do to experience more happiness in our relationship is to learn how to navigate expectations more skillfully.
The problem with our expectations is that people oftentimes have wildly differing ones. In fact, the more authentic and free our society becomes, the less we can assume that we know what others expect from us.
For instance, a century ago it was much clearer in the Western world how the different genders would interact with each other during courtship and in relationship. It was also clearer how children would behave towards their parents. Nowadays, we are free to find our own way, a freedom that comes at the price of confusion.
While some expectations continue to be widely shared in society—such as the presumption that our partner will not date other people—many others are less apparent.
For instance, a woman may expect that a man who genuinely loves her will explicitly tell her he loves her every day because that is what she observed in her parents when she was growing up. Meanwhile her partner, who grew up in a less emotionally expressive household, expects that she will understand that driving her to the airport in the middle of the night is his way of saying “I love you.”
Our expectations are generally un-spoken, un-expressed, and the person affected by them is often not even aware that we have them (and vice versa). This makes them so difficult to handle.
Meanwhile our culture romanticizes expectations. To prove true love, our significant other is supposed to simply know what we want from them, and act accordingly. Given how different we all are, this would basically require people to develop telepathic skills in order to have a happy relationship.
I believe there is a more mature (and realistic) way of making relationships work. It includes the following steps:
This article first appeared on Elephant Journal here.
I recently came across an online discussion that helped me understand some of the experiences men have that differ from mine.
A reddit user asked: “What aspects of a man’s life are most women unaware of?”
Not surprisingly, this question received a lot of answers.
One thing I found particularly fascinating was how men reported almost never receiving compliments on their looks.
Receiving a compliment oftentimes meant a lot to men. Many of the responses deeply touched me.
One man who had been complimented on his eyes by a girl at the drive up window stated: “Other than while in relationships, I have never just been told I look good. I thought about it the whole drive home and my day way [was] about 10 times better because of it.”
Another man who had received a compliment from a stranger about his jacket wrote: “In 21 years on this planet, that’s the only time anyone has ever done that (that’s not family or a very close friend). It made my day 100,000 times better.“
I was not aware that receiving these simple, nice compliments could have such a positive effect on a man’s happiness. Here are my main takeaways from this realization:
Compliments about appearance can be a good thing.
As a woman, I have been conditioned by feminist literature to think that compliments about appearance are something negative. And the truth is, I find there is often too much focus on complimenting women on their looks only, to the detriment of the more unusual acknowledgments of qualities such as courage, compassion, intelligence or strength.
Yet what I learned from this reddit thread is that compliments about looks are clearly not inherently bad or obsolete. Yes, it is important to achieve balance in how a woman is being complimented in order to not reduce her to an object. However, if a compliment is received well depends entirely on the situation, the relationship between the person making and the person receiving the compliment, as well as the timing.
Consider complimenting men, in particular your partner, more often.
I did not realize that many men are “starved” for positive attention and how different their experience is from the experience of women. It was amazing to see how a little compliment can brighten the day of a man and even improve his self-esteem.
It is a nice surprise to compliment the men in our lives more often. Obviously, we want to choose compliments that are genuine, nice and appropriate for the occasion.
In the words of a reddit user, “20 years passed before I was told by a woman other than my mother that I was handsome. If you think a guy is handsome tell him. Chances are he hasn’t heard it in a long time.”
When complimenting men, be okay with awkward moments.
Unlike women, who are used to being complimented, men oftentimes do not know how to respond to compliments.
For instance, one man reported: “There’s this girl who keeps complimenting me on my clothes and I’m so taken aback by it because it never happens and I never know how to react.”
Another man wrote: “Being complimented, for any reason, is weird. Men don’t get compliments as frequently as women do. And when we actually are complimented, we believe there might be malice or sarcasm within a compliment where none exist—simply because of the infrequency of it.”
For the person doing the complimenting, this means that there may be moments of slight discomfort. For instance, I remember how awkward I felt after saying, “looks good” to one of my good male friends who had just gotten a new haircut. Whereas a female friend would generally reply, “thank you” to a similar compliment, he did not respond at all.
Back then I thought that maybe he just did not want to hear that compliment. Now I realize that it is more likely that my friend was just surprised and did not know how to react.
While people of all genders have different experiences in daily life, all humans have similar needs.
We all want to feel loved, respected and good about ourselves. We all want to be seen as whole and complete.
And oftentimes, loving and sincere compliments can be extremely helpful in filling these needs for another person.
Who knew that telling your partner, “You look good in that suit and tie.” could be a revolutionary act in 2016?
This article was first published on Elephant Journal here.
It was a week of firsts. A week of doing things I hadn’t done before. A week outside of my comfort zone.
In expectation of another “first” that was awaiting me that day, I was pacing around the room. I did not feel ready. I did not feel like I would know what to do.
My husband was patiently sitting on the couch. “You know,” he looked at me, “this is a big step.”
I nodded and continued to pace.
“You’re never completely ready to take a big step.”
My husband paused. I stopped in my tracks. “You just do it and it works out.”
I sat down on the sofa. He was right.
For a moment, I thought about my previous life: I was not ready to study at a Spanish university without really speaking the language at first. I was not ready to get married with less than 48 hours advance notice. I was not ready to defend my PhD thesis with a crimson-red and in-pain face, thanks to my first-ever allergic reaction to a cream I had tried.
There are a gazillion other things I was not ready for in my life.
And yet I did them.
I’m not alone in this. Taking a big step we’re not ready for is the story of humanity: is an expectant mother ever ready for going through labor? Is a baby ever ready for being born? I doubt it.
