It feels foggy. Like when you have a cold, and your nose is plugged up, and the cavities in your skull are filled with mucus instead of air. Your ears don’t work as well as normal, and you have to think extra hard to find an answer to a question that you normally wouldn’t struggle so much with.
Or when the clouds have seemed to have fallen to the ground, mist enveloping you all around. Shapes aren’t defined, if they’re visible at all. Light doesn’t reach very far, sounds are muffled. You can’t see ahead of you, or behind, or beside you… As you walk, you see more of your path, but the steps you’ve taken fade away.
Or when you’re swimming in the ocean, and you get further and further away from shore. Suddenly the water surrounding you feels decidedly colder. It’s disorienting when you look ahead, because there’s only waves, and more waves, as far as your eyes can see. When you look back, the beach is much further away than it felt. There’s only more waves between you and solid ground.
Maybe you’ve come across the term ‘Dark Night of the Soul’. It’s used to describe a period of time where you go through many mental, emotional and psychological challenges. It truly feels like you’re being enveloped by a great darkness, and the way out only becomes visible when you’ve faced your demons. It’s exhausting, excruciating, painful, sorrowful, and usually brings about great changes in your life. Because you always emerge stronger, wiser and more You than you were before.
What I’m talking about here is something different. I like to call it the Sea of Great Not-Knowing. Because all you can do is swim through it, or float for a while if you get tired. But around you, nothing seems to change. There are no real threats, or challenges, or facing of long-held beliefs. All you can do is keep breathing, keep swimming, until the shore presents itself.
There’s not much you can do to bring that shore closer, either. You’ll get there when you get there. Wanting to know how, or when, or why, does nothing but make you frustrated with the seemingly endless onslaught of waves and waves of sameness. Of non-answers. Of not-knowing.
All you can do is float, make a few strokes here and there, and trust that the current will bring you to shore.
Because here’s the secret many an experienced sea-traveller knows: there’s always a current. The ebb and flow of the ocean heeds the call of the Moon. Waves on the surface, movement beneath.
In your own life, you can experience an ebb and flow much the same. Maybe even influenced by the Moon as well (and seeing how many people are embracing their natural cycle all across the globe, I’m faithful I’m not the only one who feels this).
Usually, the highs and lows are understandable. There’s stress at work, or a family issue, or a pandemic. Boom, low energy.
One of your friends achieves a personal victory, or you’re vibin’ with your purpose in life, or you manage to get the last avocado in your late afternoon shopping run. Woosh, high energy.
But what if nothing seems to be happening?
What if there are no discernible highs or lows, or even any feeling of direction really?
I used to get scared shitless whenever I felt I’d lost my sense of purpose.
You see, I’m a pretty driven person. I have a strong sense of righteousness, I’m a deepfeeler so I’m pretty much always feeling strongly about some cause or other, and I enjoy gearing my time and energy toward a certain goal.
But only when I’m connected to that goal. When I understand why I’m doing what I’m doing. When I see clearly what it is I’m trying to achieve. When my heart is in it.
And somewhere in the spring of this year, I lost sight of my goals.
Maybe it was because my grandmother died a few months earlier, after I took care of her every weekend for six months.
Maybe it was because I saw my child, my friends and others dear to me suffering in many different ways, in a pandemic none of us (including our leaders) have ever experienced.
Maybe it was because I realised that the many business strategies and ‘tricks’ I’d learned over the last few years continued to not work for me, and the reason they didn’t work was because my heart wasn’t in it anymore.
It’s probably a combination of many factors. The why doesn’t matter all that much, and it certainly didn’t matter when I was in the middle of it.
In the middle, there was just fog. A vague feeling of being lost. Not a bad feeling, per se – I know depression, anxiety, and burn-out. This wasn’t it.
But ah, what a relief to know… I’m no longer scared of these periods of time. Because I’ve learned that this is the the Sea of the Great Not-Knowing, and by now I know how to deal.
Here’s the secret: you don’t. Deal, I mean.
You don’t have to achieve anything while you’re in there. You don’t have to pursue, or to work (hard or at all), or to make any effort whatsoever to get through it. All there is to it, is to float… and let the current take you where you’re supposed to go. Because more often than not, once you’re out of the sea, you’re stronger, wiser and more YOU than you were before.
Alright, I know, it can be frustrating to not do anything. “How do you even do that?” I hear you grumble in frustration. Well alright, if you must be given instructions, here are some:
- Breathe. Just breathe. Every morning, every night, spend a couple minutes consciously breathing. Throw in a few during the day, if you must. Let the air flow into and out of your lungs. Experience your body being replenished with oxygen. Or, read the instructions on your shampoo bottle, if you happen to be in the shower. Just take the next breath.
- Reconnect to your body. Taste different kinds of foods, and see how your body responds. Walk barefoot on sand, through water, on grass, on tiles warmed by the sun… feel what it does in your body. Take showers for as long as your body wants to. Get a massage. Put your hands on your belly and your heart, breathe… and allow that to be enough for now.
- Go for walks. Preferably in nature, if it’s available. Don’t set goals for how far or how many steps. Just walk, and pause here and there to appreciate the scenery around you. Even if it is a butterfly dancing in a ray of sunshine, or a stubborn weed growing between cracked tiles, or a name someone carved into the park bench you find yourself on. Walk, and breathe, and know that it is enough for now.
- If you happen to pass by things that make your heart leap in your chest, do them. An invitation to a party (even if you don’t know the person very well). An event or workshop that peak your interest (even if you can’t articulate why). An intriguing bookcover you pass by in the used book store (even if the title makes no sense). All these things bring you little nudges and hints at the beautiful transformation that’s in store for you, once you’re out of the sea. They may support your trust, while you float on. Like seagulls indicating a shoreline somewhere near, even if you can’t see it just yet.
Most of all, the Sea of Great Not-Knowing is a trust exercise.
Trust in yourself. Trust in the process. Trust in the flow of things. Because you will reach the shoreline again. In the meantime, you’re invited to reconnect with yourself where you are Right Now. It’s an excellent time to practice mindfulness – in YOUR way, mind you (please don’t ask me to do that raisin exercise, I don’t have the patience. But let me walk barefoot in nature, or sit and stare at the sea, or shower in the dark, and I’m a mindfulness BAUSS).
It took me a while to learn to navigate (or rather, stop trying so hard to navigate) this most magnificent of seas. But now that I know how to float, it’s gotten so much easier. Of course there are moments of frustration (after all, I LOVE the feeling of steering towards my goal) but on the whole, I enjoy floating on the current.
After all, here I am, writing this blog. I found my shoreline again. My purpose, my medicin, my gift to the world. My authenticity and sense of Self. Tentative, because it’s a little new, but confident, because it’s built on the strong foundation of knowledge and trust that I already possessed.