I was looking for a way out of New York, so I made plans to visit my mother and stepfather in Florida for Thanksgiving. Theyre classic new-age baby boomers. They have the crystals, the flowing clothes, the angel artwork. I thought they were crazy for most of my young life.
Yet theyd somehow persuaded me, in my hapless state, to sit for a session with their friend Linda. Old enough to be my grandmother, she did some sort of metaphysical work. She called it life planning. I didnt see how a meeting with her could help me, but I was desperate. Id tried getting clean. Id tried therapy. Id tried the 12 steps. But Id balked at them all. I was afraid of changing, but I knew I couldnt go back, either. I sent along info shed requested and booked a plane ticket.
Open your mind to possible new perspectives.... the informational pamphlet Linda mailed me read. Life planning gifts you with higher levels of knowing, evoking clear insight into your potential, your evolutionary path, your purpose....
At the very least, Id get some sun.
On Black Friday, my mother drove me to Lindas condo.
All of this is you, Linda told me as she sat at her dining-room table. In front of her were three pieces of paper covered in scribbles, numbers, and something that looked like a wheel. When its all united, working in unison, youve got a perfect existence, in terms of the plan.
What plan? I asked.
Your souls plan.
What Linda revealed to me over the next two hours would slowly begin to transform my life, but on that first afternoon, it sounded totally fucking crazy-like it probably sounds to you right now.
Lindas message isnt unique. In the past, you had to travel to an ashram in India or a pueblo in Sedona to acquire the wisdom of mystic folks, but its 2019, the Internet is alive and well, and thanks to some very famous advocates, soul therapy has reached the mainstream.
Oprah Winfrey is essentially the godmother of the movement. Her podcast, Oprahs SuperSoul Conversations, features successful people-Bradley Cooper, Alanis Morissette, Sebastian Junger, Eckhart Tolle, Elizabeth Gilbert-talking about how they learned to quiet their egos and get down to the business of listening to their souls. And if youre thinking, Of course Oprah has a woo-woo show about finding your lifes purpose, then turn on any podcast helmed by a semi-woke bro and youll stumble on the likes of Joe Rogan and Russell Brand dissecting myriad ideas that boil down to versions of the same big question: What the hell are we doing here?
This rabid search for meaning in modern life finds us turning to new territory. The unexplainable. The unquantifiable. Its why venture capitalists have pinpointed astrology as the next big investment, with horoscope-driven apps like Co-Star and The Pattern on the road to rivaling titans Spotify and Tinder. Its why yoga studios pop up like Starbucks on corners in Everytown, U.S.A., and why throngs of Americans are dabbling in spirituality in a way we havent seen since the 60s. (Their hero? Democratic Presidential long-shot Marianne Williamson, who is dominating headlinesand, if we're being honest, confusing millions of Americansby bringing soul talk into the political realm.) Its why celebrated food journalist Michael Pollan just wrote a best-selling book about the holistic benefits of psychedelic drugs, and why Rogans trippy podcast is downloaded nearly 20 million times per month.
Were living in a time of shattered illusions and soul-crushing truths. Divided politics reigns. Economic crisis looms. #MeToo landed like a Mayweather uppercut. Because were all fairly sure that the answer to our anxiety does not lie in more money, more sex, or more muscles, were looking somewhere else: within ourselves.
Following our souls plan is the proverbial heros journey, says Onnit CEO, author, and podcast host Aubrey Marcus. Its what Joseph Campbell meant when he wrote, We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.
Marcus, whose health-first approach functions as a kind of Trojan-horse spirituality for biohackers and gym rats-he extols the benefits of ayahuasca, cold exposure, and ecstatic dance, among other modalities--tells me he believes the term soul is too loaded to use responsibly and has too many religious implications. He prefers to refer to our true calling, or our awareness.
We all have a calling from when we were little kids, Marcus says. What we think we want to do with our lives. But after a while, we kind of accept our compromises. We distract ourselves, intoxicate ourselves, placate ourselves. Most of us dont ever take the time to get still and listen to our awareness.
To find that stillness, Marcus suggests trying spiritual practices like yoga and meditation or spending time in nature, but most of all: getting quiet. Put your phone in a drawer for two days and dont talk to anyone, he says. Just be with yourself.
