Focusing on the thinnest-slice-of-now to keep our currently unprepared selves from feeling overwhelmed by visions of the changes that the who-we-are- becoming will be ready to meet.
Change Moving Quickly
When change is moving quickly in your life,
it's best not to look much beyond right where you are in this moment…
The "you-that-you-are-now" is likely to feel overwhelmed when it anticipates circumstances
that the "you-that-you-are-becoming" will be well prepared to meet when they actually arrive…
At such times of great acceleration, try living in the thinnest slice of now you can define!
In late January 1973, just two months past my 32nd birthday, I was slowly winding down all of my soon-to-be-former-life in New York City: Closing my private practice as a clinical psychologist by helping twenty or so clients make their way to new therapists. Having special times with my friends and family as we said our farewells. Selling off or giving away most of my possessions in a sometimes hilarious Manhattan luxury hi-rise version of a yard sale.
Heeding a powerful urging from a voice deep inside me, I was beginning a voyage into a beckoning unknown. Preparing to go on the road, planning to wend my way toward California but being otherwise clueless about where the journey would lead, I was propelled by an inner knowing that "I would die if I didn't get to someplace green." (See Pirouettes for more about this time.)
I had moved through a series of stages in the process of translating this urging. The first approximation had been a well-explored vision of relocating to a rural seaside town at the tip of Long Island. That version included moving with my partner of seven years and building a practice as a therapist in this new area. Over the course of almost six months, the plan kept shifting and redefining itself.
After a while, it became apparent that I needed to let go of my profession – the idea of starting another practice felt wrong, even suffocating. Sometime further along, the idea of staying on the East Coast – even at the very rural edge of it – felt not right. And, as the vision slowly reconfigured into a road trip to California, the notion of going with a partner in tow felt stifling and wide of the mark.
Gradually I understood that what I needed was to take leave from everything: partner, profession, friends, family, possessions and my East Coast roots. Some of the leave-taking felt like it might be permanent. Some of it felt like it might be only for an as yet unknowable period of time.
The plan became one of going forth on this open-ended trip like a turtle – with my house on my back as it were. Here, too, the translation kept refining. First I looked at mini-motor homes, then professional van-conversions. Ultimately, I knew I that I needed to buy a simple, empty commercial van and set it up my self as a bed-sitting room, creating my new living space using salvage gleaned from the life I was leaving.
Having the van as a mobile, self-contained base provided me with some primal security. I would always have my home with me; a home that would provide the safety of a familiar, comforting womb for my rebirthing process, a base camp out of which I might venture as my journey unfolded. This felt essential to the adventure of heading into the unknown and unknowable.
It was an outrageous shift for the ambitious super-achiever I had been until then. Yet, the times allowed for and even encouraged the possibility of such a radical dropping out. In the so-called real world, many different kinds of people were engaged in intense questioning, in re-examining their values and the direction of their lives. In those still-hippie days, lots of folks were going on the road, slipping out of formerly conventional trajectories.
Attentive to the inner voice that was speaking to me so insistently, I followed wherever it led. Baby-step-by-baby-step, things fell into place. I was completing my life as it had been. I felt surprisingly comfortable, without trepidation or fear as I approached the final leave-taking; unfazed by not knowing what was in store for me after I would leave.
As I moved through my preparations, I was learning a powerful lesson about navigating the seas of radical, rapidly moving change. My focus was narrowed to very thin slices of now, doing and processing just one tiny step at a time; not thinking about what was next, what might be waiting further down the path or where I might in fact be heading. The how of it all revealed itself to me in small, timely glimpses as I proceeded.
Carried by the energy moving me through the transition, I was building the confidence and emotional capacities I needed for this major shift. Each step changed me and by doing that, readied me for the next step. I was taught not to scare my self by looking beyond exactly where I was in the moment. When I reached places that might have scared the who I had been just days ago, the who I'd become by this new moment was not at all frightened.
Through the more than 40 years since that time in my life, I've held onto that powerful lesson. Whenever I find my self moving through periods of accelerated change, the knowing place inside me reminds me to keep my focus on the thinnest slices of now that I can define.
Slowing things way down is usually the best first approach to any intensity that threatens to unsettle one's balance. When that doesn't work, the practice of slicing now very thinly is the next best bet.
Focusing on the thinnest slice of now that we can define keeps us from swamping our selves with anticipations of what we're not yet equipped to handle. This narrowing of our focus helps us to not overwhelm our selves trying to encompass the sheer volume of the changes careening toward us. It's a practice that also works to calm us whenever we're feeling inundated by too many projects, too many tasks or too much obsessive worrying.
Whenever you feel overwhelmed and unable to slow the process of change to a more manageable pace, consider living in the thinnest slice of now that you can define.