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The Whole Situation is Your Answer
I said most of this already in my little fable, “Everything You Ask For is Present,” but it feels worth stating a bit more explicitly. (If you want to save some time reading only one of these pieces though, I’d say go with the fable.) I wrote it a week ago, and still have the itch to express it, which I guess means there’s something more here.
In short: when you’re struggling with a situation and don’t know what to do—the situation you’re in pretty much always is giving you the answer. The trick is learning how to stop ignoring most of the situation, and then to discern what’s there.
This dynamic has come up several times recently, from different people in a variety of situations. I’ll just give a few examples that aren’t the exact ones I heard, but are similar enough to get the idea across.
“I met a woman at a work retreat who wants to collaborate with me. It feels like a uniquely cool opportunity, but I also get a pretty bad feeling from talking to her. She’s nice, but there’s something off with her. I don’t think she’s malicious, but I sense that engaging in deeper contact with her could be a dangerous step somehow, letting something untoward into my life.”
“I was meditating on my heart center a few days ago, and was suddenly taken by a very strong image of a cave, some ancient burial site. The sense was that it wanted me to come back, to follow the cave deeper. I could sense something I needed further in, but I also didn’t trust whatever ‘voice’ or presence was communicating with me. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, so I closed out the meditation, and I wanted to talk to you about it.”
“An artistic project came up. I really want to go for it, it feels like it’s burning to come out of me—but I also like just started with a more stable job and getting out there dating again. It feels like a move backwards to throw that away and run back into another uncertain project.”
In every one of these situations, there’s an uncomfortable clash of perceptions, drives, and desires.
Also in every one of these situations, there’s a desire to have a decision finalized; to put everything on a scale and let the equation weigh out so we can be done with it.
In every situation like this, the key is that the situation itself is the answer.
Not “the answer” as in a final solid place to stand.
More like “the answer” in Rilke’s sense—the ambiguous navigation of many forces, pushes, pulls, and perceptions in life that guide you to where you end up.
You want to collaborate with a coworker, but get a bad intuition about them? Follow both of those pulls, don’t look for ways to ignore one and trust the other.
Feel a complex dynamic in meditative imagery, and want to make certain you choose correctly whether to follow or abandon it? Stop trying to be certain, and attend to the complex pulls of the situation.
Want to be more stable but also follow the muse as she erupts inside of you? Trust both of those senses.
None of this means that you can simply Do Everything. There are very real limitations of time, energy, resources, patience, and connections. And you are capable of sensing and navigating each of those things as they come up.
You can walk on the paved path and know exactly where you’re going, or you can navigate the living dynamics of the pulsing sea—we all do a lot of each in different areas of our lives.
But if you’re looking for truth, beauty, knowledge, growth, transformation—stop trying to pin everything down into certainties where you can safely ignore aspects of the situation. Let the situation thrum and push and pull at you, and find your way through.