In fact, I recently watched a few YouTube videos where male (and some female) volunteers try a machine that simulates labor pain. While the volunteers are lying on the floor, another person holds the control to increase the pain levels. In one scene, a guy who was already writhing got asked if he was ready to move to the next level of the birth simulation. Not surprisingly, his answer was, “No, I’m not ready.”
Humans are not ready for birth, literally or metaphorically (as in, birth of a new self).
Yet, we’re all here.
Becoming aware of the extent of our un-readiness for big steps really puts things into perspective.
I’ve heard other versions of the wise words my husband spoke that day, such as:
• Nike’s slogan, “Just do it”.
• Susan Jeffers’ “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
• John Burroughs’ “Leap, and the net will appear.”
None of these ever touched me as deeply as my husband’s words.
Realizing that we are never ready for taking a big step strikes me as a more profound truth. When we take a step that is beyond us, there’s nothing wrong with us if we feel we’re not ready. We don’t feel ready for a big step because that’s just how it works.
That big step forward is not only the birth of a new self, it’s also a mini-death to our old self. And if there is one thing other than birth that humanity is not ready for, it is death.
Yet it seems that every human being who has ever walked the surface of the earth has managed to die, despite not being ready for it.
With the biggest steps in our lives, we will never be ready for them. Yet almost always, others have walked the path before us, and at least some of them will likely have been successful.
When it comes to big steps, the extent to which we feel ready is no indication of the final outcome. It is just an indication of how much the step will change us.
When we realize this, then we can “just do it,” we can “feel the fear and do it anyway,” and we can “leap, and the net will appear.” First though, we have to realize that we are not ready.
And that, that is a good thing.
This article first appeared on Elephant Journal here.
Ironically, our culture does not prepare us well for what many humans most desire—having an authentic, lasting partnership.
It prepares us for falling, but not for staying, in love.
The most popular stories in humanity focus on the sparks that happen when people fall in love.
But falling in love is not that different from starting a fire.
While both start out with sparks, that’s generally not the end goal. In most cases, whenever we start a fire or fall in love, we are at least hoping for longer-lasting warmth and comfort.
A romantic relationship has different phases that mirror those we undergo when we build a bonfire: Once we have started the fire, we need to maintain it. This requires something more substantial than the initial tinder.
Here are three lesser known ways of keeping the romance alive and the fire going:
Gazing is actually a spiritual practice that does not seem to be very well known in mainstream spirituality. I was first introduced to it in a workshop in 2009. It entails making eye contact with someone for an extended period of time, much longer than we usually do in normal social interactions. Imagine a loving mother gazing into her baby’s eyes. Their eye contact creates a loving space and an even deeper connection between the two. That is how this spiritual practice can feel like.
Gazing is more than just a beautiful spiritual practice. We can also use it to connect deeply with our partner. To do that, all we need to do is sit across from each other in a quiet space and making eye contact with our partner. You could try to hold hands, but it’s not necessary. The important thing is to look into our partner’s eyes and open our hearts to them as they are doing the same. Initially, this might feel awkward. If we stick with it, we will likely feel closer to them than before. Over time, gazing can melt barriers and blockages. It can remind us of what feels so special about the person we have chosen to be with and how much we care about them.
2. (Some) physical distance
To most people, a long-distance relationship seems undesirable. However, there is some research that suggests that people in a long-distance relationship actually feel closer emotionally than those in geographical proximity.
In my experience, there are some benefits to periods of physical distance: Before I moved together with my partner, we were in a long-distance relationship for over two years. Separated by an ocean, we only saw each other every few months or so. But every time we did, it felt special and new. When we finally moved in together, being able to spend every day together felt like a gift to both of us.
Of course, most of us would understandably not choose to be in a long-distance relationship unless we had to. But is there a way to have the benefits of living together and yet experiencing the same newness that couples in long-distance relationships may feel for each other whenever they meet?
One such way could be to spend a little time being physically apart. If we have vastly different vacation styles or dream destinations than our partner, we can try traveling separately for a change. For instance, I am writing this on my way to Brazil where I am going alone. We can also visit our parents or old friends without our partner which has the added advantage that we can fully focus on being together with them.
When we are apart from our partner, we can oftentimes appreciate more how much we enjoy their presence. A little bit of absence can make the heart grow fonder.
3. Taking emotional risks
If we stay in our comfort zone, life tends to get stale. This can also be true in the area of relationships. In this situation, some people start looking for the feeling of aliveness outside the relationship.
However, there is a way to have more excitement and intimacy within the relationship. It happens when we dare to take emotional risks: Anytime we make ourselves vulnerable or share something that is outside of our comfort zone with our partner, we feel more alive. I refer to this as the practice of taking emotional risks.
By that I mean doing something that feels like the right move while also being scary for us. Examples of this could be expressing to our partner just how much they mean to us or telling them something we have never dared to tell anyone else. All of this is, of course, assuming that our partner is essentially a safe person to take emotional risks with.
When we take emotional risks, our partner can see a different side of us. When our partner does this, we get to experience intrigue once again.
The truth is that all of us are mysteries, even to ourselves. We have so many sides to us and we are continuously growing. When we move out of roles and into what we really are, interactions with our partner feel alive.
With all this being said, here’s the truth about what happens after “The End”: In real life relationships, there is no “happily ever after,” no magical “The End.”
There are just new beginnings.
And that is the real magic.
This article was first published on Elephant Journal here.