Do you feel like you’re going nowhere?

If someone asked you where are you heading, what would your reply be? Might it be going nowhere?

That’s not intended as a frivolous question, though many right now might feel tempted to reply with variations around “get lost!”. It could be something around, “don’t ask me questions I can’t answer”. Because such is the state of the world right now that there don’t seem to be answers and many people feel incredibly uncertain and anxious about the future, and even focusing on the immediate can be really hard work and tiring.

What’s your state of the world?

In the UK, there is a decision pending about Brexit, but there’s no sense that things will get better and if anything could get a whole lot worse. In other countries, there’s a lot of unrest, even in places a sense of near-revolt, or continued concern about President Trump or whoever, or a general dissatisfaction with one’s lot, or a wondering if you will get by. Then we hear of the dire state of the climate and how humanity’s future could be in doubt if we don’t change course. We read of stock market crashes, the rising price of fuel, the risks of a trade war, or disasters of one kind of another. The mind, once aroused around fear, will quickly focus on more things and we start to catastrophise, like something dreadful might happen, or going through “what if” scenarios. Just to check, ask yourself: have you over the last week been predominantly optimistic or pessimistic?

One way such uncertainty can show up is in how we feel, like feeling tired, exhausted, low energy, low morale, or struggling to get motivated. It’s like pushing water uphill and not having a sense of achieving anything, going nowhere again. Some report waking up at night feeling very anxious, but with no particular reason.

Disempowerment: not being in control

People don’t feel like they can get on with their lives. It can manifest as a sense of disempowerment, or, to borrow a phrase much used at present, “not being in control”. Anger can spill out every now and again, like the Gilets Jaunes protests in France. People need to express it somehow because otherwise the powerlessness gets channelled internally.

I used to work with this state a lot in organisations going through major restructuring which could seriously impact people’s jobs, especially when awaiting announcements. It was the “not knowing” that really did it for them. They’d feel like they were going nowhere. It was hard if not impossible to plan ahead, to get a sense of direction. People would experience a loss of purpose, even of competence and self-esteem. They didn’t feel valued.

I used to call it a “limbo” state, being in limbo.

It also happens when people are awaiting a health diagnosis. They know something is wrong, but they don’t know what it is or, crucially, what is to be done about it. Will it be serious – or not? Will they be OK – or not?

It’s the not knowing, the state in between, a void, which we try unsuccessfully to avoid. Going nowhere

Afterwards, it’s different. Once people know, they can plan, prepare and get on with their life. Now they at least know where they stand. It might not be that pleasant, but at least they can get on with things.

What can you do?

So it’s important to remember that this is a passing phase. It does not last. Life goes on. Remember the famous John Lennon quote,Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Or the Buddhist understanding that all is impermanent, all in process, and that nothing stays the same. So too, we move on. If we allow it.

So, if you are faced with uncertainty in some form, while it isn’t necessarily nice, you can do something. After all you are a responsible being, if you so choose. So, you can act as one.

One is to look after yourself. This is crucial, since stress levels can rocket. So breathe and meditate, take exercise, eat healthily, every day. Remember your values and what and who you love, including crucially yourself! Love endures despite all things.

Two, have options. There is always a choice, even when we feel disempowered. Find things to make choices over, things you can control. Be prepared, at least to cover possible scenarios. Once you’ve thought it through, put it away somewhere and don’t mull over it.

Three, manage your mind, deliberately, intentionally. After all, we are what we think, and life turns up accordingly. So, by managing our minds, we can keep or regain the focus we want. We can manage and let go of anxiety. This is true taking control. This means, as this blog explains a lot, pausing, stepping back from your stream of thoughts, becoming fully aware, in the present moment, letting thoughts go, being in the Now. And stay there a bit, letting anxiety shift from thinking to feeling to dissolving, so that all you are aware of is Now.

Such present moment awareness allows you to shift from going nowhere  to being now here.

To make an end is to make a beginning – a farewell to our friend Mary

It’s been a bit of a week. It started with being in Dublin when Ireland was learning its fate at the hands of the EU and IMF and ended with the death of one of our friends. Sometimes life seems to go like this, a bunch of momentous events. Where we make an end of something we also make a beginning.

Our friend who just died was 82 and had just written and published her autobiography, which it had taken her 4 years to write. I was really impressed that she, Mary, chose to wrap her life up in this way. One, to write an autobiography having never written a book before, and two, no sooner was it published than she got sick and died. It’s like she had brought things to a fitting close.

She was a courageous person. Not all that long ago she organised and carried out her own world circumnavigation, staying with various women in different parts of the world under a reciprocal arrangement and despite breaking her ankle at one point. She had a gritty, gusty way that we might say characterised those raised during the Second World War, blitz and all. A gruff, reserved exterior, she could be shockingly blunt and rude even, but she was kind, caring and heart-felt in her own way.

When people around us die, it can feel strange and unreal at first, perhaps the shock phase of the grieving cycle described by Elizabeth Kubler-Rosse. One moment, there she is and the next, gone.

Of course, from my understanding, she has simply left her body for her next phase in re-connecting with the Whole, but as a human grief is a real and palpable experience, about me and her other friends, and her family, as humans coming to terms with someone going in a totally final way.

The two certainties, existentialists say, about life is that we are born and we die. They are “givens” and some say it is up to us what meaning we make of that. To them however, life ceases at that point. Not for me it doesn’t. But each death still raises once again the challenge of facing the finiteness of life in its material form. To connect with that is to face the fear of ending. No wonder so many of us fear and avoid endings.

TS Eliot wrote,

“To make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from….
We shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
(extracts from Little Gidding)

To me, that’s it: we need to do the journey to really know who we are, which is where we started.

So it somehow seems really fitting that right after, we got this YouTube video clip from a friend, one that is no doubt doing the rounds. Thank you, Richard for this. So I thought you might like to watch it (see the link below). Whatever your religious perspective, there’s to me an affirmation of joy in this chorus from the well-known choral work by Handel, “The Messiah,” in a very unlikely setting.

Joy is who we are. Death is sad and, sure, is feared by us but what we need to do is see beyond the fear to what it has to teach us, through the tears, about life and about what lasts above and beyond the illusion of finiteness.

For the love of our friend Mary. I wish you well on your journey. Enjoy.