compatibility and connection
relationships as a function of self-exploration
Lately I’ve been ruminating on the different flavours of compatibility we find in others. With some people, we click instantly, dropping into the “deep” stuff right away: what we’re working through, contemplating, struggling with. The circumstance/contextual content comes last, if you even get to that. You start with what is in your soul instead of what is in your mind. With others though, the catch up is all about the circumstance/context and doesn’t touch the deeper topics buried underneath our most recent “life facts.” The catch ups are filled with: I’ve gone here, done this, met this person, had this milestone, etc. and none of the juicy stuff—the: but how are you feeling about all that? Where are you at with yourself?
We typically connect with people in one of two ways:
Circumstance-level connection: Through similar “facts of life”: circumstance, context, background—shared experience.
Soul-level connection: Through a similar “outlook on life”: introspection, mutual curiosity, similar values and conclusions about the world—shared perspective.
Soul-level connection is that sense of familiarity you get when it feels like you already know someone even though you just met. Or: those people that regardless of how long it has been since you last saw them, the conversation flows naturally and effortlessly into the most burning questions on your mind.
Circumstance-level connection is the connection rooted in the shared ‘material’ of life: memories, experiences, background, upbringings, life choices. This kind of connection can be rich in exploring each other’s shared roots, but lacks the inward-exploration that goes beyond circumstance. These might be the connections where, despite having interacted with someone many times, you never seem to get past the surface-level stuff—you can never break into each other’s soul.
soul-level connections are precious
I find that it’s often the soul-level connections we crave. Most of us don’t want to talk about the weather, or our jobs, or what we did on the weekend. We want to talk about what is on our mind or in our hearts. So, we try to. And if we sense the other person contracting, we default back to talking about context and circumstance. If we try this a few times and it is consistently not well-received by someone, we settle for always talking to them about context, circumstance, and the events of life.
When it comes to people we connect with on a soul-level though, we drop in immediately to that flow-state conversation—instantly discussing what you really want to talk about, or what you need to talk about but wouldn’t prompt yourself. These might be the topics where you need someone to tease it out of you. Soul-level friends help you address what you need to confront but do not want to face alone. They help you get to know yourself better.
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compatibility is a matter of inner-exploration
There’s this analogy a friend and I came up with a long time ago about why we could only seem to connect deeply with some people and not others. We concluded that everyone has a certain number of “layers of depth” to them. These layers quantify how deeply someone has gone inwards—how deeply you know yourself. More layers = more self-knowledge and understanding. The most important aspect of compatibility—or, how “deep” the connection can go is: do you have the same number of layers?
Every layer you connect with someone on gives you a jolt of resonance, bringing you closer to each other. It’s as if your soul has all these tentacles, and each time you explore a new layer within yourself, a tentacle is activated, and is reaching out to connect with someone else. When you connect with someone on one of those layers—your tentacles fuse. You get to know each other on a soul-level.
Note: I’m really just picturing the Avatar tails fusing here, so imagine an Avatar with a quantity of tail-tentacles (?) directly proportional to that individual’s level of inner-knowing. More inner-knowing = more tentacles that need to fuse = need to connect with someone on your same level of inner-knowing to satisfy all the layers within yourself you’ve explored).
It’s as if all of these free tentacles are activated and seeking resonance, but if the person in front of you has too many or too few, someone is left with a gap in connection.
This is not to say that some people are actually “deeper” than others. The layers only refer to how deeply you have gone into yourself. We are all equally capable of depth, but it is up to us whether we want to dig up those layers or not. Inner-work is work that not everyone wants to do—and in some cases, it is work they’re not yet aware they can do. Either way, this is how we get stuck on certain layers and why some people may not be interested in going to the same “depths” as you in conversation: they haven’t gone there yet themselves. For example, let’s say one person starts talking about deeply rooted challenges they have with their parents—if the other person has never explored their own relationship with their parents, they may not be able to relate, or more extremely: it might put them in their head and take them out of the moment.
