How To Stay In The Unknown Part 2
Oct 17 2023
It’s now four months since I left the Barn Retreat Centre in Devon. After a year of being immersed in meditation retreat land, I had no idea where I wanted to live or what I wanted to do when I left, so I made a commitment to stay with the not knowing until it became clear.
This blog is a follow-up to How To Stay In The Unknown, which I wrote in my dad’s attic in rural France, during the summer heatwave. Right now I’m in Cardiff, it’s the first cold snap of the year and the nights are drawing in. I’m cuddling up to the wood burner in my mum’s colourful kitchen while she cooks veggie shepherd’s pie and shouts at the telly, well they do all need to be told, those people on the telly!
This blog charts the last four months of my adventures into the unknown, exploring what I’ve been doing and why I’ve been doing it, examining the responses I’ve been receiving from other people, through the lens of The Fool and investigating the responses of my inner parts, using techniques gained from my recent Internal Family Systems (IFS) training. I’ve included an IFS exercise to help you quieten your inner parts if that feels helpful to you.
My Adventures Into The Unknown
At the beginning of June, I left the steady familiarity of the Barn retreat centre and after a short, intense tour of saying hello-goodbye to everyone I love in the southwest of England, I headed out to the quiet eastern French countryside, where I spent a sweaty month trawling through my journals and reviewing my year. This process gave me some vital tools to help me navigate the unknown (as detailed in How To Stay With The Unknown pt.1) and some clear direction in terms of the work I’d like to offer.
But when it came to getting a sense about where to live, I felt utterly stumped… Do I continue to live in the lush green countryside that nurtures my soul, or return to the filthy fast city and all of its riches; the art, music, theatre, food and friends that feed my spirit? Do I continue to surf the highs and lows of living in community or return to the lonely privacy of solitude? Nothing was clear, so I decided to hit the road and travel around, putting my body in different environments until it found its home.
Four months later, I still don’t know where I want to live! I have put my body in various parts of France, Bristol, Midsommer Norton, Keynsham, Pill, Portishead, Devon, Cornwall and Cardiff, moving house a record 29 times! I have slept in spare rooms, on sofas, in two sheds, one caravan, one house boat, one shepherd's hut, one abandoned teenager's bedroom, one tent, quite a few air B&B’s, one grotty youth hostel and one mega swanky hotel with a spa!
How does this make you feel, dear reader? When I’ve spoken to people about what I’m up to, there seems to be a set of standard responses…
How People Respond When I Tell Them That I Don’t Have A Home
- The Romantic Dreamer: “Oh that must be so amazing, you’re so wild and adventurous, you must feel so light and free!”
- The Pity Giver: “Oh that must be awful! Poor you!”
- The Solution Finder: “Have you thought about couch surfing or housesitting or volunteering abroad or or or…”
- The Over Empathiser: “Urgh, you’re making me feel discombobulated, just talking about it…”
- The Under Empathiser: “How dare you describe yourself as homeless? There are people living on the streets with no support network, no bed to sleep in, no care from the system! Check your privilege!”
- The Wise Old Traveller: “Ahh, that reminds me of a time…”
I’m wondering if you fit into any of these categories? Or is there another one needed?
I’m finding it interesting how my lifestyle choices are eliciting such strong reactions in friends, family, peers and strangers. It seems to really stir people up and I get it, it’s not a particularly normal thing to do aged 44 1/2, to be floating around, free of commitments, like a blobby, undefined, jellyfish.
The Fool Archetype
I realise that stepping out of the structure of work, relationship and home puts me in the position of The Fool. The Fool card in the tarot deck has the numerical value of 0, this means The Fool and it’s descendant, The Joker, which you can find in any pack of cards, don’t really belong to the pack. Yet in some games, they can take on any value, appearing as a high status King or a lowly Ace. This is the premise behind the improvised performance form known as Fooling; The Fool walks into the empty space and plays with whatever they find, taking on many personas to express the truth as they see it.
