Note: I wrote this article 5 years ago. So much has changed since then. I have matured, along with my perspectives on this topic in particular, but I still find this article very healing to read. There is a palpable sense of naivety, but also a deep and refreshing clarity that you'll notice as you read. I know that it's long and imperfectly written, but if you are feeling lost or confused at all, I truly believe that this article can snap you back on track if you stick with it. Enjoy! 🍿
“Oh, since I was young,
been groovin’ to my own drum,
Ain’t that many teachers, show me my potential,
Felt like a failure, momma said you know better,
Future in my hands, God, she had a plan,
Stronger than I know, soon I’d understand,
The power I possess, the story of the Chosen“
When I was younger, about 12 years old, I remember having a seemingly arbitrary experience which has stuck with me to this day. I remember noticing in the back of my closet, on about the third shelf up, the one holding my t-shirts: a dried paint drop.
Nearly invisible, apparently inconsequential, situated on the top left-hand side of the back wall within the third shelf up of my clothing cupboard, in my bedroom, at the front side of my Rivonia house, somewhere in the north of Joburg, South Africa, Africa, Earth, Milky Way, Universe, Multiverse, and whatever comes after that.
Okay, I wasn’t such a tripper when I was twelve, so my mind didn’t take it that far. But it did affect me. How God damn random was that paint drop. So purposeless. If there was a God/higher power and everything was perfectly in place, then what on earth is the reason for that paint drop being there?
For most of my life, I felt like that paint drop. At that age, I was spending nearly all my time either playing PlayStation or watching TV. What lies these worlds were, compared to the reality of this random fucking paint drop.
On the TV, everyone had a story, which it was their job to progress through. They were all on some sort of track. Each character had obvious strengths and weaknesses, and trials laid out in front of them, seemingly designed with these strengths and weaknesses in mind.
It’s the soldier’s job to take the message from one side of the battlefield to the other in order to save half the army. The ape-man must defeat the greedy poacher in order to protect his family. The boy needs to summon the courage to tell the girl he loves her.
I am not saying that these challenges are easy. Quite the opposite in fact, and that’s why each one makes such a great watch. Yet even though their challenges always seemed so unbelievably challenging (at least compared to mine), I always yearned to be them.
I wanted their strengths and good looks, of course. But most of all, I wanted to be pointed in a direction and told, ‘This is the way you must go now’, by Mufasa’s spirit in the sky. Or for Grandmother Willow to whisper in my ear reminders of who I really am, and what it means to follow my dreams. I wanted something which would tell me clearly, ‘this is my destiny, this is the way I must go’.
Where was this sense of direction that was so automatic in the movies? I was just trying to work out whether I should play SSX or Crash Bandicoot… On TV, everyone always knew where to go and how to get there. It seemed that their challenges were always placed right in front of them, and all they had to do was overcome them.
It seemed the only challenges in front of me were my homework and impressing my cricket coach to get moved up the bowling order. I didn’t really give a fuck about these things. These were not heroic ordeals to be overcome. Nor could I even see clearly why they should be overcome. Nor did I particularly enjoy doing them. The main thing motivating me was the desire to impress my parents and my friends. And this has also been the reason for my lack of motivation throughout my academic career. Everything I was doing, was being done because others had told me to do so. I didn’t realize until recently:
That that’s what being lost is.
For the first part of my life, starting with my first day of school, I walked on a path built by others. This is not a bad thing in itself. Is this not to some degree a necessary phase of life for young humans? On this path, I met some of my best friends, and experienced moments I’ll never forget. Upon this path, I was given foundations which allowed me to function in the society I was living in. I am forever grateful to my parents for doing their best for me and creating the space for me to have that part of my life, which was very beautiful in a lot of ways.
I also spent a real shitload of time learning about stuff that I would never use again, for exams and tests which would have no bearing on my life. I was forced to do this. And nearly all of it was boring as hell. It never felt quite right, but everyone else was doing it, and in fact: you had to do it. So there was no point in questioning it.
