The Blue Lagoon in Iceland is a popular bucket list item for good reason: it’s a geothermal spa full of bright blue water that’s said to possess healing powers. It looks like a scene from an ’80s movie about mermaids. In pictures and in person, it is hard to believe it’s real.
I had a vague plan to visit the Blue Lagoon during my two days in Iceland, but when a giant man selling tiny donuts in a park in Reykjavik told me I had to go, well, that settled it. I woke up early the next morning, tossed my swimsuit in my backpack, zipped up my jacket that was still soaking wet from the rainstorm the day before, and set off into the biting cold toward the bus station.
It takes about an hour to get from the city center to the Blue Lagoon, and most of the drive is on a shockingly well maintained highway that cuts straight through lava fields. Behind you, in front of you, on both sides, all you see is black rock. Then, as you near the Lagoon, you’ll catch a glimpse of water here and there. Pockets of turquoise glimmering in the bleak landscape, proof that the pictures in the brochures weren’t Photoshopped — the water really is that blue.
The bus pulled into the parking lot and we all filed out, walking on a path curving between high ridges of jagged volcanic rock that led to the futuristic visitor’s center/spa. After waiting in line and paying an exorbitant amount for the privilege of renting a robe and a locker, I changed into my swimsuit, showered, and stepped outside for my first glimpse of the Blue Lagoon.
The steam rising up off the water made it hard to see anything but silhouettes of people against the turquoise water, but the whole scene was still stunning — the brilliant blue of the water contrasted with the black rocks, the dark clouds in the distance, the mist.
It was starting to rain lightly, and the wind gusts were so cold they made my skin hurt. I took off my robe and sprinted toward the water, easing myself in up to my shoulders. Oh my God. Suspended between the freezing air and the warm water, I was stunned into a daze of excitement and gratitude and disbelief. I couldn’t believe I was actually here, in Iceland, submerged in these calming, healing waters, heated by the earth. And then —
A chorus of male voices snapped me out of my meditative state. I looked to my right and saw a large group of twenty-something dudes raising beer cups in my direction. “YEEEAAAHHH!” they yelled, running their hands through gelled hair and adjusting their mirrored sunglasses. I looked around and saw that the lagoon was filled with groups of similarly outfitted guys, sloshing beer and mixed drinks into the water and hollering in different languages.
Once I accidentally went to a pool party at Treasure Island in Las Vegas. There was a DJ playing Sean Paul remixes and frat guys fist-pumping from lounge chairs and a girl dry-heaving in the pool while her friends yelled, “Not here! Hold it in!” It was terrible, but I was at a pool party in Las Vegas, so it was exactly what I had expected. I was not expecting a Vegas pool party in the Blue Lagoon. It had occurred to me that I might see a mermaid or a water sprite here, but douchebags yelling pick-up lines and waving around plastic cups of beer? And a lagoon-side bar to cater to them? I couldn’t wrap my head around it, and the cognitive dissonance was giving me a migraine.
Staying low and avoiding eye contact, I made my way over to a far corner of the lagoon, sheltered from the wind and the Treasure Island party scene. I smeared my face, neck, and chest with some of the complimentary mud that’s provided in tubs around the water’s edge, took a deep breath, and let myself tip backwards below the surface, trying to find peace and buoyancy.
Soon I was floating, ears submerged. Occasionally a round of laughs and cheers would echo in my ears, but for the most part I was enveloped in silence. After a few minutes trying to calm my own thoughts and center myself, the people and ruckus around me disappeared.
Bobbing gently in the warm water, looking up at the cloudy Iceland sky, I should have been content. This was a bucket list moment, after all. The fucking Blue Lagoon. But I wasn’t content. I hadn’t been content for a long time.
A few months before, I’d quit my full-time writing job. I knew I needed a break — from writing, from the internet, from trying to force constant creative output when I felt completely and utterly burned out — but I didn’t know much else than that. I’d put in my notice without a backup plan, expecting that within a few weeks I’d figure something out, or at least have a renewed zeal for writing that I could channel into new job opportunities. Instead, months later, I had a dwindling savings account, a part-time retail job, and zero interest in picking up a pen or opening my laptop. Not writing — not wanting to write — was new and terrifying territory for me. Each day that passed plunged me deeper into uncertainty and insecurity, not just about the future of my career, but my entire concept of self. If I wasn’t a writer, what was I? Who was I?
When people at parties asked, “So, what do you do?” I’d avert my eyes and mumble, “I have no idea.” If the question had been “Who are you?” or “What is your passion?” or “Why are you on this planet?” my answer would have been exactly the same.
And now I was in Iceland, floating in the Blue Lagoon, on a trip that had depleted the remainder of my savings (and then some, thanks to a massive miscalculation at a Reykjavik ATM). I was flying home the next day. The need for an epiphany, clarity, guidance — anything — felt more urgent than ever. So I did what any sane person would do: I asked the water for help.
I didn’t say any words out loud, but I concentrated all my energy into one question, envisioning my plea reverberating out through the lagoon, and the water bringing an answer back to me.
“What is my life purpose?”
Over and over again I silently asked this question, getting more and more desperate for an answer. What is my life purpose? What is my life purpose? What is my life purpose?
For a long time, there was silence. I started feeling frantic. I couldn’t go home without an answer. “Please, please, please,” I was begging now. “What is my life purpose?”
Then, three words came back:
“To find it.”
The answer came from within me and around me. It was a forceful whisper. I heard it and I felt it.
To find it.
I couldn’t help but laugh at what a perfectly definitive non-answer it was. It reminded me of the Zen koans my dad used to recite to me growing up. It was an answer that chased the tail of my question right back to the beginning, but it was also the most beautiful, comforting idea I’d ever been forced to consider.
My life purpose was to find my life purpose.
After two hours in the lagoon, I got out, retrieved my nearly frozen robe, showered, and got dressed. Settling into my seat for the bus ride back to Reykjavik, I felt calmer than I had in a long time. Suddenly it seemed like everything — the uncertainty, the internal struggles, the aimless wandering — was part of the plan. Nothing was certain, but there was something freeing about that, about knowing how much I didn’t know. The end might be the beginning. The question might be the answer.
Maybe I’d write again, maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe I’d figure out a 5-year plan for my career, maybe I’d go with the flow and see what happened. Maybe I’d fail, maybe I’d succeed. Maybe I’d realize those two concepts aren’t so different.
But right now, I was on a bus in Iceland, hair dripping with Blue Lagoon water, surrounded on every side by indistinguishable black rock that stretched out to the horizon. I didn’t know what direction I was heading, but I knew I was trying to find my way, and maybe that was the whole point.
P.S. Read more about my Iceland adventures here!