It’s funny, we hear the phrase “soul-searching” all the time.
Every memoir pushed at us, every self-help screed, every Oscar-winning biopic all hype up “soul-searching” as if it’s some type of adjective to boost our empathy for a given story.
Has it become like throwing the word “quantum” in front of a sci-fi term? A meaningless signifier?
Or does it actually refer to something deeper that we’re all missing?
The truth, it turns out, is a little more complicated than those extremes.
Follow me on a “soul-searching” journey, as we break down what “soul-searching” actually means, how to embark on this journey, and what you might discover on the other side.
What is soul-searching?
Let’s spitball here. No Merr-Web’s definitions. What, if you break it down, does soul-searching mean?
Just by looking at it, it could mean one of two things:
- You’re searching for a soul
- You’re searching through a soul
So what is it? Are you on the hunt to find a soul, or are you digging through your own soul in hopes of finding some form of truth?
I’m not a big believer in delivering spiritual answers to people. Neither is Rudá Iandê, who (I’m paraphrasing) believes that you stop growing when you’re given answers.
My answers aren’t going to be the same as your answers. That’s why you go on these journeys.
So, for soul-searching, I don’t want to give you a hard definition, because I believe it defeats the purpose.
Instead, I think it’s powerful to view soul-searching as a catch-all term for embarking on a quest to discover your own truth. It can happen over a week. It can happen over the course of a decade.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the soul you misplaced long ago, or you’re trekking through the interiors of your soul to see what you’ve squirreled away, you’re already off on a positive start by virtue of simply journeying.
Insight is good. Self-analysis is good.
Discovering your truth is good.
Why do we go soul-searching?
Why do we look for anything?
- We lost something and/or
- We want to find something
Sometimes we look for things we never had — like trying to find a perfect gift for your husband or wife.
But plenty of times we search for things because we’ve misplaced them. Quick: where are your keys? Unsure? Can’t start the car without them.
Guess you better get searching for them.
So when we go soul-searching, we’re looking to find something, whether it’s something new or something we previously misplaced.
In this case, what we’re searching for varies from person to person.
It could be that you’re looking for your:
That list isn’t definitive. There are probably a dozen more reasons that one might go soul-searching, but they usually revolve around a common theme: you’re feeling out of sync.
It could be that you’ve been having trouble controlling your emotions. It might be that you suddenly feel like you’re doing nothing important with your life.
Or it could be, like David Byrne said, “you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife, and you may ask yourself ‘well, how did I get here?’”
Letting the days go by…
That feeling, that suddenly you’ve been blindsighted as to how you’re life arrived at this particular moment, is a form of an existential crisis. It’s the moment when you question what the point and purpose of your life is.
It’s a scary feeling. But, it provides an opportunity for growth.
Think of this crisis as a “point of no return.” It’s the point in Star Wars when Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru have been burned to death. It’s where the Nazis burn down Marion Ravenwood’s bar in Indiana Jones (Jeez George Lucas, what’s with the fire?).
It’s that moment where there is no going back for the hero. And there’s no going back for you either.
Instead, you have to move forward!
We go soul-searching because we want to progress forward. It can be a painful process, but we understand that the option of staying still is no option at all. Because we’ve been awakened to the reality of our status-quo, and it’s a state we deem unacceptable.
How to go soul-searching?
Grab a net, a fishing-rod, and the Pokemon Go app.
Soul-searching is not some external hunt for the hidden soul. Instead, it’s a deeply personal process that revolves introspection, self-inquisition, learning, and (above all) time.
Each person goes through this process differently, but here are a few steps that figure into the journey.
Take stock of where you are now
You don’t need to be in a state of unbalance to go soul-searching. In fact, a regular tune-up (some call this “soul-nourishment”) is a valuable tool to keep your spirit healthy.
So, whenever you’re embarking on a soul-searching quest, it helps to examine your life in its current state.
- How are you feeling?
