There’s something about having stepped into a different role in both my personal and professional lives that has triggered very vivid dreams. I’ve been dreaming about negotiating unpredictable and unexpected circumstances. In some of the dreams I’ve done this successfully and felt a sense of satisfaction, in others, I’ve woken feeling scared and overwrought at the idea I’d made a wrong judgment.
So I’ve been reflecting on this notion of things going ‘wrong’, and recognizing that when we’ve been living in familiar circumstances for some time, life becomes pretty comfortable and predictable. We often live in the illusion that we are (and life is) under control. Of course if we take just a moment to reflect on reality, we quickly realize this for the illusion it is – but that’s another story!
However, when we’ve chosen to step into these bigger spaces we’re being called to live in it becomes patently clear that there’s LOTS we don’t know! Right now I’m following the deeper yearnings of my heart in beginning to explore all the consequences of having chosen to marry a partner who lives in a different country, as well as responding to the sense of calling to take a step into leadership in my coaching. One of the roles I’m finding helpful to accept as normative is the role of becoming an “expert learner”; one who’s willing to risk living in that not knowing, and committed to being gentle with oneself when we try things and are ‘wrong’ (or we don’t live up to our accustomed high levels of proficiency!)
For many of us, this idea triggers all kinds of powerful and often painful reactions. As kids, many of us had the experience of being shamed for not doing things ‘right’, or ostracized for not fitting in. Some of these painful emotions remain trapped in our bodies, and even though our adult minds can clearly see the value of exploring new horizons, the residual effects of those childhood experiences often keep us trapped on the familiar shore.
I’m reminded of a powerful metaphor I’ve used over the years – born out of my experience of growing up swimming in those sometimes unpredictable seas in Barbados. First, we are always at choice. Sometimes even those choices themselves are challenging! Do I sit on the beach when the seas are rough? Or do I venture into those scary waters and risk being balled up by the waves? On the one hand, sitting on the beach is ‘safe’ and comfortable, on the other hand, I miss out on the exhilaration I see others having as they explore those wilder waters!
In choosing to go into those rougher waters of a larger engagement with life where we need to become expert learners, there are a few principles that seem valuable. As always, it seems to come back to Attentional Living – that notice, accept and nurture I so often refer to.
In that, the first step is pay attention! Notice the pattern of the waves – what’s happening in and around us. Find an appropriate moment to try taking next or new steps. Whatever we chose, acceptance of what we notice happening is crucial. While fighting against a breaking wave in the ocean is clearly pointless, sometimes in the seas of life we forget that, and often have many (generally unsuccessful) ways of trying to fight against life!
More often we find ourselves fleeing (trying to get back to the safety of the beach) or feeling frozen in fear and being caught by the breaking wave of an experience or emotion we sense coming toward us. What most often happens in those cases is that we find ourselves thrown by the turmoil of those powerful forces – unable to stand our ground, and completely at the effect of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We have that uncomfortable and scary experience of my childhood of being balled up and thrown around by the waves – ending up in the surf on the shore with a swimsuit full of sand, and a mouth full of salt water! When that happens, it’s often wise to take some time and sit on the beach, catching our breath and thinking about what we might want to do differently next time.
Imagine how different our lives would be if instead of running from those waves we noticed coming toward us, we moved quickly and confidently in their direction. That way, if the timing worked out right, we’d meet the wave as it was still swelling, and experience the exhilaration of riding high, up over the crest and find ourselves in the calmer, deeper waters behind the wave!
And even if we didn’t notice what was happening ‘til riding over the wave was no longer possible, or if, despite our best attention, the wave broke more quickly that we thought it would, ANY action in moving toward and engaging these waves of life would make a difference.
As a child In the sea, I learned that as scary, and counterintuitive as it might feel, the thing to do when the wave was about to break on top of me was to dive under the wave – going as deep (as close to the sand) as possible. I’ve found it’s not so different in life.
The best (though sometimes counterintuitive) way to meet those breaking waves of emotion and the apparent chaos surrounding them is to both move directly toward them, and go deep – engaging in the practices that keep us close to the calmer, quieter waters of our Source that I spoke about in my last blog. In doing this, we allow the wave to roll over us toward the shore, letting us to come up for air after the chaos has passed. Leaving us – even with our sometimes fast pounding hearts – both appreciating the calm of the seas at that moment, and noticing what’s happening next!
Welcome to those spaces where, in responding to the calling on our lives to serve something greater than ourselves, we find ourselves swimming in these less predictable waters of life, where life is rich, and full, and definitely NOT boring!