Archives for posts with tag: transition

I have been facing the reality recently that my transition is about to shift once again. I haven’t been entirely sure whether I’m ready for it, but then I’m reminded that transition is all about taking risks. And about letting go of what no longer serves us.

There are many aspects of my job that I have truly loved over the last few months. In some way this has been a surprise, after spending a year letting go of NGO work, of all the stress, disillusionment and trauma (some of the deadly ingredients that constitute burnout) that arise from it. I have been reminded that there are rewards to human rights and aid work, if we learn to accept our limitations and be proud of the changes we make, no matter how minor they may seem when we’re faced with so many stories of unimaginable hardship and injustice.

But my job was only ever meant to be short-term, and now the time is approaching when my contract will end and I will be thrust once more in to the uncertainty of not having a steady income. The last time I was in this position – when I was finishing my work for a human rights organisation in Palestine – I was in a very different place, both physically and mentally. I had no idea what I wanted to do next, and this was extremely frightening. I did not feel I had the resources to even consider my next move; I knew deep down that my next move would not be clear until I had surrendered to a period of being still, healing and letting go.

I am looking forward to another opportunity for stillness, in order to process what have been overwhelming experiences in the last few months. Self-care is a priority for me now, in a way it wasn’t for ten years as I struggled through one damaging experience after another in the aid and human rights sector, bottling up emotions for fear of seeming weak to my organisation or disrespectful to the victims we were assisting.

In addition, the stillness is an opportunity for me to reconnect with my creative voice. It has been whispering to me lately, filling me with ideas for a book, for a new website and for a new project to provide healing and support to other NGO workers in need of self-care.

creativity-quote-640x640

 

On days when I get embroiled in the politics of my work, or when I feel exhausted by my workload or disappointed with how management are treating staff, I remind myself that my creative voice is pushing for much more than this. To listen to the voice is to leave behind what is familiar and be willing to take big risks. It may well mean another period of unemployment and instability. But transitions are all about risk-taking, about being able to pursue one’s dreams even if we are being discouraged by our ego or others around us. It is about making a conscious choice to be led by our heart and not by our head, in order that we achieve our our true desires. It can be a frightening ride sometimes, but I’m glad I’m on it.

Rumi-drawn

Advertisements

Writing has not been easy lately. Which is a surprise in some ways as when I travel to work, or even pop out of the office to buy my lunch each day, I find a stream of loose sentences, chapter beginnings and blog reflections running through my brain.

But then either there isn’t the time to make use of them, or when I do finally find a moment to sit with pen and paper or at my laptop I’m struck with a terrible paralysis. When this happens it’s not long before my inner critic rears its ugly head….any writer, or anyone with a dream for that matter, knows the voice of the inner critic very well. The voice that goes, ‘why are you bothering?’ or ‘you’re not good enough to be trying this’ or ‘who really cares? who wants to know about your latest pursuits and interests?’

I’ve noticed that when I become too busy to write, or too busy to make time for reflection which can inspire and trigger writing, I descend into a pattern of self-doubt and self-loathing. I’m currently on an endless treadmill of striving to do the best in my job without really pausing to ask myself whether I’m approaching things the right way, whether this is really what I want, whether what I’m doing is letting my true and happy self flourish. Without the time to process my experiences and connect with my deeper consciousness through writing or other soulful practices, I find myself unhinged by the daily challenges of work, unsure of my abilities and full of insecurities about whether people like me, whether I come across as an idiot, whether I’ve said the wrong thing….

coffee and cake

Today I sat in one of my favourite cafes in southwest London, determined to resume my writing practice. I sat there, laptop in front of me, latte and cake being consumed bit by bit….and panicked. Where do I start? What do I want to write about? Is there anywhere to go with all these snippets of ideas that play around in my head each day? I started trying to write a blog piece but couldn’t get beyond this title you now see.

So instead I did something totally different. I wrote a chapter, or moment, in the story which is slowly formulating in those stolen moments on my way to work or in my lunch break. Where the story goes, I’m yet to find out. I’d be lying if I said it was totally made up, pulled from my extensive and far-reaching imagination. I’m not pretending that I’m going to produce the next great work of fiction. Whatever I write will always be based somehow on my own experiences, that’s just the way I roll.

