following the path you can’t see

IMG_7082Umstead State Park, Raleigh, NC  – Photo by Viki Atkinson

There’s a quote that’s been around for years, something along the lines of “growing old ain’t for sissies.” I’d like to propose that living your life by following (or trying to follow) spiritual guidance ain’t for sissies, either.

That stepping out in faith thing? A lot of the time it’s like that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in which he comes upon an impossibly wide bottomless abyss that he has to cross to continue his quest—only there’s no bridge or Tarzan swing or anything that might help him do that. His only option is to take a step out over the abyss and hope like hell something will happen to help him across. When he finally does step out (spoiler alert!), his foot lands on something solid—invisible, but solid. So he takes another step, and he makes it all the way across on an invisible bridge that never would have shown itself if he hadn’t taken that first trusting step.

For five or six years now, I’ve been feeling as though I’m being led to and prepared for some…purpose…and yet the specifics of that purpose remain elusive. For the first part of my life, my purpose was pretty clear, although it was only in hindsight that I really saw it. My life was about transforming lives through dance, whether I did it through performing, choreographing, teaching, or writing about it. I was often lucky enough to be able to see the evidence of the work I did, in the growth of my students both as dancers and people, in the community theatre actors who told me that they had always been intimidated by dancing but that I had made it fun, in the comments of people who told me my reviews helped them make sense of the modern dance performances they attended.

Later, I created my own line of women’s clothing, a business I started from my home and ran for twelve years. I used linen and hemp, environmentally friendly fabrics, and my purpose shifted to creating clothing that women could feel good about wearing, as well as educating people about industrial hemp and its benefits and uses.

In 2006, I moved to Richmond, Virginia, a move that was prompted by…well, guidance. I can’t really explain it beyond that. I came up with “normal” things to tell people—I needed a change of scenery, I wanted to be closer to my mom, who lived a short drive away in Virginia—and all of those things were true. However, the real reason is that, right after my then-husband and I split, I got this “knowing” that I wasn’t going to stay in the town where we’d lived for eleven years. A couple of years later, I got another “knowing” that it was time to start looking at moving. I considered several places but inexplicably kept circling back to Richmond, which I knew little about other than a few stops I’d made there over the years when going north on I-95 to DC. I had yet another “knowing” when I drove up to scout out the city; as I rounded a curve on the interstate and caught a first glimpse of the city skyline, a feeling washed over me and wordlessly said ‘this is it.’ I still had no idea why I was supposed to move to Richmond; I just knew I was.

To make a long story short, once I’d decided on Richmond, little synchronicities started lining up in an uncanny way. This was one time when following guidance was fun. I wasn’t sitting on my hands or anything, but a lot of what happened during this period involved me just watching the pieces fall into place one after the other.

A few years into my Richmond sojourn, I started feeling the aforementioned pull towards a new purpose. I didn’t know what it was, but I had a sense it involved writing. I applied to a graduate program in English and got in—and realized the minute I received the acceptance letter that I had no desire whatsoever to go to grad school. So I kept searching, trying to figure out what it was that I was supposed to do.

My time in Richmond ended up being more difficult than I’d anticipated, especially given the ease with which the actual move happened. One of the primary challenges was that—even after I’d been there for six years, had bought a lovely cottage in a great neighborhood, and had made great friends and neighbors—the city never felt like home. I continued to feel like a stranger in a strange land. I also couldn’t seem to get a foothold career-wise, and the last year or so that I was there, the doors seemed to be slamming shut in my face one after the other. But I’d been led there, by jiminy, so I was determined to make it work.

Finally, I was talking to a friend on the phone one day, and he said, “What if the next part of your path involves leaving Richmond?” Well, it was like the question flipped a switch in my head. I immediately decided to return to NC (for which I’d been homesick pretty much the entire time I was in Virginia), and, after a few zigs and zags, I arrived in Raleigh six months later. Once again, I didn’t have a plan other than to find work, get reacquainted with old friends and old haunts, and enjoy being back in North Carolina.

There have been some bumps along the way—like being hit with a four-figure car repair bill a couple of weeks after I arrived, before I was even employed full-time. Then six months after arriving, I was down-sized from my regular part-time job (I now do grant work for them on a contract basis), which ultimately allowed me to do more work for the freelance writing client that payed me more, so things ended up being okay. In the last few months, I’d finally begun to feel like I was catching up financially, and what happens? That same writing client (who provides around 80% of my income) cuts my work hours (and therefore my income) by more than half, effective immediately, due to budget constraints.

