When I graduated from high school, I was overwhelmed with boredom, anxiety, and depression. For the weeks in between graduation and the start of my summer program in D.C, I was disgustingly under-stimulated. I couldn't find anything to entertain myself with but my thoughts. So I sat in my room and worried about what was ahead of me: my then-boyfriend was about to move to a new state, my best friends would enjoy a full length summer without me while I took classes at my new college across the country, and everything was out of my control. I spent many nights crying because although I had completed an important and celebratory chapter in my life, I felt deeply lost. I had a future ahead of me; my attending college was finally certain and within weeks I would physically be on the campus. But I still felt directionless.
And then one night I listened to Jhené Aiko's "Souled Out" album again. I had been a fan for a year or so but when I first listened to "Souled Out," I thought it was too sleepy and boring. I didn't listen to it for a long time. But that one night, something about that incredible concept album sparked my attention again.
I cried. I cried profusely and obnoxiously and uncontrollably.
Realizations poured into me with every song that I finally heard for the first time. I was in a period of uncertainty, fear and anxiety where I realized how quickly everything in life could and did change; "Souled Out" expressed to me that that was the point. Everything is fleeting, nothing is permanent. And even trying to hold on to these facades of permanency would only bring me pain.
Jhené's brother Miyagi, whom she loved deeply, passed away of cancer. Much of her album focuses on her coming to terms with his death and physical absence in her life. She began to realize that life continues to move on despite these devastating changes and losses. She sings (right):
Her daughter grounds her when she feels the will to hold on start to slip away. The essence and spiritual presence of her brother guides her back to center, reminding her that there are still people on Earth like Nami who need her to stay strong. The powerful dynamic between Miyagi, Jhené and Nami profoundly shaped my understanding of hope. The more I listened to "Promises," the more I realized I couldn't allow myself to wallow on the past or the present. I needed to be alright for myself.
"Eternal Sunshine" asked me if I could find it within myself to focus on the good, instead of dwell on the bad that I'd experienced or anticipated ahead. Could I let go of my fears about my friends having fun without me, starting a new school nearly 3,000 miles from home, being physically separated from the partner whom I'd shared such intimacy and love with? Could I be okay with the changing status of relationships that I was experiencing? Could I be okay with my romantic relationship becoming "long-distance," seeing my friends only a few times a year instead of every day, becoming independent from my parents? Would I instead choose to love the way that physical space gave me clarity and much needed solitude? Would I start to see that I didn't need my boyfriend, friends from home, and parents to be present in my life every single day for me to be okay? "Eternal Sunshine" asked me if I could love every phase of my life for what it was. If I didn't live to see another day, a new phase in my life, could I honestly say that I loved the phase I was in with wholesome, intentional appreciation?
"Swear that I can still feel you here
I just can't believe you're not here
I've been needing you
All I dream is you
Don't think I can make it
I don't think I can make it
But then I hear you say that
I bet not do nothing crazy
'Cause Nami really needs you
And I would never leave you
'Cause I am in the stars
And everywhere you are."
— From "Promises"
In 2015, "Souled Out" eased my anxieties about death, loss and change. I started to meditate and find ways to comfort myself. I started to accept the fact that I felt lost and I wanted to do everything I could to help myself find direction again. In 2017, "Souled Out" continues to provide comfort for me. Now, I can see the album as the spiritual evolution and empowerment of a woman who, like me two years ago, felt deeply wounded and powerless. The album chronicles her stepping into her power as a woman in relationships with men as well as a human being seeking happiness in intangible forces. She realizes that because everything, but her own company, is fleeting she must find peace in herself. She stops seeking things outside of herself because she finally understands that nothing is in her control and nothing is meant to last. Everything and everyone she encounters is beautiful and deeply important to her journey, and she appreciates their short visits, but she is finally okay with moving on.
When I listen to this album now and reflect on who and where I was two years ago, I'm overcome with intense realizations. 2015 must have marked the beginning of my increasing self-awareness. All the anxiety attacks and depressive episodes, while I of course still attribute them to being in a new environment and having poor mental health at the time, were signifying something much more. I was becoming more sensitive to other people because I was starting to understand myself. All the times I felt uncomfortable or deeply unhappy, I turned inwards. It wasn't always healthy, but I had to learn how to truly rely on myself and be happy with the person I was. Listening to "Souled Out" during this time was subconsciously pushing me towards evolution and spiritual growth, even if I didn't realize it at the time.
I'm finally in a place where I'm comfortable with myself and honestly seeking to understand myself on a daily basis. I am learning to acknowledge the shadow aspects of who I am, the parts that I wish to repress or forget about, and through this honesty I can finally heal the wounds I've accumulated. "Souled Out" is perhaps one of the most important albums in my life and continues to impact me as time passes. In many ways, I feel like I've cycled through the entirety of this album in my own life, so when I listen to the whole album I feel as though I've come full circle. I am ever evolving and growing; "Souled Out" reminds me never seek to be stagnant or permanent.