A Balancing Act: Being Here and Going There

I have experienced a great momentum in the past few weeks. Around a month ago now, I had two different conversations with two different managers, which jolted me back to something new, as well as something familiar. As I mentioned a few times, more than a year ago now, I’d had enough of many things. I’d grown tired and hopeless of being a therapist, and of living in London. I was so done with both of those things, that I had started to make arrangements to go back to Lisbon. I no longer cared about what people might think of that decision, or whether it would look like a failure on my part. I’d gone as far as to reach out to contacts looking for work and had a very strong prospect.

It was then that a good friend mentioned a job in education, which had never been my plan, because I’d never wanted to work with children, but which represented a great step in my career, that of managing a therapy service and supervising other therapists. As I was planning to leave anyway, I felt that I had nothing to lose, and so I applied. Two weeks later, I had the job. I decided to stay. But something had greatly shifted in me, going back to the professional burnout I’d experienced only a few months prior to accepting this new job. I’d stopped caring so much about the future. I felt that all the ambition and drive I’d ever had and been known for, had completely left me. I no longer had a plan for the future, not even a vision. I remembered my previous work in addiction and decided to take each day as it came – one day at a time, sometimes one half-day at a time. I found serenity in simply making what felt like the next best decision about everything.

I had never lived like that before or experienced the feeling of just being. It was great to not have the pressure to accomplish anything besides my daily tasks and routine, and to not have to think about anything but the next day. I spent a whole year like that and it felt extremely peaceful. Until last month, when in the space of two days I was asked about my plans for the future. My answer was “I have no idea”. But for the first time in a year, it didn’t feel right. Suddenly I felt like I should know what my plan was, or at least have an inkling of what I wanted to do next. But I would try to look forward and project myself into the future and all I could see was fog. No clarity. I have often found that when we are in crisis, life will give us directions to get out of it. The difficulty is in paying attention to the signs and trust our instincts about them. Being in the moment and present had been amazing, but now I felt like it wasn’t enough. What was next? What did I want?

As usual, therapy helped. Conversations with friends helped. Reading helped. And also, what really helped, was to be patient. When you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything. I learned that many years ago in my Kabbalah studies, and it really rang true to me this past month. Sit with the questions long enough and the answers will emerge. Or at least, some clues will. I had always had a plan for my life. A lot of it was influenced by environment, and so in the year I spent without any plans, I realised that a lot of my ambition was there to please others, to validate my worth to other people. The year of being here, in the present, showed me that my worth is here, inside of me. Not out there, in accomplishments or in people’s opinions. It hasn’t been an easy road, but I’m finally on it. Slowly, by being patient enough, I realised that some of those things were, in fact, things that I also happen to want for myself. Not from a place of accomplishment, but from a place of inner desire and motivation.

One of the biggest clues was given to me by my therapist and it related to continuing academic studies. My MA experience hadn’t been great in several ways, and it had left me somewhat scarred. He helped me to see that, by contrast, I had really enjoyed my first degree, and had really found my groove in terms of writing and research back then. This meant, for instance, that I actually didn’t despise academic writing or research, I’d just had a somewhat unpleasant experience with it in my second degree. I began to experience more and more clarity about what the future might hold. Another factor was London itself. There has been a restlessness inside me for a few years about living here. I don’t see myself staying here, but I also don’t see myself going anywhere else specific. It’s been quite foggy to say the least. And whilst life, and I, have progressed immensely, I also feel that a major change needs to happen within a certain timescale, which I won’t reveal just yet. In short, I’ve given myself a deadline, and then walked backwards from that, and made a clear enough plan for myself.

Unexpectedly, drawing this plan for the future really helped me, and I feel my ambition and drive have returned. There’s a lot more wisdom and insight attached to them now, which is extremely helpful. This has also given me some peace, and basically made me realise that whilst being in the present can be a truly spiritual and cathartic experience, we also need some kind of vision of where we are going. I’m currently reading The Gift of Therapy by Irvin D. Yalom – a great psychotherapist – and came across this great quote the other day:

“I often urge patients to project themselves into the future and to consider how they can live NOW so that five years hence they will be able to look back upon life without regret sweeping over them anew.”

This really resonated with me and what I’ve been experiencing. We need to look ahead, but this needs to be based upon what we are going through now. The future will be determined by the present. It may sound very obvious to everyone, but the implications are great. To create an aligned future – containing all the things that we want, desire, and connect us to some kind of purpose and joy – we need to be aligned in the present. If we are making unconscious decisions in the present, our future will reflect that. But if our decisions are conscious, that is, if they reflect an awareness and authenticity of who we are, then our future will reflect that.

To create the future we want, we need to know what we want now. In order to know what we want now, we need to know ourselves by understanding our many patterns and unconscious processes. The clearer we are about ourselves, the clearer our futures will be. We need to be here, but we also need to know where we’re going. To know and hold both is a continuous balancing act.