Into the Woods-- Finding Possibilities in Hard Choices

I recently saw the Stephen Sondheim musical, “Into the Woods”-- a re-creation and intersection of well-known fairytales-- and was struck by this image of going deeper into the unknown to find the path to yourself and your true desires.

Into the woods
To get the thing
That makes it worth
The journeying.
Into the woods....

Sondheim’s Cinderella finds herself running away into the woods-- ball dress, golden slippers and all-- from the prince she thought she wanted to marry.  Intuitively, she knows she wants something different both from her current life of drudgery and from being swept up into another of which she knows nothing.  At some deep level, she knows there is no escape from being the person she really is.   

So she sits in the woods, not knowing what to do, and seems to do nothing.  But is she really doing nothing?

In my book, Success with Soul, I look at different ways in which clients of mine, other people I admire-- and myself, as well-- have had to learn about the process of change, otherwise known as “transitions.”  To make changes that feel right and rewarding for you, you must spend some time in the free-floating “formless form” between one way of working and living, and the next.  In this zone, you will connect with what your soul really longs for-- and this will be the foundation for your change into work you love or a way of living that resonates with who you are becoming:

If you stay aware and receptive with this unexpected gift of time between an ending of something no longer satisfying to you and a new beginning, you can learn to navigate the chaos of not-knowing by surrendering the need for action or definition.  Finally, you will begin to feel the knowing from within yourself arising as your whole self prepares for action . . . When you go through the inner experience of transitioning from an outgrown way of working, relating, or creating, to one that opens your possibilities and your heart, you begin to understand the meaning and power of “transformation.”  

Or, as Ruth Chang, professor of philosophy at Rutgers University, said in her recent TED talk about making hard choices:

Far from being sources of agony and dread, hard choices are precious opportunities for us to celebrate what is special about the the human condition, that the reasons that govern our choices as correct or incorrect sometimes run out, and it is here, in the space of hard choices, that we have the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive people that we are.

What I’m interested in here is what Chang calls “the space of hard choices” in which yourun out of “reasons” for how to make a challenging choice.  Often, you must go deeper, “through the inner experience of transitioning from an outgrown way of working, relating, creating.”  You must go back “into the woods” on your journey towards understanding of who you really are before you can take action.  

This is the place where rationality does not hold sway, where you must find your new bearings through feelings, creative impulses, silence, and intuitive awareness that pierce your defense against change and let you emerge into a new form of being. This is the discovery that will let you come back and make what may be a hard choice, but is the right one for the direction you are called to now.

Learning to listen to your deep intuitive knowing is a good practice, because as you grow and develop lifelong, the opportunities for making new, challenging choices will reliably keep coming your way!


Into the woods,
It's always when
You think at last
You're through, and then
Into the woods you go again
To take another journey....

  -- Stephen Sondheim