Re-negotiating Time-- Creating Refuge for Change

We do not gauge the value of the seasons by how quickly they progress from one to the next.
Every season brings forth its bounty in its own time, and our life is richer when we can take time to savor the fruit of each.   — from Sabbath by Wayne Muller

My clients who have made significant changes in their careers and lives have learned the value of taking periodic refuge in a timeless place of not-knowing, where the big questions arise— What is the meaning of my existence? What is my purpose? What am I offering to the world? This is a vital part of the process of making conscious changes as we discover what is meaningful to us and how we want to live. Time may seem to stand still or move very slowly. It may feel as if you're treading water. What will it take to know what I really want to move toward next? Finally, however, we acknowledge the need to allow time for timelessness to guide us towards the next opening in our lives.

Transitions that lead to deeply satisfying changes come from making time to watch cloud patterns shifting in the sky, from moving with no fixed direction— and letting our thoughts, feelings, and dreams drift up naturally into our consciousness. The experience of slowing down, internally and externally, is not only helpful, but absolutely necessary to reach a safe place, a refuge, to gain confidence in our own authentic choices and directions in life.

From this refuge arises the question, "What is it that wants to unfold in my life now?"

Last year I had surgery for a potentially life-threatening condition where part of my right lung was removed. The large organ protected by my ribs that makes the breath of life possible was disarranged. My life, too, felt disarranged.

As I came out of surgery and for many weeks afterwards, I felt as if time had slowed down, as if I were drifting and without the defined goals that had characterized the way I worked and led my life before the diagnosis and the surgery. Even as my body continued to heal, I felt the structure of my life was loose and permeable, like trying to walk without gravity.

Sometimes I just followed the movement of my gradually expanding breathing, and that was enough. Talking with my life coach, Ian White, I said, "I feel as if my life is moving along without any direction from me, as if something inside were re-negotiating my relationship with time. I don't know where I'm going, and I don't know what I need to be doing."

In subsequent coaching sessions with Ian, I identified two aspects to this re-negotiating and slowing down of time as my body healed and my life re-integrated—

"Drifting" — A timeless space where you feel undefined by what you're doing, without a focus on the future. In slowing down, you create refuge for yourself, a safe place where you can wander and meditate without goals or direction. You can explore uncertainty and the loosening of old attachments. Support from a trusted other is helpful in holding this very open, unstructured space.

"Allowing"— Emerges from the process of "drifting." It also has a slow tempo, but is more intentional and leads effortlessly to intuitive knowing of what you want. Your hand is off the tiller, and you relax with wherever the current is taking you. As you allow change to happen, you open to new possibilities without pushing and striving. You're in the flow, consciously attuned to signs and synchronicities.

Eventually, I began working and engaging in my whole life again. In allowing myself more time for working out, hiking/biking in nature, and getting together with friends and family (in person, not just the internet or phone), I found I was putting my energy where it really mattered to me. My coaching, too, gained in depth and fearlessness.

I saw more clearly that following my passion and making conscious choices based on the energy of that passion affirmed for me my authentic path as a whole person. Living in this way has meaning and purpose for me, and is spiritually nurturing.

In her warm, engaging book, My Grandfather's Blessings, Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., shares stories about heart-opening encounters she's had with people on the edge of some of life's deepest mysteries. One story is about a young doctor who's always been aware of the suffering of others. Feeling this way was such a strain on her that she takes a timeout from her busy life to be in a spiritual retreat for doctors facilitated by Remen. During a walk there, the woman picks up a pine cone that's split in half, and feels it is a sign. She shares it with the group and says that's how her heart feels. She doesn't know why people come to her with their suffering, wanting healing from her when her heart feels so broken.

Later, allowing herself time to walk a meditational labyrinth, she recognizes the split pine cone in her upturned hands as a sign that her wounded heart can be transformed into an open heart. "Suddenly she understood why others had come to her for refuge since her childhood. The suffering she was able to feel had made her trustworthy." It is literally in her own hands, to accept the gift she was born with and allow her larger dream as a healer to unfold.

What is it that wants to unfold in your life now?