When you are both equally familiar with yourself, you can talk forever: your souls seamlessly fuse. No one is pushing the other one too far, no one is getting bored, lost, confused, or alienated. You are both on the same wavelength. Your active layers find a perfect match—there is no discrepancy in depth.
soul-level connections awaken your inner child
This kind of conversation puts us in flow state—it’s effortless, full of presence, wonder, connection, love, curiosity. It is like being a child: you are in the moment, no ego tainting what you’re saying. The conversation comes through you instead of being forced by you.
I’m big on this idea that the people who let you be 100% yourself enable your epiphanies. What I mean by this is: when you’re in a conversation where insights are flowing through you instead of being mechanically generated by you, you are getting to know yourself on a deeper level. You are in touch with your inner-signal. You are out of your mind, and are getting lost in the conversation.
I like Rick Rubin’s description of the state where our ego contracts and presence is flowing through us:
“How do we pickup on a signal that can neither be heard nor defined? The answer is not to look for it. Nor do we attempt to predict or analyse our way into it. Instead, we create an open space that allows it. A space so free of normal overpacked condition of our minds that it functions as a vacuum. Drawing down ideas that the universe is making available.
This freedom is not as difficult to achieve as one might think. We all start with it. As children, we experience much less interference between receiving ideas and internalising them. We accept new information with delight instead of making comparisons to what we already believe; we live in the moment rather than worrying about future consequences; we are spontaneous more than analytical; we are curious, not jaded. Even the most ordinary experiences in life are met with a sense of awe. Deep sadness and intense excitement can come within moments of each other. There’s no facade and no attachment to a story.”
We receive our inner signal by creating the space for it to arrive. When we are flowing through life effortlessly, we take in information with the unjaded, open nature of a child. This is what soul-level connections feel like: open, free, childlike.
when you can’t flow in conversation, you are forced into your mind
In contrast: when we can’t connect on a soul-level due to an incompatible number of “layers” (or: different levels of inner-knowing), we defer to head-y conversation around egoic topics. An intellectual debate where one of you needs to be “right”, or anything requiring you to “explain” or justify your identity. You are analyzing and arguing—comparing, contrasting, thinking, explaining—instead of exploring together—existing and observing, indifferent to the conclusions you come to, more interested in the process and conversation that gets you there.
The conversation doesn’t feel light. It doesn’t flow. It feels heavy because you are in your head the whole time instead of in your heart. You are literally forced to attach yourself to a story—the exact opposite of the state you’re in during soul-level connection.
This is why you can come away from some conversations feeling drained and others feeling energized: it depends whether you connected on a circumstantial/cerebral level (exchanging surface-level facts of life or trying to be right) or on a soul-level (compatible access to yourselves and a mutual desire to openly explore).
the 3 soul-compatibility questions:
The easiest way to predict whether you will be soul-level compatible is:
are you equally open?
are you equally interested in each other?
are you equally interested in yourselves?
If the answer to all three of these is yes, you might be soulmates. We can have many soulmates, I think. To me, soulmates are the people you instantly click with on a soul-level, the ones you could talk to forever without getting bored or lost in thought. I also believe this is the premise for most successful romantic relationships: do both people never want the conversation to end?
If the answer is yes to even 1 of these 3 questions, you’ll probably have a solid conversation. If the answer is no to all, it will be hard to get past the material facts of life. Small talk is helpful insofar as it paves the path to discovering whether you can connect on a deeper level. But if your interactions with someone consistently do not get past small talk, it is likely you aren’t soul-level compatible. Or said differently: you are familiar with each other, but are not equally familiar with yourselves. Your varying levels of inner-exploration may be too extreme to explore freely together in conversation—to find true compatibility.
circumstance and soul connection are independent of each other
You can be circumstantially compatible and soul-level compatible. You can grow up in the same place, have gone to the same schools, done similar things, and you can find deep resonance on a higher plane in addition to all of that. You can also connect deeply on a soul-level despite having nothing circumstantially in common.