- How is your home life?
- How is work going?
- Are you feeling valued and appreciated?
- What are you proud of?
- What do you regret?
- Where do you want to improve?
This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive. It’s meant to be a springboard. Take about 30 minutes (or more) in a secluded spot — be it in meditation, on a walk, in the tub — and run over these questions and answers in your mind.
Even if you’re feeling totally at peace with yourself, you may find that there are some areas that you wish to improve.
Be like water. Flow into openings that you discover.
Look at your relationships
Take time to evaluate your current friendships, family ties, and romantic relationships. What’s working? What feels out of sync?
When you find areas that feel out of sync, think about why this disunion has happened? Have you simply been bad at keeping up? Or are your values perhaps out of alignment?
Once you’ve pinned down why there are disconnects, you need to decide whether you can repair the relationship, or whether you need to move on.
Look at your career
How’s your job going? Are you happy where you are? Are you getting the opportunities you need?
Critically examine your job and your performance. If you’ve had a few rough performance reviews, dig down and find out why that truly is.
For me, I had a period of a few surprisingly poor performance reviews. I had to do some digging, and I realized it was because I didn’t want to make that job my career. I wanted it to be just a day job — one that I could plug away a few hours at — and then go home to my writing.
My company didn’t want that. They wanted someone willing to go the extra mile. I was not willing to do that.
So yes, to them, my performance was sub-satisfactory. But, deep-down, the reason was because there was a misalignment between me and the company. I viewed the job as a temporary money-maker, whereas they wanted to develop an associate.
Once I did some digging, I realized I needed to fully commit to my desired career — to be a writer.
Moving careers is terrifying and hard. I won’t lie. I’m now making about 2/3rds of what I made (if that) at my old job. But I love what I do. And I’m grateful that I pushed myself out of the nest.
You can do it too.
Take some time for yourself. Step out of your anxiety-inducing routine, and commit yourself to a small retreat. It could be a “wellness-day” from work. It could be a walk through town on your own. It could be a trip to a spa.
No matter what you choose, ensure that it’s a place free of distractions. Then, immerse yourself in the experience. Don’t bother trying to “search your soul” or “troubleshoot your life.”
Instead, just relax through the process. Enjoy the small pleasures it brings in each moment. This is about unwinding and re-invigorating your spirit.
By giving yourself permission to decouple from the worries of life and the worries of getting your life right, you may spontaneously come to some profound conclusions.
Get some exercise
For those who have read my articles, you’ll see that I put “get some exercise” on nearly every list.
BUUUT, it is also amazing for your mental health. Exercise can reduce anxiety and depression symptoms, boost your mood, and help you solve complicated problems.
It’s a great clarifier, booster, and motivator. Go out and get active! It’ll help you on your journey.
Meditation can serve as a powerful way to ground your mind. There are two major types of meditation: mindfulness and focused.
Focused meditation refers to a practitioner focusing on a sound, word, concept, or image.
Mindfulness — which has become increasingly popular — refers to identifying and accepting the thoughts and feelings you experience. You don’t have to agree with your thoughts; you simply acknowledge their existence.
Perhaps you’re someone who suffers from imposter syndrome. While you’re meditating, you may have the thought “they’ll know I’m a phony.”
With mindfulness, you’d simply say “I had a thought that people may know I’m a phony.” You don’t accept the thought as true — only that it existed.
Mindfulness goes much deeper than this, but this is the crux of it. Through mindfulness, you gain an understanding of how your body reacts to feelings, emotions, and thoughts — allowing you to better understand what is true and what is an illusion.
Soul-searching isn’t easy-peasy. You’re often trying to identify your core beliefs, purpose, and values. Because of that, you need to hold a cross-examination with your existing beliefs.
Pick up some books. Watch some experts.
A friend of mine has recently become an anarcho-communist. I’ll admit, my first reaction was stifled amusement.
