I woke up this morning to an email, an answer to a burning question I had about a big next step.
The answer could either open a portal for me to cross over from a prolonged place of limbo to a new chapter, or it could keep me hanging out in the void.
The answer was No. Not today. Not this time. Keep waiting. Keep fumbling in the dark.
I stared at my screen and felt a twinge of disappointment and sadness, but mostly I felt blank. So, this was not my portal, I said to myself with a sigh. I’m going to be here a bit longer. Don’t lose heart.
Almost six months ago, I turned my whole world inside out and upside down, and set it on fire for good measure. I left one chapter to start a new one, only for the chapter to end far more abruptly and quickly than I had been prepared for. Except, this time, I was thousands of miles from what had been home, without resources or a support system in place.
And it launched me, ready or not, headfirst into some of the fears that have quietly dominated my life for the past decade. Fears about my capabilities, my power, my capacity for hardship. Without the comforts of familiarity or friends, I’ve stared long and hard at the trail I blazed to come out this far and what it would cost me to go back the way I came.
Almost every day, I pep talk my way out of bed and into the search for options. I reach out to a few of my dearest friends. I engage in practices that fill my emotional cup and care for my body.
And in the midst of this tumultuous time, I’ve noticed something beautiful: I’m grounding down, challenging old mindsets, taking full responsibility for caring for myself, allowing myself to need support from others, and, slowly, finding a place of calm in the midst of the shaking ground.
It’s a fluid process, not an arrival.
But I’m taking heart with this newfound growth. So, if you’re also navigating this uncomfortable place of waiting for a portal to open in your life, you’re in good company.
Here are a few practices I’ve found helpful in facilitating new growth while I ground down into this space of uncertainty:
1. Get curious about the stories that are popping up in the void.
Hint: they’re often not stories with a positive spin.
They may be shaming you for (a perceived) f*cking up. They may be telling you you’re stuck, that this is as far as you can go toward your dreams or freedom. They may say you’re not doing enough; or if you’d just done x, y, z, you wouldn’t be in this position; or perhaps that you’re weak and powerless to affect the changes you want to see in your life or in the world.
Instead of immediately judging, silencing, or bypassing these stories, allow yourself to ask where they’re coming from. Who told you these things? Do you accept them as truth? If you were listening to a best friend share these stories with you, how would you respond?
Another way of saying this could be, pay attention to your triggers. Instead of reacting to them as factual, step back, and look at them. Sit with the emotions that arise. Let yourself wonder at another story you could tell yourself about this trigger, rather than the one that is the loudest.
And then, write it out. Speak it out. Begin to practice telling a different version of the narrative. We may not have control of a number of things, but this is always within our control.
2. Set a timer and give your fear a safe place to be heard.
Unpopular opinion: I don’t believe in fearlessness. To me, it’s neither practical, honest, or virtuous. What would substantiate courage, after all, if we were never afraid of what we had to face? What is light without dark, joy without grief, love without sacrifice?
A gentler way of looking at it is seeing our fears as the little child in us, asking us to check the closets and beneath the bed before shutting off the light at bedtime. We can be the loving parent, listening and reassuring our fears that they’ve been heard and now it’s time to rest. We’ll be right down the hall.
That’s not to say those fears are not also rational and valid. We may have few reassurances or answers if any. If we listen too much, we may find ourselves overwhelmed and believing ourselves insufficient to the task of taking care of what we need.
If this is the case, set a timer for five or 10 minutes. Give your fears a chance to get it all out in this chunk of time. And once the timer goes off, tell them you’ll be here to listen again tomorrow. You care about what they have to say, but now it’s time to give your energies to other pressing things.
Sometimes, just allowing this space for fears to be voiced is enough to make them appear smaller, less powerful, more vulnerable. And this diffuses some of their intensity.
3. Keep a steady inventory of gratitude.
While we’re waiting for something to open to us, we can experience an acute sense of lack. This can be accompanied by desperation for certainty, familiarity, or provision, which again, might be driven by legitimate need. We need a job, a paycheck, a diagnosis, a verdict, a place to land, a relational solution, an answer to a question left dangling midair, and this need can loom so large that it overshadows what we already do have.
This is where gratitude comes in as a means of sustenance.
But first, a word on what gratitude is not: a weapon, a cure, or a technique for bypassing complexity, injustice, or pain. Let’s be clear—being grateful for what you have won’t prevent eviction, fill the bellies of families living on the edge of food scarcity, save a marriage, make a job materialize, or cure cancer. If we treat it as such, we risk doing ourselves and others a disservice or causing serious harm.
However, in my experience, I’ve found that bathing myself in genuine words of gratitude—over and over again—satiates an anxious part of me that is starving for provision. It feeds my spirit and quietens my mind with concrete examples of truth.
I may not have everything I need in this given moment, but there are gifts presented to me every single day that, when I recognize them, remind me I am attended to. That life can be beautiful and rich and full even while it’s hard and painful and uncertain.
All it takes, some days, is an inventory of my breath, clean air, water to drink, a hot shower, a bed to sleep in, birdsong, wildflowers, leaves changing colors, the crescent moon, fresh coffee, a few good friends, sturdy legs, memories of what I’ve already overcome—to fill me up so wholly, I am spilling over with tears at the realization of how rich I am.
In this space of overflow, I open to what is yet unknown. I surrender to timing that is beyond my control. And I sustain myself in the waiting.
One of these days, that portal will open. And when it does, I’ll carry with me all the resources I tapped into, all the growth I labored for, in the waiting.
So will you.