Friday, 20 July 2018

Lessons from Living in Limbo

As many of you know, I have recently returned home from attending the Uniting Church Assembly. In many ways, it is like a big reunion. During lunches and break times, I brushed shoulders with many people I have met at various national events over many years. Inevitably, the discussion always comes back around to one question, "What are you up to these days?". I must say, I got a little bit tired of answering this question. My hope had been to attend Assembly with a clear and concise answer, but instead it always turned into a longwinded explanation of this time I have aptly named 'limbo'.

In the last few days, the situation has changed and there is now more clarity about the path ahead. I have been offered a scholarship which makes it possible for me to proceed with my PhD studies, at least for now. To say I am excited about this development is an understatement. I will have a very busy six months ahead of me, but I am looking forward to asking some big questions and reading and exploring my area of interest.

This time of limbo has lasted almost three months. There have been moments where I have been disgruntled and impatient, but overall this has been a time of great learning. I feel I could possibly write a whole book about these lessons, but for now I will offer them in this simple way.

1. A path will appear when you step forwards.
Leunig Cartoon
There have been many times in the last year and a half where I have felt completely foolish. Others have been a little kinder in the way they have put it, but I can tell that what is going through their minds is, 'Are you insane?' The truth of it is, that until I chose to take what seemed like a ridiculous step, I had no idea what other doors would begin to open. It really did feel like that scene from Indiana Jones where he takes a step of faith into what seemed like an abyss of nothingness. So, I guess, the lesson has been - sometimes you just have to take that first step before the path will begin to unravel in front of you.

2. Spend time with the people whom you can be most real. 
There have been some very vulnerable times throughout this period; times when the comments and helpful suggestion of others have weighed heavier than usual. During this time, it has been particularly important to have people around me who truly know me. For some, this might include a range of people to choose from, but for me it was only a few valued and trusted people who have been with me on the journey for many years. These are the people whose only hidden agenda was my happiness and wellbeing. These are the people who were honest with me and could see the risk was worth taking. As the Rumi quote says, "Be with those who help your being".

3. Confront your doubts about yourself.
Doubts have not been in short supply these last 18 months. Who am I to think that I could actually tackle a PhD? What, of value, do I have to say anyway? Are you just running away from what seems too hard? Am I being selfish? Am I being irresponsible? What makes you think you will be happier following this path? What happened to your original call to ministry? What if you fail? This is ridiculous! Who do you think you are? Many of these doubts have arisen out of my own inadequacies. Some have come to the fore from the reactions of others. As these questions and inadequacies have gained strength, the only way I have managed to deal with them is by finding another voice to confront them. Perhaps I have a different voice to add to the conversation. So what if I fail? I can do this. I'll never know until I give it a shot. This has taken place like a never-ending, inner battle. The battle has sometimes seemed futile, the wounded scattered here and there. As much as I support a non-violent way of living, this was a battle that needed to happen. If not, I would have given up on myself months ago.

4. Bring yourself to the task.
Another aspect of self doubt that has crept up over and over is my own observation that I don't look or behave like an academic. I have to keep reminding myself of the meaning of 'big words', I can sometimes take a while to digest something I have read, I loathe writing bibliographies. Surely this is not a good start for someone attempting a PhD? In speaking with someone only a few days ago, I was encouraged to think differently. What if bringing my more contemplative way of life to this project was just what it needed? I was reminded of another time in my life, when I was filling in for someone else's role. That person was very different to me and I felt inadequate to fill their shoes. I was reminded in this instance that no one had asked me to be them, they asked me for who I was. I need to lay aside all my preconceptions and simply bring myself to the task.

State Library of Victoria - The Dome
And so, here I am about to embark on a different way of life. In the waiting, I have had a strange peace in the uncertainty. It feels like a time I needed to endure in order to learn some lessons that hopefully will hold me in good stead as I begin this journey. I am sure there will be plenty more times of doubt and questioning in the years to come, but I have some ideas how to face them now. These lessons have been learnt in remaining present, taking time to be grounded and spending time in quiet and stillness. This is who I am. This is what I bring. And I look forward to seeing how the path with unfold before me.

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