Shortly after beginning my master’s program, I began to feel overwhelmed with the uncertainty of the future. During my high school and undergraduate years, I had taken for granted the comfort I felt in knowing what I wanted to do with my life—which was to be deliciously immersed in books, never leaving the hallowed halls of academia. But a changing job market and an underwhelming experience in grad school left me questioning everything, and I struggled to figure out where to direct my skills and worth ethic.
Although I’m in a place of relative stability compared to those final, panic-filled months of grad school, the world has never felt the same to me. And it shouldn’t—we’re living in a chaotic, ever-changing place–yet while there’s indeed a lot of hurt and malice in the world, the element of uncertainty alone shouldn’t instill fear in me. But it does.
Since the age of 22, I’ve tried to hone my ability to find peace amidst questions and take the advice of Rainer Maria Rilke:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Despite having these words these words scrawled on the inside cover of my planner, I haven’t reached the point at which “living the questions” comes organically. I have to make the conscious choice to not fight for answers to big questions or search for structure or closure where there is none.
A big factor allowing me to quiet my anxious questioning (when I make my mind up to do it) is actually allowing myself to feel and acknowledge the angst that accompanies uncertainty. Although it may seem counterintuitive, giving myself room feel lost, scared, or mournful does help—as long as I remind myself that don’t need to pursue answers that can’t be known yet.
Although I would have probably made it to this strategy at some point, a poem I heard in yoga class has helped me tap into this balance. I copied the poem down from what I was hearing, so it may not be verbatim, and I’m not even sure I’m spelling the author’s name, Laura Catone, correctly–and my poking about on Google was in vain. Regardless, this is the part that stood out to me, and, hopefully, it will help you in your journey, too.
“There is no place to hide, my love. All walls of separation are dissolving. Here and now. The collapse no longer has a place to hold your smallness. You are being summoned to emerge in a heap of greatness … open your hands, my darling. Let it all fall apart. Because you are cracking open does not mean you’re broken. Revel in the discomfort of what is not yet known. Grieve all that is and has been lost. Be ravished by the chaos and reboot in the rupture. Surrender to the splitting of your very cells. It is at the bottom of this dark crevice that your true power will meet you, rising from inside.”
When I first heard this excerpt, my chronic low-grade anxiety seemed to dissolve. Subsequent readings have helps recenter me in a matter of minutes. The amazing poem reminds me that this inner piece comes not from the illusive places I’ve been searching for (i.e. the comfort of structure and predetermined purpose or some childhood idyll). Rather, this poem reminds me of my own power–here and now–and the inevitable growth that follows strife.
Perhaps this is the outlook to have—one that assumes the unknown can empower us, not disable us. One that doesn’t presuppose we must moor ourselves to a solid source of comfort—be it money, a particular job, or even a person—in order to feel that we’re in the right place. And that the words “right” and “place” do little to capture the brutal beauty of the now, this special, ephemeral gift.
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