Surfing the Edge of the Known
By Jennifer Louden
Spending a lot of energy wondering what's next for you?
Oscillating from being sure you're in transition to worrying that you're being neurotic to declaring firmly that life is fine and you better not even think of rocking the proverbial boat?
Find yourself muttering, "I don't know" (and wishing you did) about your work, creative passion, or life purpose?
Sense a deep, rumbling change brewing beneath the surface--a new stage of being trying to be birthed?
Worried that if you don't keep pushing you'll never know, never move forward, or never get on with your life?
You just may be surfing the edge of the known, otherwise known as being in transition, Cultivate Life! (the cocoon stage), the I-have-no-idea-who-I-am or what-I-want stage. Why think of it as surfing the edge of the known? Because what you have known, in at least one area of your life, is no longer sufficient to get you where you want to go next, even though you may have no idea where that is. You are being called to mindfully and skillfully surf your edge and ride the waves into the unknown for the sake of answering the call of your longing.
Sounds romantic and exciting - and it can be. It can also be hell on the ego, wildly disorienting, grindingly long, and stunningly lonely. Why me? You may find yourself crying. Everybody else seems satisfied and sure of their life's direction or intimate relationship or creative calling. The hard truth is you are being called and the price of consciousness is not cheap. Are you willing to pay? To play? If you say no, and we all do, at least the first time, be aware: you will be asked again. And again. And then again.
It can seem like you are always in a transition. Technology has increased the frequency of transitions in our lives. Western educated adults are expected to have three careers in their lifetime. Few find it odd, at least in the United States, to go back to school when you're 35 or 52 or 81, sell a business and start a new one, or take up an new artistic discipline. The divorce rate hovers at 50%. People move an average of every 5 years. It appears transitions are here to stay, and it would behoove us all to learn how to negotiate them with dignity, skill, and even a smidgen of grace.
Here are the ideas that have worked for me and my teaching partner Master Coach Molly Gordon, and hundreds of our clients and retreat participants.
1. Acknowledge the passage
How many of us keep pretending everything is the same when something in us shouts, "This no longer works. Something is changing!" If we hang on to the familiar, we are living the definition of insanity: keep doing the same thing and expect something different. If your car stops moving and you keep insisting nothing is the matter, I'll warrant you aren't going anywhere until you acknowledge the breakdown. Nothing can change until you recognize something more, something new, wants to come into being and thus something that has been is no longer sufficient.
2. Forget knowing
The very nature of a transition is YOU DON'T KNOW. Often, you don't know what you don't know. Confusion is actually a good sign (keep repeating that to yourself). Trying to know too soon can be a spiritual and learning dead-end. Not to mention paralyzing, misleading, and a great way to feed perfectionism and procrastination.
Instead, train your mind to be more comfortable with not knowing. Practicing acknowledging you don't know -- directions, how to finish a project at work, what the capital of Uzbekistan is. Say out loud at least once a day, "I don't know." Even things you think you do know, try saying, "I don't know if I'm successful or "I don't know if I'm smart."
Gratefully acknowledge "I don't know" as a mood of ripe possibility, the mood of learning. Learning is why transitions exist!
3. Cultivate authentic trust
Ask: What criteria can I use to create authentic trust in myself during this time of not knowing?
"Authentic trust exists when you are aware that the possibility for betrayal exists. You choose to trust knowing that when a promise is broken or a commitment is unfulfilled, you can take appropriate and effective action. Authentic trust is a dynamic and evolving part of a relationship that needs constant nurturing," is how Master Coach Julio Olalla defines trust.
When you are stumbling through a personal fog bank of confusion, acknowledge that the possibility for self-betrayal exists. Don't turn away from this because when you do, you fall into blind trust -- trust without parameters, without conditions for satisfaction -- and from here it is so tempting to spin into faulty assumptions, ungrounded assessments, magical thinking: the true crater of gloom (which can last for years).
