Leaning into it is something I have been thinking about a lot over the last several months.
I recently gave a presentation at a professional counseling conference – my first time to do so. When the opportunity first came up, I was torn. I wasn’t sure, as a counseling intern, that I had yet acquired the depth of knowledge to speak for 90 minutes on a specific topic. I knew that the effort required to create such a presentation would be enormous. I was nervous at the prospect of standing in front of other counselors who might question my knowledge. Could I really do it? When I considered it, it felt like I stood on the edge of an abyss – maybe not a huge, cavernous one, but a big, dark hole nonetheless. Uncharted territory.
This has been a familiar (though never really comfortable) experience on my journey of becoming a psychotherapist – from my initial decision to make a major career change and return to school, to seeing my first client and creating my own website and blog. And now I am putting myself out into the therapist community as (gasp!) someone with unique, expert knowledge that is worthy of sharing. Each of these experiences has given me the same feeling of stepping out into the dark and unknown. A feeling of pressing necessity at what must be done now with no clarity at all about what would follow, how it would turn out.
You might say, well, you didn’t HAVE to do any of it. I can see how that would seem to be the case. But I have re-realized over and over, that, yes, I DO have to do it because, challenging and sometimes scary as all these things have been, every one of them has emerged out of intimations of life within me. Small little sparks and urges, sometimes nearly indistinguishable amidst the questions and uncertainties, especially early on. When I first read through the thick syllabi packet for my first semester of graduate school courses, I felt a momentary surge of terror: oh crap, what have I done? But I was so enraptured with depth psychology and so hungry for meaningful work that I knew I had to walk on and continue leaning in, no matter how murky the path ahead was. And I have been amazed at what has unfolded from that first leaning in and all the ones since. I am constantly moved and delighted and humbled by the rich, deep work of soul that I now get to engage in with others. I am intrigued by the new, more alive me who is always emerging (but who was also in there all along).
I think that being true to what is trying to emerge from within us often requires us to lean into it. Such leaning goes against our primal, survival instincts. We tend to seek what is familiar and secure, and the idea of throwing ourselves into the unknown (whether it’s a new experience or a new emotion) seems not just absurd, but life-threatening. Why should I venture into that dark cave when it’s perfectly safe out here? The frustrating truth (and at this point in my life it does seem to me to be a truth) is that a life based largely on choices of safety or convenience or ease often ends up feeling like an unlived life. Dry. Barren. Flat. Wanting. Partial. Like something has been missed or wasted or lost.
So we each have to find our own ways to lean into what we want and need. No need for big, heroic efforts (which is something I’ve had to learn), especially if it feels scary or you’re not sure about what you’re wanting or needing. Just a gentle leaning in to test the waters and see how it feels and what happens. And if you are struggling with leaning into something you think you might want or need, it is always helpful to be curious about why.
Even now as I sit typing this blog post, I have a sense of having to lean into it – putting words to these kinds of experiences is an effort. A part of me doesn’t want to try, as odd as that might seem to confess to you, the reader. But another part of me can’t NOT do it. I have to try to express this search, this need, for a real and meaningful life that we all experience. I have to let you know that I am here, trying too. Struggling with it but leaning into it anyway. I have to tell you that something HAPPENS when we lean into things. Something more.
© Amanda Norcross and Learning to Listen to Soul, 2012.