Life is a journey and often we assume we know where we are. But then something happens and we take a second look. We’ve moved, or something else has changed.
I’ve had several of these recently…
Sometimes it’s a chance comment or a question that completely shifts the way we are looking.
Or we see something familiar in a different light and it prompts further inspection. Turns out it’s not what we thought it was…
It can be unnerving to have our sense of where we are shaken. Who moved the goal posts? Where’s my way out?
What road am I actually on?
Sometimes it’s relatively obvious. We have one of those major life changes and we need to reorientate.
We know that life will never be the same. And we can’t go back.
In these situations, once the anaesthetic – grief or euphoria – has worn off we can usually engage with the choices before us. Whilst we might have to look for it – because it’s unfamiliar – essentially the path is there to be found. It’s relatively well-trodden territory and some of those who have gone before have left their markers.
These waymarks also help us make sense of the territory. And perhaps we have also been getting ready to change course.
We might develop a new vocabulary or strengthen some previously unused part of ourselves. It may feel strange at first, and we have to feel our way, but it essentially makes sense. Usually.
But what about those other times? The shifts that subtly, or not so subtly, tell us we are in unfamiliar territory?
Those places where we don’t quite know what’s expected of us. Where we don’t feel as safe and confident.
Or even worse, we assumed we knew where we were, but actually, we’re lost…
In our world of relative security and provision – at least those of us in the ‘West’ – it’s possible to simply be sleepwalking. Not aware of where we are because essentially we’re OK. Or at least we think so.
We aren’t troubled by big questions because the lights come on, there’s food on the table and we sleep warm at night.
And then something happens. It could be as subtle as something we read, or hear, or see that sows a seed in our soul.
Or a question that lands like a proverbial pebble in a pond. The ripples radiate until the whole surface is alive.
Where are we? How do we make sense of this new place?
Finding our bearings
This isn’t the time to run. Even though our natural instinct is to escape from this unknown and sometimes scary place.
Doing something feels better than pausing.
The thing about being somewhere unfamiliar is that it’s really easy to be disorientated. Things aren’t what they seem.
Being still helps us come to rest. It is also the place of our knowing. Our sense of being part of something bigger than self, that frames us.
I am writing this on St Patrick’s Day and I am reminded of his prayer of circling. The sense of God surrounding us on every side, being able to trust that we are known in our place.
Brian Draper also fed my soul with the words of a more recent Irish pilgrim, John O’Donohue. This is an excerpt from one of his blessings:
Awaken to the mystery of being here
and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence.
Have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.
Receive encouragement when new frontiers beckon.
Respond to the call of your gift and the courage to
follow its path….
John O’Donohue, To bless the space between us: A book of blessings
Asking for help
Being still and looking around for our anchor points is good. And as a contemplative sort of person, this seeing from within is my natural habitat.
But there are times when I need help. When the only way I am going to make sense of where I am means asking others. Somehow, we are taught to believe that we need to be self-sufficient (at least I was). That admitting we’re ‘lost’ is a failure.
However, we need each other if we’re truly to make sense and meaning because these things are essentially relational, not abstract.
So I’m learning to ask. Tentatively, with a sense of vulnerability. But I’m in new territory and the road is unfamiliar.
Recognising that I’m not where I was is a good start.
And stopping to pause with companions isn’t such a bad thing…