Create conditions for authentic trust for yourself. If I ask my daughter to pluck the tent caterpillars off the blueberry bushes each day but I don't check in with her, I'm blindly trusting her. Which is not to say I don't trust her intentions, it's just she may need help executing her intentions. Same for you. If you decide you are going to spend a half an hour every morning asking for guidance about your future, how will you support yourself? Where have you been fuzzy or blind in your commitments to listen before? What or who will waylay you? Where do you need to stretch or strengthen yourself to follow through?
Or if you declare you will take a graphic design course and in the past, you have signed up but then became scared and quit, what will help you to trust the process this time? What needs to be different? Who can support you? Be very specific!
Name in writing what action you can take to reestablish trust if you betray yourself. How will you regroup? How will you deal honestly and compassionately with yourself? Look the monster squarely in the face.
4. Design generative stories
We all live in stories -- it is how our brains make sense of our world by constructing linear narratives. We all love stories. The only problemis when we believe our stories are THE TRUTH or when our stories make our world smaller, dingier, and stingier.
You have the right to play with your interpretation that fear, uncertainty or confusion is a sign that you are on the wrong track or that you are completely screwed. Instead, you can design a story that you are moving to a new level of development, discovering another layer of aliveness, engaging in creating a more complex consciousness and a more satisfying life. You could ask yourself, "How am I developing new capacities to express my gifts in the world?" and "What practices would support me in finding and taking my next step?" Or you can keep believing the ungrounded story that you are an idiot who better put her head in the sand and keep doing the same old thing or the sky will fall. Your choice.
Surely Christopher Columbus was nervous when he set out to perhaps fall off the edge of the known world. Why shouldn't we be scared when we set out to do something new, especially when we don't know what this new thing is or if we can do it? Being afraid and ready to jump out of your skin is a normal reaction to change. Acknowledge it as such. Be curious about your stories, interpretations, and assessments about why being uncomfortable is bad or wrong. Why? What's the difference between fear and excitement? The sensations in our bodies are very similar.
5. Consider what you need to learn
Several years ago, Toni posted this on www.comfortqueen.com message boards: "I think I've finally figured out why I've been so horribly blocked about photography. I've been processing my classic money excuses for not taking photographs: they don't hold water. The reason I'm hesitant to take out my camera is plain, old-fashioned lack of technical proficiency! I'm never certain whether the way I'm setting the camera is correct. I know this sounds really fundamental and like a big ol' DUH, but it honestly hadn't occurred to me until yesterday.
"I progressed from having a "good eye" right into the darkroom, produced some good prints, and I just assumed I knew all I needed to. In fact, I had skipped over a very fundamental part of the learning process. So what happens now is when I pick up my camera, I'm totally paralyzed. My lack of training is what's been holding me back!"
Notice how many new possibilities open for Toni when she asks, "What do I need to learn to move forward?" versus the story "I should already know how to do this. Look how long I've been doing it." Notice too how something that was closed or frustrating to Toni became a ripe new path. How often do we prolong our transitions by refusing to learn, by shoulding on ourselves?
6. Stop Pushing the River
Lest this article give you the idea you must immediately rush out and make your transition happen, please remember that these changes do have a rhythm of their own. Listen for that rhythm. If everything in you is screaming for time to slow down, then slow down. You may think this will slow down knowing what is next but you are wrong. The fastest way through the foggy lost time is always to slow down and feel, to listen, to be with whatever arises, moment by moment. Only then can you discern what is being asked of you and how best to surf off the edge of the world.
7 Be Kind to Yourself
Please. You are not bad or broken or thick. You are human and wondrous and being called to evolve to something more satisfying and complex. Find others you can talk to about this. Join us for a retreat or tele-class. Find a friend or an on-line community to help you feel less alone. Trust your inner knowing - it is there, truly reliable and loving. All you have to do is quiet down enough to listen.
About The Author
Jennifer Louden is a best-selling author of five books, including the classic The Woman's Comfort Book and her newest Comfort Secrets for Busy Women. She has appeared on numerous TV and radio programs, including Oprah. She's also a certified coach, creator of learning events and unique life balance products. Her upcoming retreat with Master Coach Molly Gordon is on how to "do change with grace and confidence. Visit www.comfortqueen.com/retreats.