Finding Home: Our Soul Cultures

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Have you ever had that moment when traveling to a new and unfamiliar place—maybe you’ve already journeyed all over the world, maybe it’s one of your first experiences—but suddenly, you are somewhere you know you were just meant to be. A place that resonates deep inside you; a place where you feel more like yourself than you’ve ever felt before.

A place that causes you to breathe a sigh of recognition, deep inside yourself, and say simply, “Yes.”

That place is called a “soul culture,” a phrase coined by my friend Mariellen Ward. For Mariellen, her soul culture is India—which happens to be mine, also. Mariellen has written about this on her own beautiful blog, Breathe Dream Go, and on Travel + Escape. It cannot be engineered, the moment you discover that corner of the world you feel most at home. As Mariellen says:

192573_10152300818350720_168143492_oIt is often in a country and culture far away ― and far different from their own. Often, it doesn’t make much rational sense. Nor does it have to.

You cannot make it happen. I call it soul culture, and finding it is a lot like falling in love: it just happens.

I, like Mariellen, was drawn to India from the beginning; in a way I’ve never quite been drawn to another place. A place and culture that I was not born into, had no previous connections with whatsoever; I never even really had a burning desire to go to India for very long before I did for the first time, in 2005.

I could say that first journey to India changed me, but that wouldn’t be quite correct. I was transformed, yes, but it was more subtle than that; it was as if something inside me had shifted, and I had somehow discovered a truer part of myself, something that had been in me all along. I had become more fully myself. I felt, simply, home.

Perhaps it was fitting that Mariellen and I met, for the first time ever in person, in India. I live in Austin, Texas and she lives in Toronto. We have struck up a close virtual friendship over the past several years, and despite several missed opportunities had never managed to meet face to face. As fellow India soul culture sharers, it seemed entirely appropriate that the first time would be in Agra, India at the footsteps of the Taj Mahal.

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Mariellen, my mother Sandy, and me at the Taj Mahal, Nov. 2012

After that first journey I made to India, in 2005, I have continued to go back almost every year. The draw is many things to me: first and foremost it is the people. Not just the people in general, who are warm and welcoming and amazing for the most part; but a particular group of people, in a state called Odisha, who have become my second family.

399233_10152292273630720_1113346512_nBesides the people, it is the way that everything is so raw and vibrant; the good and the bad, no pretense, everything right out there. The food, the colors, the smells, the architecture, the history, the culture…everything. It is simply the most alive place I have ever been.

I just returned from my seventh visit to India, and as soon as I was back in “my” home land, I began missing it immediately. It is my soul culture, my second home, and it calls my name softly, every day, deep inside my heart.

I may have left India, but
India has never left me.

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103 Comments on “Finding Home: Our Soul Cultures”

  1. December 13, 2012 at 10:12 am #

    It’s good to read so many wonderful things about my country but yes I went trekking to a place called Jalori Pass in Himachal and I felt as if I’ve been there before.

    Like

  2. December 13, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    I love the concept of “soul culture” – it’s a wonderful explanation of something that I’ve been searching for for a long time. I’ve moved around a lot (four countries, 11 states, and counting!) and have yet to find that place that just says “home” to me. Congratulations on finding yours!

    Like

  3. December 13, 2012 at 10:32 am #

    Beautifully expressed. :) Although I’ve never experienced a “soul culture”, I do know what you mean. And I can see why a place like India (I’ve been there and have a pic similar to yours in front of the Taj Mahal) can arouse that feeling! Congrats on getting FP!

    Like

  4. Rose
    December 13, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    Ahhh to be privileged and white …

    Like

    • December 13, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

      Yes I am privileged to be able to travel at all, although I do not do so in any sort of fancy style for the most part. I am not wealthy by any means, but yes fortunate. I do a lot of volunteer work (in fact my Indian family runs an orphanage that I volunteer at every time I go) and try to give back to the places I travel, if only through my story telling. Not sure what white has to do with it though….There are plenty of privileged people in India as well!

