09/04/2012 07:28 am ET Updated Nov 04, 2012

Laura Hartley: Realizing That I Am Part Of A Whole

Who evolves spiritually? Is it up to old, wise men in caves, preachers in mega churches, or the best-selling new age authors? All of the world's religions are converging on our shores for the first time: Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and more. Maybe, just maybe, it's the young people who are waking up? In this culture, people's spiritual lives tend to be either very public or very private and rarely do they share the inner, guiding parts of life. So, here are stories of seeking, confusion and discovery as experienced by us. You know, the ones plugged into smartphones and meeting friends for drinks. Listen as we open our hearts. See for yourself. Are we lost to the well entertained and superficial, or is there a secret life of deeper longing and curiosity that may just help save us all?
If you are a young adult (18-35 years old) interested in sharing your spiritual story of discovery, send a 300-word summary on your journey to

I arrived in Peru scared and excited for what the country held in store for me. After three days of missed flights, jetlag and suffocating Atlanta heat I had never been so grateful to arrive in one place. It was my first time in South America, and I quickly fell in love with the landscape and people that surrounded me. The melodious sound of Spanish that drifted around the cities and brightly colored traditional dress made me long to merge with the Peruvian culture.

More so than on any of my previous travels, I felt free. Possibility seemed to beckon to me from every street corner, and I met some amazing people and visited incredible places. I saw the sun rise over Machu Picchu and the sun set from the top of Pisac, but as time went on all I could focus on was the increasing agitation and emptiness I felt within myself.

Despite what many would consider a successful life, with a great career, friends and family, I still felt fraudulent in my own skin. More than fraudulent, I felt broken. I wondered who would ever want a damaged soul such as myself, and couldn't see that anything in this world would ever make me whole.

As my feelings of despair increased from day to day I took up smoking again, a habit I had quit long before. I started drinking more than I usually would, and I found myself flirting with the idea of having an affair with a much older, married man. I was doing everything possible to avoid the feelings that had haunted me for so long.

A few weeks into my travels I visited a place known as La Puerta de Hayu Marca, meaning 'Gate of the Gods.' Located in the mountain region of southern Peru, not far from the Bolivian border, is a 23-foot door carved into a giant rock face. It's said that the door was used for heroes of long-gone eras to pass through and gain immortality.

The area was magical to me, and looked like something out of the Wild West. The towering rocks and vast open plains that surrounded me seemed to lift my soul, and I felt both small and infinite at the same time. It was as if the open space that surrounded me made it impossible to ignore the closed spaces within my heart.

As I approached the door all I could help but think was that my life was not without meaning, and when I knelt inside I quickly found myself unable to breathe. Moments later, kneeling on the earth nearby, I could hear the wind softly whispering to me, and I began to weep.

I wept out of pain and joy, laughter and sadness, fear and hope. It was one of those moments when I knew I was no longer alone, and that I was more than worthy of everything I had attained and everything I desired. When I looked out on the world that day I felt something bigger than myself, and knew that the only thing that separated me from everything else was in my mind.

As the stillness that permeated the land wrapped itself around me, a man I had met on my trip gave me some advice that I still think about today. He told me that it was time to 'live my unlimited' and that I do this by living within the illusion of life but never believing it.

This day was one of the most memorable of my life, because it was the day that I finally realized that I am worthy of the life I desire. I saw that my dreams are not unreachable, because they are part of plan bigger than myself. I felt connected. I felt whole. My life was no longer singular and alone, but part of an intricate dance designed by what I can only call divinity.

Regardless of each individual's personal beliefs about God or the Universe or Spirit, there is something to be learned from seeing ourselves as part of a whole. We assign meaning through understanding, and on this day I gained a greater understanding of myself and the role I play in life. Although my understanding continues to evolve, I now know that each step is only bringing me closer to my true core, which is more whole and complete than I ever could have imagined. And if I ever want any help, I look for open spaces.

Waking Youth Laura Hartley