For thousands of years anyone wanting to get anywhere usually began by finding a star they could follow. The reason behind this was quite simple, and in many ways, still applicable. No matter the light, the clarity, the vision any of us think we have in our life, as inevitably as night follows day, there is in every life uncertainty, and a time of stumbling in the dark.
Denying this does not diminish the darkness, and refusing to recognize where or why we are stumbling only increases the odds of falling.
While finding a guide in the stars may seem outdated, and modern GPS technology seem unerring, at the end of the day, whether you are a spiritual wanderer or battling addiction, finding your way in life is less a distant target and more about finding your way every day in every way. And finding a guide is still a guiding star.
Every goal in every life is about a journey, and more often than not the path is not ahead; it is within. If this sounds confusing, remember the adage: “If you’re not confused you’re not really thinking.” And, many, many folks who thought they had found their way to what made them happy woke to find they were desperately lost.
For too many of us, the daily rituals we thought would bring us pleasure brought us pain. And the collateral damage often brought the people around us even more pain. Rituals are a repeated act designed to bring us a repeated expectation, but rituals that don’t serve us enslave us.
Rituals are habitudes. They are habitual attitudes like, “I must get up this morning and take that run.” Or, “I must get up and find where I put that bottle last night.”
Choosing to leave a habitude requires us to embrace a new habitude. Our rituals are our choice. Deciding that choice is out of our control is also a choice.
The revolt of a slave begins with the question, “What am I doing here?” And the liberation of any us from the addictions of a negative mindset or any depleting behavior isn’t in having a fast answer but wrestling with the question.
This wrestling isn’t to be confused with the muscular in tight bathing suits but a no-holds-barred intimacy with life. The moment, or prolonged moments of a transforming struggle takes courage. If you find this a fearful thing, remember: Heroism isn’t the absence of fears but how we wrestle with our fears.
The Chinese word for “crisis” is made up of two characters, “danger” and “opportunity.” And every moment in every life is at the crossroads of danger and opportunity. Some moments have both the danger and opportunity magnified dramatically by how we have dealt, or not dealt, with previous crossroad moments. Why? Because what we will not deal with in life, will deal with us. And who among us has not discovered a problem avoided is a crisis invented?
The Latin word for this crossroads in life is limens and is as recent as 2200 years old. The word literally means “threshold,” a place of transition and not knowing. At some point across time in the life of every thinking person, there is a liminal moment. But, and this is a big “but,” for those trying to wrest themselves from physical addiction, the liminal moment comes with claws. And anyone hoping to claw their way out of that moment—like any pilgrim hoping to find their way in the dark—is reminded again to have a guide.
Scripture reminds us it is better for two to travel together, for if one should fall there is another to lift him up. Amen.
In the 18th century, people wealthy enough to have pocket watches had two of them because watches were inclined to run down. When this inevitably happened the stalled watch could then be reset and set right using its companion timepiece as its guide. And we are not so different. Who among us hasn’t needed to stop, and re-set, and re-wind? Human frailty is not a failing. Failing is what we don’t do about our frailty.
The road ahead is always under construction. Having someone we can turn to helps any of us negotiate the curves in the road.
Being human is vulnerability on two legs. All of us are inclined to run down, lose our notion of what time it is, and feel broken. But we are not broken. We simply need the assistance of another who can help us reclaim our selves at that liminal moment.
In transition, we are all anxiety-vulnerable. When the claws of transition anxiety claw at us, a good guide, like a good friend, is someone who has the experience, training, and humanity to acknowledge that they, too, will have moments of failing and falling and can only hope there will be someone there to catch them, guide them.
If you are at a threshold moment and are in the company of supportive, healing guides, know you are blessed. And if you are uncertain about the next step and the next, you are human. And you are not alone. Know that.
Noah benShea is one of North America’s most respected and beloved poet-philosophers. An international bestselling author of 20 books, including the famed Jacob the Baker series, his inspirational thoughts have appeared on more than 30 million Starbucks coffee cups. His weekly columns on life were published for five years by the New York Times Regional Syndicate and nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. In addition to his many accomplishments, he serves as Philosopher In Residence for Foundations Recovery Network.