DoTheNextRightThing

Things could be stranger but I don't know how

Changes, Langhorne Slim

You really couldn’t make up what is going on now if you tried.

Every day is an avalanche of new information to integrate and act on: Stay in. Keep your distance. Stop seeing friends. No more touching. Restaurants closed. Libraries and yoga studios too. Travel is off the cards until further notice. So are weddings, live music, cinemas, art galleries, festivals, retreats, events, and sport. Even the Olympics have been postponed.

With everything that is happening now, I feel like nature is being returned to Earth. You’ve seen the pictures of the Venice canals running with clear water and reports of wild animals making their way into deserted cities. For this to happen, humans needed to get out of the way. The question everyone wants to know is, how long is this going to last?

We are feeling the same things — panic, worry, loneliness, exhaustion — and a whole bunch of new states such as ecological distress, anticipatory grief, and everpresent anxiety.

I dropped some food to a friend and I got a bit emotional in my car afterward. It wasn’t because I couldn’t hug her (which felt strange), but it was because I didn’t know when I would again. Now that not knowing is the new normal, being okay with it is a superpower.

Everything’s on hold. So hold on. – Nick Miller

I recently was making my way across North America and when you’re travelling — the unknown is all you’ve got. I didn’t know where I was going the day after tomorrow, where I was sleeping the next night, how I was going to get from here to there, who I was going to meet, and where life would take me. It’s a lot to think about it! Uncertainty is exhausting, but it is also thrilling and pushes you forward.

I should be in Guatemala right now. Or I would be if I didn’t follow my instincts.

I left Australia last August and had planned to travel in America for one year. When I re-entered the US through Seattle after being in Canada for a few months, I was told my one-year US visa has been stamped for 6 months in my passport. Apparently that’s how immigration rolls now, unexpectedly to me. It had to reorient my plans and I decided to go to Central America to continue the quest. I was going to go hiking alone in the mountains and live in remote permaculture farms along the way.

All my efforts to get to Costa Rica, Guatemala or Cuba were really not working. The alignment was all off. I was forcing this hard. In truth, I didn’t want to come home and fail my quest. I had found clues, but not the answers to the three big questions of my life. I had been here before (word of 2016: flow) and so when a waitlist spot came up to attend a tea meditation retreat at Esalen in Big Sur in the week before my visa expired, I took it as a sign to go there instead and then head home to Australia to reset for a few months.

Real seekers are constantly questioning. – Wu De

I landed back in Perth in the nick of time, just before the COVID-19 pandemic pressed a giant PAUSE button on the whole world. Then this urging to return home started to make sense. Had I decided to stay overseas and got sick, especially after my month-long medical mystery and then pneumonia, things would be very different for me right now.

The one thing that helped me make this fork-in-the-road decision? It was something I overheard in Arizona.

I found this cafe in Sedona that made me feel like I was in Ubud and I had returned to have lunch by a sunny window. I was eavesdropping on the conversation at the table next to me where a burly-looking guy was having lunch with his female friend. He seemed to be a seeker too, talking about his travels across America and how he was living out of his car in search of a new home. He said he was feeling anxious most of the time about finding the right place and the right community to build a life in and it was all getting too much. Then he said: “So I’ve decided I am just going to do the next right thing.”

The next right thing. That’s it.

DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING.

It was an incredible relief to get permission from a total stranger to not have to have my future mapped out. I just needed to do the next right thing. I carried this advice with me for the rest of my trip whenever I struggled at a crossroads. It helps to break down big decisions (Should I stay or go? This year or next year? Now or never?and in a day-to-day sense (Maybe the next right thing to do is to eat something substantial and skip the fourth cup of tea, or go for a walk without my phone).

I read somewhere that a tremendous crisis is a great opportunity. There is a weird pressure to be productive now. Obviously for people with jobs (yay!) you’ve got something to do and perhaps more time on weekends. But for the rest of us: Will I finally write that book? Learn to play Jewel on guitar? Pick up tap dancing again? Master Asian vegetarian cuisine? Or get prison fit? I heard that Newton discovered the theory of gravity while Oxford University was on a break during the Great Plague. I’ve had 31 years to make a scientific breakthrough, I highly doubt it’s going to happen now.

What we have been given is time. A lot of it. More time than any of us could have dreamed of (or asked for). Many of us have lost work, been made redundant, or have no job prospects for the time being. Projects have been derailed and plans have been deleted for the foreseeable future. We all have now ahead of us many months of nothingness. As in nothing to do, nowhere to be, no one to see.

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. - Seneca

It can all get very quickly depressing unless you start to think of it as everythingness. You can now do EVERYTHING (almost —see list in the opening paragraph) you swore you would do when you had ‘time’. Remember those relentless ceaseless workdays that made you want to cry and you fantasised about having just one day off so you could do your favourite things? Well, now you can. (Note: Obviously acknowledging the privilege of having free time and not having excessive worry for money and survival).

Considering a lot of work options are not available to many of us. You have been given time for a bunch of things that you have perhaps put on the backburner like: sitting down to eat breakfast, reading the books you own, going for a long uninterrupted walk, cooking a new recipe and actually following it, calling instead of texting friends, watching classic movies you’ve always loved, updating your website, clearing out the stuff you don’t need (mentally too), remembering to play the piano, getting to bed when you’re naturally tired (hallelujah!), turning your hobby into an online course, and writing down the thoughts that you’ve had for a while.

The next right thing is obviously different for everyone. I oscillate between hiding my phone and being attached to it like it’s a blockbuster movie with popcorn. This makes me prone to anxiety and restlessness and general ickiness. The next thing I’m doing is unhooking the intravenous digital drip and going into a creative cave to remain calm. In short: spend significantly less time online. I get easily and stupidly distracted by social media and news sites and endless open tabs and they are all the greatest time sucks of our era that stop me from doing the real Work.

I am interested to see what I am truly drawn to and why.

So pals, hope this helps – do the next right thing for you. Small or big. You will instinctively know what that is. It’s most likely the thing you don’t want to do but know is the best one for you (yep!).

Is it okay with you that you blow off your writing, or whatever your creative/spiritual calling, because your priority is to go to the gym or do yoga five days a week? Would you give us one of those days back, to play or study poetry? To have an awakening? Have you asked yourself lately, “How alive am I willing to be?” It’s all going very quickly. It’s mid-May, for God’s sake. Who knew. I thought it was late February. It’s time to get serious about joy and fulfillment, work on our books, songs, dances, gardens. – Anne Lamott 

Resonates

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