What I wish I could have told my younger self.
I was invited to speak at my old high school this summer, for their graduation ceremony. I went to Marymount College (now called Marymount Academy) in Sudbury, Ontario. It’s an all-girl Catholic school, and when I showed up at Christ the King Church for the ceremony — the same place I graduated in 1993 — the girls were all wearing the same royal blue graduation gowns that we wore. Their heels were way higher, but other than that, the students looked the same as we did. Sister Shirley, my old school principal, sat in the pew behind me. She hadn’t aged a bit in 24 years! It felt like I’d stepped into a twist in time.
Having the opportunity to speak to all of those beautiful young women was an emotional experience. Not just because I was giving the advice I wished I’d heard when I was their age, but because technology has made the world so different now than it was for us in 1993! The real-life technology teenagers are using every day is close to what I was watching in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
My talk is all about uncertainty, freedom, and healing. I’m sharing it with you today, because I thought you might like to hear it too, whether you’re 18 years old or 80 years old. Because uncertainty happens for everyone, not just high-school grads.
It’s a rainy, stormy night. A husband and wife are all cozy in bed, about to fall asleep. There's a loud bang at the door. The husband gets out of bed and goes downstairs to investigate. He opens the door, and there’s a strange guy standing there in a baseball cap, soaked to the skin. He explains that he's in trouble. He needs a push, and could the homeowner please help him out. The husband says no, and suggests that the guy just call CAA. He goes back up to bed. When his wife asks what happened, he explains. His wife gets upset that he didn't offer to help and tells him that wasn’t very kind, and that he really should go back and help.
The husband reluctantly gets up, gets dressed in his rain jacket and boots, finds a flashlight, and goes out in the dark to find the guy. When he gets outside, it’s pitch black and pouring rain. He calls out to the guy, “Okay, I’m here, I can give you a push. Where are you?”
“Oh right on!” the guy says. “Thank you for coming to help me!”
The husband can't see where the voice is coming from. “I can’t see you,” he says. “I can help, but tell me where you are.”
“I’m on the swing,” the guy says.
You know how you felt just 20 seconds ago, while you were listening to that joke? Before you heard the punchline?
You were listening intently, gathering clues, not knowing what was coming next, but expecting it to be fun, somehow. Your mind was open.
Remember that feeling. When you're listening to a joke — that's what it feels like for you when your mind is open and curious. Get to know that feeling, and trust it. Because that's the way we all get to feel about the future, if we allow ourselves.
I don't mean that the future is a joke! I mean that in life, uncertainty is reality. And all of you are on the threshold of that new reality, now. You're entering the next level in your game. Lots of questions! Lots of decisions to make!
And you're graduating at a very exciting time in history.
The truth is, the technology you'll be using in your career probably hasn't even been invented yet. The old ways of doing things, ways that our culture has relied on for so long, are falling apart fast. Let's face it — the old ways of thinking about our social and cultural institutions are dissolving. Education, health, science, journalism, all of the arts... I mean, patriarchy! It's all a big question mark right now. The old systems don't work anymore.
This can be scary, especially to people my age, who grew up before digital. We believed that those institutions would be there for us for our whole lives.
I think this is maybe why there's so much anxiety and worry happening for people right now. Because things are changing, and we're kind of scared of uncertainty. Then you hear how stress is really bad for you... and that makes you even more anxious!
The awesome thing about being a human being is that we get to choose our own state of mind. We actually get to choose our own thoughts and emotions. This is our special power, and we don't use it enough.
For example, you can choose to be curious. You can choose to be relaxed. You can choose to be kind. You can choose to expect joy from your day.
When we feel uncertain, we feel ALIVE.
Anything is possible. Anything can happen. The variables of what you don't know are endless. My wish for you is that you enter the next level of your game full of uncertainty, and that you feel liberated by it.
Because not to put too much pressure on you, here, but the earth needs you to choose another state of mind. The earth needs healing — and whether you know this or not, you're all healers. Whether you're going into nursing, teaching, writing, engineering, cooking, programming, design, counselling, or parenting — every single field that's out there will require a new way of thinking and being.
You need to use your special powers.
If this feels daunting, I'm going to tell you how to start doing it.
Spend time in nature. Remember that you're living on a terrestrial planet, and that the life on this planet is breathing, like you. Sometimes we need to be reminded of this. When you connect to the rhythm and energy of the earth — the plants and animals and night and day and summer and winter — you tap into an immense power and knowledge source. You're going to need that source.
This source exists without words. Things that you can't understand in words, or explain with words, are more powerful than you think. They actually hold the key to everything.
Now, I'm a writer: I LOVE words.
But your true nature is wordless.
Your true nature is more important and way smarter than anything you think you know.
Pay attention to your true nature, and you'll always make the best decisions.
Those decisions might not look reasonable to the system you're in: family, culture, society. Pay attention to your instincts, anyway.
The systems are changing so fast. The most powerful people are going to be the ones who know the things that can't be put into words.
Following your wordless instincts will lead you to new, undiscovered places.
The outcomes will be uncertain. And this is exactly what you're here to do. We need it. Following your true nature is way more important than looking reasonable.
Here's how you can easily connect to a wordless place, no matter where you are:
Close your eyes. Feel your heart beating. Feel your pulse. Feel the inside of your body, all the blood circulating. Feel the way your breath powers it. You're in a body. Feel being inside a body.
Whenever you're at a crossroad, whenever there's a decision to make and you don't know what to do, whenever you feel shaky or confused, go wordless for a few minutes.
You might not know what your career should be, or if you should move to a different country or stay in Ontario, or if you should have children or not. Big decisions are coming up for you. But if you can connect to the wordless place, where thoughts and questions and stories drop away, you'll feel your animal self. Heart beating, circulatory system running.
And from that place, you'll know exactly what it is to be right here, in the present moment. Breathing. Alive in a body. Connected to everything else that is alive.
Your next step will come from that place. Let it come to you. You don't have to think it up! That's too hard. Thoughts aren't the only way of knowing, anyway.
The experience of deep knowing — the decision making that comes from your true nature — it feels like hearing the punchline to a joke.
Struggling to figure it out will frustrate you, and then you won't enjoy the process of listening. In other words, of LIVING.
You'll never know what is going to happen. You can't know, before you live it.
Dreams are good, and setting goals is okay, but no amount of visualizing and planning will ever take away uncertainty.
Feel alive. Stay curious. Stay open.