Finding yourself, when you feel lost
Some of us may relate to a moment or even several in our lives when we feel completely lost. We are floating on a raft in the middle of the ocean with no wind in our sails and no island in sight. What am I doing with my life? Where do I want to be? What do I want to do? What is my purpose? All of these questions and more keep coming up, but yet there is no voice coming back with an answer.
In the busy lives we lead there is often little time to really look and reflect where we are in our lives. We run from job to job or even relationship-to-relationship without really reflecting on what we truly want or need for ourselves. Others may acknowledge that they are not in a good place in their life but turn to addictions to block out the pain.
A client of mine, let´s call her Kate is currently in what feels like “no mans land” and is feeling pretty miserable. She describes her feelings as lost, lonely, confused and empty. “Each time I look for an answer, there is nothing”, she says. Kate has been stopped in her tracks. She knows she doesn´t like her job. She wants to get out and could easily find another job, but something is saying to her something has to change. She just doesn´t know what. This is what some people describe as a spiritual crisis. A moment in our life path where everything is thrown into confusion, our very identity is being questioned.
This confusing and painful experience has led Kate at times to get angry with herself, why is it hard to decide on what I want to do? Grow up and get on with it! You are lucky with all that you have in life, so what is the issue? Yet with all of this “self-talk”, the answers do not come.
I found myself in this place a few years ago, when I became sick. Everything seemed to fall apart and I wondered to myself, who am I? Where am I? Where do I want to be in my life? Why me? Yet the same as for Kate no answers came back, it was miserable. However, it was around this time when I started to enter into Mindfulness practice. So I decided to apply Mindfulness to my own lost situation.
It was only when I was lost, that I could be found! Instead of castigating myself for not having the answers, I started to explore the feelings of being lost. Floating in that empty aimless place where no island could be found. It was a very uncomfortable and lonely place to be. The need to grasp at something, anything to make myself feel better would frequently come up. I would come up with yet another business idea for example, but when I really thought about it, I knew my heart was not in it.
That´s when I realised that that was it, my heart was not in it! I needed to find what my heart wanted. So I started to observe my mind chattering, telling me what to do and at times getting angry with me, but I just observed with no judgement and no decisions. I stopped trying to grasp at every idea. I let myself enter into the feelings of loneliness, confusion and emptiness without harsh criticism and I really started to observe my life. It was really from this point that my life started to change in many ways. Yes I might have jumped off my raft onto some mini islands along the way and then had to jump quickly back on, but the aim was to stay present with my heart and trust that it will eventually become clear.
In holding that empty space, over time things did become clearer and my heart was given space to communicate. Some of the changes I eventually made in my life were very difficult to face; however, I think they were necessary in my personal growth. And now I am doing what I love. My passion for Psychology, Psychotherapy and a deep interest in Spirituality has led me to where I want to be at this point in my journey.
So my advice to Kate is this, float! And be with all of those difficult feelings. Don´t run away and jump onto the first island you see, go in and start to feel what your heart is telling you. This can be hard at first, allowing yourself to feel the difficult emotions your are feeling takes practice. Try to observe your thoughts and feelings without entering into the story of your mental chatter. Allow yourself to look without self criticism or the urgency to find a solution. Don´t judge yourself too harshly if the answers do not come up straight away, as this is important stuff and it can take time. Eventually the cloud of thoughts and feelings start to open spaces whereby your heart has the chance to communicate. Some people may view this as doing nothing to find a solution, but in fact practicing Mindfulness is an active practice.
However, there are other practical things you can do too. Spend time with friends and family and do pursue some of the things you enjoy, try out new experiences, as one of these things might be the thing that lights up your heart.
The process of seeking is a process we do alone. It can be a painful experience, but if you choose to turn towards that pain and learn to listen to your heart and your gut and trust yourself, you will not stay floating aimlessly at sea forever. No matter how uncomfortable it might seem; eventually your island will come into sight. The answers are within you!
Ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, the path is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere, but one has a heart; the other doesn’t. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it.
Carlos Castaneda (1968)
Good luck and have faith