As I am about to depart on a two-week vacation, my mind is filled with many thoughts (mostly about the prospects of relaxing). One such thought has to do with the experience of the unknown. Of course, as I prepare for the vacation, the unknown beckons with a sense of excitement and adventure. But the experience of the unknown, of not knowing, is not always such a positive one. Lately I have been talking with many of my clients about this experience. Sometimes the unknown is that experience of a job seeker waiting for a call back or an interview. Sometimes the unknown is the experience of having just met someone and the prospects for a relationship and perhaps a life-partner.
I am reminded of the situation so many people experience when driving and becoming lost. Often there is a feeling of panic, fear, and dread. Sometimes, but not usually, it’s an experience of excitement and new frontiers. Feeling the feelings associated with not knowing can be difficult work. It is not easy to feel that kind of anxiety or fear; that sort of discomfort with not knowing. Yet that is so often the challenge: to feel those feelings — not escape them, not try to bypass them, but to feel them. Many of clients have reported recently increased success in doing just that. And what they tell me they are experiencing is ultimately some sense of relief. No longer do they have to avoid those feelings nor try to cover them up. What they find is while there is discomfort in not knowing, that feeling can itself pass and change into something else. And their ability to tolerate distressing feelings increases. Not to know is no longer such a dreaded, painful experience.
There is a lot to be gained in the experience of becoming more comfortable with not knowing. After all, that is the experience that many of us have quite a lot of the time. That is the experience, in a way, that my clients and I enter into each session. As we start the session, we don’t know where we are headed; we don’t know what feelings, painful and joyous, we will encounter. We only know that we will travel that path together.