Your Next Step

by Alan McAllister, CCHt PhD-phys

Clouds rise up to Heaven/The image of Waiting
Thus the superior person eats and drinks/ Is joyous and of good cheer
(The I Ching, 5. Waiting)

Do you know what your next step is? Or more commonly: What are you going to do now?

I’ve just returned from my son’s college graduation, at which this seemed to be the reflex question that he and his classmates were being asked all weekend. Life has its cycles and all things have endings. Some mark accomplishment of goals as in the earning of a degree. Others might involve loss, as in the end of a job or a relationship. In all cases there is both a letting go of what has been and an opening to what will come next. There is a natural pause in the rush of life which it seems we are uncomfortable with. Celebration or grief, or both are to be gotten through as fast as possible as we move on to the next phase, next position, next relationship. It is as if some part of us, innate or learned from the society around us, is uneasy with the space of pausing, or waiting. In modern American society where we are often defined by our jobs, family roles, relationships, others may be uncomfortable with a lack of definition. They don’t know what to do with us, how to treat us. Are we down for the count, or moving on to a spectacular new success? And why should that make a difference in how they treat us? Unless it reflects how they treat themselves?

So graduation is a strange time. We gather and cheer loudly as they receive their degree, a brief celebration of a life time of effort and learning, and then ask what next? Where are you off to? Some have an answer, they have a plan. Others don’t really know yet. They are catching their breath, sorting options, perhaps wanting to relax in a sense of well being and accomplishment. The I Ching says that waiting is a time of refreshing, getting ready. But we are a doing society, not usually a being society, and so we ask a doing question and are disappointed, or uncomfortable with a being answer. This is not your problem, give yourself time to wait.

Is your next step really yours? This weekend I wonder how many of the bright young people who have an answer have gotten it from inside themselves? Who has defined their next step? Family, friends, society? Even if they have a personal answer to the new job, or advanced study, or travel abroad questions; who defined the questions and the parameters of the answers? Is that next step really theirs or a predefined blank that they have written something in?

As someone who has rarely felt I really knew what I was doing with my life, or what my next step was going to be, until it happened, or showed up, I have often thought that I should sit down with myself and meditate on who I am and what I really want to do. Then I think I would have a proper answer, instead of just filling in the blanks, taking care of business, passing through the days. This sitting and listening to Self, waiting with Spirit seems hard to do. However, it is from those who have done this that the creative comes. Those who strip back the layers of what is expected or customary, come up with new answers and new possibilities. These are the people who have really owned their next steps, and are able to follow their feet and their noses in a way that is true to their hearts.

In life it is important to allow ourselves to appreciate the pauses, the in-between spaces, comfortable, or not, as this is where spirit, creativity and life force dwell. It is there in the stillness that we can hear our own inner voices and come up with answers and next steps that are truly our own, rather than someone else’s. So in this season of graduation, at the end of Spring and moving into Summer, take some time to sit under a tree, next to a stream. Be someplace still and quite where you can let the voices fade and commune with your heart. As you stride forward into summer put your energy into your own dreams, your own next steps, and weave a life that is an answer to your own questions. And if for a while you can’t answer the “what’s next” question, give yourself some time to wait. Find spaciousness and freedom in waiting and trust that your answers will come. Not knowing has to come before knowing. Waiting with Self is where you can learn what your next step will be.

(© 5/2012)

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