In The Wilderness

32Lots of this story is set in the wilderness. Which an English major would deconstruct to the place that is wilder, less tamed, than where one has been.

It’s an interesting concept, an Outward Bound kind of exercise: survive three days in a wilderness with a jug of water, a handkerchief, and a knife; maybe if you’re lucky a covering sheet for the rain or cool evenings. Instead, most of us have homes and jobs, sets of beliefs and practices, and good friends/partners to help get us through. Oh yeah, no three days: we’re in it for life. Pun intended.

And each of us finds ourselves, in various ways and times of our lives, in wilder-nesses. They can be the phases between jobs or relationships. The months or years we gave away in the wrong ones. Times of waiting, wishing, and hoping. Or times of intense self-talk and questioning. Often these experiences can lead to big transitions, both in and after the wilderness.

BTW these wildernesses are not necessarily bad, though they often feel threatening or scary because they represent the unknown. They’re intrinsic to being human and sometimes where we do our best work on the path of growth. But we don’t always greet them with “hooray” or “welcome.” They’re not always pleasant. In fact we often greet and experience them as periods of angst and discomfort, especially when we don’t know what the future holds, and aren’t always sure we’re going to like it.

Before, during, and after such times is a great opportunity to take an inventory of your assets, your own unique constellation of inner tribes. Your primary component parts. Your inner knife and water. What protects and strengthens you. What helps you and keeps you safe. What emboldens you. Each serves a purpose.

If you’re reasonably integrated, you can point them in the same direction. If you’ve really been doing your homework, even aimed towards the same goal. In biblical metaphor that’s the promised land, or the messianic age. You probably have more humble aspirations. Most of us do.

When we list important traits like integrity, intelligence, and curiosity, we sometimes forget that we’re equally well served by qualities that are sometimes underappreciated by others. (“Stubbornness” a friend shrieks from the sidelines, while you preen with pride at your “tenacity.”) Truth is, we need some grit to protect our mushy innards, and also need to show enough softness that people move towards us. We need to know when to step up and when to wait. When to talk and when to shut up. And to be able to speak simply and clearly, from the heart, when you feel open and cogent enough to do so.

Perhaps the promised land is the where and when you can live in the wilder places as happily as you expect to live after you survive the times of testing.

Exercise: Make a list of who you think you are, using big nouns and adjectives. Hang onto it. Do this exercise a couple more times in the next coupla years. It’s a great way to see how you’ve grown.

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