But, I decided to do some reading on anarcho-communism in order to see if there was validity to the theory. I’m still working my way through it — and I think that their quest to abolish currency is beyond quixotic — but at least I know now why I disagree with that.
In this instance, I have affirmed my beliefs. But that may not always be the case.
And that’s ok. Again, your journey of soul-searching is going to be parts distressing and parts uplifting.
Search for community
Try out some communities! What’s a community? It could be a religious/spiritual group. It could be a grassroots activist organization. It could be a pottery class. It could be a very off-key karaoke group.
Go out and find people that you jive with — whose values you connect with. As you meet up with them more and more frequently, you’ll find your sense of belonging solidifies. And with it, your sense of values will become stronger.
Let go of what’s holding you back
Even the speediest boat in the world is going to have a hard time cruising along with its anchor on the seafloor. Take a moment to figure out what external forces are holding you back. Is it a negative friend? Maybe a painful memory you keep ruminating on.
Understand that your health is paramount, and make efforts to disentangle yourself from negativity. It might be painful to part with a long-time friend, but if your friend is dragging you down, then you have to put yourself first.
Hey, therapists are there for a reason: to help you go through distressing times (among many other things).
If you’re having an existential crisis, or are struggling through a soul-search, then you may benefit from talking to someone who helps people for a living. They can serve as a sounding board, offer pointers, and ensure that you’re mentally ok as you go through this journey.
Why go soul-searching?
I hear you now. “This sounds tough and depressing. Why should I do this to myself?”
Think of a block of iron. An ingot.
It’s a nice, rectangular blob of iron. It’s perfectly fine as it is.
What can you do with this blob of iron?
Well…you could use it as a doorstop? You could use it as a paperweight?
You could crack nuts with it.
You get the idea. It doesn’t quite seem super useful.
That’s because we haven’t unlocked its potential.
You see: this ingot of iron is filled with potential. Sure, in its current form it makes a solid doorstop, but with some hard work, it could be so much more!
You are that iron! I am that iron!
And I don’t want to be a doorstop!
So what do we do? We commit ourselves to the process of soul-searching. Of personal growth.
We take that ingot of iron and we heat it up. Not hot enough to melt it away, but hot enough to get it burning white.
And then we hammer the shit out of it.
BANG BANG BANG!
That’s the journey! BANG BANG BANG!
You hammer your iron-ingot-soul over itself. Folding it and folding it to push out the impurities.
You tap-tap-tap it into shape. You thrust the iron into the cool water, quenching your soul.
And you pull out a sword.
Where there once was a blob of iron, now lies a sharpened and honed steel sword. Its potential has been realized.
This is the beauty of soul-searching: you discover your potential, and then go through the arduous process of spiritual refinement to steel yourself — to refine yourself into the best version of you.
Go soul searching with a shaman
Still, feel like you’re lost in a sea of self-help and conflicting ideologies?
I’ve been there. It’s hard when everyone claims they have the answer.
But what if someone told you no one had the answer, and that’s ok?
If you’re looking for a better way to continue on your journey, check out this free Masterclass from Rudá Iandê called From Frustration to Personal Power. It’s a groundbreaking class where Rudá teaches you how to break through society’s constraints and embrace your innate power.
In the class, you’ll learn to align your life around the 4 pillars of family, spirituality, love, and work — helping you balance these main responsibilities.
It’s an exciting class for the freethinkers who know that there’s more to life than what we’ve been sold by society. If you’re looking to teach yourself how to become a more realized person, then you’ll really like this class.
Join Ruda and learn how to unleash your own potential.
Soul searching is an arduous process. It asks that you objectively examine your self, interrogate your long-held beliefs, break down your current self, and emerge on the other side as a stronger person.
It’s painful, but a critical component of discovering who you truly are and what you have to offer.
It may be painful, but it doesn’t have to be done solo. Reach out to your social group, invest in your community, and speak to someone in order to help you through this process.
You’ll be so much better off for having done this hard work.