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…I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

Over the last many months I’ve been in conversation with many new and old friends as well as family about what’s next for me. While I want to say it’s others who provoke the conversation, the honest truth is that it’s me. I bring it up because it’s a conversation that’s alive for me for many reasons.

What is next? Where will I live? What work will I do in the world? Who will I be? What will I offer? What’s next in my studies? These are all valid and legitimate questions. Good questions. Questions that I don’t entirely have the answers to. 

I want to have answers to them. That’s why I keep talking about it with people as though talking about it will reveal some great revelation. Maybe, just maybe, the person on the other end of the conversation will reveal some miraculous tidbit that’s going to be the exact piece I was looking for as though I were on a secret treasure hunt, constantly looking for clues. And yet, that analogy isn’t off base. 

I am on a secret treasure hunt. I’m hunting for my very purpose in life. Which in and of itself is an arguable topic. I read an Instagram post the other day about purpose and humans. God made nature to be wild, weird, and beautiful just as it is. Many indigenous cultures believe we were made for the same purpose. 

In contrast to those beliefs, we live in a western, capitalistic society in which our purpose is directly linked to our contributions. And our contributions to society may only fall strictly inside the realm of “work.” Things we do outside the home. Or, I guess, inside the home with remote work these days and entrepreneurs. But what if our purpose is completely independent of that work? 

Yes, we need to work to provide for ourselves and our families, to survive. This is important. And, yet, this is only part of the equation. Who I am beyond work is utterly more important for finding meaning in life. Even though that which gives us the most meaning in life may very well end up being the thing that supports us economically. It also might not be.

These conversations have been present for me because I find myself at a juncture. A point at which I am called to make a decision or multiple decisions about what direction to go in next. Here are the details… 

My partner and I are moving into the next phase of our relationship by making a public commitment in the spring of next year. While I currently live at home with my family (a temporary stop), my partner and I need to figure out where our next home together will be. What I do know is that it will be outside of Texas, which will be the first time in my life I’ll have lived outside of the state. 

In February, I will have been working as a nurse for six years, at the same hospital the entire time, although in two different departments during that time. The pending move harolds the end of my time at this hospital while calling into question what’s next for my career. This really comes at the perfect time because I’m certainly feeling like I need to make a change. 

Either I need to progress to a more difficult bedside position (like ICU) or a completely different specialty (like women’s services), or I need to advance to a managerial position or some other non-bedside position. Similarly, progress could look like returning to school for an advanced degree either in nursing or something completely different. (I was pondering counseling.) I sense my potential for more which is urging me to do something. I’m good for it. Meaning, I know I can do more. I know I can offer more to the world. 

On top of this, I’m contemplating the horizon for children, which has been a never-ending pending thing. It should be a welcome blessing, something to look forward to, and while it is (I’m deeply called to be a mother), it’s also not. It’s not because I feel like I don’t know yet what I’m doing in life in terms of soul purpose and work. (Are the two intertwined?) 

When I have children I want to be stable, steady, and ready. Ideally, that means that I don’t want to be making a career change right when I’m settling down to have children. I want to be in a position with my work where I have a good income, steady work, and a good schedule. Naturally, that creates a sense of urgency to make that change now rather than later. 

I’m keenly aware that the obvious option for me is to climb the expected career ladder. My options for doing so are vast as a nurse, which is the “silver lining” that’s commonly noted in conversations on the topic. Unfortunately, I don’t want to “just” keep progressing the expected career ladder, working, and doing the thing. 

I don’t want any of that. Unless, of course, my soul or spirit comes along and says, “Yea, dude, go this way.” Unless I get a clear sign to do that then I don’t want to do it. At this point, if I did do it, doing so would only be coming from a place of choosing it because I know not what else to do. Which is a poor reason to choose to do something in my opinion. Now this leaves me in a kind of limbo between where I’m at now with my career/work and whatever the heck is next. 

It’s a limbo I have spent a lot of time in. It’s more than a limbo though. It’s a place of longing. A longing for something grander, richer, deeper, utterly fulfilling, and divinely inspired. Historically, I’ve interpreted this longing to mean that I need to change careers. That I need to create something aligned with my passions, like starting a business and learning skills and tools to offer as my own healing services of some kind. 

