Navigating the Great Unkown

“Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s
family, and go to the land that I will show you …” – 
Genesis 12:1
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I dream vividly every night. Some of my dreams are rather significant. Two years ago (yes, I keep a dream journal with dates), I dreamt that I was standing on the shores of a stormy sea. The skies were grey and menacing, the water green and dark, with white foam churning on top, creating the appearance of a bubbling cauldron. The wind was howling. I was holding a windsurfing sail, just the sail, no board. For whatever
peculiar reason, I waded into the water and began to windsurf over the top of the waves with bare feet – a near impossible feat. Flying over the water at the mercy of the wind, I began to noticbreakwater-379242_1920e dark shadows under my feet – the whole ocean, it seemed, was alive with monsters of the deep. I was terrified. Finally, I made it back to shore and stood there panting, with exhilarating horror … and then I went back into the water … to do it all again …
Fortunately, I woke up!

The dream was compelling. My subconscious was trying to desperately process what was happening in my life. It was a season of great risk, new defining moments, pivotal paradigm shifts, deep inner work, and I was staring down the path of an adventure that would take me into uncharted territory. A very similar place to where my partner and I are standing right now, as we face momentous changes in our lives. These times come to all of us; some through our own choice, some far beyond our control, and they all lead us to the mist-covered space of the Great Unknown.

Maybe you have been there? Maybe you are there right now – this murky, foreign place, where you wake up one morning and realise you are “not in Kansas anymore”. This new neighbourhood, perhaps filled with grief, most often with great fear and, at times, a sense of loss.
Perhaps you lost a loved one? Or you have been diagnosed with an
illness? Maybe it is a drastic shift in an area of tightly-held ideology or worldview? Or a literal geographical move? Everything within you wants to again feel the safety of the familiar harbour. Frantically, you search for that mysterious rabbit hole you accidentally fell down that took you to this faraway corner. When you find it you discover, to your horror, that it is locked and bolted. You cannot go back, you are not the same anymore. So, you have to gather your courage, grab your walking stick (or windsurfing sail), and take the first tentative step into the unknown.

Here are some reflections from a fellow pilgrim that may be of help:

1. You will feel lost and there’s nothing you can do to change or hurry that process. When Providence guides you to the Great Unknown, you will feel lost and disorientated. Familiar habits and belief systems are now under threat, or may even be discarded. You have been beckoned to a radical adventure in which you are asked to leave behind so much of what once brought you security and comfort. Lostness, after all, is a
hidden gift, for in the midst of it you begin to really wake up and pay
attention.

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2. You may discover some very awkward travelling companions: Silence and Darkness. How our modern world fears these friends. Look around, everything is geared for you to ignore them. But when you step into the Great Unknown, they are there, forever at your side. At first you freak out, then you ignore them, and then … then you become their friend. For Silence and Darkness are the womb of the Great Unknown. These are the friends sent to you at this time to confront the greatest of all fears – yourself.

3. You will leave some friends behind. Nothing tests friendship like the Great Unknown. Ask anyone who has travelled here: the ones suddenly unable to partake in ‘normal’ activities because of illness or an accident, the ones who have ‘lost’ job or finance and can no longer ‘benefit’ their friends, the ones who shift in ideas and thought that threaten others, the list goes on. The reality is, for whatever reason, the Great Unknown will show you that the notion that you will take everyone with you, is simply not true. We can get angry and bitter, or we accept this as part of what this space is all about. There are a few friends who stay at your side for a lifetime. There are others that cannot take the journey with you. There are also others who are sent to you at this time – a whole different group of travelling companions, bidding you welcome.

4. You are, and will continue to, change. There is no other place that quite exposes the raw nerve of false cliches and ego than the Great Unknown. The place where we stop pretending, where we realise that
paradox is part of being human, where amongst our friends of Darkness and Silence, we recognise the Grace that has brought us here. It is in this place, fearful and exposed, we discover that we are greatly loved, and we look at the world in a whole new way. “I took the path less travelled,” wrote Robert Frost, “… and it made all the difference.” The Great
Unknown transforms our lives.

If you, like me at this time, feel like you are surfing over deep, dark
waters with no surf board, know that you are in good company. You are not alone. There is nothing wrong with you. You, dear friend, are simply being called to an adventure of a different kind. May you find the courage to answer.

Gandalf: I am looking for someone to share in an
adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.

Bilbo: I should think so—in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them …

Gandalf:  You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back

Bilbo:  You can promise that I’ll come back?

Gandalf:  No. And if you do, you will not be the same  

[The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien]

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14 comments

  1. Alida -

    Thank you for sharing some of your insights / understandings from your journey Nicole. It is inspiring, helpful and encouraging.

  2. Lyn Williams -

    Loved this blog and can very much relate to your reflections from a time of ‘great unknown’ I went through a few years back. I wish I’d had the wisdom of your reflections then as I stumbled through the strangeness of an unexpectedly new and very different season. This blog will be so helpful for anyone navigating a time of major change. Thanks again.

    • Mugwump -

      Thank you, Lyn. I often wish we had the hindsight available WHILE navigating some of the more difficult times 🙂

  3. Joakim Lundqvist -

    Beautiful, Nicole!

    Have you read about Brendan the Voyager, an Irish monk who in the early 6th century felt the calling of God to build a small boat and sail into the Atlantic Ocean without a clue on what to expect. He made an incredible journey and returned safe, but his final prayer as he left his native land for the great unknown connects so beautifully with the spirit of your words:

    Shall I abandon, O King of mysteries, the soft comforts of home?
    Shall I turn my back on my native land, and turn my face towards the sea?

    Shall I put myself wholly at your mercy,
    without silver, without a horse,
    without fame, without honor?
    Shall I throw myself wholly upon You,
    without sword and shield, without food and drink,
    without a bed to lie on?
    Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land, placing myself under Your yoke?

    Shall I pour out my heart to You, confessing my manifold sins and begging forgiveness,
    tears streaming down my cheeks?
    Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach,
    a record of my final prayer in my native land?

    Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict?
    Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean?
    O King of the Glorious Heaven, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?

    O Christ, will You help me on the wild waves?

    Blessings always!

    Joakim

    • Mugwump -

      I feel another blog post coming up in your honour, Joakim. I have not heard of Brendan but am about to research him. Thank you so much. Can’t wait to see you guys.

  4. Sara Rahoo -

    I love this. This hits me right where I’m at. It is comforting to know that this is a path that others have and are currently taking – I am not alone. So human and relevant. I love your writing! Please keep it up!

  5. Cathy M -

    This is sooo true! Nice to know your own quiet journey is somewhat parallel to those you care about.
    Much love Nic xxx

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