I’m a soul nerd. It hurts sometimes. Until I realised…

Posted on September 27th, 2010

“Literature is a yoga, a soulnerd’s intellectual-spiritual practice of contour-fitting what we know to what is so.”


I read this in a Psychology Today article this morning. It’s given me heart on this Monday morning after a night of not sleeping and feeling really very raw about how I’m “doing life”. The article is about evolutionary thinker Jeremy Sherman’s take on what it means to be spiritual, in the context of coping with our mortality.He identifies that spiritual can either mean:

1. adhering doggedly to a doctrine of some sort that provides the answers for you (and comfort), or

2. existing in the now, such that you “let go” of the notion of the future (and impending death).


But he also identifies a third way. That of the soul nerd. That of studying our predicament with considered curiosity. He treads this path. It involves having to:

Put one’s grief in context of the patterns structures and trends of human and natural affairs. Study that larger context with heart and head full open, feeling waves of sorrow and joy and thinking about and analyzing the waves, using your intellect and capacity for conception, giving voice to hungry ghosts, the desire to understand, and to manage, to minimize grief but also to face it squarely. Study it through the many disciplines, culture’s long arguments, quests, debates and accounts, the peculiarly stubborn attempts to see clearly that constitute intellectual culture. Cut a path through big time, the “long and wide now” by absorbing evolutionary biology, intellectual history, philosophy, anthropology, and above all, literature. Become worldly so that you can say of whatever life deals you, “Yes, this too has in it vast and intricate creative capacities.”

Oh, yes. I’m a signed up soul nerd. I walk this path, whether I like it or not. I delve into the murky depths. Not out of choice, but because I have had a compulsion to dive into ponds, past the seductive reflection on the surface. I’ve been like this since I was 12, I think, when I started reading Jim Morrison poetry and visiting Buddhist centres.

I’m constantly told “Sez, you think too much”. To which I’m forced to say, “which is like me saying to you, you breath too much”. Most of my life I’ve berated myself for analysing the waves and pulling apart the evolutionary purpose of …eyebrows and sorrow and manic depressive in African communities.

In recent times, the Buddhist fervour that’s hit yoga schools and water cooler talk has put the pressure on me to “let go” and “live in the now”. All good stuff, but ONLY once you’ve seen what’s down there. Otherwise, isn’t it like popping a valium and saying life is great? Isn’t it like viewing life from a cinema pew?

So, to all you soul nerds out there, feeling self-conscious about

asking the questions

and feeling the ache of humanity

and getting knocked about by the sharp answers that come up

and crying when you read a passage in a book that  snap-locks a meandering thought you’ve had into place…as Jeremy writes: “contour-fitting what we know to what is so”

yes, to all you soul nerds, know this: your enquiry is sound and beautiful and important. Engagement is where it’s at! Read on…

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  • Beautiful Sarah, thanks for going there. I hear and feel what you’re saying and I too get told ‘you think too much’. You’re right, it is like us saying ‘you breathe too much’, I might use that next time someone throws this line at me. My Mum sometimes refers to my way of being as an ‘intellectual snob’; it is not about this at all, it is my soul wanting more and needing to explore the depths of all that is!


  • Jen

    Great post! I love the way you articulated the “to all you soul nerds out there, feeling self-conscious about: asking the questions and feeling the ache of humanity and getting knocked about by the sharp answers that come up… your enquiry is sound and beautiful and important.”

    I stress myself out by, well, stressing out about over-thinking too much. But that over-thinking is a part of me as much as breathing is a part of me… and I don’t really need to change that; I need to embrace it. There’s nothing wrong with looking at the world and asking, “but why?”.


  • Greg

    I relate to that wholeheartedly Sarah…”you think too much”, “you analyse too much”….I hear that all the time. It feel it’s my purpose for being here in this life. However a note of caution..there is a price to pay for too much soul searching and intellectualising. You can wear your brain out from ceaseless searching just as easily as an athlete can wear their knees out from over zealous training. Both result in early retirement or at least enforced rest. I find it impossible to ignore the seductive mysteries of our human condition and the deep treasures of our shared consciousness, but to be drawn into every ‘rabbit hole’ can result in overload….(like having too many websites open on your PC and not enough RAM?)