      Like

  5. December 13, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    I would love to go but I am a little scared…
    I felt I was ‘home’ from the minute I arrived in Italy on a trip a few years back…a totally unexpected and surprising feeling – as you described.

    Like

  6. December 13, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    Nice! it’s like “de ja vu” for you? thx

    Double Glazing Perth Custom made in Western Australia with premium German hardware.

    Like

  7. December 13, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    Beautiful, heartfelt post! . . . And, yes, I know the feeling!

    http://arabianmusings.wordpress.com/

    Like

  8. December 13, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

    Like

  9. December 13, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    What a wonderful experience to have found a soul culture!

    Like

  10. December 13, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    I’m so glad you love my homeland, I’m going back there next week for a wedding and I cannot be more excited! Great post :)

    Like

  11. December 13, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    I love the idea of a soul culture!

    Like

  12. December 13, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    Is it possible to have a soul culture within your own country? I feel very at home on the Oregon Coast.

    You were robbed by a monkey? Do tell. :)

    Like

    • December 13, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

      I think it is absolutely possible within your own country. Just a place that you weren’t born into but that feels more like home than any other place has.
      And as far as the monkey, he just swept down and stole a bag of fruit I had! Then leapt up to the awning and just stared at me. I also had a tug-of-war with another monkey in Darjeeling, India over my pashmina. I won that one. :)

      Like

      • December 13, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

        I was on the big island of Hawaii once at a little coffee shack (Kona coffee, yum, yum) overlooking the southwest coast and there were several geckos on the railing of their sun deck. One was eating out of a jelly pack someone had opened for him. I felt like I was in a Geico commercial. :)

        Like

        • December 11, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

          We also spent time in Kona and around the Big Island. We had our own experience with geckos. At our home exchange Shelley went to put sugar in her coffee and a gecko came up out of the box…..she jumped three feet….scared her to death. They were all around. :) India is also my soul country and was fortunate to be with Shelley on the last trip and hopefully this next one in 2014

          Like

          • December 11, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

            Just saw this on the re-post. Very funny. Somehow she didn’t mention it. Now, if it had been a tarantula … that’s not cool. :)

            Like

  13. December 13, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    its a beautiful concept!beautifully written! and yes about a beautiful country!
    i am new blogger here…and am inspired by your writing..plz do check my blog too…and drop in some suggestions to improve

    Like

  14. December 13, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    I like the concept – after traveling through all 7 continents, I would call Japan – specifically Koyasan my soul culture! Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  15. December 13, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    Feels awesome to hear such good things about my country!!! really makes me feel proud of it!!! great post!! :)

    Like

  16. December 13, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    I am glad your friend came up with a word for this state of being! I experienced the “I want to live here” feeling in the Algarve, Portugal in June 2006. I am not Portuguese, although my partner is of Portuguese heritage. By October 2008, we had emigrated from Zimbabwe, and for the past four years have been living less than 3 kilometres from the place marked “here” in 2006. I have an inexplicable affinity with the place, language, and culture – and yet have barely scratched the surface in terms true familiarity with what that all means.

    Like

  17. December 13, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    India is so beautiful, how could you not love it? I’ve always wanted to go.

    Like

  18. takahironanase
    December 13, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    I loved the expression “soul culture”!!It was so well written that it reminded me my travel in New Zealand!!I enjoyed reading your post!! :-)

    Like

  19. December 13, 2012 at 3:48 pm #

    Beautifully done Shelley. Love that first pic of the clothing with the water backdrop.

    Like

  20. Cathy
    December 13, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    Oh, I think this about this all the time and it is wonderful to learn that I am not alone! I first experienced my soul culture the summer of 1976. I had just turned ten, and our family drove from Midland, Michigan to Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. The feeling has never left. This post speaks right to the heart. Thank you!

    http://boogiepants.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/new-mexico/

    Like

  21. December 13, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    I have had places take away a piece of my heart to see them: the Canadian Rockies, Prince Edward Island. But I understand (in theory) what you mean. I had an environmental psychology class (1000 years ago) that referred to such places as a “psychic homeland” the introduction to the topic was for the professor to put up a picture of a place and ask us where it was. I remember turning to my roommate and saying, “That’s either Ireland or New England.” Why? I grew up in New England. I long for the Ireland I have yet to visit. Psychic homelands, indeed.