But as I start trying to draw from my experiences some structure, plot, characters and dialogue I realise that I’m entering a new chapter in my real life. I know deep down that my work in the NGO sector may soon be reaching its end. After spending over a year in transition, I no longer feel that my identity is defined purely through human rights activism or aid work. There is something bigger in my soul that is waiting to come out. And writing seems to be the channel through which to explore and express it.

This blog has been a platform for documenting my transition in the last year. It will continue with this purpose, and as such it is likely to change in its content and style, just as I connect with a new writing voice within me. A new appearance, more reflections on the writing journey, and the odd extract from the story currently unfolding in my head and making its way on to the page will be found here in the weeks and months to come. As always, comments, thoughts and feedback will be welcome. I hope you enjoy the ride and come back for more.

Writing

In the last week I have surrendered to the power of prayer. I am not a Christian, and I do not consider myself religious. But I have been on a spiritual journey the last few months, which has taken me from feeling complete darkness and a loss of identity to a process of gentle healing and letting go, to a connection with soul; to understanding my inner truth, my purpose and the real route to my happiness.

In order to let my soul speak, I have had to endure long periods without work, without  busy-ness, without all the distractions which over the years have contributed to me never really confronting or listening to the voice inside me. If I had listened, I would have heard it say, ‘Enough…you don’t need to please everybody, you don’t need to act out other people’s perceptions of who you are or who you should be, you don’t need to be perfect – no one is’. Letting that voice be heard required me to give up old habits and the life of intense work and endless partying I was so familiar with, and allow space for stillness.

This year  has been pivotal. I started it by chanting every day for 21 days, to bring joy and luck for the year ahead. Chanting is a new exercise for me, one I’ve wholeheartedly embraced after feeling the considerable benefits of its sounds resonating and vibrating through my body. No matter how bad my day is, if I sit and chant for half an hour the weight lifts – I am no longer dwelling on the past, or fretting about the future, I am totally present and as a result all my worries slip away.

silhouette-68717_640

I spent February applying to study a Phd, and for a scholarship to fund those studies. I still wait to hear whether I’ve been successful, but I’ve already been offered a place at two Universities so I take that – along with the encouragement I’ve received from the academics who want to supervise my research – as positive indicators that the funding will also follow.

And this week I received the glorious news that my job application to work at Amnesty International – for three months on their Kenya programme – was successful. This has followed an intense period of emotional upheavals, as I waited, lost confidence, had doubt upon doubt, and dreaded the possibility of another job rejection. I went through enough of them last year. All the while I was busy manifesting – chanting for my cause, raising the vibration within me to be at the same pitch as my dreams and desires. This was my prayer – the simple spiritual exercise of chanting, which doesn’t require a Bible, or a church, or a deity. Chanting and meditation helped clear those negative emotions – the doubts and fears – and replace them with calm and clarity. It helped me maintain an open mind and heart – allowing space for positive energy to flow freely.

This job speaks to my soul as it allows me to use my skills in a setting I’m familiar with, on a short-term basis whilst I move through my transition and embark on the next chapter in my life. This was the sort of job I yearned for last year but couldn’t attain. But the time was not right last year – I was going through the in-between time or ‘neutral zone’ of my transition. It’s a place of uncertainty, of resistance, of dark nights of the soul – when you are no longer sure of what you want or who you are, when you strive to hang on to old habits and beliefs, when your inner voice that says ‘Enough!’ is trying to make itself heard.

Live your own destiny

Letting go is a long process, and I’m sure for me as for anyone else the job is never done. But I do feel that a new energy is pulsating through me. This year, as I’ve put something out into the ether – job or Phd applications – and received positive or encouraging responses, I’ve felt I’m actually hurtling, free-falling, towards my destiny. There may be more tough times ahead, but I’ve already come out of my darkest moment and am now heading towards the light of my soul’s desires, with greater confidence and courage.

It was nice to wake up this morning and realise for the first time in well over a year that I will soon have a job to go to. But with that realisation also came another – that in the past few months I had really learned to accept not having a job. After months of resistance, I had managed to appreciate the time for what it was – an essential period of reflection, growth and creativity. Without it, I would not be what I am today – content.

