Starting a new life includes the fog of not-knowing

The fog rolled in yesterday in big swaths of dense white air off the mountains, changing the view that has just begun to feel familiar in these weeks of starting a new life.

In the sunshine last week, I traveled out of my comfort zone of the Waldo Point docks, drove over to the Pacific and took a walk up into the headlands.  There was no GPS coverage behind the hills so I had to rely on the old way to get there – the road signs.  I had no trail map when I left the parking lot so I just wandered along the cliff paths.  My not knowing where to go allowed me to just take in the ocean views, the smells of the sea and the wildflowers, and the gonging of the bell buoy.  My unknowing footsteps led me to discovering a labyrinth on a cliff top promontory.

Given the fog this week, I went a different direction for my foray into the unknown.  I found a sporting goods store and bought hiking sneakers – Florida was really not a place for hiking.  Then I went further north to find sunshine and a wonderful art supply store.

Allowing myself to experience the unknown is challenging, but has its rewards.

In a book I’ve been reading by Frank Osaseski (who coincidently lives on a houseboat two docks away from me) I discovered the concept of  “don’t know mind,” which seems like what we need when experiencing change.

“As we go about our day-to-day lives, we rely on our knowledge.  We have confidence in our ability to think through problems, to figure things out.  We are educated; we have training in specific subjects that permits us to do our jobs well.  We accumulate information through experience, learning as we go.  All this is helpful and necessary in moving through our lives smoothly.

Ignorance is usually thought of as the absence of information, being unaware.  Sadly, it is more than just “not knowing.”  It means we know something, but it is the wrong thing.  Ignorance is misperception.

Don’t know mind represents something else entirely.  It is beyond knowing and not knowing….

Don’t know mind is not limited by agendas, roles, and expectations.  It is free to discover.  When we are filled with knowing, when our minds are made up, it narrows our vision, obscures our ability to see the whole picture, and limits our capacity to act.  We only see what our knowing allows us to see…

This moment right here before us, this problem we are tackling… we have never experienced it before.  When we enter a situation with don’t know mind, we have a pure willingness to do so, without attachment to a particular view or outcome.  We don’t throw our knowledge away – it is always there in the background, ready to come to our aid should we need it – but we let go of fixed ideas.  We let go of control.

Don’t know mind is an invitation to enter life with fresh eyes, to empty our minds and open our hearts.”

The Five Invitations by Frank Ostaseski



The Awkwardness of New Surroundings – Change Can Hurt

Change can hurt.  Literally and figuratively.

I sold my house last week and I’ve arrived in California.   Sausalito, to be exact, just north over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.  I’m in tiny temporary quarters until the renovations on the place I’ve rented are complete.  Though the space is small, the bed is tall – 5 ½ feet off the ground with a metal stepladder to go up to it.

First night, 4 AM (7AM on my body clock) I decided to get up.  I stepped carefully down to the first step, then automatically  stretched my leg down for the ground as I was used to doing at home when I used the small stepladder I had at home.  Yes, you guessed it.  My leg did not reach the ground and I tumbled down, banging up both my knees.

Luckily, the only damage was blacks and blues, not any serious injuries.  But it demonstrates to me how much our brains and bodies are attached to our old ways of doing things.

It’s been 3 weeks today since I left my Florida house, the house we outfitted with things to make life easier for my husband, like a touch faucet in the kitchen.  I’m still banging the faucet here trying to turn it on and off.  How long will it take for my brain to learn the new pattern?

Far more distressing is the discomfort of the unfamiliar, from the view out the window, the faces I see walking the dog, the dials on the stove, to the furniture. Our brains automatically react to unfamiliar stimuli as dangerous – it’s a survival tactic?  Consciously we don’t think that because our brains are doing an override, making sense of what’s new, but it still feels strange.  When it’s familiar our brain doesn’t have to do any work.

There’s also the complete sense of incompetence that comes from not knowing.  Not knowing where to put the trash.  How to get to the grocery store.  What the COVID rules are within the grocery store.  Etc.etc.. I felt like crying first time in the grocery store.    It’s incredibly uncomfortable to feel so unskilled.

So what’s the lesson in all this? My move wasn’t the wrong thing to do just because I’m uncomfortable, or in pain, even.  Same with any changes you go through.

Just because it feels scary or uncomfortable doesn’t mean the old way is better, though our brains will tell us that as a reflex.  Just because we feel stupid or incompetent because we don’t get it at first, doesn’t mean we won’t get it or that the change is wrong.

It’s a matter of hanging in there, letting our bodies and brains get accustomed to the new patterns, new ways of doing things, telling ourselves that the feelings of discomfort are normal.  Repeating “things will get better.”

Starting a New Chapter – Emerging from the Cocoon

Image of the butterfly saying that we may need to cocoon before we grow
Cocoon Before Emerging

I haven’t posted for a long time.  It’s been two years this month since my husband died, and I’ve just started a new chapter.

Because of COVID, I spent 380 days mostly alone.   Since nothing much was happening externally, I figured I had nothing much to write about.

Having moved to Florida only 5 years ago with no family nearby, I had no “pod” with whom to shelter in place with. I had a friend I walked with a few evenings a week.  Lots of people I Zoomed with, both friends and clients.  But I ate almost all those 1140 meals alone.  Filled all those many many hours alone.

But as I’ve started to emerge from my cocoon, I realize it helped me to learn a lot about taking care of myself.  The first year without Larry the neighbors rallied round, inviting me to lunches, dinners, parties.  I was living our couples’ life, just alone.  I did a lot of things to fill time without thinking whether I wanted to do them or no.  And some things I did to allow others to feel they were helping me.  I wasn’t spending much time figuring out who I was or what I wanted.

This last year I had plenty of time to think.  To meander through past memories, both good and bad.  To ponder the future.  To explore and experiment with what made ME happy, what foods I liked to eat, what I wanted to do and when.  I had no excuses to make about why I didn’t want to go out.  I didn’t even have the responsibility of deciding whether or not to go out and about.

I started to learn Spanish, played the piano more than I’d had in years, swam laps every day, did hula hoop fitness in the back yard, and did a lot of writing and painting.  I took on a healthcare client who wanted to provide stress relief to their staff and did lots of research on resilience and mindfulness.  I meditated and journaled a lot!  For the first time I joined my art and writing and work with weekly resilience messages coupled with a painting.

I finally decided it was time to move.  I’d known I wouldn’t keep the large house for myself from the beginning but it was lovely to have so much space while I was house bound.  With no family around, the work and cost to maintain it didn’t seem to make sense and Florida was never a forever destination for me.

The problem was I didn’t know where I wanted to move TO.  The 15 months without family made moving close to family seem so much more important than ever before but my kids live in the most expensive cities in the country on the opposite coast!!  I think grief hampers decision making for some of us – everything compared to care giving should feel easy but for some reason making decisions alone seemed hard (even though I had been making decisions alone for years – but with a sounding board that was now gone.)

The work of getting the house ready to sell, choosing how and when to sell, and starting the process of shedding so many possessions was incredibly daunting and had me procrastinating out of fear for many months.  Fear is so sticky – I couldn’t move in any direction.  Finally I decided that if I could find the strength and skills to support my husband while he was deteriorating daily and still find joy for us in each day, then I could support myself through this next big thing!  And I have.  I moved 3 weeks ago.

When feeling fear we have to look at how we’ve come through difficult things in the past, look for our strengths, look for courage to continue to face difficult things.  Without self-pity.  Without carrying a list of all the bad or tough things we’ve had to go through.   But we also have to be compassionate and gentle with the scars we carry.  It’s a fine balance, but the only way to move forward.