Making space for confusion—and curiosity—at times where we are attempting to find clarity may seem like an oxymoron. But when we’re faced with the question of “What’s Next?” at any period of transition, asking ourselves pointed questions without creating pressure for an immediate answer can help us see what we’re really feeling.
Being at ease with not knowing is crucial for answers to come to you. ~ Eckhart Tolle
At the end of one of the workshops I hosted this week, a chic, kind woman approached me.
“Do you have a minute?” she asked.
Her eyes looked left, right searching for the precise words. “What do you do if you are filled with fear?” she asked.
“Is this a free-floating anxiety you’re experiencing or is there something in particular…a thought maybe…that is causing you to feel fear?” I asked.
“I want to retire, but I’m positively terrified of doing so,” she said. “I’m afraid I wouldn’t know what to do.”
I turned toward the easel, marker in hand. “Well, let’s write down all the things you love to do.”
When she didn’t speak, I turned back to her. Her wide, frightened eyes had filled with tears. She whispered, “I don’t know.”
We worked together at the easel, mapping out ideas. Surfacing painful and limiting beliefs and zapping them one by one. After fifteen minutes or so, she had a way forward. She knew she didn’t need to cling to having one, dramatic move or idea. She could inch forward, testing this idea and that, and gather momentum as she found her ultimate fit.
She nearly floated back to her seat to collect her things, optimistic and excited.
Years ago, after having been in this place of stuck fear hundreds of times, I decided to try to deconstruct it, pull it apart, and study each hideous inch, determined to solve the puzzle. I didn’t concern myself with the why’s of getting into the quicksand or try to prevent stepping into the mire of uncertainty.
After all, to be human is to slip into doubt and confusion.
Rather, I was simply focused on what to do once you are in there, darkness descending. At a crossroads with zero signposts, having exhausted all your ideas and go-to moves. Frozen in place with no clue what to do next.
If you grew up in the 70s, you most likely saw dozens of TV shows that featured heroes, heroines, and villains falling into pools of foreboding quicksand. They’d begin to flail their arms, yelling out in panic to be saved from a hideous, suffocating death.
Invariably, someone would find a rope or a stick to extend in rescue and pull the person to safety.
If you remember your quicksand survival skills, you’ll recall that the more you flail and struggle in the gloppy mess, the further down you sink. But if you let yourself float a bit and refuse the call to hysteria, you could keep your head above the surface until that rope or stick came your way.
This is step one when stuck: don’t resist or panic. Don’t deny that you are stuck; simply state the facts, stay calm, and get your bearings.
Next, instead of trying to leapfrog out in a fit of struggle and efforting, gently tread in place and know that staying in a state of confident ease will be your path out. Release your fascination with getting to the finish line of certainty in record time. Easy does it.
Now, ask yourself a few questions:
- What is it that I really want to say, do, experience, express, and/or create?
- Is it honest? That is, is this 100% my desire (or someone else’s)?
- What seems to be in the way of those things happening?
- What is my biggest fear around this?
- What is the smallest action I can take right now that proves my brain’s fear-based attacks wrong?
As you write your answers in your journal, scan for clues. Insights. Stay present, float. Your mind will switch from blasting out painful thoughts to offering powerful problem-solving nuggets. Jot these down.
Oddly, the answers are baked into our not knowing.
If we mindfully stay in the quicksand and refuse to ignore it, numb it, or try to run from it, our brains will throw us a rope and help to pull us right out.