“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita, mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, ché la diritta via era smarrita.” Dante Alighieri, La Divina Comedia –
Many years ago, at a business conference in Italy, I was stunned to hear a CEO in his forties passionately recite the opening lines of Dante’s Divine Comedy. It seemed so out of place in that setting. And yet, the words hit home. Breaking through participants’ professional personas and masks of confidence, a tremor of subtle recognition shook the assembly. This is what he said:
“Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a dark forest,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.”
There are many fascinating layers of interpretation of these few lines, which Dante wrote when he was 35 years old. But at the simplest level, they speak of the deep dark uncertainty that faces us sooner or later on the journey of our lives, when the straight line we had convinced ourselves we were following suddenly vanishes into oblivion – by our own doing, or as a result of shifting realities in the world around us.
In our current times, I would go even further. I would say that the “straightforward pathway” is no longer an option for any of us, young or old. No matter how hard we try to build it, the road is erased time after time. And we find ourselves standing in the dark, encircled by uncertainty.
Our conditioned response is to get busy with logistics. To intellectually plan our way out as fast as possible. Back onto the solid ground of what is known. What we can control.
But in order to find the pathways that will ultimately lead us through our inner and outer darkness, that strategy will not help us. On the contrary. We must be willing to pause in the heart of uncertainty. To fully feel the tension in the arm of the archer, before the arrow is released. To appreciate the moment when everything is still in potential, and yet nothing has been manifest.
How can we do that? Especially when strong emotions tug at us from all sides, as soon as we decide to stop?
By asking a simple question that can cut through the patterns of a mind running on over-drive, and dismiss our fear of the unknown. By asking:
What am I feeling?
The question is not, ‘What am I thinking about what I’m feeling?’ Nor is it, ‘How can I best analyze the subtle feelings flicking through my awareness?’ No. Simply, ‘What am I feeling? What sensations are present in my body?’
The simple act of focusing on our feelings and physical sensations can bring us back to the ever-present, ever-elusive present moment. Where our endless storylines evaporate. Where we breathe into the joy of our embodied aliveness.
And there, we may understand that uncertainty is an opportunity to activate our trust, instead of our fear. To embrace the immense potential on offer and rest in joyful anticipation, sending that energy rippling out into the world.