Related Links:

Mindful Next – Change and Transition

Because transitioners at some point have to face the grim reality that in order to achieve our dreams we’re going to need some cash flow, I’ve returned to the daunting task of jobhunting. I’ve managed to avoid this activity, and the full spectrum of emotions associated with it – from hope to hopelessness, courage to fear, anticipation to anxiety – for a few months. In fact, towards the end of last year I made the decision – consciously and willingly – to let go of this feeling that I must find some job, any job. I decided to pursue other creative interests and projects which perhaps wouldn’t help my finances but would help my soul.

I was lucky, and I remain forever grateful, that there was no rent to pay; that my parents whose roof I live under would allow me the space and offer support in whichever way they could. And through having the space to explore, and understand, and let go, I am finding my ‘true north’ – the spirit within me which is happy, joyful, driven and creative; and this has given me the confidence that this transitioner is heading in the right direction, and all is well.

I am now faced with the significant challenge of integrating my spiritual practice into the everyday external realities we are confronted with – in this case, high unemployment and a very competitive job market.  The last few weeks have been a real test for that glorious feeling of power and clarity that arises when we connect to our inner truth.I’m sure many jobhunters can relate to my personal experience. Here is a brief overview:

Three weeks ago, I applied for a job which, when I first heard about it, seemed ideal for me. When I went about filling in the application form, I felt on a real high – excited by this opportunity, empowered because I felt I was shaping my new reality according to my dreams and desires, and therefore confident that everything was going to work out as it should.

Each day, as I’ve waited to hear the outcome of the job application, I’ve lurched from quiet optimism to self-doubt to all-out rage. The society we live in, and the current economic climate, apparently dictates that there will be stiff competition for any job, and that you are likely to be left dangling – hoping for a positive response, but in the end perhaps not getting any at all. Take the example of this job: after submitting it, I was told interviews would be held on Friday the following week and that they’d let me know if I was shortlisted. Friday came and went, and I heard nothing. In came the rage and despair. Over the weekend I heard that there were 250 applications for the position I’d applied for, and that shortlisting hadn’t yet been completed. Hope once more triumphed over the pessimism which had temporarily taken over. On Wednesday I received a call from the organisation I’d applied to; without warning, they asked me some questions related to the required knowledge for the job. Caught unawares, I felt I stumbled over my answers. I was not told at this point whether I had in fact been shortlisted. The phone call was followed by feelings of hopelessness and anger that I’d been asked these questions without time to prepare for them. Then on Friday I was told that I’d been invited for interview, and that it would take place the following day – on a Saturday. This sent me into a panic – it seemed such short notice, and odd to be holding an interview on a weekend day. I was then told a mistake had been made and that in fact interviews would be held the following Monday.

So yesterday I had an interview, by phone. The e-mail inviting me for interview had actually indicated that I was to go to the organisation’s office, but this turned out also to be a mistake on their part. After the interview I was told that the next round of interviews would take place within the week, after further shortlisting. And so once again I’m in the place of not knowing, a place where self-doubt and fear thrive.

For me, the process of jobhunting has been a reminder of the challenges one faces when applying all one’s inner strength and resources gained through meditation and spiritual practice to everyday external realities. It has been a major test on my ability to stay calm, to embrace uncertainty, to show gratitude for even the most agonising or painful situations. Although I am a different, and stronger, person than the one who was jobhunting a year ago, whilst I’ve been left hanging waiting for a response to my job application, all those familiar feelings of doubt have returned. My negative voice has crept in: Why is even the ideal job such a struggle to attain? I’ve spent hours on this application and why this punishment in return? Is this going to be disappointment, and rejection, again? What’s wrong with me? Am I going to return to that dark place of despair and fear I was in last year?

A place of not knowing is one of the most challenging places to be in. I’ve lived in that place for well over a year now, and have managed to embrace it, even enjoy it at times. But when a new challenge comes along in that place of not knowing, it can feel agonising, disorientating, excruciating. It feels like one extra provocation just when things seemed stable and safe.

