Caring For My Soul, Finding My Freedom
By: Emily Hopcian, Medellin and Cape Town alumni 2017
“You have the need and the right to spend part of your life caring for your soul. It is not easy. You have to resist the demands of the work-oriented, often defensive, element in your psyche that measures life only in terms of output — how much you produce — not in terms of the quality of your life experiences.” — Jean Shinoda Bolen
Three weeks ago, my friend Ashwini and I were riding in a jeep through the Colombian countryside near Guatapé. As we took photos and marveled at the lush, green, thriving mountains and the adventure we were on, I tuned in and out of a conversation between the Irish guy and Canadian girl — two fellow travelers, not in our group — with whom we were sharing the jeep.
As the jeep lurched and hobbled down the dirt road, pulling us back and forth with it, the guy and girl began talking about St. Patrick’s Day. As they did, I became lost in a momentary conversation with myself.
“What month is it?” I considered the question in silence for moment before looking at Ashwini.
“What month is it?” I said aloud this time. “Is it March?”
She grinned gently, more with her eyes than with her mouth, as only Ashwini can, and nodded her head. “Yeah, it’s March,” she said.
I smiled a little, still a bit puzzled, and confessed, “I honestly couldn’t remember. And St. Patrick’s Day is this week? Crazy. I think I thought it was April.”
She looked at me knowingly. “That means you’re living life well,” she said. “A good life. You’re enjoying it.”
She was right.
In that moment, as I realized how rich my life was, and is, for the people I’m connecting with, the places I’m seeing and the life experiences I’m intentionally and purposefully pursuing, I felt my soul smile. Really smile.
It’s the moments where I can’t believe what I’m doing for the best reasons or the way those moments make me feel — like riding in the back of a jeep in the Colombian countryside or waking up in a hammock on a Sunday morning on the porch of a cabaña in the heart of the Andes or taking a 30-minute boat ride along the Pacific Coast to spend the weekend on a remote beach — that I feel the most free. It’s in those moments where I can’t believe this is actually my life, because of how good and right and fitting it feels, that I feel at peace with the way I’ve chosen to live my life.
I want to pursue moments like that, moments that make me feel alive and free and as though I am exactly where I’m meant to be. That feeling of exhaling deeply. Of cleansing and caring for my soul. Of making my soul smile. Of realizing that this is indeed my life.
My aunt shared the above quote from Jean Shinoda Bolen with me via email the Monday after this ride in a jeep and a glorious day exploring in and around Guatapé. As I read the quote aloud to Abba, my Unsettled Medellín roommate, tears filled my eyes. I didn’t let them fall; they just hung there, cradled at the bottom of my eyes.
Jean Shinoda Bolen’s words cut through me for the battle and the beauty they convey. Her words so strongly resonate with me — with who I am and who I am becoming.
I feel as though her words encourage me, give me permission to pursue a more adventurous, unconventional life. I feel as though they say it’s okay to be a little selfish, to care for myself, to explore and see the world.
As I read this quote for the first time and then again and again, I realized that Jean’s words capture the way I not only want to live my life but the way I am living my life.
In that moment, and in so many moments lately, I saw myself in her message.
I saw myself for the feeling of happiness and content and freedom I was experiencing in Colombia. I also saw myself for the challenges I’ve had to overcome, both internal and external, to not only be there but also to live this life that feels fitting to me.
I am rich for the quality of my life experiences — the good, the challenging and the moments that break me. There is something to be said for living, and more than ever before, I feel I am doing just that.
But I will also be the first to tell you that caring for my soul is not easy. It is a beautiful and mighty important practice, but it is not easy. It is something I fight for daily. Sometimes with myself; sometimes with those around me. And I’ll be honest, it’s a battle I don’t always win.
You see, I know how painfully tough it can be to resist the way we’re told to live our lives, to resist the narrative we’re fed over and over again. I know how tough it can be to go against the better judgement and good intentions of those around us, especially those we love and respect. I know how tough it can be to break free from our own expectations, from the stories we tell ourselves, the stories that don’t serve us. From our worries and the lies we feed ourselves.
I know how tough it can be to free ourselves from the things that weigh us down. I’ve been there; I’m often still there.
I also know how beautiful, magical and liberating it is to care for my soul in intentional and meaningful ways. How important it is to trust my instincts, to listen to myself, to jump without always having all the answers, to embrace the unknown and nourish my soul.
My eyes filled with tears as I read Jean Shinoda Bolen’s words because just two days prior — as I was riding in the back of a jeep down a dirt road through the Colombian countryside and couldn’t remember that it was March or that St. Patrick’s Day was later that week — I’d found myself in a moment of immense freedom. A moment of feeling my soul smile and realizing that I was exactly where I was meant to be, living a life that is fitting for me.
I’m not saying my life is perfect. It’s far from it. But it’s moments when I feel free in every sense of the word that life makes sense. It’s moments like that when my soul exhales deeply and I feel happy and content that I can’t imagine living life any other way.
I want to fight for and dance in those moments, the ones in which I get lost in moments of living — truly, simply living — because those are the moments that speak to me, that make me feel alive and free and most like myself, the me I am and the me I want to be.
My boat has been through some rough waters and tumultuous storms with no land in sight, and I know there are many more days like that ahead. But that’s life. You get the bad with the good, and I’d rather embrace this good with this bad than any other pairing, any other version.
Jason Jaggard said something along these lines at STORY 2016. He said, “You’re going to suffer one way or another. You’re going to suffer for the extraordinary life, or you’re going to suffer for the average one. So you might as well choose suffering for the extraordinary.”
Right now, I am choosing to suffer for the extraordinary life. I am choosing to embrace this adventure for everything it is and everything it isn’t, and I’m enjoying that process because it is mine. My life and my choices are uniquely mine. That can be troubling at times, but it’s also incredibly empowering, liberating and oh-so rewarding at others.
Emily Hopcian is a writer and content marketer based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is currently Storytelling & Content Manager at One World Play Project. Check out more of her writing at emilyhopcian.com, including her original post.
Thanks to Ashwini Gupte for the photo. Thanks to my aunt for sharing Jean Shinoda Bolen’s words with me.