In September, I spent a week in Cornwall with a bunch of European fools and our beloved Fool teacher, Franki Anderson. We’ve all been training with Franki for at least 20 years and we’ve been meeting online regularly since the beginning of the pandemic, exploring the meeting point of Fooling, mythology, Compassionate Inquiry (the work of Gabor Mate) and Polyvagal theory (the work of Deb Dana). There’s so much I could share with you from the week when we finally got to meet in person, perhaps I’ll write a blog about it soon, but here’s a little nugget relating to my experience of receiving people’s reactions to my choice to stay in the unknown.
In the last sun rays of summer, seven fools met in a quarry in Cornwall, to play and learn and share precious time together. Thanks to our three years of online explorations, we had a shared language of play, an understanding of what happens in our nervous systems when we get triggered and a tool kit to help us deal with whatever arises. Needless to say we all got triggered to fuck by each other! Perhaps through learning the tools to deal with it, we’d invited in the ultimate social experiment. Luckily we were all able to compassionately track our own reactions to each other and play with the material that arose.
It was profoundly enlightening, to be able to explore the mechanisms of Fight Flight Freeze in real-time through play. I watched my own automatic flight responses kicking in and was able to stay put and observe the thoughts, feelings and sensations, soothe myself and share what had happened with the group as a performance. Sharing openly like this helped us to stay empathetic towards each other. At one point Franki shared: “Whatever is happening for everyone else is also happening for me. Connecting with my heart helps me connect with others.”
This brings me back to how it’s been to receive other people’s responses to my choice to stay in the unknown (as described above). It can be pretty triggering to be honest; receiving other people’s projections of my situation can make me feel unseen and unheard and that makes me feel unsafe. But when I tune into my heart, I realise everyone has their own story about why I might be doing what I’m doing and their responses are directly linked to their own story. This helps me keep my heart open and stay in connection.
So Why Am I Choosing To Move Around So Much?
I’m choosing to move around because I find myself at a crossroads in life. Before I moved to the retreat centre, I was living in Bristol, running a successful business and trying to start a family. The family dream didn’t come to pass, I lost four babies, my partner left and everything sort of fell apart. So I took a year out, volunteering at a retreat centre so I could tend to my grief. I sat with it on the meditation cushion, shared it with close members of the community and with a wonderful therapist, walked with it in nature and got to know it on the page.
Grief pared my life down to the core, showing me what really matters and what really doesn’t. It taught me to slow down, to soften and allow. It taught me to appreciate the small things and let go of unnecessary bollocks. I am forever changed by grief, for the better. It hasn’t magically disappeared, but through a year of gentle tending, grief has moved off the centre of my stage and made space for other things to begin to emerge.
I have a sense that there is a more expansive life waiting for me, but I don’t know what it looks like yet. Experience tells me I am more likely to find the clues that will lead me there through trying stuff out and tuning into my body, rather than pondering pros and cons and planning.
How My Inner Parts Are Reacting To Me Not Having A Home
I’ve known a lot of change in my life, I’m pretty comfortable with it, but even so, I’ve noticed a number of inner parts who have been trying to help me out with this constantly changing situation:
- The Project Manager: “Let’s brainstorm all the places you can stay, then let’s weigh up the pros and cons of each.”
- The Mental Packer: “Let’s think about next week- Where will I be? What will I need? Which bags shall I use?”
- The Good House Guest: “What else can I do for my hosts?”
- The Super Sensitive Worrier: “Am I too much? Should I go out so they don’t have to deal with me? Am I taking too much? Should I move on?”
- The Doubter: “What the hell am I doing? Who even makes decisions like this?”
- The Change-a-holic: “Yeah! Change it all up! Fuck it! Keep going!”
It takes a lot of mental, physical and emotional energy to not have a home; not only am I constantly dealing with logistics, working out where I’m going to stay and how I’m going to get there (I’m doing all this on public transport!), these inner parts also need a lot of my attention!
