“…I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over.
Out on the edge you can see all kinds of things
you can’t see from the center.”
….. Kurt Vonnegut
A New Vantage Point
The movers have come and gone. Fifteen grocery bags filled with books I just had to keep, along with boxes of collected treasures have all finally come home. After almost 4 decades of working one-on-one with individual psychotherapy clients, I closed my private practice last week while stepping into a deeper commitment to creating, writing and teaching.
This has been a planned dream who’s time has come. I would not have the knowledge I have to give to my wider audience now, if not for the years of being in the presence of my individual clients. I have been greatly honored by their courage and commitment to improving their lives. They have taught me volumes about the resilience of the human spirit. I stand in deep gratitude to each of them. Without their wisdom and willingness to embrace change, I would not have the words or understandings needed to write about today’s topic: Sitting at the Edge of the Unknown.
How I Think About the Edge Matters
No matter where you are today in your life plans, you too, are sitting at the edge of the unknown. We always are, whether we acknowledge it or not. So, continue to take a load off your feet and get comfy. You can even dangle your legs over the edge if you like. Or perhaps you’re in the mood for a less breathtaking view. If so, pull your favorite chair a bit back from the edge and let’s take a slow look around.
What does it mean to you to be at the edge of your unknown? Yvonne Agazarian, Ed.D, who developed System-Center Therapy, spoke frequently about this edge. For the moment, consider your next professional or personal step, project or plan. Can you nail down all of the possible alternatives that might occur? Of course not. But, I bet you’re making a variety of predictions about those plans. I’m also willing to say that a majority of your inner conversations are filled with negative predictions about that future that hasn’t even arrived. How do I know that’s a safe bet? Because the human mind is wired to go towards negative scenarios.
Preparing for the unknown, we often make negative predictions about the as yet arrived future with the misguided belief that we’ll be prepared for any and all problems.
There was a time in our evolution, we were not at the top of the food chain. Constantly scanning for a predator that might view us as lunch was an important survival skill. We may not need to engage in that type of surveillance anymore but the land of negative predictions is a destination that we still frequent countless times a day. Why? Because, along with our slow-to-evolve neurology, we have a misguided belief that if we can think of all the negative things that might happen, then we’ll be better prepared to deal with them. However, this doesn’t usually result in good risk assessment on our part. We instead manage to freeze ourselves in fear. And fear is not a good place from which to make decisions.
Or perhaps we only want to make decisions from the half-full side of the glass. Here, instead of fear perhaps we cultivated a place of joy, awe and wonder, where negativity isn’t allowed to enter in. The positivity/prosperity model (with no furrowed brows allowed to harsh our mellow) is the name of our game. But this can be as precarious as dwelling in the land of negative predictions. Inconvenient and important facts, plus challenging viable alternatives, can mistakenly be brushed aside. Decisions based on limited information and the emotional feel-good of “I just want it” do not serve us well. So where does that leave us?
And I Don’t Know What’s Going to Happen
Let’s get back to the edge of the unknown and it’s under-explored magic. Wouldn’t it seem to be more beneficial if we could hold a basket filled with differing options, thoughts, sensations and emotions together, not with fear or rose-colored vision, but with the superpower of curiosity, instead? Sitting at the edge of the unknown with the thought “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” is a great place to cultivate our curiosity and give it full rein. Then, we can more methodically analyze our options. It may not seem as dramatic as the castles we build over in negative prediction world nor as sylvan and idyllic as planet everything is wonderful, but it is a much more functional place for making our next moves a reality.
We’ve Detected Some Turbulence
Transitions – all transitions – cause some degree of internal turbulence. Certainly, my current move out of private practice has created its share of expected and unexpected turbulence. At one point last week, I was spun around for two days making arrangements to have one very large, heavy piece of furniture move from point A to point B. Every plan I made was thwarted. I deeply considered for a good 30 minutes the option of simply getting in my car and going on vacation 2 days early, leaving everyone else to clean up my unfinished mess. I also briefly fantasized torching the recliner in the parking lot (but alone I couldn’t get it through my office doorway). Ultimately, my responsible self prevailed. However, making room even briefly for the more slacker options was deliciously delightful. It gave me strength to get the real job completed.
Certainly, not all transitions are created equal. Whether it’s deciding what to wear to work or charting the course of a Fortune 500 company over the next 10 years, all transitions result in ripples, riffles and sometimes tidal waves. Instead of bracing against these moving waters, let’s incorporate them. They are part of the flow process.
Cultivating Curiosity’s Flow
In order to hold our very full basket of options, feelings, opinions and sensations, we have to make some room for curiosity to flow in. Luckily, we have an automatic built-in mechanism for creating greater interior space. It’s called breathing. Not just any breathing – let’s get some mileage out of the experience. I’m talking deep, slow, deliberate, in-the-belly breathing. This is where we can really learn about freeing up our bodies first and simultaneously slowing down our thoughts. My teacher, psychologist, Stephen Gilligan, PhD, talks about how when we start thinking about a problem we almost immediately tighten our muscles, clinch our brows and hold our breath. This neuromuscular lock blocks our flow.
Breathing fully, slowly and gently signals the mind into shifting gears from racing overdrive into a simple, easy glide… Try it now:
Take 5 slow breaths and on each exhale, smile to yourself. Can you feel yourself slowing down? Take 5 more along with your exhaling smile and imagine the interior spaces of your torso making more room for you, enough room to hold whatever you’re working on and more. See, it’s getting more interesting isn’t it? And now take a victory lap of 5 more breathing smiles and then rest.
Now, reach over to your curiosity and ask, “What else seems possible about my project?” Cultivating flow is all about opening to what is arising in the present moment. In order to do that we first must come back to the present moment and the edge of the unknown. These two are traveling partners. When we make room for one, we make room for the other. And when we make enough internal space, we can hold and flow with all kinds of options, conditions and things that otherwise would be impossible to bear.
So practice this breathing, smiling and expanding your interior space as much as possible. It is a major release valve for your flow. Practice with your eyes open and closed, several times a day. You might even make others wonder what you’re up to, with all that smiling. Besides, it’s a great practice at the grocery while that price check is happening with the person in front of you. You can’t overdo this. Go ahead and turn on your flow zone, one deep conscious breath at a time. As you’re breathing in and out, look out over your horizon. The view from the edge is spectacular.