the image shows confusion

Whew! I’m less than 24 hours out of my first silent, mindfulness meditation retreat and I can’t decide if it feels like it never happened or if the stillness and sense of calm I accessed there are actually lurking somewhere behind this pile of emails and family administrative tasks.

Let’s go with it having been really nice – a time of focus, presence, learning and comfort (way more suited to my perspective on mindfulness and my own personality than the Goenka meditation retreat I had considered while we were in Japan!). And, perhaps, we can also say that getting back to everyday life requires the return again and again, breath by breath, to my practice. I’m officially no less inclined to find my children’s bickering less grating, maybe I am, however, a bit more gentle on myself with the fact that I have that opinion of their bickering. Let’s call it a spiral learning…

The retreat, offered through Brussels Mindfulness, focused on heartfulness – or what’s often thought of as mindful self-compassion and maybe even metta or loving-kindness meditation. It was a bit of blending of a few of these overlapping perspectives. There were many lovely takeaways – I won’t share them all here. There was, however, one comment our teacher made in passing that really stuck with me. It’s the one I’m most inclined to share with you all right now at this time of year – especially as December marks a time of reflection, transition and can often leave us asking, “What now?”

The comment was this (with slight paraphrasing here), “As a coach, psychologist and mindfulness teacher, I love confusion. I love when people say they’re confused. It means they’re thinking about what’s happening in their life. If you’re confused, you’re on the path to clarity.”

Yes! 

People work with me most frequently because they don’t like the discomfort of confusion. They want to get things figured out. And they’re not alone – this is a universal human experience. When we feel confused we feel lost, alone, like we’re the only ones who don’t know the answer. It feels this way because we tend to hold on to the false narrative that life should be black and white, that our daily experience should go from Point A to Point B and any diversion is a result of our moral failing to be clear, wise and self-confident.

My daughter has a book that says, “You have to be scared so you can be brave.” This is how it is with confusion. Not knowing is the place where we’re being offered the opportunity to pause and turn towards our experiences. Ambiguity is a reminder of the inherent uncertainty with which we all live. Confusion is an essential element on the road to clarity.

This reflection is especially powerful for expats. The high degree of uncertainty with which most expats live, compounds that feeling of confusion. It’s one thing to be confused about your life path, another to feel that way when you’re also not sure if you said “I don’t need a bag,” or “I don’t need a bath.” True story.

However, the fact that confusion is inherent to expat life, doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to harness the gifts that it offers. There are some important messages your lack of clarity is trying to send you. 

Confusion reminds us to gently awaken to a life moment or challenge that needs our attention. It’s like the quiet, hard-to-nail-down, dripping sound coming from your bathroom. You may not know the source, but it’s no less important. The unrelenting tapping reminds you to investigate further.

Our confusion as expats is an honor of our commitment to live an unordinary life.  We could stay in one place and perhaps feel less confusion. We have, however, chosen a path that is incredibly alive and adaptable. Is your confusion perhaps a gift to keep your brain and heart active?

Confusion contributes to the complexity of expat emotions. We make new words to describe our inner experiences. Those beautiful, unique descriptors come from our ability to sit in confusion, to contemplate it and to follow its guidance towards clarity.

And finally, our confusion prompts us to action. Confusion is like a fancy-wrapped package – those ones in Japan where you don’t know where the tape is hiding and it’s so pretty you’re not sure you’re really supposed to open it. Because it requires our attention, we cannot escape it. Because it is uncomfortable, we know we must step into it to find our answers. Expats do that – every day. One deep breath at a time, we walk down the road of confusion, clarity and awareness beaconing like the shiny, delicate gift awaiting inside the Japanese wrapping. A thing of hard-earned celebration waiting at the end of all the completely confusing things that come our way.

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