Opinion: The light that illuminates the world tends, for soulmates, to be refracted through the same prism.

A soulmate is “a person with whom one has a strong affinity, shared values and tastes...” or “a person who shares a deep understanding or bond with another…” Both dictionary definitions note the connection between oneself and that person may especially apply to one’s lover or spouse, though implicit in the way a romantic connection is mentioned is a suggestion that soulmates are not necessarily romantically involved.  Best friends, for example, may be soulmates; so say a number of sources accessed through the internet. Some of those sources make unyielding assertions about the nature of the relationships between soulmates, as if there can be no argument with their assessments about those relationships. When encountering such arrogant certainty, skepticism or doubt may be the best reaction. The definitions of the term, as I see them, set parameters of meaning that individuals may then refine in ways that best suit their perspectives. Long-lasting relationships between spouses or partners, in which both share most of their fundamental philosophies and values, may be seen as examples of the relationship between soulmates. The same applies to long-term friendships. The people involved in those relationships need not be in lock-step with one another on all matters, but hold enough shared worldviews to cement the connection. The modifier, long-term, may not be necessary, though, for a soulmate relationship. Time may not play a crucial part in determining a soulmate relationship, though, nor is a time a guarantor that a soulmate relationship will survive, because people change. For some reason, that brings to mind a pithy sentence I recall from management courses I took years ago, referring to staffing issues: If you can’t change people, you have to change people. That has nothing to do with soulmates…does it?

Psychologists and psychics seem to have different understandings of soulmates. From what I have read, psychologists tend to view the soulmate relationship in a more measurable, clinical way, whereas psychics see it as an expression of karma, or something like it. I have seen the term twin-flame used in connection with who otherwise might be called a soulmate; the explanations seem to be overtly spiritual, as if destiny plays a part. I wonder whether both terms describe more wishful than factual relationships. I sometimes use soulmate as if it legitimately describes a deep relationship, but the idea may be more romantic than real. It’s a matter of semantics, I suppose, as so many things are.


I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?

~ Zhuangzi ~


About a week ago, I read a transcript on the National Public Radio (NPR) website of an interview on All Things Considered. The interview was between NPR’s Rachel Martin and Vanessa Zoltan. Zoltan is a humanist chaplain who describes herself as an “atheist chaplain.” The title of the piece is Why this chaplain sees her atheism as a gift. All four of Zoltan’s grandparents were Nazi concentration camp survivors. Zoltan’s parents’ religious philosophies emerged from the impact their experiences during the Holocaust. Zoltan explained that “…every law I was taught, as to how to walk through the world, was through the orientation of the Holocaust.” She went on to describe how that influenced her thinking. The following comments, extracted from Zolan’s interview, struck a chord with me:

Like, you don’t get in lines, you know, our people have stood in enough lines. You always get involved if you see anything—that you don’t understand that’s going on with a neighbor, you get involved…we were taught to sort of look at our friends and wonder whether or not they would hide us if we ever needed to be hidden…

My dad wasn’t just raised with these stories, it’s very real for him that at any moment you can have to leave your country. And this is the lived truth of probably half the globe, right? That at any moment you might have to leave. And so you keep your eye out for who could help you.

I sometimes wonder whether those of us without Zoltan’s direct link to ugly historical experiences can truly understand how very realistic those possibilities remain, even today. The people fleeing from Syria and Honduras and Nicaragua…and on and on…understand how social upheaval and the dissolution of compassion can happen at any time and in any place. Until not terribly long ago, I felt the likelihood of the need to flee the disintegration of the relative peace in the USA was extremely low. I almost felt “it can’t happen here,” though I knew it was a possibility, albeit a remote one. Today, as I observe growing tensions both domestically and internationally, I realize the remoteness of the possibility shrinks every day. I can happen here.

The rest of Part I of the interview with Zoltan left me feeling more firmly ensconced in my own atheism. In expounding on her decision to be and remain atheist, but keeping some Jewish traditions, she explains her atheism this way:

I want to marvel at the fact that lions exist and despair at the fact that they’re dying from being overheated because we’ve ruined this planet and not leave myself the option to put a silver lining on it.

The second part of the interview is scheduled for today, Sunday August 27.  I look forward to reading and/or hearing how Zoltan, according to Rachel Martin, “had to find a different kind of spiritual center. And she found it in literature — specifically Jane Eyre.


I type my thoughts far more frequently than I speak them. My thoughts flow more easily through my fingers than from my mouth. I often wish I could be a more eloquent speaker, someone who can think on his feet. Wishing is a waste of time, though. Dreaming is far better.


The day is here. The sky is filled with early morning light. Today will be quite warm, but not as hot as yesterday. Tomorrow morning will be comfortable. I think. I hope. I dream.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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