How To

Navigating life like a bat

Another mini-crisis of “what the hell am I doing” hit me during my 48 hours in Lyon, France. To be clear, I’m not questioning whether I should be doing this crazy adventure; I know that that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, metaphorically and spiritually speaking. No, it’s the stability-versus-freedom question I wrestled with in Morocco, now triggered by a very practical question: where do I keep my stuff?

By early August, I’ll need to find a new home for my 2 full suitcases and box of camera gear that are currently 30 minutes outside of Geneva in my buddy’s storage unit. I’ll need to swap summer clothes for fall layers, and this somewhat-frequent exchange process isn’t convenient for either of us. A paid storage unit is the best short-term solution until I put down roots. But where?

Turns out that picking a storage-locker location is a bigger deal than I’d thought. But hey, it’s my closet, so it needs to be someplace conveniently located and less expensive than Geneva. And yeah, that could be pretty much anywhere, so let’s add a filter: I should have other reasons to return, like friends, work, creativity, vibe… I mentally run through all the places I’ve been already – Tel Aviv? Cyprus? — and places that are on my list that I think I’d like – Paris? Berlin?  Madrid?

This train of thought opens up the Pandora’s box of taxation and visa issues, leading me right back into the “permanent place” question that’s haunted me since I started this adventure and I’m not ready to deal with. Argh… what should I dooooooo??

How do we know what to do?

Remember when we used to print out maps from Mapquest? Or, even better, when we had to follow someone’s directions (“when you get to gas station – the one with the red blinking light, not the other one — look for the fork and then veer left”). Back then, we had to pay attention to where we were going. We knew how to get places; routes were committed to memory. Then came the GPS revolution and… snap! Overnight, no one knew how to get anywhere. We just hold out our phones and follow the blue dots like zombies. Technology has made navigation exceedingly simple, but it’s also decreased our self-reliance.

As I walked home from dinner last night, I thought about bats: tiny blind creatures that lack the ability to ask Siri or Facebook or Google what they should do for work, or where to live, or what will bring them joy. But they don’t deserve our pity, as bats have something better: a built-in navigation system. They simply make some noise and use the echoes to course-correct. There’s no need to map out the whole route in advance when they can fly through dark, narrow passageways instinctively and unerringly.  

Fact is, we humans aren’t that much different from bats. We’re all flying blind in the dark; we can only know what is happening right now from our limited vantage point. We can’t see the future: not even the second after this second. How do we make decisions and chart our own course? 

Like bats, we have an unerring navigation system: our intuition. The tragedy is that gut-listening isn’t taught in schools. Conformity is rewarded by society, not independence, which results in three types of people:

  • Those who never realize their blindness because they simply follow what everyone else is doing. The blind following the blind, generation after generation, century after century, convinced of their ability to see.
  • The lucky ones who figured out their path early on: maybe they learned it from their navigator parents, or perhaps they were just born with a fully functioning sense of who they are.
  • The rest of us — me and perhaps you, dear reader –who are in between; we’re refugees from the first group regarding the second with envy, wondering how they did it.

Members of this last group don’t often realize that we need a totally new set of skills. What worked on autopilot is not a navigation system, but we try anyway, overly dependent on our logical minds, past experiences, and trial and error. Lots of error. We obsess over doing rather than being. And when we’re really stuck, we revert back to group-1 thinking and ask what other people would do.

Fact is, it’s hard to hear the echoes of our own voices.  And upon hearing those echoes, trust them to guide us into the light instead of a brick wall.

Our metaphorical navigation system

I couldn’t do this adventure without a sturdy navigation system. I’ve deliberately stripped away anything that could influence me — the noise, lights, distractions, things we own, things that own us, our senses of identity that may or may not be truly ours – in order to find my own path. The way in front of me is pitch black. I have no lamp. No one else is in this cave with me. The light behind me is getting smaller… fainter… but I can’t go back.

I just realized that this whole process of selling everything and launching into the unknown was one giant “SHHHHHHHHH” to the entire world. Shush! Be quiet!! I cannot hear myself! And if I can’t hear my true voice, I cannot navigate my path…  cannot make decisions and trust that they are right for me.

When I try to reason out the answers to my questions – where should I go and why? What must I learn? What the hell am I doing? Who am I, anyway? — I fail. My usually trusty brain encounters its limitations, which is perhaps the hardest part of this journey; I’ve been able to think my way out of pretty much anything except for this. Like eyes in the darkness, logic doesn’t work in the dark night of the soul.

I’m starting to gain a tiny sense of what the blind know: when eyes fail, other senses gain strength. I entered into this cave with a decent level of confidence in my intuition (which took me two decades to develop) but now it’s really getting a workout. I tap into my sixth sense daily, feeling the echoes in my body when presented with this choice or that: like deciding whether to walk a new city at night, or choosing a new destination. I don’t move until I feel it in my bones.

A few months ago I was nearly paralyzed by all the infinite choices that could play out, but now I simply consult my navigation system: I take myself to dinner with my journal and work through my now-well-established process. I know what “yes” and “no” feel like. I know what “wait; not yet” feels like, which is the answer to my question about where to rent a storage locker. I haven’t yet pinpointed the difference between “resistance due to fear” versus “no,” but I’m working on it.

And many of you, dear readers, are watching to see what happens. I’ve heard from you. I know that you are standing at the entrance to your own dark caves, taking baby steps in, searching in vain for the light switch that’s not there. And that’s why I feel compelled to share this journey with you… not only because writing helps me understand myself better, but just maybe this transformation game doesn’t have to be so solitary for either of us.

About Jen Rice

Midlife nomad and life re-inventor. For my 50th birthday I sold everything I owned in the US and got a 1-way ticket across the pond. I'm now focusing more on what I really love doing -- writing, photography and coaching. My background is three decades' worth of experience in personal and organizational transformation.

4 comments on “Navigating life like a bat

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