I became so accustomed to this feeling of ‘not-quite-rightness’, that I started to think that it was a part of me.
In primary school and high school, this manifested mainly as a lack of motivation that I never managed to snap out of. I could try hard for the week after my parents gave me a big speech about the importance of trying your best, but very soon after I would start ‘coasting’ again.
Once I got to University, and I began to feel the weight of my own decisions in my own hands, this lack of motivation turned into a sort of depression. I wasn’t sad. I just wanted to smoke weed and watch Workaholics all day. Flares of anxiety, seemingly random at the time, would strike when I really thought about where I was headed: into a future filled with more of the same battles of me vs myself, trying to summon enough willpower to succeed for my parents.
I have come to know those flares as yells from my soul. Far from random. Deeply purposeful, in fact.
When I simultaneously started taking psychedelics, failed the first year of my property degree and decided to move over to Psychology, I felt a bit like Copernicus, lifting the veil of what I had been told, getting a glimpse of a whole other universe. In this reality, maybe I could do something that I actually enjoyed as a career! School had mostly been a process of learning how to do things you don’t want to do. Learning how to tame your soul and ‘get to work’. This was engrained into me as the way to succeed. Sacrifice = Success. Now, this new reality started to dawn on me. One in which soul and work could be more closely aligned than I had ever imagined.
University Psychology/Philosophy was certainly not the cure for all my ills. It wasn’t the heroic dose that my soul was asking for. But it was a microdose of the good stuff. I still felt not-quite-right a lot of the time. But new possibilities were dawning on me. And I started to taste the glorious gifts of alignment. Getting myself to study for an exam was less effort. Writing essays challenged me in ways which made me grow in a direction that pleased me.
Learning about Pavlov’s dogs was interesting. The hard problem of consciousness tickled my wonder whiskers. And the un-pin-down-ability of the self really poked a hole in ‘me’. I found myself engaged in conversations because I actually cared about what was being spoken about. Work could sometimes be enjoyable, dare I say! This is what it feels like to move closer to the path.
Only a while later did I really feel the effects of walking in alignment with my soul. I continue to ebb and flow out of it. But I know what it feels like to head in the right direction, and the wrong. Oddly enough, I was starting to feel less like that paint drop and more like Tarzan swinging through the vines.
Certain topics I could learn about endlessly for hours. While with others I could no longer force myself to finish the first paragraph. The lame part of me saying ‘oh you should learn this because it might come up in conversation one day’, was becoming smaller and smaller. While the part of me that said, ‘Fuck it, imma do what I want’, was growing.
The process of your lame self dying is a painful and often confusing one. It is the process of letting go of who you thought you were. Or who you thought you wanted to be. You thought you wanted to be the life of the party. Or the captain of the rugby team. Or the girl with the pretty tattoos. But really, you see through that. You have a hunger far deeper than that. The dying process is most painful when you resist it, which you naturally do. This is because you think something bad is happening. You think you are getting torn away from what you want. But really you are being shown what you need.
This is the process of discovering who you really are. As the layers get peeled off, you find that you no longer feel comfortable in the circles in which you used to. And you no longer feel content doing things you used to. Playing PlayStation all day just isn’t gonna cut it anymore. Getting drunk and talking about high school rugby is becoming less and less easy to do.
It gets painful when you fight it. When you force yourself to spend time in those circles, and then berate yourself for your social anxiety. When you’re working a job that disagrees with who you are on so many levels, and then beat yourself up for your lack of willpower. Doing things which aren’t aligned becomes harder. This can feel like a bad thing. But it sure as hell isn’t.
But doing things that do feel aligned? Oh now you’re discovering your power… You start to tap into this seemingly endless fountain of life force energy within you. You learn what it means to achieve things without effort. Learning about that which fascinates you requires no effort. Curiosity pulls you. Doing that which invigorates you requires no force. Excitement drives you. Intrinsic joy feeds you. You find yourself in a state of flow much more often. You are acknowledging and nourishing your soul now. And it feels good. You learn to differentiate between things that will bring you more into alignment, and things that will take you out of it. And it kind of snowballs from there. It’s a bit like an addictive drug, but one which is healthy for you in every way.