    Like

  22. Lakshmi Loves To Shop
    December 13, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

    Thank you for your lovely post. India has its hold on me too. I have been 8 times (3 times in the last 12 months!) I look forward to following your blog…

    Like

  23. December 13, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    What an awesome time in India! Your photos have such great colors!

    Like

  24. December 13, 2012 at 5:28 pm #

    I love the photo – the richness of the sari fabrics with the greens and water. I was thinking that I have a Soul Time – wherever I travel I love the early mornings. In Indonesia it is wandering in the dark before the monkeys are up and finding a little road side coffee place just as they are opening the shutters. Here in B.C. it is walking up the steep road towards forest in the snowy dark . . . . .

    Like

    • December 16, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

      It all sounds so appealing . . . I like that “Soul Time” to describe those special moments in life, whether it’s watching the Perseid Meteor shower on a dirt road early morning or listening to the rustling of the poplar trees on a bright sunny day that reminds me of the sound of the ocean.

      Like

  25. December 13, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

    Loving the concept of ‘Soul Culture’ and the bits on India as well, having spent 3 months out there recently, backpacking. While I don’t think India is that place for me, what you say is true, that though I have left India, I know that it will never leave me.

    Like

  26. December 13, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    I loved your post a lot, even more because I’m an Indian. I have been away for quite a while but it is my heart and I’m looking forward to going back next year. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

    Like

    • December 13, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

      Love your post. You reminded us that we are but blissful souls dancing in cognition. India is everything like any other place but its nice you see so many positives. Thats the beauty of your selfless soul. Hope to meet you when you are here next time. Im part of that India and I will never leave you..lol..)

      Like

  27. December 13, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    Thank you so much for this post! It’s absolutely beautiful. I too am called to India, I live, think, breathe… India. I am planning my visit in 2014 woohoo! I am loving the Soul Culture!

    Like

  28. December 13, 2012 at 11:53 pm #

    I also found my home in India. It’s nice to be able to empathise with your views. I look forward to returning.

    Like

  29. December 14, 2012 at 12:26 am #

    Cool post. I did a lot of work on Indian culture – specifically Hinduism – as part of my undergrad anthro degree, way back when. An intriguing people with colossal history; and what fascinates me, always, is how this culture strikes chords with westerners as it has with you. It is, indeed, a soul culture. The reason why, I suspect, has a good deal to do with the human condition; there are aspects of Indian culture which accept that condition in ways that western culture does not. In these ways it is, indeed, a culture which we can make one of our souls.

    Like

    • December 15, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

      Great point, about acceptance of the human condition. I think you are spot on there…

      Like

  30. December 14, 2012 at 1:08 am #

    Reblogged this on bellalibertynews012 and commented:
    Nice post

    Like

  31. December 14, 2012 at 2:42 am #

    its a great idea of soul culture.I like your post.Thank you for a awesome post.

    Like

  32. December 14, 2012 at 3:02 am #

    You have given me some interesting thoughts to consider. Thank you. Cheers.

    Like

  33. December 14, 2012 at 3:35 am #

    Reblogged this on rosefashionista.

    Like

  34. December 14, 2012 at 4:49 am #

    the concept of soul culture was something new and interesting for me. The way soul is described as amazing but can be felt amazing by person who set his mind free, same way soul culture can be felt as amazing if one has set oneself free from cultural boundries.

    Like

  35. December 14, 2012 at 4:54 am #

    Thank you for this. I unexpectedly found my soul culture in Peru. Now I’m working out how to re-shape my life around this discovery. Step 1 is go back in March for language school, but maintaining the sense of connection and motivation over the long wait (8 months) is hard!

    Like

  36. December 14, 2012 at 6:00 am #

    Feels good to see my country from your eyes.
    I am from Bhubaneswar, Odisha.