So why arent we all getting quiet and following our souls? It turns out thats a pretty complicated question.
Former NYU professor and playwright Paul Selig, who works with what he calls spirit guides that teach classes and workshops and even channel entire books through him (now six in total, including the popular I Am the Word), has an answer: Realization comes at the cost of the old.
The problem, Selig says, is that people want to be fixed. They want the easy answer-X, Y, and Z. And the reality is that aligning with our souls after a life spent doing everything to avoid ourselves can be agonizing. But, he says, its worth it. For 25 years, he wrestled with the decision to give up his academic life, but in the end, his calling won out. It might have been easier to live the life I was expected to live, because it wouldnt have challenged me beyond my comfort zone. So the risk I took was to say yes.
For most of us, however, finding our true calling isnt as simple as downloading psychic messages or dropping by a Buddhist temple. We toil away at jobs we dont love, and we are frustrated by personal lives that are lacking.
Thats when it pays to call a professional, like Seattle-based psychic Ainslie MacLeod, author of the book The Instruction: Living the Life Your Soul Intended. MacLeod, who is currently making the podcast rounds, is considered the rock-star psychic of the moment.
What unites my clients is a search for meaning, MacLeod tells me. What they thought was working has stopped working. They went through college and got a job, got married, and they thought that was the be-all, end-all. Their soul wants something more.
His method of soul counseling also comes through spirit guides-voices from the other side that provide information like the age and type of a persons soul. But an appointment with MacLeod is more like a conference call than a sance. You dial the call-in number and there he is, with precise knowledge about your life that can help you identify your purpose. When I called, he described my experience exactly.
MacLeod says his work can help empower clients to take a leap of faith by understanding that theyre not victims, that they have the power to go for what is often right in front of them. Who you are is why youre here, he says.
MacLeod is right. As a result of that frantic quest for meaning, astrologers like Susan Miller and Chani Nicholas have catapulted to near-movie-star levels of fame, with fans lustily devouring their forecasts on the first of each month, and Gwyneth Paltrows female-centric wellness brand, Goop-which hawks essentially designer spirituality-is valued at $250 million. As old systems crumble and the world seemingly implodes around us, we desperately want to believe in something. And soul therapy-the idea that a part of us is connected to something larger-provides hope.
Who you are is why youre here. I had to let that digest a little. Linda had explained to me during our session that I needed to experience tragedy at a young age so that I could learn to heal, as healing work was my souls calling.
After two hours of Linda walking me through my souls contract, my Tree of Life (the states of consciousness Id use to access the contract), and my astrological chart (which Id use to work through the contract), I returned home more confused than when Id left.
A few months later, after another riotous bender, I lay awake in bed again, pondering my existence. I wanted to die. Then I thought of Linda. What if I gave her soul plan an honest go? What did I have to lose?
Bolstered by a second listen to our session, which Linda had sent me on two CDs, I got my ass into intensive group therapy, where I launched into the gutting emotional work that Id been avoiding, drinking and snorting away. It was equal parts excruciating and exhilarating to parse my grief. I crashed in the guest room of a college buddy; for eight weeks, I consumed spiritual books and feverishly wrote down every memory, every insight, trying to get to the bottom of myself. The thrill of living my own myth replaced any trepidation about what Id left behind.
Driving on lonely desert back-roads, I found the quiet I was searching for. Beginnings and endings came: I said goodbye to my father on a mountaintop in the Mojave (the main photo accompanying this story was taken at this moment), and to an on-again-off-again ex on the phone from a friends couch in Silver Lake. Finally, in the spring of 2016, I returned to my hometown in Maine for a reunion with my stepmother and other family members whom Id all but ghosted after my dads death. With each restored connection, I felt more whole. I was healing, just as Linda had indicated. I had bought the ticket and I was taking the ride, wherever it was leading.
In the fall of 2017, I moved to California, where the healing plan Linda had given me two years earlier began to really take off. I got and have stayed sober. I have a deeply renewed relationship with my family. And this September, Ill begin a masters program to become a licensed therapist-a professional healer. Was it my souls plan? Ill never truly know. But Lindas plan did seem to save me, if only from myself.