I find this quote immensely reassuring. For some reason, I had this idea that my future should be laid out clearly in front of me, rather than enshrouded in fog, one step visible at a time. So much of my life has been navigated with extremely limited visibility, relying on all my senses to guide me. Does this feel right? I would ask myself, as I sniff along my path like a beagle hound. Looking backward, my path winds and weaves in a way that makes sense to nobody but me, and even then, not all the time.
Martha Beck talks about this in her piece called The 4-Step Plan to Get Your Life on Track, where she calls this navigating with your senses as tracking your inner animal. The world is transforming before our very eyes and ears – how we work, how we learn and communicate – and the well worn paths that many of us rely on to navigate through our life are either coming to a dead end, or leading us far, far away from where we need to be.
In this new world, what used to work doesn’t any more. We can’t rely on someone else’s ideas, we have to rely on our inner compass, which instead of the four directions, we use our six senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, taste and gut. We direct our intention inwards; we ask ourselves the questions, and we listen carefully to the answers. We pay attention to the signposts and opportunities that life presents us with – and like a good animal, we heed the warning signs, beating a quick retreat if our senses tell us to.
But many of us have domesticated our wild animal. Our wolf is an over-fed cavalier spaniel, cossetted and ignorant of the wild world outside. Let me tell you though, if you take your spaniel to the farm, she’ll chase a chicken if she sees one; within every domesticated pup, a wolf lays dormant. Your wild animal is the same – all you need to do is take her to a wild space, and she will sit up, sniffing the air and tasting the smells, and before you know it, she’ll be following some hot track, with you running behind, wondering where the hell she’s taking you now.
Martha gives us 4 steps to rediscover our wild animal:
- If you’ve found yourself off track, then you need to backtrack until the smell is strong again. You know if your track has gone cold – all the joy and purpose has gone from your life. So we circle back, and we think about what we were doing the last time we felt joyful and purposeful. 5 years ago, I remembered that yoga, studying and writing did that for me. My friend, stuck in an endless cycle of toxic office jobs, remembered that looking after animals, healthcare and doing arts and crafts made her joyful.
- Once you’ve found your hot track, look around for where the next step might be. For me, it was creating a daily yoga practice, studying a short social media course, and starting a blog. My friend got some pet rats, started a dog walking business, and made some gorgeous crafts. What often happens here, is that our rational brains kick in, and wants to make a career out of this hot spot. I tried out social media management and hated it. My friend’s business failed. Like Martha says, “…emotions like boredom, hopelessness, anger or anxiety mean the trail’s gone cold.”
- Don’t be discouraged – return to the last hot track and repeat step 2. I started another course through TAFE – communication and media – and joined my local writers group. I was also offered a job as a teachers aide, which seemed a little off track, but it wasn’t. My friend went back to an office job to pay the bills and contemplated her next move.
- Trust your animal. Its weaving and winding track may seem completely random, but everything is purposeful, preparing you for what you’re meant to be doing. Don’t let the track go cold – life’s too short for that shit. My teacher’s aide position lead me to a media officer position in the school, which has lead me, twisting and turning, to a Marketing and Media position in TAFE. My TAFE course lead me to a Media and Communications degree at University. My blog has supplied me with years of joy, connection and expression. My friend, at 40, decided to study nursing. She is now a qualified nurse, and loving it. Random? Not to her and her wild animal.
What I love about getting older is being able to see the larger narrative arc of our lives emerging. Things that seemed so random and nonsensical slot into place. Everything is preparing us for our purpose. We are in training, we are doing our time, we are learning our worth, our capacity, and what we are made of. We shouldn’t be suffering unnecessarily though – once we lose our sense of joy and purpose, circle back, find that hot track and hunt around for that next step.
How’s your wild animal? Do you trust her to help you find your way?