The important point is that one does not imply the other—just because you have shared experience with someone, does not mean you will be equally open and interested in exploring life. And just because you have a deep soul-level connection, doesn’t mean you came from the same background.
I often see people get frustrated when they don’t click with someone that they think “should” be great for them. A friend will go on a date with someone who has the same friends, went to the same school, had a similar upbringing to them, and say: It should work, but I feel nothing. The mistake they are making is thinking that circumstantial compatibility and soul-level compatibility are correlated. They aren’t. Shared circumstance is not an indicator that you will connect deeply. The same is true in the opposite direction—many people will be surprised who they end up connecting deeply with. They’ll say: it makes no sense, we clicked instantly, but have nothing in common! Which is to say: they have no material context in common, but their souls align. They connect deeply instead of superficially. Often, some of the most successful relationships are found later in life—once both people have explored themselves deeply and are seeking someone who has done the same, regardless of circumstance.
both soul and circumstance have a place in our lives
Circumstance and context-rich relationships are incredibly unique: you cannot replace childhood friends, or friends that watched you grow and evolve through much of your life. The shared experience and memories you have with people you’ve shared large chunks of life with are irreplaceable—they are a precious part of life, a privilege. Soul-level connections nourish and activate your inner child, enabling epiphanies through shared exploration. Both are beautiful, both are valuable. Sometimes, one will be more important in life than the other.
When you’re young and trying to “fit in”, developing a group of friends in a new city or at a new college, circumstantial relationships tend to be the vehicle we lean on for connection. It might be hard to find soul-level relationships in certain places, and human connection is important, so circumstantial connections work well here. But I think we all generally evolve towards yearning for soul-level connections as we become more open, as we get to know ourselves better.
The deeper you go inwards, the more awake and conscious you are, and the more awake and conscious you want to become. Eventually, having conversations that do not tap into your current level of consciousness and perspective begins to drain more than it nourishes. In these times, it’s important to seek the people, places, and activities that activate you—that make you come alive, bring out your inner child, help you know yourself deeper, enable your epiphanies.
to find depth in others, reveal your own depth
When we open ourselves up, we let in more soul-level connection. When we close ourselves off, we repel it. Connection is a 2-way street: you need to be in a state that invites it in. Energy is contagious—the energy we bring to an interaction sets the tone for that connection. Vulnerability invites in more vulnerability. Judgement invites more judgement. We attract the energy we cultivate—so lead with the energy you want more of in your life.
different connections serve us differently
It’s also important to accept that not every connection will have this element, and to appreciate each connection for what it uniquely offers, instead of trying to force all of them to exist at the same depth. Connection is limited by the mutually shared layers of both people. We can’t force someone to go deeper if they are not ready to yet. We can respect where they are, meet them there, and seek additional connection in others we can break new ground with.
on nourishing the soul
The more soul-level connections I discover, the more grateful, aware, and awake I become. Finding people that approach you openly awakens something inside you that turns off your mind and brings you into your soul. They are a gift. Seek and cherish those connections and let them know you appreciate them when you find them. We are nourished through connection that lets us explore, wonder, and be the truest version of ourselves.
Life is full of love and connection. There is so much to be captured, and more than enough to go around. Seek the connections you crave—we can find them everywhere when we open ourselves up to receiving them.
PS—If you liked this, you might also like my post on self image, and enjoy parsing through the front line where my ideas emerge: on Twitter.
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"You start with what is in your soul instead of what is in your mind" ✨ love this as a way to think about leading with your heart in conversation
"I also believe this is the premise for most successful romantic relationships: do both people never want the conversation to end?" This bit reminded me of a David Brooks quote: "Marriage is a 50-year conversation. Marry someone you want to talk with for the rest of your life."