Living in the Gulf Between What Was and What Is to Come

Learning to embrace the unknown and set sail towards new horizons.

16 May 2024 / Published in The Taoist Online on Medium
Photo credits / Josh Sorenson on Unsplash

There are times in our lives when the usual rock-solid anchors that keep us in safe harbours can suddenly break free of their moorings, and we find ourselves drifting away from the shores of the island that we once called home and into an unknown sea.

Whether it be the loss of a job, a breakup, or being forced to move, suddenly, an unknown future looms in the distance.

I have also recently been faced with a massive shakeup in my world, and I’ll tell you, it can feel pretty unnerving. Let’s face it: we’re human, and humans like structure and security. So it’s natural that once we find solid ground, we want it to stay that way.

But sometimes we can stay too long in one place.

When I really listen to my inner voice, I can feel it in my bones that I have, in one way or another, plateaued. Things might feel safe and secure, but at the same time, there’s an atmosphere of staleness and predictability. We’re comfortably numb, as Pink Floyd once said. We just know in our hearts that we have outgrown that job, relationship, or place where we rest our heads.

There’s a slight restlessness to set sail once again, but we’re still tethered to the security of what we know. And, of course, there’s the constant question: What if what’s out there isn’t better than how we have it now?

But lately, I’ve been asking myself: Will I look back and regret not taking a chance on life? On myself?

And it’s funny…I may not always listen to that inner voice, but the universe always is, and sometimes, it will set things in motion for me, whether I’m ready or not.

I’ve begun to see this as an opportunity and not as a loss. I think that’s the game-changer that can set things in motion. How many times in life do we really get a chance to reassess everything and make sweeping life changes? If I can look away from the tendency to cling to what I know and instead turn toward the uncertainty with vision and strength, some beautiful things may be headed my way.

I call it embracing the chaos.

Preparing to go

So, the moment arrives when you know that the time has come. Something beckons out there, but you’re not quite there yet. Maybe you have to tie up loose ends so that you can untie your moorings to this place and be more comfortable in letting your island of calm slowly recede behind you as you set sail. You might have to mourn what is, knowing that it’s about to change drastically. Or maybe you’re just taking one last look around with appreciation and love. Whatever you’re doing, just keep in mind that you’ve learned a lot from where you’ve been, and you don’t have to leave it all behind.

You can take the good things with you.

So you board your craft, maybe unsteadily at first. You start to load good supplies for the journey—the knowledge you have gained, the experiences, the friendships — and pack them tight and deep in the hull of your ship.

As you do this, one thing is for sure now: It’s no longer about if, it’s about when.

If you don’t go, you’ll never get there.

— ‘Pearls’, by Jessie Ware

Getting our sea legs

There’s definitely a period where you have to get your sea legs again. You haven’t done this for a while and need some practice. Think of it as resetting your coordinates—getting to know how the ship moves again and how you move with it.

Sometimes, when you first push off, you turn back at the first sight of an unsteady sea. Maybe you have to do a few test runs. But soon, you will get the hang of this again. It’s important not to confuse your newfound unsteadiness with making the wrong decision.

Where do we steer the ship?

Even if I’m not sure exactly where I’m going yet, I can still set sail without knowing the exact place where I’m going to end up. However, I need to point the boat somewhere, at least to start with.

I know sometimes there’s a tendency to know the exact coordinates before we head off. To know every corner of this new land that I’m heading to. But do we ever know everything about anything?

This is when I have to trust my gut. My instincts give me hints of possible directions. They may be weak at first, but if I really listen, I will be able to see at least a glimmer of what could come next. I should think about what vibrates happiness in me, so it’s always good to do what you love and see where it takes you. Think of it as your archipelago of dreams. That’s an excellent place to start.

Hold on to your faith

As you ride on the undulating sea of the unknown, there are probably going to be long periods when you don’t see anything at all in front of you and the island that you left is long gone, swallowed up by the horizon behind you.

I once read something that really stuck with me. If you’re on a road trip, you don’t turn back just because you don’t see your final destination, right? You keep going, knowing that, eventually, you will get there. Faith is your compass.

Sooner or later, a tiny speck of light on the horizon will come into view. It’s still far away, but you’ve gained enough momentum to be in the vicinity of it. At first, you only moved millimetres, and it seemed pointless. But you are moving, my friend. You just haven’t zoomed in close enough to see it.

With every action, we move towards something and away from something else. In one day, it feels like stagnation. But after a week or a month, suddenly, you can really notice your momentum.

Watch out for pirates

This is a time when there might be people around you that steer you off course. They may be negative or more fearful, reminding you of your previous home and the safety that it brought.

This is the time for good friends and teachers. People who can help guide your way while you’re figuring it all out and can help steer you away from running aground somewhere.

The only real danger in embarking on this new journey is drifting too long without direction. If you don’t choose a destination, you can easily get lost. I don’t think it matters so much if the direction that I choose is not the final destination in the end. But if it isn’t, I will probably be closer to what I do want. And if it isn’t, hell, at least you explored it.

When you finally see land off in the distance, your momentum will grow even more. And as you approach this new, mysterious land…once you finally set anchor and take the first step off your ship onto these new shores — perhaps a little more worn and battered, but still seaworthy–you can take pride in the fact that you took the journey.

You unload all of the good things that you brought with you and find where they fit in your new home. And you may find that some of those things thrive here and some just fade away.

And one more thing: Always enjoy where you are. We don’t have to obsessively think about the next port of call. If we do that, we don’t stay long enough at our new destination to enjoy it and to learn new lessons, connect with new people and do the good honest work it takes to build something solid and resilient. We are always just in passing and constantly projecting our lives into the future.

So why not embrace the chaos? What if you changed your outlook on the unknown? How many chances do we have to shake up everything, dust off the cobwebs, really reassess, and make a change? What if you looked at it as a gift? As your evolution. It is a time to reinvent yourself outside of your comfort zone. After all, what is chaos anyway? It’s potentiality and the unexpected. And that gulf between two worlds is where the magic happens.

It is scary at times, and it takes courage. Storms will come and rock your ship back and forth, and sometimes, you will wonder why you ever left. But when you arrive, it’s more than likely that you will wonder why you didn’t leave sooner.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

— Anais Nin

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