This feeling starts to grow beyond the bounds of your body. This feeling that what you are doing is right. The universe seems to start meeting you halfway. Things start to come to you. That book you really wanted to read? It’s sitting on the table in your friend’s house as you walk in. Been feeling like going on an Ayahuasca retreat, but not sure how to go about it? Your friend tells you that night that she has been wanting to connect you to her friend, who also happens to be the best possible person you could do it with on the continent. Wanna learn about Shamans? Don’t fret: one of ’em just moved into the cottage at the other end of your garden.
Okay, so now the universe is on your side. What happens when you feel like the universe is on your side? Your insecurities fall away. Others’ opinions matter less and less. It becomes clearer that other people’s judgements are their problem, not yours. As this flow takes you, your need to calculate your every next step with formulas given to you throughout your life by other people, falls away. You spend less energy being overwhelmed by the infinite possibilities that lie on the next decision you’re about to make, and then wondering if you made the wrong one afterwards. You listen, tapped into your core. And then you act in alignment with your soul, and you never think twice about it. You no longer have to worry about the specifics. Just flow baby. Let it take you.
Things start to make more sense. You start piecing the puzzle together. The anxiety that has haunted you for so long was always a guide from your higher self, trying to turn you in a direction more suited to the real you. The subjects you were better at during school were lights along the path, pointing you towards that which connects with your soul's purpose. Everything, your whole life, has just been tryna point you towards the truth.
Life starts to shift from a shallow stream, spread wide and thin amongst many tributaries flowing weakly only in the wet seasons, into a deep river which flows strongly throughout the year. This river needs to make no decisions on where to flow. Its own force guides it back into the sea along the path of least resistance.
When you know you are headed in the right direction, you do not falter when you come across obstacles. You do not waste energy thinking, ‘this is unfair’, or ‘maybe I should have gone that other way back there’. You meet it with all of your power. And you overcome it, for you know it is not a matter of choice. When you know that something is a challenge for you, on your soul’s path, you find a way to overcome it. You hit it with divine precision, right in its weakest point. And it falls.
And how great is this lie that you have been fed your whole life, that success is something brought about by force? Now, you are the best ever version of yourself, moving faster towards success, abundance and joy, than ever before, and all you are doing is floating downstream. Letting nature do its magnificent, magical, thing. Jesus take the wheel!
But then, as if from nowhere, you start to feel a sense of unease again. ‘Oh no, it’s coming back…’
Your flow stutters.
What you are about to learn is that your plan and God’s plan are not the same. Often, we feel like we know where this path leads in 10 years. But the truth is, we don’t know what it looks like tomorrow. And in order to stay on it, we must be attentive to what’s happening right in front of us, rather than letting our expectations get the better of us.
Joseph Campbell said, "If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s." The tighter we hold on to our expectations, the more it'll burn when they get ripped away from us...
And so then "God" dies.
Life’s perfection ceases to be. Pain and confusion is all we can see. This is when we lose trust. When it feels like things are no longer how they’re meant to be.
Our reaction is to go back to our old ways and take things into our own hands. ‘This stream is heading for a waterfall, so I’m gonna swim upstream with everything I’ve got!’. We grope and grab, pull and yank at life, trying to force it back into what it was before, or what we think it should be.
This only makes us more anxious and amplifies the feelings of being out of control.
We lose all touch with trust. We fall out of the flow. We feel the opposite of aligned, and our thoughts and beliefs become expressions of that.
The universe is once again meaningless and ruthlessly neutral. We are not divine, nor special, nor were we ever on a God Damn path in the first place. We were just over-excited because life went well for a while. We had fallen prey, like many others, to wishful, biased thinking. "How could I ever have thought the universe was on my side? Such arrogant, silly thinking!"
