I sat at the edge of the dock and watched the lake’s waves gently crest and fall, undulating in sun-tinted hills and valleys that stretched as far as my eyes could see. The flow seemed in unison, geese flocking all in the same direction as the tide came in, storm clouds in the far distance drawing near.
As my legs dangled there, warmed by the still-present sun, clouds beginning to cover the sky in a cotton blanket, my toes just grazed the surface. I witnessed the reverberations of this tiny action, small ripples in all directions of where skin met water and water met skin. A smile crawls across my face.
I considered all the times that I focused on the splash. When faced with an approaching deadline or a problem to solve, I’d throw myself into one well-thought-out, perfected direction to make the thing I wanted most happen. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but every time I could guarantee I’d be exhausted.
When faced with a decision to try something new or let go of something old, I never bothered to witness what would happen if I just inched a toe in, allowing a tiny action to take it’s course over and over again. Dipping just a toe in could change everything. I might not be able to swim across the lake in one day. But the physics, the butterfly-effect mechanics of it move forward from just my willingness to show up, be present, and step in.
Being the type-A planner and over-thinker that I am, trying to start something without having fully charted a course usually stops me in my tracks. Shouldn’t I have this totally mapped out? Aren’t I just inviting a ton of mistakes and last-minute choices? Don’t I first need to research everything everyone else has done in a similar situation?
While some choices do require a lot of planning, maybe it doesn’t always have to be that complicated. Maybe the way to do a lot of things is that simple: You start trying to do the thing. You see what happens. Instead of using check-the-box, step-by-step processes, you focus on how you feel. You turn back when it no longer feels like you. You accept that perhaps there isn’t an end. It’s just a continual process of showing up more fully and finding the baseline joy in being yourself, even when it doesn’t feel easy.
It’s one thing to say, “Go on ahead, step your toe in,” but it’s another thing to actually get started in the face of second-guessing and resistance. How do you begin making even the tiniest of progress forward? What if you don’t even know what forward looks like? I don’t have the answers to any of this. But for me, it never hurts to get quiet and ask more questions.
Often, I reflect on these in my journal. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. What am I awake to now that I wasn’t before?
If I listen closely, there are voices I have failed to listen to, there are angles and curves and depths to this water where I can learn more, and places where my heart can break open wider to not just set my own self, but others around me free. I try to think about the one, tiny action-oriented thing I can do to acknowledge and uplift those voices and places. That’s forward motion.
2. How am I holding on too tightly?
Lately, I feel like I am just hanging on to my well-being by the tips of my fingers. But every few days, I hit on that joyous, spacious, floating feeling and wonder how that happens. Mostly, it only happens when I am okay with things not going how I want them to go. Even if I feel like things are out of control, I find comfort in knowing I can in paddle my own boat, right here, in this body I have right now, no matter how many waves are crashing into me.
3. How am I focusing on the barriers?
If I pay attention, I can see that I’m actually not an incredibly unlucky person who has bad things happen to her, but a person who focuses on only the supposedly bad things that happen to her. This isn’t about self-blame, but rather, reframing the regret of past events or the anxiety about the future as the blocks I’ve created in my flow. These are barriers in the water that I am choosing to narrowly focus on, instead of noticing that water moves around and through things every day. I may wobble, shift, and change, but as I slowly come out from the other side, I’ll be more resilient, centered, and transformed.
Overall, these questions help me explore the fear of stepping into the unknown, and instead of looking solely at the risks of what could go wrong, to focus also on the opportunities that the unknown presents. Keep in mind: You can always pivot, turn back, or flat out quit. You aren’t trying to end up somewhere exactly, you’re taking one step into the water of possibility, with your curiosity as your compass.
If asking these questions makes this notion sound simple, perfect, or complete, as if it will feel effortless—it won’t. It is akin to a tidal force—we have to continually sink back into our own knowledge in order to reach forward. There’s no shortcut here around yourself, which is perhaps the most difficult challenge to confront of all.
But I know this: If you never step into the water, you’ll never know where the ripples take you. Maybe, even if darkness approaches, I can dip my toe into this water, and maybe, the effect of my ripples are somewhere out there, as you read this, navigating to you. It seems like a good possibility, and one worth smiling about.