But if these things are indeed sent to try us, then at some point there will be something to be gained from such experiences, whatever the outcome. Perhaps the only way to deal with the pain of not knowing, and all the negative emotions which can arise from it, is to examine how we respond to the situation, and what that says about us. Then maybe next time we can handle the place of not knowing with more calm, courage and gratitude.

Phew, it’s been a while. There are times when creativity – whether it be writing, singing, dancing, admiring a beautiful landscape – suffers in the pursuit of specific goals. My blog has been temporarily abandoned whilst I’ve had my head in piles of University application forms, each with different guidelines and requirements.

school-32981_640 resize

Why did I decide applying for a Phd was a good idea? At times I’ve forgotten myself; then I remember that my research idea  – stress and burnout among international humanitarian and development workers – is one that is close to my heart, and drawn from personal experience.

But like most decisions in my life, it seems with this one I’ve hardly chosen the easy route. In 2012 – a stormy and soul-searching year for many – I could have done many things after returning from a difficult year in Palestine. What I craved the most was stability and safety. After all, up to this point my life had been far from settled or grounding: four years in East Africa, ending in a dramatic escape from a slightly psycho Ugandan boyfriend; four years in a squat in Brixton, wondering whether we were next on the eviction list; a year in Palestine, forever fretting over the possibility of being ‘found out’ by Israeli intelligence, and deported for daring to do human rights work in the West Bank.

An image from Banksy which poignantly depicts the reality of feeling constantly under scrutiny in the Occupied West Bank

An image from Banksy which poignantly depicts the reality of feeling constantly under scrutiny in the Occupied West Bank

I’ve had my fair share of uncertainty. And 2012 was no different, despite returning to England and the suburban bliss of my parents’ neighbourhood. I’m still there, at the start of 2013, still not knowing what the future holds. This has to be one of the biggest skills to hone when undergoing a big transition – embracing uncertainty. That and the essential antidote to uncertainty: patience. There’s always a point during a transition where you have to accept that you do not know, and will not know, your destiny for some time. There’s no use in forcing the future, although there’s certainly no harm in building the path you wish for. That is indeed what I’ve been doing the last few months – practising my writing skills with the quiet wish that one day I will write a book; reading journal articles on burnout and writing my research proposal with the quiet wish that one day I’ll be offered a scholarship to study a Phd on the subject (hhhm, maybe ‘quiet’ isn’t the right word, given it’s all I’ve really been talking about to anyone I’ve spoken to recently).

But it’s taken a long time to get to this point of acceptance. When faced with a big transition, the urge is to run to whatever is familiar, even if it’s no longer nourishing or fulfilling. If I’d persisted with chasing familiarity, maybe I would have got that job working with a humanitarian organisation or an international development agency.  I’m glad I didn’t, because I doubt I’d be sitting here now, writing this piece; judging from previous experience, I probably wouldn’t have had any time for self-reflection whatsoever…and I would have been miserable.

Instead I’ve chosen a path of further uncertainty, where there’s no guarantee I’ll get what I wish for. Will I be accepted on my University course? Will I be given a scholarship that will enable me to study the course (I certainly won’t be able to do it otherwise)? I won’t know for some time yet, and meanwhile I have to live with the unknown and trust that whatever the outcome, I will gain something. And herein lies another major challenge for transitioners – learning gratitude.

Gratitude is a learned skill. And as gratitude becomes a habit, so will happiness.

 Julia Cameron

This week I’ve been meditating on gratitude. It’s not easy! Sure, it’s not difficult to be grateful for friends and family, and all the good things in your life. But try reflecting on all those things that have made you unhappy, or angry, or fearful – and find something positive from them. It’s a difficult exercise, but an essential one for transitioners living a life of uncertainty. Each setback, each disappointment, is something we can potentially gain from if we have gratitude for all experiences, good or bad.

So 2013 may have started with further uncertainty; I still don’t have the stability I crave, I’m not yet settled in any way.  But living with uncertainty has given me an inner strength – an inner certainty – which has helped me see clearly what is right and good for me, rather than what is familiar.  And for this new sense of power and courage, all I can feel is gratitude.

