What You Are Not
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.
– T.S. Eliot, East Coker
This is the way: we march on through the unknown, discovering the world and ourselves in each step. That’s part of getting older and, too infrequently, wiser. We don’t know our identity until we’ve reached beyond that which we’ve done before. Life is the sorting it all out part in between steps. Knowing with certainty that this thing is not my thing. But maybe the next thing is… or maybe not.
I know I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that the more we learn and grow and experience, the more we recognize ourselves in the patterns and energy around us. The more we encounter that which is not us, the more we seek another way. Life is learning to navigate the channel even when it isn’t clearly marked. You experience a few bumps along the way but you don’t sink unless you’re reckless.
If we have any freedom at all eventually we stumble into uncharted territory. Some turn right around and go back to where they came from, trusting the familiar over the uncertain. But life changes around you whether you’re a willing participant or not. So embrace the things you don’t know and revel in the discovery.
You can’t possibly know what being a parent is like until you’ve had children. And you can’t really understand until you’ve nudged them through each stage of their own lives. I say this knowingly, but also knowing what I don’t know as they grow beyond the previously familiar. And so we learn together and embrace the unknown.
This is just the next step in the journey for each of us. We all reached the pandemic and experienced the changes it made in us. Some grew, others crawled to darker places. But we were all transformed over twelve months and will be again as we rediscover the changes in those we once thought we knew. If it wasn’t the pandemic it would have been graduations or career changes or major life events. Change is part of the game.
Where you were is not where you are now. And so it follows that where you are is where you are not going to be soon enough. Accept that for what it is and step boldly into the unknown. For there you’ll find yourself.
You’ve managed to capture another difficult-to-explain feeling here. Your metaphor of navigating the channel captures reality of mild anxiety mashed into growing excitement, the sheer wonder of anticipating surprises that could emerge as you carve a narrow arch around the next buoy-strewn bend, surrounded by brown cliffs or low trees, as you slowly idle into a new shallow cove, just as the sun drops over your shoulder, and the finale of dropping anchor into questionable holding. Sigh. Not simply relief, but pure bliss, as the wonders continue to unfold with the rising of the next day to come!