What we lose when we don’t (or won’t) accept the road we are on

Welsh countryside road

Yesterday evening, feeling philosophical about the New Year, I went for a stroll up the country lane outside my little country house. As I stopped to take the picture above, something popped into my head.

sometimes in life the paths we end up taking—which we may never have purposefully chosen for ourselves—end up being the best ones.

Fairly often in life, things don’t work out as we imagine they ought to. I’m pretty sure you will have experienced this phenomenon about as often as I have.

As an example, this year I meant to send at least a monthly email newsletter, and to write regularly on this blog (!)

Things didn’t work out as I imagined they ought to.

The thing is, one ‘failed’ plan made space for myriad other beautiful life events to blossom. I have landed, not one, but two book deals, each of which are due out in 2018 (stay tuned!). I also submitted an 80k word PhD thesis. I feel more potently creative and masterful at my craft than I ever have before.

This year, I also tried to keep my relationship alive.

Again, Things didn’t work out as I imagined they ought to.

Yet, alongside this ostensive ‘failure’, my personal life continued to grow fit-to-burst with love. My niece was born and I fell head over heels for her tiny, astonishing aura. My friendships continued to deepen so that I feel, more than ever, that I am suspended in a shimmering web of the most beautiful souls I could ever possibly have hoped to know. I also got to know myself a whole lot better in the midst of crisis (funny how it often takes crisis for that to happen, haven’t you found?)

Dear one, what I really want to say is this: the road we are on is long.

It’s a road that’s proverbially bumpy, winding, and overgrowing with as many hindrances as it is lined with intensely beautiful scenery. Nevertheless, it’s always the road we are on.

Sometimes, we kid ourselves that we can cease to be on our old lumpy bumpy country road. That we can stop the car, scribble out a new sign pointing off on a tangent, and build a speedy highway to our goals, completely from scratch. But we can’t. If we ever think we are doing that… Well, let’s just say my experience tells me that we will swiftly find ourselves diverted back to our original road. Knee deep in old habits we never faced head on. Haunted with that sense of lack. Feeling unfulfilled. Feeling that we haven’t achieved all that we meant to.

But this is not to say we are stuck on our old familiar road. Oh no. Because the nature of roads, of course, is that they take us places. Our road stretches out far beyond sight—to places we couldn’t possibly imagine, even if we tried. Yet too rarely do we accept this.

Too rarely do we ask: ‘where might this road be taking me?’

Too often we insist: ‘this road is taking me THERE’ as we point obstinately at our goal on The Map of What We Want. (Side note: sometimes what we want is an utter surprise, even to ourselves.)

We lose when we simply point on the map of life like this.

We lose because we fail to behold the truth and beauty in being exactly here—where we are—on our old familiar stretch. We cease to savour the scenery.

We lose because we forget to compassionately acknowledge where we have come from—we refuse to slow down, to reach out of the window, to catch the snowflake of experience on our outstretched palm… Instead, we rush ahead like a snowplough, utterly blinkered to any subtlety, surprise, or serendipity.

I know you’ll have been told before to ‘love the journey’ but, seriously, people, love that journey—that road. Love it hard. It’s yours. It’s happening. You’re on it. It may be challenging. It may not look the way we think it ought to. But by gum is it also thrilling and surprising and astronomically, unfathomably beautiful in all its contradictions.

Isn’t it?

A licence to live?

how-to-live

Recently, a couple of my close friends—and a new friend—have been having a particularly rough ride. Career choice troubles, romantic break down, family illnesses… And I’ve taken the role of consoler & kind ear, as we all do for friends in need.

I’ve also had a difficult year in many ways. And so, I’ve been pondering the fact that we—all of us—need a little help to live.

Where does help come from?

Some of us might get help in living without even having to ask. Some of us seek it out from trusted friends, mentors and loved ones. Yet, many of us may not even, for whatever reason, be aware that we need this help, that we can ask for it. Some of us are too ashamed to admit to needing help.

Most of us, in the western world, live outside of a religious system to help us understand our traumas. Therapy still has a stigma attached to it. We don’t always want to readily admit to reading so-called ‘self-help’ books. Even receiving life coaching, or journal writing, might be embarrassing for some to admit. I wonder why this is.

I wonder why, though in both the UK and US you need a licence to drive a motor vehicle, we are left unlicensed in life. No wonder we experience so many life ‘crashes’—pile-ups, even! We are—each of us—behind the wheel of a life we may or may not have been sufficiently instructed to operate (and usually not.)

What I suppose I’m saying is:

It’s okay to look into finally getting your proverbial licence.
It’s okay if you haven’t ‘got this’ just yet.
It’s okay to live in the world your questions create.

And it’s okay to ask for help, because we’re all on the same road.

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On noise & how we find ourselves in silence

finding-yourself

Between the ages of seven and eleven, every school day for thirty minutes after lunch break, came my favourite time of day: silent reading. The aim of this, I suppose, was to help us coast into an afternoon of sober studiousness after our raging exertions on the playground. The real delight was: we got to read whatever we wanted. Even books from home were allowed (my heart would soar at the thought of thirty engrossing minutes of Jacqueline Wilson.)

I adored this time, and of course I still do adore reading. Yet, I see now that reading is not real silence. Ultimately, we were being encouraged to fill this silent time with another kind of noise—the very special noise (but noise nonetheless) of books.

And I wonder now: where was the silent time for our own young voices to emerge, unsullied, and announce themselves to the world?

We live on a very noisy planet (literally, we are sending out ever-expanding radio waves into space.) German philosopher, Heidegger, would call the totality of this noise “idle talk” or “chatter”—and it defines much of our existence. This noise is not just radio. It’s opinions, facts, Facebook, the Sunday paper, Netflix… It’s our culture—that messy, raucous thing we are all deeply entrenched in—telling us what to do, what to think, what to be.

What happens to us in silence—real silence?

Some of us get anxious—it can be nice being told what to do, think, and be. Why? Because it lets us off the hook. It lessens the burden of responsibility for ‘Making It’ or for getting life right. Even though—and I know you’ve heard this before—there is no right.

In silence, some of us feel regret, fear, hopelessness…

…and all those other sensations where we remain trapped in the past or recoil from a potential future.

Yet, what we can also find in silence is possibility. Possibility for authenticity—even if it might need a little excavating. Chinks of light where you might catch a glimpse, sometimes a very profound glimpse, of yourself at your essence.

We find ourselves in silence. [Tweet it!]

I encourage you to find some silence. Real silence. I encourage you to feel those uncomfortable feelings that come with the territory; to face them, even momentarily. Then, fill this silence with noise of your own making (words, wisdom, aspirations.) I do this by writing.

And, finally, be open to finding yourself, over and over—there, on the blank canvas of silence.