When You Can't See the Path Forward, Do This.

Updated: Oct 4, 2019

One of my favourite spiritual books of all time is called Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pema Chodron. It stands out for a reason - not knowing can be incredibly uncomfortable.

Knowing & not knowing

Oddly, the first half of my life seemed incredibly clear, purpose and mission driven.

I knew what I wanted to do and I went and did it, or at least that’s how I remember it.

During the second half of my life, I’ve found myself far more often in a place of not knowing, steeping for long periods of time in discernment while desperately wanting to know the answer to pivotal questions for my life. 

Most of the big unknowns for me have been around parenting, vocation and my own interests. These areas also happen to be my greatest areas of focus and interest.

I want to be useful, make a difference in the world and use my strengths but after leaving my career in engineering and policy behind I’m at a loss for exactly what that is.

I seem to have too many ideas and difficulty following through or making sense on any given one of them - I need it to be the right answer because the stakes are higher in this adult phase of life.

And most recently, both my son and I seem ready for something different something more and the natural course would be sending him to school.

But I don’t agree with many of the basic premises of school, and so I’m thrust back in the unknown, into the darkness of what to do in a society that doesn’t yet fit my ideology.

When I compare myself to others at this stage of life, it feels like everyone knows how to do life and I know nothing.  

I sometimes feel ungrounded, unclear, waffling, lacking direction, lost.

It’s so freaking uncomfortable.

Uncertainty feels uncomfortable

Spiritual wisdom suggest that uncertainty and unknowing is not to be avoided. That not knowing is actually a place of possibility. Leaning into the uncertainty, getting comfortable with it, can open us up to ideas that our mind previously shut out in it’s grasping to know.

So actually, this is something that I do know:

Not knowing is not the enemy.

It's just super uncomfortable and awkward.

What is it really, uncertainty or fear?

And sometimes what we think is not knowing is actually knowing covered up by fear.

For example, I do have inner guidance and a vision about what I am to do, but I doubt it often because the path is so very unclear and outside the skill set that I built up over decades. I wonder if it’s an illusion.

And I have a thousand fears about being wrong, because as an adult the stakes of following an inner nudge feel that much higher.

Those fears are in fact just more unknowing. I don’t know if what’s calling me is real. I don’t know if I’ll fall flat on my face. The truth is I can’t know.

Just take the next step that you can see clearly

In this state of unknowing, about the only thing I can do is show up and take the next step as I see it that day. Trust when I’m able to. Maybe have a backup plan if that’s what I need to relieve my fear. That’s it. Just keep walking.

I’ve written before about my process to take the leap to homeschooling. It was also all about taking a series of small steps that allowed me to test the waters, a leap doesn’t have to look like jumping off of a tall building when you’re still steeped in unknowing, questioning, uncertainty.

Allowing the feeling of uncertainty as the first step

And the best advice, even before taking a small action, is to allow the feelings of uncertainty, to sit with them and get to know them as they live in your body.

And to not try to change the uncomfortable feelings or the uncertainty.

I have found it helpful to do this in company with my spiritual director, or someone who can listen without needing the discomfort to change and without trying to fix it for you.

If you don’t currently have someone in your life that can sit with you without judging or fixing, or you want to try receiving support in this process, this is part of my service offering here.

Until next time,