    Like

  37. December 14, 2012 at 6:56 am #

    What an enlightening post. I have never been so comfortable in living my homeland for a greener pasture here in Saudi Arabia until I read your story. Saudi Arabia may not be what I call my soul culture but I am certainly comforted in saying, I may have left the Philippines but Philippines has never left me–anyway.

    Kudos for this very mouthful blog post! It deserves every inch of its stay on the Freshly Pressed page.

    Like

  38. December 14, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    great post! i haven’t been to india, but since i was a teen, the culture (most part of it) has fascinated with me. 2014 is my “India” year. saving for it. hope i’d have the same great experience as yours. :)

    Like

  39. December 14, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    Really cool post. Thanks for sharing and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    Like

  40. December 14, 2012 at 11:23 am #

    Beautiful and so well said!

    Like

  41. December 14, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    I also like the concept of a “soul culture”. My soul gets its satisfaction in Islam. Even though its a religion it does have its own way of life, and its different than societal culture. It has the arts, community, food and more! I couldnt quite give it a name before but now i have. (Smile).

    Like

  42. techietalk
    December 14, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

    I am an Indian too

    Like

  43. December 14, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    India seems like a beautiful country & I hope to visit it some day, maybe even some day soon! I love the culture and how different it all is to what we’re used too in the UK/USA.

    Like

  44. December 14, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    I’m not sure if I’ve found it yet but I’ll never forget my mom telling me on our only trip to Scotland that she felt like she had come home.

    Like

  45. December 14, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your lovely story. I enjoyed reading it so much.

    Like

  46. December 14, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

    I felt very similarly in South America. I have always been drawn to the Spanish language and the different hispanic cultures. I wrote about this after I hiked to Machu Picchu and I felt a good quote was from Che Guevara when he visited Machu Picchu “The Incas had a higher understanding of astronomy, brain surgery, mathematics, among other things, but the Spanish invaders had gunpowder. What would America look like if things had been different? How is it possible to feel nostalgia for a world I never knew?” http://amiramelody.wordpress.com/2012/07/02/the-magic-of-peru/

    Like

  47. December 14, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

    I never been to India but a dear friend of mine just like you..India is his second home….and I am visiting him next year….

    Like

  48. December 14, 2012 at 10:39 pm #

    Love your passion on finding home: soul culture…you were nominated the beautiful blogger award! http://myhealthmychoicenaturally.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/beautiful-blogger-award/

    Like

  49. December 15, 2012 at 9:53 am #

    Phuket speaks to me on a fairly regular basis, but I have to push her away until the time to meet again.

    Like

  50. December 15, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

    Great post! I believe that I have more than one soul culture (well, I’m Canadian and Indian, after all). The idea of a ‘soul culture’ is interesting to say the least.

    Where else did you travel to in India (other than the Taj Mahal in Agra)? I went back to India this past summer and it was an incredible 4-week experience in Northern India!

    ~Simran

    Like

    • December 15, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

      Thank you! I have been all over India and love many parts of it. I go about once a year, first spending time with my second family – a home with over 100 children and my Indian Mama and Papa – in Odisha, Northeastern India. My favorite places I’ve traveled in India have included Udaipur, Kerala, Darjeeling and the Andaman Islands. I just got home and I’m already plotting how I can go back, and how soon!

      Like

  51. December 15, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    Waouh beautiful les mains ( the hands ) :)

    Like

  52. December 15, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    I have to admit i was pleasantly surprised to hear about my underrated home state :)

    Like

    • December 11, 2013 at 11:53 am #

      Odisha (Orissa) is a beautiful state, filled with gorgeous ancient temples and of course the Sun Temple. In fact, Oriyan temples were the basis for the design of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I wish more people could discover Odisha!

      Like

  53. December 16, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    Reblogged this on Love & Sex with Dr Carpenter and commented:
    Home is more than a place, more than a concept and less than a myth. Home is where you feel you can be the best you that you can be, where judgement is suspended and guidance is given freely.