You cannot argue with these thoughts on the frequency from which they were produced. Your mind, in this state, can only express confusion and lostness. Trying to find my way back through rational argument is a feat I’ve never managed to pull off. When the mind wants to confuse itself, it will.
It takes a profound level of equanimity to go with the flow during these times. Chances are, you will awkwardly try to catch the cards and reassemble your old house as it collapses onto your head. Anxiety is once again your greatest enemy. In fact, your emotions can all become your enemies, for they speak truths which are blasphemous to your currently disintegrating old self.
"Anxiety is holding me back from the life I want to live!"
Anxiety is pointing you towards the life you are called to live. But you have forgotten this on the surface. You are lost and seem not even to know how to ask for directions. But luckily you have a nagging sense of lostness deep down. And that is your lifeline. This is the feeling that will ultimately set you free.
I had a dream once, during a time when I felt I was unsure of which way to go. I’ll spare the bizarre personal details and just give you the good stuff:
I had been flung, hard and fast, into icy arctic waters. I went so deep that I couldn’t see anything except blackness. I flailed around, guessing which way was up and thrashing my way towards it. More blackness is all that came. I realised that I had no idea which way was up, so what’s the point of all this thrashing? I took a deep breath (shhh, it’s a dream remember), floated right to the surface like a buoy, and gasped in the cool, fresh air.
My advice to myself when I feel lost? Breathe. Go for a walk in the forest. Feel the sun on your skin. Surrender. Realize that your trying and forcing isn’t working. So give it up. Stop trying so hard to make it look the way you think it should.
Then listen. Feel your feelings. They are always there, and they are always telling the truth.
Reconnect with the forces of nature. Within your body and around you. Whatever your method might be for this, do what calls you. Yoga, mushrooms, hike, run, a weekend away, meditation, crafting, rafting, art, dancing - like a freak - in your room. Whatever! If it feels wholesome to you, do it.
The same goes for the people you spend your time around. Submit to the gravitational pull inside of you which tugs you towards wholesomeness. Honour your intuition. Feed your soul.
“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”
And then you’ll start to see things that you know you should do, but don’t because of fear. This is the fog starting to clear.
These fear blockages often come in the form of ‘being realistic’ and other beliefs about not being good enough. And that fear has caused a major blockage to your flow. You didn’t want to go that way, even though that’s where the current was guiding you. ‘I quite like doing this, but there are so many people out there who could do it way better. There’s no point in doing it…’
So you tried to negotiate your way around it. ‘Surely there’s a different way to do this?’.
But now you realize there isn’t. You knelt to the fear and forgot your courageous, undefeatable spirit. When you see the fear blockage for what it is, you are then able to strategically chip away at it. One small step at a time. Tiny steps if need be. Doable steps. Until you gather a bit of momentum behind you. Then you leap and bound and eventually flow.
Then you’ll notice that your thoughts and beliefs have followed you back into this place of smoothness and connectedness. God is alive. He was never dead. She lives in me and you and in everything. You can feel Its’ hands guiding you if you tune in to what’s happening right now.
Gratitude takes the place of self-pity. Optimism, of hopelessness. Grace, the place of awkwardness. And Love, the place of fear.
Phew!… So, where was I? Oh yes, wadda wadda, multiverse, universe, Milky way, Earth, Africa, South Africa, Johannesburg, Rivonia, 11th Ave, my room (ay get outta here!), back of the third shelf up in the closet, top left, to the God Damn paint drop.
I still don’t know what the purpose of that paint drop is. I do know that this memory from so long ago popped into my mind as I started writing about my experience of being on The Path.
The feelings that that memory brings up, are the opposite of what I am becoming more and more accustomed to these days. The purpose of that paint drop no longer worries me. It’s not my job. I feel my Path being laid out in front of me as I go. And my only job is to allow my next footstep to land on it.