Another year is about to draw to a close. And what a year it’s been, it seems for most people I know. 2012 has been the year of drama; of emotional upheavals, of extreme weather conditions, of personal tragedies and major transitions.

Fireworks

Fireworks (Photo credit: bayasaa)

The world didn’t end on 21st December, but then that was never really the prediction. What the Mayans and others have predicted is far more subtle and powerful, and far easier to hold both belief and hope in; the dawning of a new world in which we let go of the selfish ego and all our negative habits and beliefs. A world in which we feel the universal connection and no longer view ourselves as separate and isolated, or divided by religious, political or geographical boundaries. Where greed and self-interest no longer govern our desires, and instead we are driven by love and compassion. This sounds like a massive and ambitious project, and it is; we were never going to see changes overnight when the 21st December finally arrived.

I myself had the flu for that entire week, which stayed with me throughout most of the Christmas period. I didn’t feel much like celebrating anything, or even engaging in some major transition predicted by so many millions to occur during this time. But on the 21st December I did at least manage to sit myself down in a quiet place and consider the year so far – my challenges, my achievements, and all that I have overcome – as well as setting some intentions for the next year ahead. Such an exercise isn’t about new year’s resolutions that never get honoured; it is, again, about hope and belief – that we can move through whatever difficulties and dark periods that we experience, and learn from them. Our intentions should be about personal growth – about learning to love ourselves and to forgive others, and taking concrete steps to achieve these goals. This might mean promising yourself a special moment or treat each week that’s only for you; or forgiving someone who you have felt hurt by. Our personal growth is also about letting go of anxiety, anger and fears and maintaining courage that we are on the right path, even if that path can at times seem murky and full of obstacles.

And so intentions for the year ahead aren’t about making promises that can’t be kept – we have to be honest with ourselves, about what we need in order to really grow and realise our true nature and purpose in life. Material goods are important in achieving goals, but having spent a year in unintentional unemployment, I know now not to wish for a new job and loads of money. The last year hasn’t brought me material wealth, but it has brought me other gifts of courage, strength and moments of inner peace which no money can buy.

There have been tears – a whole ocean of them. There was a dark night of the soul, or did I have more than one of those?! But I’m reminded of a great quote by the spiritualist Mooji (and whether you believe in God here is irrelevant):

“Sometimes God challenges you to find strength you don’t have.
Only like this will you go beyond your imagined limits.
You must be pushed so far that you are forced to be humble. Only then, when your pride and arrogance are crushed, will you discover muscles that are not yours.
You will find and use the muscles of God. When you completely abandon yourself, your ego, this miracle becomes possible”

 

So congratulations to all that made it through this difficult year. Remember all that you’ve achieved, and all that you have the power to manifest in 2013, through honest intention and active commitment. By letting go of negative habits and beliefs, and encouraging love and compassion in everything that we do, perhaps we can put the world of darkness behind us.

 

I had hoped to write something myself about this period otherwise known as the Winter Solstice, the shift to the 5th dimension, ascension etc. But flu got the better of me. I didn’t factor that into my personal shift! But the following words seemed to resonate with me – this period is, like any other, about living in the now. We should be embracing this moment by turning towards our inner truth. Forget what the Mayans say – what is your soul saying to you right now?

Last night I stepped on to the Rainbow Bridge. In laymen’s terms, I let go of what no longer serves me, what keeps me stuck and fearful and manifested a deeper connection with myself, with the universe and with the love and compassion which binds us together. Yes, it was 12.12.12 and this was something worth marking, with a special ceremony of meditation, chanting, dance and sound in Brixton. How fitting that this should take place in a former nightclub that I frequented on a regular basis in my early twenties. This time round I didn’t need drink or drugs to get me dancing, nor to reach that euphoria and feeling of oneness and clarity. And today rather than having a hangover I woke with a feeling of power and purpose. 21.12.12 – the so-called End of the World – bring it on! I’ve stepped onto the Rainbow Bridge and I’m ready for whatever comes.

This picture depicts the seven major Chakras w...

