Soul Searching For Dummies: My narcissistic guide to sitting in the desert and recognizing your wild.
I started thinking about life after graduation a few months before I started my first semester at college. Yeah, you read that right. I'm a planner. I like things in order, I like to know what's going on and when it's going to happen and who's going to be there and if it's going to be a little chilly because if so, maybe I should pack a layer and one for you because you won't think ahead. I was able to push back my neurotic overthinking for a little while and enjoy some aspects of college while I distracted myself with trying to make the most of everything else. But what I've found is that it's a double-edged sword to have a brain hardwired for efficiency.
In some forms, this way of operation allows me to always get things done quickly, I never waste a bus ride. That's a running joke my mom and I have. It's a joke, because it's something others might find as a positive trait, where we often see it as something that holds us back, we can't enjoy the ride with our friends because it's valuable time to be productive, why wouldn't you use it? See, things like walking across campus to get to the dining hall used to cause me physical anxiety, because I needed to be on the fastest path. I truly apologize to any and all of my friends that ever walked with me because I can honestly say I was not listening to you and I was silently calculating which way was faster.
This type of mind probably makes a great business owner, and I hope to be able to utilize that some day, but today, I'm seriously concerned that my heart may give out before I can get there. Because here I sit, in Pop's Burrito shop in Blanding, UT too scared to drive my van north or south or west but definitely NOT back east, as if it makes any difference in time or efficiency because I have absolutely no where to go or be or anyone to meet or see, but my brain has been so hard wired to make smartest route that I'm frozen until I figure it out. All of this has led me towards some serious attempts at soul searching .
Going back a few years, I grew up being told I could be anything I wanted, and to some extent I still believe that. When I was 12 I set my heart and soul on going to one of the top liberal arts schools in the country, which happened to be just 30 minutes from home. I didn't always have an exactly path career-wise, but I always knew what was next. I got into Bowdoin and found lots of success and love and travelled all around the world. But when I graduated, I just didn't know what was next. I knew I liked the road, and I knew I liked Utah, so I hopped back in the van and headed west. I thought maybe it would be the answer.
Spoiler alert: I was wrong.
Well, partially at least. Let me just start by saying, running away to the desert alone is probably only 'the answer' for a few select people, if that's you, that's great.
You hear about people who soul search through the desert, but I always imagined it sort of looked a little more fun and cheerful, like some epic quest that produces a comprehensive agenda on how to live a wholesome life as it winds down. This has been far from that. It's been a lot of tears and sweat, a lot of sitting in the sun thinking about life and attractive men from the southern towns I drove through, which is cool but I feel lazy, and lethargic. I feel no different than the kid that stayed in my hometown and plays video games all day because I haven't done anything, I have nothing to show for my soul searching efforts, besides some arbitrary goals that I set for myself to feel successful, like tying 18 cherry stems between Moab and Blanding or doing handstands against the van or memorizing the lines to a beach boys song that everyone else has forgotten. I guess what I wonder is, how do you know when you're done? Cause soul searching isn't fun? Or is it? I think I'm doing it wrong.
All I wanted was to find this version of myself that appears in glimpses every once in awhile. She's like this magical spirit of myself and she's always so tan (it's not fair) and I think she lives here in Utah somewhere, she definitely wears this yellow hat, I know that for certain, but more than that, she's wild. She hoots and hollers to Alabama Shakes and doesn't care when her armpits stink and her ruby shines so bright from her belly you can see her coming from miles away. She knows who she is and no one can take it away from her. Her skin is callused from the desert and leathered from being a lizard human and spending a little too much time in the sun. Her hair is, well she doesn't give a shit. And her love is ridiculously unconditional, and she likes it that way.
It's hard to see ourselves in low places and accept that we're not emotionally or physically where we want to be. But as I was writing this, I got up to use Pop's bathroom, and when I caught my eyes in the mirror, I noticed my big yellow hat and my leathered skin, spotted with freckles. I recognized my wildness for the first time in a while. If you always set yourself up to go out and find something new in yourself, you're probably going to be disappointed, but sometimes we surprise ourselves. Maybe it's more of an act of recognizing, than of finding new. Look in the mirror, you might be a little wilder than you think.
As for my hardwired brain, I'm not sure I'll ever get around to rewiring. Some things are so engrained in us they cause more pain to change than good. I think it's important to recognize what aspects of ourselves are easily malleable, and if you want to change, then by all means, change, but for the parts of us that are significant structurally, they may be supporting our very ruby stone. To clarify, if I were to even attempt to change my need for efficiency, my brain would literally operate without structure, and the things that shine so brightly out of me, like my passions and love and inability to tell a good joke, would collapse. I'm not sure I'd be who I am if I didn't do things as annoyingly efficient as possible. And that crosses quite a few life paths off the list for me, one of which may be living in a van down by the river alone, at least for right now. Maybe I'm hardwired to be a businesswoman who wears black suits and clicks her heels wherever she walks, (that seems highly unlikely but you never know). I think if I've learned anything from the past few weeks, it would just be to be a bit more forgiving with myself. I read this quote earlier this week about how the older you get, the less black and white things get, something about how “the angry fist in the air becomes a soft hand on the shoulder”. We like to believe we'll always be barreling down our own dirt road, and if we go off alone, far enough from home, and sit there long enough, we’ll be able to figure it out. In reality, that just leaves us sitting in the middle of the desert alone and sad, just speaking from experience here.
I may have a bit of a gypsy soul, but I believe it’s a whole lot easier to hear and understand her when I’m actively engaging with her. In the beginning of this little desert soul search, I set expectations for myself that were outside my soul and I pushed myself way too hard to reach them. I worked my soul like my muscles, tried to train her to summit the mountain, “work harder, this is what being uncomfortable feels like, this is what you wanted, look fear in the eyes and fight it, you can do this”. It doesn’t work like that. From my experience, this is a conversation, not a peak to conquer.
Now, it’s been almost 21 days of soul searching. 21 days of driving, of gas stations, of Walmart parking lots, of public land, of rice and beans, and peanut butter crackers. 21 days of journaling, of reading, of learning from absolutely everyone and every thing. 21 days of dancing, singing, screaming, crying, and laughing it out. 21 days and I’m still a dummy. I still have absolutely no idea what’s going on or what the heck I’m supposed to do with this crazy life. BUT, I do know that this life is way too crazy beautiful and short to spend it doing something that doesn’t make me unbelievably happy, and if I’m going to be almost 4,000 miles away from all the people I love most in the world, I better be happy. So I’m going to keep talking to my soul, and feeding her things that set her on fire. So far, she seems to enjoy a bit of the Grateful Dead, and always riding with the windows down, she likes to say what she thinks, and she doesn’t want to be interrupted anymore. She flows more freely between spaces than I ever have and I admire that. She likes being outside all of the time, but she also likes being around people all of the time, so we’re going to work out a way to find a balance. Oh, she also likes dogs, and 21 days is way too long.
Some wise woman said that the most important relationship in your life is the one you have with yourself, and though the past 21 days would argue that my relationship with my mom may be more valuable, I think that’s the best advice I can give if you’re trying to soul search. Prioritizing the relationship with my own heart and soul feels incredibly selfish, but I’ve taken myself on dates and gotten to know myself so much better to the extent where I do feel like I understand myself on a lot of levels, at least enough to write a few pages about it.
Feed your soul, spoil it with whatever it wants. If that means driving a van across the country to the desert, rad. If that means eating burritos and talking to strangers, that's just as cool. Soul searching is whatever you want it to be, you get to choose exactly how you want to live this life, just be careful not to waste too much time trying to do what everyone expects you do.