By Nicola Albini, J.D., M.A. -This article originally appeared on February 17th 2015 on Elephantjournal.com
Is It Safe to Go Where I'm Going?
Every so often I ask myself the same questions: Where am I going? What am I getting from the experience I'm having presently?
Why is that so?
These are powerful questions, worth checking in with once in awhile. And yet, time and time again I am humbled by the realization that expecting them to be answered on demand is not necessarily in my best interest.
Matter of fact, I rarely have answers to many of my fascinating, thought-provoking questions (I hope you're smiling with me now). And what I'm learning is that it's okay not to have all the answers. In fact, hanging out in the uncomfortable space between the question and the answer is really where all the good stuff happens. It's the place of creation and wild expansion. It's what we signed up for as human beings.
The Buddhists call this "groundlessness," and recognize it as a very natural, normal state of being. Culturally, we are conditioned to seek immediate solutions and logical answers, which is partly why we find this "not knowing" place so damn uncomfortable. We want reassurance that we're safe to take risks in pursuit of our dreams. We want to know for sure that our choices will take us in the direction we want to go. We are very interested in outcomes.
Truth to be told (I'm sorry to break it to you), the answers we seek to those kinds of questions usually never come. Or, rather, once they do we have landed safely in the embodiment of those answers and have moved on to the next iteration of our lives where we are asking the questions all over again. In this way, I'm learning that the answers don't actually exist. They can't because the questions are based on a false premise. The questions imply that we are not safe to pursue our dreams and desires without knowing for sure that our efforts will yield the results we are seeking. The truth is that not only are we safe to live full-out without knowing what will happen, we are meant to.
LIFE IS AN EXPERIMENT
I was blown away the other day when I stumbled across an article saying that many of the most profound scientific discoveries happened as a result of serendipity. In many cases, scientists tried to find answers to a certain question and the results were totally different (and often better) than the ones pre-imagined. In other instances, brand new discoveries were made while scientists were looking for something completely different altogether.
What if life is simply a series of events that are consciously driven (for some) and (unfortunately) unconsciously driven for most? AND what if the results we experience are just a series of beautifully co-created events, leading us to places that we could not have imagined in our wildest dreams?
I like to think of life this way because when I do, openness and receptivity become my natural attitude. I'm convinced that these qualities are the keys for improving our lives because they allow us to live from the mystery of the questions (life itself) rather than rushing toward the certainty of the answers (which is a kind of death).
Albert Einstein said it perfectly when he wrote:
The most beautiful experience we can have here is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.
LIVE YOUR LIFE.
Not surprisingly, once I really began to contemplate living in uncertainty it brought me to more questions. For example, does this mean I need to stop looking for the answers or have a passive attitude?
I believe the opposite is actually true. As the familiar Latin saying goes: carpe diem. Seize the day -- but do it with the intention of moving closer to how you want to feel and what you want to happen. Surrender to allowing your edges to be pushed (or your ass to be kicked).
I've discovered that, ironically (or is it serendipitously?), by not obsessing about my burning need for answers and by allowing life to have its way with me (consciously), I have a much better chance of arriving right at the answers I was hoping would be true all along.
In response to a fear-based statement I made the other day about a new thing happening in my life, a friend of mine told me to "Lean in bro."
I thought of the three questions. Where am I going? What am I getting from the experience I'm having presently? Why is that so?
And like he could read my mind, he said it again. "Just lean in bro, lean in."
It was a powerful and humbling moment.
And it reminds me of a story I heard a long time ago.
THE BILLIONAIRE'S POOL PARTY
A wealthy man once threw a magical party at his beautiful mansion in the hills. He invited all his good friends and family, his employees and all the people he didn't know but who lived in his neighborhood.
At some point in the evening he asked that his guests join him around the pool, where he had set up a stage with a microphone. Finally, once everyone from the many avenues of his life had gathered, he stepped onto the stage, took ahold of the microphone and made an astonishing announcement. The pool was infested with many poisonous fish, piranhas and a couple of enormous crocodiles!
The crowd started to feel uncomfortable. And then the wealthy man made another, even more astonishing announcement. "I will grant a huge prize to whomever swims from one side of the pool to the other. The brave soul that gets out alive will get to choose one of three prizes. They may pick from $1.5 million in cash, a first class, five star trip for two around the world for two years, or -- last but not least -- one of my many real estate properties in the United States," he said.
And just as he completed his declaration, someone jumped into the pool and swam so fast that Jim Thorpe could not have beat him. Within moments, the swimmer emerged alive on the other side!
The crowd went crazy. No one could believe what just happened! Against all odds, a brave and courageous guy swam 50 meters in danger-infested waters and made it safely to the other side. It was a miracle!
The host took the microphone again and invited the man to meet him on stage.
The swimmer seemed very shocked and didn't appear to enjoy what was happening at all. He even refused the towels that the servants had diligently offered him the moment he emerged alive from the pool.
The wealthy man on the mic loudly asked the winner: "What do you want, brave man? You won the prize, but which one do you want? The $1.5 million in cash maybe?"
The swimmer shook his head indicating that he didn't want that. He was shaking still.
"Ah okay," said the host. "You want the trip for two around the world instead. I understand, you want to travel, don't you?"
And the swimmer again shook his head again, saying he did not want that prize either.
The wealthy host shouted into his mic: "Ladies and gents, please congratulate this brave and courageous man who challenged and defeated all the odds and made it through safe and sound! He wants one of my properties. Please congratulate him! Bravo!"
They were excited and very curious to see the response of the brave swimmer who was not reacting at all the way they would imagine the recipient of such a prize might.
And in fact, the dripping man shook his head again, shouting loud enough for everyone to hear that he didn't actually want to any of that. He just wanted…
And the wealthy man, and all his guests stood in shocked silence, holding their breath as they waited for his answer…
Finally the host asked: "What is that you want? Please tell us! What are you getting from this experience?"
And the seemingly brave and courageous man finally let all his frustrations and his desire to be heard come out and shouted: "All I want, dude, REALLY, is to know who the hell pushed me into that fucking pool!"
It's a great punch line. I hope you appreciate, like I do, that this story is about being nudged to the edge. It's about letting life push you in the direction it wants you to go without resisting. It's about rising to the occasion even though it's scary as hell and the odds seem to be against you. It's about learning you were safe all along and finding rewards on the other side of your travail.
It's also a metaphor for coaching work. Don't wait for the inevitable push into the pool. Seek it out through choice. Lean in.
What do you need to swim in uncharted, dangerous waters? You need the ability to swim, but you also need willingness. You need to be flexible enough to recognize what's present and what's possible. You need to know where your advantages are and where you require support. And yes, then you need to swim the shit out of that water!
With that in mind, let's revisit my original questions.
Where am I going? What am I getting from the experience I'm having presently? Why is that so?
My best offering is to suggest that we just stay with the mystery and… lean in, bro.
Then we let serendipity take care of the rest.