What Soul Searching Really Means & 9 Ways To Do It, From Experts
Whether you're feeling lost, stuck, or simply uninspired, it can be hard to ignore when soul searching needs to take place. But how do you actually get started? To find out, we asked experts about their tips for soul searching, plus what it really means.
What "soul searching" really means.
Soul searching is the process of figuring out your purpose, your motivations, and what may need to change in your life in order to live in greater alignment with your true self. It often occurs as a result of feeling out of touch with yourself, or like something is missing.
As psychiatrist and author of Fulfilled: How the Science of Spirituality Can Help You Live a Happier, More Meaningful Life Anna Yusim, M.D., tells mbg, the soul is the deepest part of yourself that connects you to spirit, the universe, and divinity.
"By connecting to your soul, you get answers to questions in your life, and you get insights that neither your mind nor your heart can give you," she explains, adding, "It's really about your destiny path—and the voice of the soul is your intuition."
The purpose of soul searching.
As Thérèse Cator, embodiment practitioner and founder of Embodied Black Girl tells mbg, soul searching often arises from an inquiry, whether it's a broad question around your overall purpose or something more focused, such as a difficult decision you're facing.
"I see soul searching as a threshold in our lives," Cator says. "It's a crossroad and we're trying to figure out what the right next path is, what the right next decision is, or who are we in the greater scheme of things."
And as Yusim adds, people who are soul searching typically seek to become more authentic, live in alignment with what they truly want on the deepest level, and own their truth.
Why someone may feel the need for soul searching.
There are a number of reasons someone may feel inclined to do some soul searching, and it can happen numerous times throughout their life. As Yusim explains, people soul search when they need answers, a new direction, or are seeking to understand themselves and their purpose.
As with any kind of search that has to do with psychological and spiritual advancement and development, Yusim says it's often because there's something that feels missing, or people are in some form of emotional pain. "So, soul searching is their way of regaining equilibrium or bringing back what's been missing or has not been aligned," she notes.
It's also important to factor in societal expectations around purpose and worth, Cator adds. "We're so disconnected from the rhythms of life and not taught to ask ourselves the deeper questions of 'Who am I?' and 'What's my purpose?'"
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How to actually soul search:
Strengthen your intuition.
According to Yusim, one of the most important things to do when soul searching is to get in touch with your intuition. To do this, she says, you must learn to quiet the "otherwise very loud voices that often speak—the voice of your mind, the voice of your heart—to hear the deeper voice of your intuition."
Oftentimes we lose touch with our inner voice, intuition, higher self—whatever you want to call it—because we don't give ourselves enough time for stillness. As such, Cator says it's very important to embrace rest and build in moments of silence and stillness within your day—and ditch habits (like compulsive scrolling, for example) that keep you from being present.
Get out into nature.
Cator is also a big fan of nature for offering both inner stillness and quiet, as well as opportunities for insight. "You can go on a nature walk, but go on the walk with an inquiry," she explains.
Whatever it is you're looking to have answered, "go out and allow nature to speak to you through symbols," she adds, whether it be a certain animal that means something specific to you or even a snippet of an overheard conversation that's somehow relevant to your situation.
Cator and Yusim both recommend meditation for soul searching, as it's an excellent way to both quiet the mind and ask for insight. Just like you can go on a nature walk with an inquiry in mind, Cator notes you can meditate on that same question.
And as Yusim adds, you need to be able to differentiate your soul from the voice of the mind and the voice of your heart—so from your emotions and your reason—and meditation is a great way to start to do so.
Writing out all of your thoughts and questions on your soul-searching journey is another good way to tap your intuition for insights. Cator recommends free-journaling without censorship, simply allowing yourself to write. Yusim is a fan of journaling too and recommends writing and reflecting on questions like:
- What do I most deeply desire?
- Do I desire something even more deeply than that?
- If I allowed myself to fully live my truth, how would my life be different than it is now?
- What stops me from living my truth?
- What are the resistances that keep me from my best self and living the life I want?
- If I wanted to actualize my deepest desire, what would my first step be?
- What am I really afraid of? When does my logic most often disagree with my instinctive reaction?
Be receptive to insights and messages.
As Cator explains, it's always a good idea to be open to messages you receive throughout your day, such as angel numbers, intuitive downloads, and other synchronicities. Keeping your eyes, ears, and mind open to messages can help you strengthen your intuition and receive answers when you least expect them.
Seek the help of like-minded friends.
It's important to remember that only you truly know what's best for you; however, if you have a group of friends that you trust and admire, and feel they can hold space for you, Cator says you can do a group meditation on your soul-searching inquiries. "You can all go into meditation together," she explains, and then share what came up for each of you.
Seek the help of a mentor.
Similarly, Yusim notes it's not a bad idea to seek the help of a mentor when soul searching. Maybe you speak with an actual mentor or teacher, a mental health professional, or a respected member of your community. You want to look for someone who has deep insight into matters of the soul and can offer you an objective perspective, she says.
Take a sabbatical.
If you're able to, Cator notes that taking a sabbatical can be a great way to step away from things for a time and reflect. While not everyone can do this on a whim, everyone deserves a vacation once in a while, as they offer us the stillness and quiet we need for our intuition to come through.
Important things to keep in mind:
Know that it's normal to soul search.
In a world that pressures us to have it all together, it can be discouraging to feel like you're "not on track." But according to Cator, we ought to normalize, and even encourage, soul searching. "It's actually really good to reexamine things every now and then, and ask, 'Is this working for me?'" she explains.
She adds that it's a natural part of the cycle of life to go through periods of rebirth, with some of us are bound to soul search multiple times in our lives. "We get to reinvent different parts of ourselves," she says, adding, "If we're doing that in the hopes of individual and collective liberation, we know we're on the right path."
Don't ignore your shadow.
According to Yusim, you can't truly soul search without acknowledging your shadow self. "It's so important to embrace your shadow side," she explains, "because we have this conception of who we are—but there are also parts of us that we disavow, aren't in touch with, and haven't owned," she explains. And if you want to have wholeness in your life, she says, you'll have to embrace those parts.
And last but certainly not least, try to be patient as you move through this transformation. Soul searching is certainly not a one-and-done process, and it takes time. The initial steps of your soul searching journey are only beginning to prime your subconscious for change, Yusim says, and then you have to "give it time to actually unfold."
The bottom line.
If you're going through a period of soul searching, keep going. Something deep within you is pushing you to go after the life you want—and that's a beautiful thing. While it may not happen overnight, your search will eventually bring you back to yourself, and your soul.
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Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, as well as a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.