I have attempted down this path on numerous occasions, thinking that this must be the answer to aligning with my soul and doing my purpose work in the world. It looks like it from the outside. Headlines read, “Woman ventures forth and creates business based on passions.” 

It’s a-traditional, therefore it’s aligned with soul, right? Maybe from the outside, it appears to be. But on the inside, I get this nagging feeling that all I’m doing is moving around the furniture of my life without actually making the fundamental shift needed. So, I abort the mission and return to focusing on nursing. I’ve repeated this cycle over and over and over again. And the longing remains. 

It’s quite the quandary, right? If the next step isn’t about changing jobs, making a career change, returning to school, or, always an option, doing nothing, then what do I do? What is this longing? One thing I’ve gotten really clear on in the last years is that this longing is my soul. She wants to be the next step. She wants me to choose her. 

How I do that has been a bit of a head-scratcher for me. As mentioned, I’ve regularly interpreted the “how” as making a change in the furniture. But in each attempt to do that, I’ve been bopped on the booty, asked to cut it out and to quit doing what I’m doing, and to try again. Which I’ve done. Over the years, the time between the start and the end has gotten shorter and shorter until I stopped altogether. 

This story feels like it’s spiraling down into the pit of the unknown. In many ways, it is. And yet, there’s a guiding light. I uncovered the work of Bill Plotkin and Animas Valley Institute some years ago (around the time I started working with Sera Beak, my first soul guide). Plotkin’s books provide a map of the soul journey and these very experiences I’ve been having. 

The understanding is that there comes a point in a person’s life where the trappings of the first adulthood no longer cut it. More of the same, moving the furniture around, won’t scratch the itch. If the itch – or the call – is loud enough and the longing strong enough, then the person embarks on the descent to soul, which I won’t get into what all of this is here. (You can either read his books or reach out to me for a chat if you’re interested in learning more.)  

As I’ve come to understand my path better, through my personal soul work and through the help of Plotkin’s maps, I realize I’m being asked to fully turn towards soul. I’m called to the deeper work. Until I do this deeper work, it won’t matter whether I climb the nurse career ladder, return to school, start my own business, or do nothing at all, none of these decisions would be fulfilling at the core level. 

My core can only be fulfilled when the core has been reached, acknowledged, known, integrated, embodied, and brought to the larger community as a gift. I can move the furniture around all day but that’s not going to build me a new house. One that sits upon a foundation of rich, soulful soil. 

What does one do when they don’t quite know the way? They wander. Which I feel deeply called to. A deep, meandering exploration of my soul path. A going ‘here’ or ‘there’ with my soul leading and with no expectations. No expectation that anything I do would be or amount to anything (even though it potentially could). 

Choice A doesn’t necessarily lead to choice B. Instead I opt for choice X. Then I go with choice W only to then circle back to choice B. Gently following the tender threads and nudges of soul. This is risky.

Such an adventure stirs up all kinds of fears. What will happen on the other side? What if nothing happens? What if I remain at square one? What if I run out of time and I’m pressed up against the window of time I have to have children? What if I have to abandon the wander? What if I never uncover my soul’s truest expression in the world? The fears feel truly endless.

What’s the biggest trap in this whole experience? Forgetting that I’m wandering. Succumbing to the pull and demands of the overculture (as I recently heard it described as). And getting sucked back into the vicious cycle. One that I know so well already. 

Good news: I’m aware of the trap. I see it now more clearly than ever. I can apply myself to the wander and name what could not be named before. I can spot the traps in action and save myself from getting stuck. Now I can dive in.

My work’s not done here though. Awareness is only ever the first step. Practicing what I know, keeping myself out of the trap, is my work as well as applying myself to the wander. 

So, what’s next for me? Where will I go? Who will I be? What will I study? Whatever it is, I’ll do it as a wanderer.  And I’ll do it for my one wild and precious life.

 

 

Photo by Aidan Dorton on Unsplash