I'm not sure I ever knew how stabilizing having a home of my own was until I recently sold my portion of our home in Bellingham to Mike. But the moment we signed the papers and transferred the money, everything changed. It didn't matter that I was still living in the same house with Mike just like I had been before. Or that I still loved him in the same way I had before. Letting go in this significant way changed things. Much more than on paper. And the moment I let go, I had lots to feel: sadness, darkness, low motivation, fear and panic at what my nervous system confused with having no home, waves of uncertainty and a clingy, pushy feeling of needing another home immediately.
Since then, I've been looking for a home of my own. But my search has come with a sense of urgency and wishing that something would work out NOW. Which means I've spent my fair share of time incessantly scrolling on Redfin before bed, picking my phone up first thing the next morning in hopes that something new may has come on the market overnight, then getting all stressed and overwhelmed when I find nothing. "I'm never going to find anything!" I complain to Mike before tearing up. "How will I ever afford anything I even like and want?"
I knew this place in my brain well,--the stress brain, rational brain, problem-solving brain. And I knew I was fueling its stress response with my endless pushing for something, no anything to happen NOW. But feeling the painful and uncomfortable emotions I was encountering after selling Mike our house without any clear sense of what was next felt like too much. So I busied myself with a search I had a sense I probably needed to slow down. Then, I'd watch myself struggle, stress, and force things. If only something in the world "out there" would hurry up and give me the answer or solution, then my pain and panic would go away. Only nothing was happening. So, I'd rush right back into TRYING, upheaving my entire day to go look at a house I couldn't really afford in a place I knew I didn't like. All of this felt exhausting and effortful. I felt whipped around by the instability of the world as it shifted, churned and fell apart all around me, as the world I had once created and known was falling apart right along with aspects of my identity.
Looking back on this now, I can't help but think of something Gloria Steinem said in her book Revolution from Within. It goes something like this: Women are taught to locate power outside of themselves. And men are taught to locate it inside themselves. Both of these are helpful and problematic.
It's a good reminder. It's so easy for me, when uncertainty and instability arise, to go looking for an external solution to help myself feel more solid and grounded. Like having a house of my own now. And, of course, this might be helpful. Then again, it's not happening at the moment. Plus, I'm still not really clear WHERE I'd like this house to be. I have a hunch. But it's not clear enough yet. No answer form outside of me is ready to give me the stability I'm searching for. Which means I get to practice generating stability from the inside out. No matter what the outside world is doing. No matter whether I know where I'm headed next or not.
I've been asking myself how I can do this the last few days: How can I generate stability and create from the inside out in the midst of a very unclear, wobbly time? I've got many answers that help me manage my stress moment-by-moment: stretching, breathing, sitting on the ground outside, walking in nature, morning pages journaling, cleaning up my physical space, etc. But these weren't really buoying me through my entire day. Which reminds me of another idea I've found really helpful recently. It's by William Bridges, who specializes in helping people and organizations move through transition (which, btw, is VERY HARD for all of us). He says transition comes with three stages: letting go, the neutral zone, and new beginnings. And, according to him, they happen in that order. So, once we let go of something, we then find ourselves not at a new beginning but in the neutral zone, which is an in between place. In the neutral zone WE AREN'T YET CLEAR WHAT NEW BEGINNING IS NEXT. So, we can force a new solution (sometimes). But to really birth something new, we have to hang out in that uncertain place and explore and live for quite some time. Which no human brain likes. The rational, problem-solving part of our brain that wants us to jump into action to fix the thing now hates uncertainty and new more than anything. And yet, once we've let go, we usually want something new. Not just a repeat of what came before. So how do we tolerate the ambiguity of this neutral space when there's no permanent new beginning in sight?
My answer, which parallels what Bridges says, is creating,--having SOMEthing to move towards. In my case, writing my book (and today, blogging). Of course, it's been harder than EVER to imagine writing. It's been smoky. I've been in a 400 sf space with another person and a dog. I've felt shaken and rattled with the palpable reminder of forests burning and climate changing. I don't know where I'll be living for the coming year. The list goes on. BUT, having something to move towards (even if it's temporary) is VERY helpful in the neutral zone. So, yesterday, after plowing through mountains of resistance, I sat down at my computer to write. And my entire day felt purposeful and transformed. Instead of looking outside of myself for the world to solve my problems and make me feel better, I'd taken a tiny step towards a goal that I want from the inside. It didn't matter whether the world was ready to connect me with my next home. I'd created a home for myself through my writing. And I can take that practice and project with me no matter where I am or what's going on in the world.
I still don't know what's next, of course. But feeling a bit more stable, thanks to my writing, means I'm more willing to trust, to take just that next step that is clear and that I am able to take today, and to remember how important timing is anytime major change is happening. The home Mike and I shared until this year in Bellingham was such a great example of this. We'd been looking for houses together for a while and agreeing on absolutely nothing. I had that "need for resolution now" thing happening, that "wanting something to work out even if I have to talk myself into it" feeling. I'd stepped in dog poop repeatedly when viewing one house I thought could work. Still, nothing was opening up. It's worth noting, too, that I was going up for tenure at the university and hadn't yet heard whether I'd gotten it. (And if you don't get tenure, you are out of a job.) So, in many ways, it wasn't a great time to go looking for a house. Then, 30 minutes after receiving my congratulatory tenure letter from WWU, Mike received an email. "You're not going to believe this," he announces, explaining that a woman he'd reached out to 4 years earlier was now getting back to him. 4 years later. "I'm in the preliminary stages of selling my house and I wondered if you'd still have interest in buying it?" she'd typed.
It was time. And both of us loved the house right away. But it wasn't clear until it was clear. We didn't know until other things had happened (like me gaining tenure). And we didn't agree until we did. Then, I suffered and stressed a LOT all during that in between, neutral zone place without a home. But now, I hope to suffer a bit less and practice a bit more. How can I create stability from the inside out today (and especially if the world isn't ready to birth a new beginning yet)? What can I move toward and create so I'm doing something more than managing stress moment by moment? And how can I allow myself to do more than grab at solutions to escape the difficult feelings when things get unstable and uncertain? Cheering for you if you, too, are in the midst of the neutral zone. And walking alongside you.