This picture depicts the seven major Chakras with descriptions. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had learned about the Rainbow Bridge only the day before, whilst reading Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System as a Path to the Self by Anodea Judith. I was engrossed in the chapter on the Third Chakra, situated in the solar plexus. We cross the bridge when we move from individual to universal existence, from connecting with our deeper energy to the energy which surrounds us. In order to do this, we need to be stable and grounded in our first three chakras. The third chakra is the portal, which gives us the inner strength to take a quantum leap into the middle of the Rainbow Bridge, where the individual and the universal meet in perfect balance. This inner strength emerges when we break away from old patterns and habits that we have previously defined ourselves by – what Carl Jung calls ‘individuation’. In Anodea Judith’s words, individuation ‘is about daring to be unique, risking disapproval for the integrity of your own truth…Individuation is the unfolding of our unique destiny, the unfolding of the soul’.

I’ve realised that the third Chakra – symbolised by the Fire element, and associated with energy, autonomy, self-esteem and power – is where most of my blockages have been in recent years. A blockage in this area manifests itself through low self-esteem, emotional coldness, passivity, attraction to stimulants and a victim mentality. Those with weakened third Chakras struggle to identify their inner truth, and define themselves by what they think others expect. They operate with a great degree of self-control; those with third Chakra issues are often called ‘Endurers’, because they may be hurt by what they see or experience in their daily lives and interactions with others, but they consciously or unconsciously keep a strong and steady demeanour.  They refuse to let go of anger or grief, instead choosing to bottle it up inside, often leading to pain in the stomach or bowel area. Rather than act on instinct, they obey the will of others. But, as Anodea Judith remarks, ‘As natural instincts can never be fully repressed, they periodically erupt in shadow forms that only incrase the shadow and inadequacy. When we misbehave, lose our temper, fall apart, or have lapses in our vigilant self-control, we are driven to deeper shame’. Shame is the demon of the third chakra; we are quick to blame and punish ourselves when we lose self-control, when actually what we should be doing is laughing at ourselves, admitting our mistakes and learning from them.

I recognise this behaviour well, and have certainly been in situations where I’m in battle with my ego over what I really want, at times leading to mistakes and excess – usually involving drugs and alcohol, followed by a period of shame and regret. Overcoming the feelings of shame and low self-esteem requires a genuine leap of faith and, most significantly for me, a transition from our thoughts and concerns about those around us into our inner, deeper self. Stabilising the third chakra is all about feeling the transformative power within us and not being afraid to let our inner spirit, rather than our peers, be our guide. Once we regain that power we are ready to cross the Rainbow Bridge which connects us to the deeper love and compassion that lights up our world.

For many spiritual seekers, yesterday – 12.12.12 – signified the gateway or portal to the 5th dimension; the end of our current age, marked in the Mayan Calendar as 21st December, and the beginning of a whole new spiritual realm here on this Earth. It will be characterised by the letting go of grief, anger and hatred, and the birth of positive energies manifested through our upper chakras which have the power to transform our planet and manifest love, unity, balance and harmony.

What does this all mean? I’m beginning to realise that there is little point in trying to understand or intellectualise what is said and written about 2012. Ultimately, we either feel something or we don’t. And if we are willing to go deep inside ourselves, feel our transformative power and take a brave step forward and away from old habits which damage us and our universe, perhaps we can indeed be part of a shift for the greater good of this planet.

Yesterday was my birthday….another day closer to death, as one spiritualist once said to me.  How else to approach this momentous day which none of us can avoid in our lifetimes?

By Joey Gannon from Pittsburgh, PA (Candles) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Well, I’m also one day closer to 40, one day less in my ticking biological clock whose alarm likes to sound every now and again, reminding me my time is running out whether I want children or not. One year older without a stable career or income or family or a house I can call my own. Harumph!

But there is always another way. And that is the way I took yesterday as I woke up at my parents’ place. I thought about this time last year….a time when I was newly returned from Palestine, heartbroken, lost and jobless. I didn’t want to celebrate my birthday and I didn’t want to see anyone. I was vulnerable to stroppy and self-pitying outbursts with very little prompting. And all I could think about was how to leave my parents’ place and find some space for myself, and preferably a good job to go with it.

