|Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on January 11, 2018 at 3:45 AM|
I’ve never been big on setting new year’s resolutions. But for most of my life I’ve had a general idea of the major professional goals I was working toward in any given year. For 10 years my goal was to get my PhD. After that, when I had a corporate job, I worked hard to achieve the metrics that were set by my company. When I quit my corporate job my goal was to write a book about getting off antidepressants and establish a health and wellness business. From there I started working at Harvard Medical School, where my goal was to do research and write grants on yoga for children. Then, in 2015, I entered what I now see as a huge transition point. I quit my job at Harvard, lived in a cabin in the woods for 2 months, then moved to Prague.
Looking back on this transition point, I can honestly say that I had no idea why I was doing what I was doing. I knew that I needed to leave Boston, I felt a call to spend more time in nature, and Prague was tugging at my soul strings, as it had been doing for many years (in 2012, my husband and I actually announced to our friends that we’d be moving to Prague in 2013, but then the Harvard job came along so we put our plans on hold). I had no logical reason to move to Prague aside from the fact that my husband has dual Czech/Canadian citizenship so we could live in Europe long-term without much hassle.
In July 2015, two weeks before I moved to Prague, I participated in Sera Beak’s Soul Fire Retreat near Helena, Montana. That retreat launched me on a descent into the Unknown that is still happening today. Over the last 2 years I’ve written several blogs on topics like soul descent, entering the unknown, endings/beginnings, opening to the mystery, and grappling to find my sense of purpose. The main message behind all of these blogs is that I still don’t have a clue why I’m in Prague or WTF I’m doing with my life. Those of you who read my blog regularly might be getting tired of me lamenting on these themes, and to be honest, I’m getting tired of it too. In fact, I sat down at my computer this morning planning to write an entirely different blog - but it didn’t feel genuine.
So I’m choosing to continue to write authentically about where I’m at in this moment, because I get the sense that many others are in the same place. I write for you, but I also write for me. Writing helps me sort my thoughts and if nothing else, gives me a venue to vent. So let’s continue, shall we?
The new year is a time when we all get bombarded with ideas about making plans, goals, and resolutions, which is probably why my entry into 2018 is feeling difficult. When I broaden my view and look ahead at my year, I see a huge blank page. And I’m being quite literal here. At this moment, I have zero plans, goals, or major projects in the books for 2018. I’m teaching a Positive Psychology course at a local university from February to May, but that’s pretty much the only thing in my calendar right now. I have no travel plans, no professional milestones, no weddings or conferences to attend…heck, I don’t even have plans for this weekend! There’s nothing bubbling up from within me saying, “Work on this project” or “Travel to this place” (aside from my continuous longing to spend time in nature).
The whole predicament is rather maddening.
I’ve spent my entire adult life as a highly motivated Type A achievement addict who juggled multiple goals at the same time. And I was good at it. For the past two years, however, it’s like I’ve been living in a fog, unsure about what direction to take in several areas of my life. I’ve described this type of “soul descent” in other blogs, and Bill Plotkin describes it quite well in his book Soulcraft. In a nutshell, there are points in our lives when we shed our old skins and descend into the unknown in an attempt to develop a closer relationship with our Soul. Our time spent in the unknown is awkward and uncomfortable. We’ve let go of an old story, but we haven’t found a new story yet. We dissolve into “caterpillar goop” in our cocoon while we wait to become a butterfly.
I was totally cool with spending a few months in the unknown, or maybe even a year. But 2+ years? With no end in sight? I would be lying if I said the whole thing wasn’t weighing on me.
The funny thing is that the descent can end in an instant. Some people have a dream that directs them toward their new mission. Others get a job offer or a book deal or a marriage proposal. One day you can be wading through a swamp of uncertainty and the next you can feel right on track. I’m doing my best to hold close to these ideas and trust that the purpose of my life is to simply have the experience of being human. And for me, right now, part of that experience means living in the unknown.