They show up on my meditation cushion and on my yoga mat in the mornings, they walk with me through green spaces, they pop up in idle moments, they rampage around my journal and they freakishly appear in my bed in the middle of the night. Each part has their own idea about what would be helpful for me to do, which is great, but they don’t all tend to agree! This disagreement can cause a lot of tension, as each part wants to pull me towards the safety of what it knows, which happens to be in a completely different direction to the safety of what all the other ones know.
I completed my training in Internal Family Systems (IFS) a few weeks ago and I’ve been using some of the techniques to meet these inner parts whenever they emerge. This has been helping to take some of the heat out of their tireless campaigns, to calm their conflicts and to keep hold of the steering wheel (as opposed to letting them drive us into walls, off cliffs and into dark abandoned carparks where no-one will ever find us again).
Here follows a very simple exercise, adapted from something we did on the IFS training. It could be useful for you if you’re feeling bombarded by your own well-meaning inner parts.
How To Quieten Your Inner Parts
1.) Notice which parts are around
Who’s around for you right now? See if you can get a sense of where these parts live in or around your body. Notice how they are showing up - perhaps as a sensation, or an emotion or an image or a word. Draw a simple body outline on a sheet of paper and map out your parts.
2.) Choose one part to work with first
Follow your curiosity. Choose one to start with and ask the other parts to step back for a moment, so that you can get to know them one at a time. Assure them that they will all get their turn!
3.) Get curious about that part
Find out more about what that part is like. This can happen in a number of ways; you can feel into the part of your body where it lives, noticing the parts colour, size, temperature, sound, smell, attitude, desires, etc, or you could let the part take over your body and allow it speak through you or take over your pen and write. Once you’ve learned a little more about the part, feel free to add these details in images or words on your body map.
4.) Ask the part to show or tell you what its concerns are and receive its concerns with compassion
Sometimes all a part needs is to feel really heard and really seen. Ask it what it’s worried about and remember your parts are only ever trying to help!
5.) Thank your part and move onto the next one
Get to know each part one at a time, ask them all to tell or show you their concerns and meet them all with compassion.
6.) Notice any relationships between your parts
When you’ve chatted with all your parts, look back at the body map you drew and notice anything about their relationship with each other.
7.) Notice how you feel towards your parts
Notice how you feel towards your parts now. How are they appearing in or around your body now?
8.) Thank you parts for showing up
You might like to offer your parts an appointment for another meeting on a future date. Often parts feel happy to know they’ve got dedicated time and space to voice their concerns, I know mine do!
Where Am I At Now?
For all of its difficulties, I have mostly enjoyed this period of embodied research into staying with the unknown. I’ve been able to spend proper time with dear friends and family and I’ve been able to satisfy my inner adventurer’s wanderlust, allowing her to wander through a multitude of beautiful landscapes and feast on a smorgasbord of city delights. I’ve loved the comforting clackerty-clack of the trains and I’ve even enjoyed the challenge of letting go of stuff and trusting the world to provide, in order to travel lighter.
I am in deep appreciation of my privileged position; I am so lucky to be surrounded by so much love and support and to have all this open time to not know and explore my options. I’m indebted to my meditation, yoga, IFS, fooling, writing and walking practices, which have kept me grounded enough to be able to keep opening to the unknown.
Last week I started back at work, facilitating online one-to-ones and in-person weekend workshops, for the first time in over a year. All my recent experience is helping me to hold deep, steady space for other people to be with their unknowns and that feels like a wonderful gift.
My mum has invited me to stay at hers in Cardiff for a while, so that I can rest and recalibrate. I trust that my new home will make itself know to me soon and in the meantime, I’ll eat good, hearty food and shout at the telly with my mum. Well, they do all need to be told, those people on the telly!
If you'd like to read How To Stay In Unknown Part 1 click here.