With hindsight, I see that this was the first phase of my transition. I was about to embark on a major new journey of the spirit – a word that didn’t really feature in my vocabulary this time last year – and the resistance was strong. This wasn’t about finding a new job or adding something to my CV, this was about surrendering totally to the unknown; digging deep into my personal reality….and, ultimately, gaining far more than just another job or a new home.

At this point I must echo the words of Steve Nobel, a life coach and writer who I discovered last week, who gives talks on and writes about big transitions (he also has a great blog, the Writers Salon, for those wishing to use writing as their healing practice for their transition).  One doesn’t need to be spiritual or into New Age practices to feel touched by what this guy has to say. From  his own tumultuous journey over the years, he has experienced and observed the key stages which transitioners will go through. At stage 1 of our transition we may feel the dream, but the resistance is huge, as it means letting go of an old life that we have grown used to. Our heart or our soul may be pulling us in one direction, but our head will be saying something else: Why do you want to leave that job, are you crazy? You’ll never succeed if you take such risks. What will your friends/family think? 

The resistance may last for months or even years. But one day something will come along – a catalyst – which will shake up your whole life. This tends to come once the intention for change is rooted within us, and before we know it everything seems to be turned upside down. All our old assumptions, direction, identity seems lost and we no longer know what or who to rely on. We are scared, uncertain, fearful. Perhaps at this stage we will experience what is termed a Dark Night of the Soul. I had never heard this term before last week but I recognised it straight away – that night of utter loss and despair, where you appear to be left at sea without a paddle, and in the worst possible storm too. It is indeed a frightening place to be.

252271_307605742661599_834237484_n

But such moments are an indicator that a profound change is taking place, that goes beyond mere career or lifestyle progression. For me, this signalled the real start of the transition, because it was in grieving for and letting go of all that I had been holding on to that I could truly surrender to the unknown. And the unknown, once we’ve shed these old habits and anxieties and fears, is actually a place of lightness and learning. Each day brings a new lesson, or an unexpected moment of clarity and assurance. The journey becomes the important and vital factor, not the destination.

And so when I think about my birthday I am reminded of this journey that I have taken, and how much I have learned along the way. I also think of all my teachers in the last year – and I’m not talking about academic ones. Healers, writers, artists, fellow transitioners, friends, acquaintances, even strangers – so many have touched me in the last year in unimaginable ways, and in ways that would not have been possible a year ago when my heart and spirit remained locked and my mind and body resistant to change. Indeed, as I mark being a year older, a year wiser, I have a lot to be grateful for.

It’s been over a year since I returned from Palestine, and almost a year of official unemployment. My parents look at me with deep concern in their eyes; I feel that some of my friends are intentionally avoiding the thorny issue of my continuing joblessness. Sure, from the outside the situation looks pretty dire: in my thirties, living with my parents, no money saved for a rainy day, seemingly unable to get a job that I actually want or that I would find rewarding. Single with no sign of romance on the horizon.

And yet this transition is turning into a long journey of self-discovery. I haven’t been working in a job, but I’ve been working on myself – getting to the bottom of what makes me happy, what makes me sad or insecure. Once the journey starts, you have no idea where it will take you; all you can do is give in to the uncertainty. It has in fact only been in the last few weeks that I’ve seen the value in this time, when before I was always thinking I should be doing something else. It turns out that I shouldn’t – I needed to be right here, with myself. This is my year of growth, and the gestation period is not yet over.

Transitions take time – we can’t expect to put one chapter of our lives behind us and move on to a new one straight away. Just learning to accept that certain aspects of my life, certain habits, need to change or stop altogether has been a process in itself. Each time I’ve thought I’d reached some acceptance about moving on from my previous career there’d be a new job advertised to try and suck me back in. It is really only in the last month or so that I’ve truly learned to say no to these temptations. I know my boundaries – what I’m willing to do, and what I know I shouldn’t do because it will hurt me or set me on a backward path. But it has taken time to reach this point. And so the transition is by no means over – actually it has only just begun, and the next chapter of my life is yet to unfold.