I’ve swung back and forth between a couple of reactions to this latest challenge. One is the perfectly understandable “Oh, crap, cut me a break…what am I going to do now?!?!?” reaction. The other (having been through a few of these less-than-subtle nudges from the Universe in recent years) is the “Ah…the Universe is nudging me along to the next thing on my path, and I just need to take deep breaths and chill until I get some sort of clue what step(s) I should take next” reaction. The first reaction is perfectly logical—having your income cut by half is definitely an “Oh, s**t” event. The second reaction? Well, first of all, it’s easier said than done. Secondly, most people would think that being all zen about having your income drastically slashed is completely nuts.

However, I’ve done the panicky, it’s-the-end-of-the-world reaction plenty of times in the past. It’s not fun, and in the end it doesn’t help. This is not to say I haven’t visited that place several times in the last couple of weeks, but this time around, I’ve been able to catch myself doing it, and the part of me that knows it doesn’t help has been able to whisper, “Snap out of it. It’s going to be fine. You’ve made it through a lot of other stuff, and you’ll make it through this. Not only that, when you’ve gotten to the other side, you’ve seen that the seemingly end-of-the-world event usually led to something better. So chill. Shut down the panicky chatter in your brain so you can hear the guidance that your intuition is trying to convey.”

Which brings us back to Indiana Jones and taking that first step on a path you can’t see. First of all, there has to be a part of you that actually believes there is a path. Otherwise, all those wacky intuitions and flashes of guidance, which often make little or no sense at the time, are easy to dismiss. You also need to believe in the path to get through the low spots—and trust me, there are going to be low spots. As I said, following a path to your purpose ain’t for sissies, but if you can manage to step back and try to see the long view, to remind yourself that there is a plan, even if you can’t see it; it will be a lot easier to ride out the bumps and hairpin turns.

Secondly, you need to accept that when you follow the unseen path, other people are going to be inclined to think you’re crazy, even certifiable. They’ll also be inclined to offer what seems (to them) to be perfectly logical advice or alternatives. “Well, why don’t you just…?” “Under the circumstances, shouldn’t you…?” “Well, if I were you, I’d….” I’ve learned that trying to explain why you’re doing this crazy thing or why you’re not doing the logical thing is pretty much an exercise in futility. Most of the time, even you don’t understand why exactly you’re doing something like moving to Richmond; how are you supposed to explain it to someone else?

I now understand the “reasons” I moved to Richmond, and I could probably explain them up to a point. However, it’s only really important that I understand them, that I get the lessons that Richmond provided me. I probably won’t know the lessons of this leg of my journey until much later, either. It is what it is.

Currently, I’m torn. The panicky part of me is trying furiously to figure out the whys of my present situation and what to do about it, wildly grasping at potential solutions. The zen part of me is trying to trust that I’ll be shown the next steps. Right now, they’re neck and neck, but the zen part seems to be pulling ahead.

A dancer friend once advised the following for facing stressful times: “Breathe and sway, breathe and sway.” I had forgotten this little saying until recently, and I think I’ll put it back in my spiritual toolbelt. In the meantime, I’m going keep my mind and my heart open and trust that the invisible path is there, that I’ll know what I need to know when I need to know it, and that I’ll have what I need when I need to have it.

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5 thoughts on “following the path you can’t see

  1. You’re right, Viki. Being on this path and following the leading of Spirit is not for sissies. I’ve stood at the edge of the abyss also, wondering how in the hell to get across to the other side. Sometimes I get to the other side and other times I have to change direction. And, some of those times it seems I’ve stood on the edge for a long time before I found my way. I believe in you and in the path you are walking. You’re a beautiful, trusting soul and I want you to know you are not alone; there are many of us walking by your side. I’m here for you. <3

  2. I just met you here after waking up agitated and feeling the need to find the Rumi poem “Say yes quickly” which turned up on your blog and for which I thank you. Exactly what was needed. Seems Rumi and you and Brenda and I and I guess a host of others are one. This thought just got remembered : It’s impossible to make a mistake.

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