Holding space for ambiguity: The journey continues

We live in a world where having expert knowledge reigns supreme. We see it every day and all around us. The promise of becoming self-proclaimed experts is freeing people from working in jobs where they are slaves to the rhythm of other’s songs. People are using this idea of expert knowledge to carve out their own space in the landscape of internet seminars, webinars, workshops, retreats, and the list goes on. The connection between people who want access to ideas or experiences and those who can provide them is a growing economy that is woefully undervalued and little explored for its impact on our marketplace of ideas, work, and the value we assign to them. There is a growing bipolarity between the experts and consumers of expert knowledge. With this change comes a loss we are paying little attention to. We are experiencing a loss to hold space for ambiguity. The loss to hold space for the time and process it takes to get from a defining a question, exploration, and our distinct experience in finding solutions. As I explore where I sit in this landscape, I can say I have sat on both sides of this, for sure. My consulting practice, though small, has definitely placed me in the role and expectation that comes with having expert knowledge, but I see this as differently placed from my own consulting practice. I see it placed within a larger phenomenon that designs experiences that do not allow for ambiguity. The expert becomes the conduit and solves for “x” in people’s lives, and that is the deliverable. I’m seeing this in the way adult learning is shifting to shorter time spans and less nuanced training processes at higher cost to consumers. More abridged learning styles are being advanced. The shorter the program, the higher the demand. There is a market for this, and the market is growing. So what are we losing? Why is this important? What does this mean for our relationships with learning, growth, patience, and processing experiences we have with our inner lives and outer world? Are we mechanizing learning and growth and losing our capacity for practicing patience?

It’s hard to rush certain things. No matter how hard we try or want to, certain processes can’t be rushed. I’m reminded of this as an amateur genealogist. My journey into genealogy began in 1995 when I prepared to receive Awofakan, or the Hand of Ifa. It is a process that requires a person to understand how to gain agency in their own lives to address issues that, if remedied through the person’s effort, can help the person to achieve alignment with their destiny, or that which one was born to do and experience. Misalignment is due to the intervention of ajogun, or negative forces that can impede upon life goals or shift the trajectory of a person’s life in a way that puts the person at risk of not experiencing happiness, joy, contentment, good health, having children, having a prosperous life, or simply not having personal agency or capacity to overcome obstacles one faces in life. For some who worship in orisha traditions around the globe, this process is one of the first rites of passage one may experience. Mine came at the age of 25. I just completed my studies at the Boston University School of Social Work. By all accounts, I was doing very well, beating the odds, even. In fact, I was the first in my family line to gradate from a 4-year college. I set my sights to become a professor and researcher. I was still discovering what that meant, but I kept my eyes on the larger prize. Even as I defied the odds, I was living a life of inner turmoil. I wasn’t consciously aware of the impact not knowing my father had on my life up to that point. But as I sat across from my Oluwo, Ogunwande Abimbola, I could no longer run from it. I received readings on the mat before, but this was different. This was my inner work coming to the surface that I chose to stuff down. I chose to believe that it didn’t matter. I had family. I had men in my life who cared for me despite my father’s absence. I felt part of a chosen community through friends and my spiritual community that made me feel whole, even while the craters in my relationship with my mother festered and deepened. I felt whole. I AM whole, I would tell myself. Orunmila, the God of Wisdom and Divine Witness to Destiny, begged to differ. He had the floor that day and his interpreter in the form of my Oluwo opened up wounds I chose to ignore to focus on the life I wanted to live. I had plans, y’all. Big plans. After earning my MSW, I planned to earn my PhD in social work, go into academia by age 30, move to Europe and leave the bitter cold world that defined my pain, my losses, and the broken promises behind. Sealing off those wounds was only the first step. I would walk over the hard scabs formed over years and go to a place that would not dare threaten to break that skin open again. I was good at this. I was good at learning and loved teaching. I was good at adapting to living in different places. I could do this. I wanted this more than anything. I could taste it. It was mine to claim. Until that day…

My Oluwo got right to the point. “You are angry. Very angry.”