This is a transitioner’s biggest challenge – having the patience to let the journey and strength not to force our future but to go with the flow. People use this term all the time, but how often do we really put it into practice? We like to think that we are spontaneous and relaxed about what comes our way, but I’ve realised that actually I’ve spent much of my life trying to control what happens. We do this as a defensive measure, to avoid disappointments or having to face an unpleasant truth about ourselves. It is only when we truly stop what we’re doing to be still and present, that we can begin to understand what is meant by ‘the flow’ – the wave of different emotions and feelings that arise from slowing down and focusing on ourselves instead of what surrounds us. To go with the flow means letting go, surrendering, and understanding that we cannot force the answers. Transitions by their very nature imply an element of uncertainty, and all we can really do is embrace that and wonder at the surprises that reveal themselves once we stop trying to control our trajectory. This can mean that some days there appear to be an abundance of opportunities, but other days nothing seems quite right. Progress can be shoddy; two steps forward, one step back. I have to remind myself each time I feel dissatisfied and full of self-doubt – and these occasions do certainly still occur though not as often, thankfully – that I also have moments of great excitement and anticipation, where I feel like Tony in West Side Story singing ‘Something’s coming’.

Could be!
Who knows?
There’s something due any day;
I will know right away,
Soon as it shows.
It may come cannonballing down through the sky,
Gleam in its eye,
Bright as a rose!

Who knows?
It’s only just out of reach,
Down the block, on a beach,
Under a tree.
I got a feeling there’s a miracle due,
Gonna come true,
Coming to me!

Could it be? Yes, it could.
Something’s coming, something good,
If I can wait!
Something’s coming, I don’t know what it is,
But it is
Gonna be great!

I can’t expect to experience growth and expansion every day. But I’m learning to regard each difficult experience or emotion as something to learn from, rather than something to avoid or be afraid of. And so when I had some acupressure treatment which left me crying every day for four weeks, I ultimately chose to embrace that experience – confront it head on, rather than run away from it, and understand that the hurt I felt from it was a form of healing, of letting go. Now I go to the centre every week for meditation and Qi Gong classes, and it’s a profound experience each and every time. I’ve become more aware of my fragilities, that I’m not the tough person I thought I was. I’m more like a precious object (we all are) that needs to be handled gently, by myself and by others. This discovery has inevitably resulted in me having to avoid certain social situations; there is no longer any payoff for placing myself in environments which are destructive for my sense of wellbeing.  Of course, recognising what those situations are is not always easy, and on several occasions I’ve misjudged it, resulting in a sad and lonely end to the day. But soon after that I’ve picked myself up again, brushed myself off and said to myself, ‘OK, so today’s lesson is…’ Every lesson is a blessing, good or bad – they help us find our inner truth. It is only once we go through some kind of shedding process that our true selves can really emerge.

Now I find myself hunting out those things I know will nurture me and give me confidence, which in my case is increasingly linked to creative interests. A year ago I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that I would be blogging, or singing in a choir (which I recently joined after not having sung for at least 15 years), or going to meditation classes where I do 20 minutes of chanting followed by 20 minutes of ‘Heaven and Earth’ movements. I doubt I would have done any of these things if I was back in a 9 to 5 job.

What I realise now is that this time is an opportunity to try new things, but also to pursue any interests that have for some time been lying dormant. I’m reminded of what one of the Qi Masters said to me last week. She was referring to a true story by George Ritchie, who died for nine minutes and was then brought back to life. In those nine minutes, he literally saw his life flashing before his eyes. The biggest lesson he learned from the experience is that if there is something in your life you want to do, then you must go and do it; you don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and your last breath should be one of fulfilment, not of disappointment. I haven’t yet read the book but it’s next on my reading list. I’ve become a junky for anything that inspires me right now, including true stories and self-help books. They’ve replaced my obsession with reading the newspapers and Human Rights Watch reports – no bad thing for me right now, if you read my previous blog post on burnout.

So a final word on my transition so far? I’m still in the gestation period. Maybe one day in the next month, or the next year, I’ll be ready to emerge from my cocoon of self-inquiry and healing – radiant, confident and ready to fly.

The Thesis Whisperer

Just like the horse whisperer - but with more pages

An Activist Abroad

philosopical musings for the curious mind

mindfulnext.org/

Building resilience and preventing burnout in aid work

Mindfulbalance

An Irish Mindfulness Meditation Blog: Self-care, resilience, meaning and personal development.