"I'm either going to come back murdered or married," I joked as I boarded the plane to Mumbai, the first stop on a solo sabbatical across India, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand and Bali.
This is not an "I got swept out of lotus position and into a new life" tale, nor is there an outline of a bleached-out betrothed paddling toward me from the horizon. Instead, Bali sputtered and sizzled over the rubble of my romantic habits, which in my youth led me to a volcanic but brilliant Albanian communist, an effervescent Texan with a taste for Klonopin and cashmere, and a kind-hearted Bermudian whose flip-flops were more at home amid coral reefs than high-rises.
She taunted me with the kind of men that exist on my well-honed ideals list, and then promptly down-poured on attempts to mull over them, leaving me drenched and defenseless. Surveying the topography of my past choices, a current emotional infatuation with a decidedly unavailable friend, and my perceived sparklessness, I felt the onset of emotional monsoon season. Just damp, raw aloneness, with no one to sink in to except the island and myself.
It started with a visit to a Mayan Astrologer, who between downward dogs and swigs of Kombucha, scribbled and translated hieroglyphs. "You choose unavailable men," she told me, as she waved her hands over her head and down to the foreign etchings. "And that's because you're unavailable."
"But I don't want to be unavailable. I'm tired of it," I protested. "How do I get available?"
"You don't," she reassured me excitedly in between monologues against monogamy. "You just have to learn how to be and embody pure love." Unenthused by the potential of this new role to land me a man, I sought predictions from other healers. I learned Taoist tantric arts, got my ears and toes jabbed into diagnosis by an elderly Balinese man, and unwittingly underwent spiritual surgery.
Unchanneled passion. Blocked energy. A disconnection between heart and mouth. A deep belief in my own unlovability. Themes that babbled through my past amours and my relationship with myself welled up into a pool that I couldn't not gaze into.
So I started to look, meditating each morning on a daybed in the jungle, hesitant and afraid that I would find a broken girl fundamentally beyond fixing. As I started to let go of future regrets and past hopes, the swirling and splashing stopped, and my surrender into myself began. A slow acceptance that my past was not my future.
Maybe I could show up to love with an open-heart and a smile, trusting in the love-gods like I had in the travel-gods; after all, by just saying yes to what was in front of me, I had gotten more chaotic serendipity than I'd imagined possible. It was simple, no-holds-barred yesses in India had led me straight into those moments that filled in the nooks of my aching and angst: a raucous birthday party for a one-year old in which bhangra dancing and cake preceded dinner, and a pilgrimage to Amritsar with a Sikh friend who I'd only actually met once before. I could decide each day from my heart and what it really, truly wanted to see, feel and do, not from intellect, expectation or the anticipation of a rom-com run-in.
As I sat, breathing and listening to Bali, the words of my Bhutanese driver, a lama who had spent more years in silent meditation than many doctors do pre-MD, surfaced. "Happiness comes from surrounding yourself with good things, seeing and saying good things, even smelling and eating good things," he had said. Perhaps that was where love came from as well, not from witty online dating profiles or dank bars in New York City.
Each morning I sat, and each day I discussed my muddy emotional state with friends and strangers alike (Ubudian chats in line for green juice can rival revelations on any New York couch.) Quirky conversations about the ephemeral and vulnerable nudged me to share the weirder parts of myself and to love the kinks of everyone from carnival psychics to former models.
Maybe this was "pure love." Not a hardened resolution of self-love, but a subtle softness and genuine acceptance that spread across how I engaged with everyone I met, not just potential future husbands. It wasn't the old "I'm not looking for anyone" peek over someone's shoulder, but a deep curiosity to understand each person as they stood in front of me. Nor was it based in the urge to be adored (even by myself), but founded in a renewed desire to give and connect.
So whether that soul mate is embodied in one person remains to be seen. For now, my soul mates are those chisels of pure love that chip at the unavailability, the quips of kindred spirits that feel like a sacred oracle, and the domino-like momentum of serendipity that topples me toward exactly where I am supposed to be.
I just have to stop peering into the shadows, and simply see the good things in front of me.