    Like

  54. December 16, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

    I have to say my soul culture is Brazil. That’s the place that I feel the happiest. The people are fabulous. They seem to have a real zest for life. Here in Canada we seldom know our neighbours and tend to be very insulated. Whereas in Brazil I noticed in the evenings people tend to hang out their doors and chat with their neighbours and the people walking by. And I’ve made some very good friends there that are just like family to me (and in fact some are family as I ended up marrying a Brazilian.)

    Like

  55. December 16, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    Great post-I really like the idea of a soul culture. I felt that way when I went abroad for the first time to study for a semester in Italy. Italians always asked me if I was Italian and my reply was, “No, I wish,” until someone smiled at me and told me I was in my heart. It is true. While I can trace no part of my ancestry to Italy, I am Italian in my heart.

    Like

  56. December 16, 2012 at 9:03 pm #

    It is a really good post.

    Like

  57. Justine de Jonge
    December 16, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

    I totally agree with your post here. I had this very same experience in 2010 when I visited Syria. It’s almost like an out-of-body experience when we experience soul culture. Such an amazing and life-changing phenomenon and I’m glad you wrote about it! :)

    Like

  58. December 16, 2012 at 11:01 pm #

    Hope we meet during your 8th visit to India :)

    Like

  59. December 16, 2012 at 11:54 pm #

    Thanks Dear for saying these kind words !!

    Like

  60. December 16, 2012 at 11:56 pm #

    I am from Jaipur , Rajasthan (India) , If u plan for another trip to India do plan for Rajasthan if u never been to… I can help u with some information if u require.

    Like

  61. December 17, 2012 at 12:35 am #

    cool idea

    Like

  62. December 17, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

    Reblogged this on .

    Like

  63. December 18, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

    Reblogged this on Merry Traveller.

    Like

  64. December 19, 2012 at 9:27 pm #

    Reblogged this on jennyxiaoyu and commented:
    I also want such a city to place my soul!

    Like

  65. December 20, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    LOVE this. yes.

    Like

  66. Margot Williams
    December 20, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    Me too. A week between the deaths of fathers in 2000. I will go back.

    Like

  67. My Heathen Heart
    December 20, 2012 at 8:53 pm #

    What a perfect and apt term, “soul culture”. And what a beautiful post, too :)

    Like

  68. December 20, 2012 at 11:30 pm #

    Reblogged this on Kyla Webb .

    Like

  69. December 21, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    Oh I know what you mean!! I traveled a lot myself, and i had those beautiful experiences of coming to a completely new and foreign place and surprisingly finding my soul vibrations resonating with the energies living there!
    I’d always leave those places, but they’d never really leave me!

    India is my next destination, I HOPE! I never been there, but feel magnetically attracted to the culture.
    Thank you for a great post!

    Like

  70. January 16, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    Wow! What a lovely article…so great to read something with real heartfelt substance and not just another contrived article. I love the concept of a soul culture and when I read the first line I knew exactly what you meant :-).

    Like

  71. Miss Molly
    January 19, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    I know that feeling but for me it was right out my back door… A completely different culture right in plain vew, if one looks. I’ve never felt more alive or complete and your post described it perfectly. Thank you!

    Like

  72. January 21, 2013 at 12:03 am #

    You describe so well how travel opens a window into your soul that was always there: with that place already deeply situated in the soul. Perhaps explains how travelers so easily miss their tribe (of travelers ) and long for travel when they are not traveling…

    Like

  73. February 1, 2013 at 8:50 am #

    I like the concept of soul culture. Perhaps, I will find it one day. I just got back from India and felt like I’ve grown up in some ways..

    Like

  74. jailync
    February 8, 2013 at 7:33 pm #

    Reblogged this on spainglishjami and commented:
    ah-Soul Culture!

    Like

  75. December 11, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    Reblogged this on Trading Places and commented:

    Today I am reblogging the most popular piece that has ever been published on Trading Places – my story about Soul Cultures, which seems to have resonated with a lot of people. This piece was published one year ago today. Enjoy!

    Like

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