I had lunch with a mentor recently and he told me a story about a gathering time in his life. Here's the scene: He graduated from college and moved to New York City because he figured that's what one did when they needed direction. He said it was lonely. He said he'd wander around the Village during the day and, at night sit with a six pack and listen to good music. He also read a great deal during that time, he told me. That knowledge and those experiences of loneliness got stored up inside of him, he explained, in a way that mattered later. He just couldn't see it at the time.
As he continued to describe this season of his life, it became clear what he meant by a gathering time. It's a season when one is wandering toward their next stage, but doing so with uncertainty. The place they want to be or the work they want to be doing or the person they desire to become is still a bit foggy, if even visible at all.
He went on to make an important point about the way one traverses such a period in their lives. Many folks, he told me, are frustrated by the absence of the future state they desire so deeply - and so they fail to recognize the meaningful moments they might gather now as they move forward. Moments like conversations that deliver a whisper of wisdom, small insights into who one is, a random lesson in loving oneself or others more deeply. Sometimes it is the collection of these seemingly disparate trappings that, further down the road, end up forming a bedrock - an internal fortitude - we needed to then go do the thing we're so anxious to begin doing in our state of restlessness.
The person we'll need to be at some point in the future is being calibrated now, in a way we're not yet meant to understand.
How then does one march forward (with small hope) if guidance and direction seem scarce?
We must develop a trust in the quieter things - the brief experiences and bits of inspiration we gather as we plod along. Worth remembering, this future wisdom in the form of quiet moments is best gathered moving forward, not while swimming in the past. And judging a random occurrence or its worth is almost always useless. For it's nearly impossible to know the value or purpose of a season or a moment or a thought or a pang of hurt or a feeling of inspiration wholly on the first encounter.
Perhaps a way to think of it is this: Now matters more than ever - an awareness and an acceptance of now. When we can accept the present and the gifts it brings, however murky, it's as if we're planting a seed whose harvest might at some point yield to us that which we need, but have yet to understand. And we rarely understand what we need, which is why dismissing our current circumstance is also a dismissal of the answers we're so desperately pursuing for a version of ourselves we've yet to meet.
Like Jamal Malik in Slumdog Millionaire, all at once an entire life of experiences might roll up into one moment of clarity when the persons we were at various points in our past are called upon to deliver to us here, now, the lessons they learned and accepted then - regardless of how trivial or painful they might have seemed at the time.
This idea of a gathering time shows us that when we feel no clear direction, the only work to be done is to practice presence and acceptance with regard to our current circumstances. Though doing so might seem to some an act of submission, others would say (those much wiser than me), that being fully present is the only work, the only direction.