by Stephen Cope

Here’s a challenge for you: Could you easily name the dozen people with whom you have most deeply connected in this lifetime?

Most likely you could.

If asked, I think that most of us could quickly come up with a fairly accurate list of the ten or twelve or fifteen people who have who have touched us most deeply, and whom we have touched in return—those human beings who have, indeed, helped to shape us into who we are today.

For most of us, these connections are still vividly present in powerful images and in body memories. The very thought of these connections inspires flights of memory, of fantasy, of nostalgia, and perhaps of grief. And, with the perspective of time, I have found that an understanding of the impact of these connections only grows stronger.

I myself made such a list a couple of years ago—the self-same list I’m challenging you to make. As it turns out, for me, it’s a list I treasure. I keep it in the top drawer of my desk and it turns up every now and then when I’m rummaging through that drawer. I sometimes pull it out to ponder for a moment. It always provides a spark of recognition, and at least a few long thoughts.

That list of fourteen human beings (there were fourteen on my own particular list) grabs my gut. Each name summons memories, energy, sometimes sadness. But the combination of all those names together on one list? Wow. Together they make up some kind of potent brew that defines me, describes me, and sums me up better than anything else I can imagine. It is not an exaggeration to say it: Those people are my life.

Back to you.

Will you actually take a stab at writing your own list?

Careful, though. Trust your gut on this one. A common trap here is to think about who should be on the list. But no. Avoid that trap at all costs, or this experiment will not do you any good at all. For just a moment notice who really is on that list—without any intervention by the part of your mind that likes to manage these things. Go beneath the impulse to censor.

Oh, and by the way, there are a couple of people on my own list that I have never even met. Indeed, one of them has been dead for two hundred years. Yeah: Ludwig van Beethoven. How could I possibly leave him off the list? Beethoven changed my life. My piano teacher herself noticed it one night: “You seem to have some kind of powerful connection with him, with Beethoven. Are you aware of that?” Of course I was. But I was moved that she noticed.

If you really trust your instincts as you make your list, I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at who ends up on the page. Some of them you may not even actually like that much. Maybe there is one individual whom you knew for only one night. But there he or she is. Knowing that person has touched you in ways you can barely describe or explain.

Most of us will have many friends throughout our lifetimes—friends of all shapes, sizes and callings. Many of these are wonderful, meaningful friendships. Some are difficult. But some magic few of these are connections that have gone right to our soul. Some magic few of this entire flock have been doing the heavy lifting. Some magic five or ten or twelve have become remarkably powerful keys to determining who we have become and who we will become. These few move the inner tectonic plates of our being, our personalities, our souls. These are the people I call Soul Friends.

Excerpted with permission from “Soul Friends: The Transforming Power of Deep Human Connection”, by Stephen Cope, scheduled for release by Hay House in April. This excerpt was originally published by Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.

Stephen Cope will offer the keynote “Why Friendship Matters: The Role of Deep Friendship in Optimal States” at the Embodied Positive Psychology Summit, May 1–4 at Kripalu.

Stephen Cope, MSW, is a psychotherapist, a national best-selling author, and Kripalu Yoga teacher. During the summer of 2005, he launched a pioneering music and consciousness program in conjunction with the Tanglewood Institute to study the effects of yoga and meditation on performance anxiety, physical health, and states of optimal performance. Stephen is the founder and former director of the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living and the author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, Will Yoga and Meditation Really Change My Life?, and The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker’s Guide to Extraordinary Living. He was named by Yoga Journal as one of the top 25 innovators in yoga in America in the last quarter of a century.