I realized the other day that there is no primer for understanding the phases of life that we inevitably go through. I thought it odd as so many people have come before us, and yet, I personally haven’t seen a manual describing what I might expect to find around the next turn in the road.
Geez, that would be helpful.
You know, so that you don’t think you’re going crazy. Or the only one suffering from some incurable thought like, “Does it ever get better?” or “Do dreams come true?” or “What happens now when I want to chuck it all and move to Tahiti?” Brando did it. “What should I do?”
Maybe one of the things that might help us negotiate through our current phase (no matter where we are) is to realize that most life phases are bookended by the same principles we work through throughout our lives.
Namely, the “known” vs. the “unknown.”
So our formative years when we’re in our 20’s are when everything is new and exciting and weird and funky. Our still-developing reptilian brain wants to react from it’s fight-or-flight wiring, and it’s scary because everything seems unknown to us. I mean everything is sort of unknown. Will we find love? What’s going to happen in our career? Can we make it as an artist? Should we have never left Idaho? Where will we be in 10 years from now?
But if you’re brave enough to keep taking action and step into the unknown where the answers to these questions exist – eventually you’re going to get there.
But then what happens when you do get there (wherever there is!), is you become accustomed to the known. As we get older and experience things and gain knowledge we also become comfortable in our knowingness. (Hello! Have you ever heard the term “know-it-all”?) The familiarity that knowing creates, also, simultaneously becomes its own prison. You get used to the comfort and safety of what you’ve accumulated and accomplished that you’re scared to take leaps into the unknown.
So it’s two different vantage points in life phases but still presenting the same dilemma.
There is only one solution.
Shoshin is a concept in Zen Buddhism that means beginner’s mind. It’s important for us to always approach all tasks – even those we’ve done a thousand times – as a beginner. That is, open, eager, joyful in learning and not cluttered with the ego’s preconceptions of the way something should be. That mindfulness right there will keep us open to the unknown. Which ultimately then, is everything we want to be in, far beyond our comfort zones.
So do it. Take the leap. Commit to the unknown. And you’ll find that no matter what phase of life you’re currently in, you’re doing pretty damn awesome, even if there’s no manual telling you that!