When I look back over the past 2 years, I actually have trouble even figuring out where the time went. I’ve done a shitload of introspection (too much, actually). I’ve gone for a lot of walks, read a lot of books, written a few blogs, listened to a lot of music, drank a lot of tea, and stared at the night sky searching for answers. I’ve danced around my apartment in an attempt to get out of my head and into my body. I’ve engaged in a process I like to call “ruminate, journal, cry, repeat.” I’ve engaged in this process so much that I’ve basically stopped journaling because I keep writing the same things over and over. I’ve taken some online courses, watched motivational videos, and read a lot of other people’s blogs. Sure, I’ve worked on some professional projects within all of this, but the work has felt very secondary. My work has felt so secondary that I keep running out of money, which leads to a lot of financial stress.
I think the past 2 years have broken down my sense of ego and identity so thoroughly that I’m finally starting to surrender. A full surrender hasn’t happened yet, but it feels imminent. I’m finally willing to admit to myself and others that I have no plan, no goals, no ambition, and no grand mission for my life. I’m tired of reading personal development books, desperately grasping for answers that continue to allude me. As Unmani often teaches, I have no idea how to live (watch Unmani’s video on Living Without Knowing How To Live for a description of this predicament). Note: this doesn’t mean I’m suicidal. It means I’ve finally reached a point of realizing that no matter how hard I try to control my life and the people in it, I am not in control. I can’t force things to happen. I can’t manifest money or career opportunities from an inauthentic place of trying too hard to succeed. I can't force the people I love to do what I think they should do. No matter how many self-help books I read or green smoothies I drink or yoga classes I attend or vitamins I take - I am not in control.
I’ve spent most of my life holding on to everything and everyone around me with an iron grip. I've desperately tried to hold on to jobs or relationship patterns or dollars and cents in an effort to keep myself safe, manipulate the world around me, and convince myself that everything will be ok. But I’m tired of trying to hold it all together.
Moving to Prague in 2015 stripped away almost every identity I’ve ever had in both my personal and professional life. And a new identity simply hasn’t coalesced yet.
In hindsight, all of this makes perfect sense. Prague is a magical place full of darkness and light, playfulness and mystery. Cobblestone streets weave like labyrinths around the city, dark alleyways lead to surprising adventures, and the often-grey weather (especially in autumn/winter) lends a sense of moodiness and romanticism to everyday life. There are castles and Celtic settlements scattered throughout the city proper and the Czech countryside. I still half expect to see fairies and trolls around every corner. So of course my soul brought me here to begin its descent.
You know the old stories about fairies kidnapping people and bringing them to alternate realities where time doesn't pass in normal ways? My time in Prague has felt kind of like that. And no, I haven't been drinking too much absinthe.
The problem is that I have no idea how long this period of not-knowing will last. Andrew Harvey once described his dark night of the soul as lasting over a decade and almost killing him. While I sincerely hope this won’t be the case for me, I need to surrender my ideas about how long my descent is going to last and what the result is going to be.
In the meantime, I will continue to write. It might be sporadic or even nonsensical. I’m not as involved in social media as I used to be, and to some this might give the impression that I’m disappearing. And to be honest, I think that’s what I am doing in a very subtle way. Old parts of me are continually dying, while other parts that I thought were long gone sometimes resurface. There’s no clear pattern or plan for our undoing or our reemergence. As Dorothy Hunt writes,
“To live from our natural state means discovering that there is no map for how to live. The voice that always asked “how?” has been quieted, and we are living more and more directly from the Mystery that is whole and undivided. This mystery of our Being is deeply and unflinchingly present to the moment as it appears, and thus can move with an intelligence, wisdom, compassion and love unknown to the mind that seeks to be in control.”
I’m doing my best to live through this transition with as much grace and self-compassion as I can muster.
Which is why I’m continuing to write about it. No matter how depressing I sound or how worried the people around me get. Because this is Truth. This is who I am and where I am right now. You can choose to read it or you can choose to ignore me. It’s up to you. I don’t want to hide these difficult feelings behind a wall of shame, because I think that makes the process worse (and might even make it last longer - argh!). I don’t want others to feel shame about being goalless and directionless in 2018. We’re entering a new paradigm, my friends. As Charles Eisenstein says, we’re in the space between stories.
But at least we’re in it together.