    That’s where living ‘in the moment’ comes in. Sometimes it’s necessary to stop trying to save the world with our intellect.We need to pull out the charts, take a reading and check your compass…”where am I now?”… “what am I doing now?.. is this the best use of my time?”. I also find that when I’m constantly analysing the “patterns structures and trends of human and natural affairs” I don’t really remember much at all because I’m not really ‘listening’ …I’m ‘searching’ .This is particularly troubling because I can easily forget the little things in life that are most important like what happened at a loved one’s birthday party or the name of your niece’s new baby.

    So I have decided soul searching is ‘my thing’ and that will never change but I must learn to regularly bring my thoughts back to this moment, back in the present, to ‘listen’, to keep my grip on the ‘here and now’ and avoid burnout.

    The other thing worth remembering is that we cannot ‘act’ whilst we are delving into the intricacies our deeper consciousness. We can gain insight but all the insight in the world is worth little if it is not acted upon. And to ‘act’ we must be focused and present in the moment.



  • Kerry

    Hey Sarah, I agree, this being a soul nerd can get a bit tiring … but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Your comments about “letting go” made me think of my friend Nadine’s post on that topic, pretty funny – http://nadineandkerry.com/2010/09/27/let-go-oh-wow-i-wish-id-thought-of-that-before/


  • tj

    dear Sarah, you make me feel so much less alone in the world. i really love what you write. thank you thank you thank you.
    and YES to “crying when you read a passage in a book that snap-locks a meandering thought you’ve had into place…as Jeremy writes: ‘contour-fitting what we know to what is so'”


  • Vanessa

    +1 soul nerd here. What a relief to find others.


  • This post certainly resonated. It is exhausting to be thinking all the time … and then thinking about all the thinking you are doing! Phew. Staying in the now definitely helps. So does remembering to breathe!


  • Connie

    Thank you. I’m happy to ride the waves, but I want to go IN DEEPER.


  • cammy

    Hey loved your article, although I have had to force myself to stop thinking so much because its caused me anxiety that is just not necessary, I dont have any immediate problems present in my life so for the most part all my incessant thinking was just doing me more harm then good.

    I guess if you can do it but be able to let go as well and keep a balance your all good. But for me I have found life and myself for that matter a lot better when I just go with the flow and let things go a bit.



  • Thank you so much for this post, Sarah.

    I’ve been insatiably pensive from around the same age, too and it doesn’t seem to be quitting anytime soon. If anything, I’m getting soulfully nerdier and nerdier as the years go by! Honestly however, although there are times when I would kill for an ‘off-switch’, I couldn’t imagine being any other way, and wouldn’t change it for the world.

    Much love, x


  • Hey Sarah and fellow Soul Nerds 🙂 

    I too live &breathe to explore the depths of each being I encounter…life, people…it fascinates me..! 

    My deep love of ppl and life has brought me many rewarding experiences and incredible connections..

    I must say reading this post reassured me that I have come so far, as these days whilst I still fervently explore&study human-ness & life, I feel so at peace with it all..

    I no longer feel the pressure to find the answers but simply read and explore it all with a curious, “that’s interesting” mind.. Much like children…they r sponges, explorers, questioners… Yet none of this disturbs or upsets them, it’s all just interesting.. None of it means anything about them.. 

    I have learnt so much in those times when I’ve gotten my head out of a book or paper, and simply taken time to enJOY the everyday simple constants..like a sunset, a bird doing it’s thing, children playing.. Yeah it all sounds cliche but I can honestly say these moments bring me peace, clarity &immense insight…

    I love the rights, wrongs, good, bad, beautiful, ugly… I love it all… None of it is any if those things anyway really.. Anything is simply what WE decide, through our filter, it is…

    I love the mystery and genius of life left lived…

    Mwah!! Xxxxxxx


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