The howler monkeys screamed outside and the humid air hugged my skin like a warm blanket. I sat down and faced a woman who I barely knew and placed my hand on her chest to feel her heartbeat. She did the same and we stared deeply into each other’s eyes for five intense minutes.
Sweat began to pour down my face, stinging my eyes and, as my heartbeat grew in intensity, I thought about my wife back home. This is definitely not appropriate, I thought to myself, as intense guilt began to flood my mind.
But what followed next surprised me like a rainbow that appears without a cloud in the sky. Such is the nature of a mindfulness retreat in the jungle.
I felt intense love for this woman. Not the love I feel for my wife or the love I feel for my family. A very different kind of love. A platonic love. A love, as Plato would call it, where two people help the other further see down one’s spiritual path.
As I stared deep into this woman’s eyes I felt her soul, and I felt her peering into my soul-self. All the masks that both of us wear during our day-to-day were stripped away, leaving us bare and exposed. I saw her struggles and she saw mine. It felt both liberating and terrifying in a way that I struggle to explain as I type this sentence.
I felt connected and experienced the concept shared by many of the world’s beautiful religions — oneness. I more viscerally felt something I’ve known intellectually for quite some time — that we all have a connected soul beneath the physical existence.
Perhaps you’ve experienced a connection on this level before, as well? Whether with a friend, a mentor, or anyone who has helped you out.
In his dialogues, Plato reminds us that we should be seeking more of this love because it brings us closer to the soul. There is then a union with the soul, much like I’ve discovered through my own yoga practice.
Did Plato perhaps stretch in downward dog before beginning philosophy class? Did he and Patanjali hang in the ancient days of lore?
This connection with the soul-self is rooted in the etymology of yoga, as “yoga” in Sanskrit translates as “union.” Yes, yoga is far more than what Americans have come to understand. It’s not just physical posture and stretchy pants, though I would never dismiss the benefits of both. A strong physique is great and stretchy pants should become the new business casual. But I digress.
As I navigate my own path, I work to maintain this level of loving awareness and connection, though this comes with its own struggles. This is where I often open up a good book to find some wisdom to grow my spirits. Rumi is very often a first choice. So, what does Rumi say to do? Let go to love and experience the source that unites. About a thousand years ago, I imagine him sitting under one of the pomegranate trees that populate the Persian soil as he wrote,
“This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.”
As you go throughout the rest of your day today, consider, as I am, embracing eye contact and connecting with the souls of those you meet. At the next networking event, consider not talking about “what do you do?” and paper-pushing job-speak. Instead, ask about their journey on purpose and have a conversation about their passions. When sitting down for a meal with the family, look at your loved ones with the same heightened level of love as you will the homeless man on the street. It’s a beautiful world out there and each of us has a story worth hearing.
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