Late one summer aspiring author Brian visited an arts and crafts festival in Asheville where he was attracted to a display of Personal Altars. These metal and glass wall ornaments comprise one or more Chinese characters above a metal tray that holds one’s own treasures: a feather, a special rock, a dried flower, whatever.
‘Can you design one with the Chinese characters for Crisis?’ he asked the artists, Selena Glass and Metal of Burnsville, NC. ‘That’s Danger and Opportunity-seems to be the altar where I worship right now,’ he laughed.
Now the piece hangs in his mountain home at Lake Glenville, NC, reminding him that opportunity exists even in times of seeming crisis, and there’s a New Beginning in store-at the right time.
Living in The Place of Not-Knowing
Brian was in the midst of major life changes including divorce and embarking on a new career path. Luckily for him, by then he’d chosen to take an optimistic view of the time he was spending in ‘the place of not-knowing.’
In America, the perspective we take of endings is a bit skewed-as though endings are bad, or somehow shameful. In sports if we’re down we’re trained to ‘shake it off,’ ignore the pain and immediately get back in the game.
In real life, when we experience one of life’s endings the next thing around the corner isn’t the New Beginning; it’s The Void.
Foolishly, we often attempt to avoid The Void-at all costs! Whether with retail therapy, sex, drugs or rock’n’roll, by all means, we can’t allow ourselves to feel!
Actually, The Void is part of nature’s cycle and is the most fertile time to let one’s true purpose in life germinate. In what may seem to be the darkest hour of despair over letting go of the old, the new is gathering strength unseen, just as bulbs wintering in the earth muster their nutrients to burst forth as magnificent blooms– at the appropriate time.
Don’t Avoid the Void
In fact, time spent in The Void should be honored as the rich place where real, soul-level change occurs. Despite the pain and fear of feeling out of control, the full experience of The Void yields some of the most expansive treasures in our lives.
As Robert Brumet states in his powerful book Finding Yourself in Transition, ‘When a New Beginning occurs, the external circumstances of our life reflect the inner transformation that has already taken place.’
Although The Void should not be denied, to be successful in life we must do as the Japanese proverb says: ‘Fall down seven times; get up eight.’ Taking action is key.
One woman in my class responded very creatively to personal crisis after her plan for a romantic New Year’s Eve celebration was dashed by a break-up. She permitted herself a month in The Void, and then decided to start afresh on January 31 with her own private New Year’s celebration, complete with a champagne toast to her goals for the year. I admire her spirit!
At a time of new beginnings, even if you’re not in The Void, what if you’re feeling the tug of change regarding your life or your work and don’t know exactly which direction to take?
Get a pack of post-it notes and go through your personal library, and tag the books that you love the most or have been most influential to you. Then look at their common theme and see where that might lead.
And if you’re feeling especially brave, take the words of advice offered by John Fowles in his great novel about self-discovery, The Magus: ‘Does this path have a heart? If so, then follow it.