Me? Angry? What? At who? At what? Why?

A look of puzzlement came over my face. I had a knot in my stomach. I was nervous and felt anxious. I was confused because I always saw myself as a GOOD person. I always tried to do the right thing, even when it was hard. I always tried to maintain composure and right-headed thinking when it was difficult to do so. So this felt counter to what I thought would be said about me. I was confused at first because I didn’t apply nuanced thinking to his interpretation. I thought naively that making this sacrifice for this major rite of passage was the key. But I had merely opened the door to a larger conversation, with the key in my possession. I had gone through the rites to receive my Hand of Ifa and now my ikin, or the sacred palm nuts, spoke for the first time to give witness to my life instructions moving foward as revealed through my odu.

He sat there. Composed. Calm. Gentle, even. He had such compassion in his face. He didn’t have pity for me. Not at all. He was happy for me. He was happy that I had so much to look forward to now because I had gone through this process. As a diviner who provides readings for others, I can fully appreciate his position with me and his approach to the interpretation of the odu I received. As my head swirled around as if I were spun around at top speed on a merry-go-round, I tried to steady myself to remember I was not being judged. No one was judging me. This was so important for me to see and understand. I worked so hard to achieve so much because I always felt judged. I always felt that others were betting against me. Not personally in a vengeful way, just knowing that so many of my relatives tried to do and have more in life and always had so much piled on top of them that it was hard to get from under it all to make it. Their sacrifices made it possible for me to succeed. I felt I owed my success to them, but the oppressive circumstances loomed heavy over them and me. I internalized this as having earned their scrutiny to do better.

No judgement. New sensation for me. He continued.

“Ifa says that if you are not careful, this anger will be the thing that destroys you. This thing that is making you angry is a fundamental thing. It has to be thawed away so that you can enjoy your life. You have opportunities to have good fortune and a good life, but you must shun what is making you angry and cultivate calm and patience.” The space between these words breathed into me, or tried to, but I was resistant at first. I felt that I trusted the oracle, but I didn’t trust that it was my story. It took awhile for me to decide that I needed to let this in and realize I had gone through this process for a reason. If I wasn’t willing to let this in, then what was the point?

I sat with this for a while. I raised up from the mat and began working on a task as my mind mulled over what was said. Letting the words and the feelings seep into my body. I wanted the words to find the Deidra referred to in the reading. The angry one. The one well practiced at stuffing down her emotions to make room for her “life”. When the words found her, they found that this was ultimately about her life. Her birth. Her birth father. Oh yeah. That was it, alright. That was it.

Anger is an emotion that we often give little attention to. We dismiss it often as being one-dimensional. How can someone who is often so calm, cool, and collected carry anger? Well, that was me. I was pissed. All the time. I was pissed at my mother. The woman who sacrificed EVERYTHING for me. I didn’t understand what that really meant until much later. All I knew at the time was at age 15, I discovered the truth she tried to hide. It was one of the things that created a barrier between us, one I felt I had no power as the child in the relationship to break down. It was hard on me, even harder on her. She did her best to move forward in our relationship. I know she tried. She tried to make up for the loss she knew I felt. But the truth and her avoidance of it was the thing that made it hard for us to be closer. I avoided the truth of it because it was too hard to face. I had another man’s last name and he wasn’t my father. I felt anger for her decision to just paper over my beginnings and give me another man’s last name. That was it. I understood that she was trying to make sure I wasn’t left out, but that choice brought on complications for me that it took years to untangle. I was angry about that. And now I had to face that anger to heal. And in order to do that, I had to find my father and forgive my mother.

It all happened. I found my father and made space to heal my relationship with my mother in the years we had left together. The space in between, the ambiguity, helped me to find courage and actively work to reclaim the life I needed rather than continue to live a life I thought I wanted. It did not happen overnight. It took time. I had to seek out answers for myself, even when I didn’t know what was waiting on the other side.

I know that the economy of experts is here to stay, but my sincere hope is that we still make space for what we don’t know, what we need to discover, and the space in between. Our very lives may depend on it. I know mine did.

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