Written by Nancer Ballard; ed. assistance by Savannah Jackson.
I believe that the Seeker’s Journey may begin, or we may veer toward a new heading, when we bump up against the limits of our imaginations. I’ve always been told (and have believed) that I have been blessed and cursed with a “good imagination.” Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to prove I could actualize what my mind imagines is possible in the face of those who have wanted me to quit, “to be more realistic” or reduce my goals unless a successful outcome is relatively certain. And I have not always been a big fan of failure.
And yet…. In every creative project, I hit the wall.
That place where nothing is working, or rather, I am struggling with something that isn’t working the way I want it to, or it doesn’t feel quite right, but I don’t know what to do to make it feel right. I’ve spent a lot of time believing that I wasn’t good enough, or that I wasn’t trying hard enough, or that I am stupid, or there is something else wrong with me. And, if I can just figure out what is wrong with me and fix it, then my work, my journey, and my life will proceed smoothly. But I can never fix what I assume, in these moments, must be wrong with me, so, eventually, I turn back to the problem at hand and muddle along.
Although we commonly assume that our senses’ and mind’s job is to enable us to accurately perceive reality, psychologist Dennis Proffit of the University of Virginia, and cognitive scientist, Donald Hoffman of the University of California Irvine, remind us that what we see, hear, and feel is largely determined by our automatic, pre-conscious, moment-to-moment assessments of the actions that our surroundings are prompting us to take. When we are looking for a book, we focus on the titles and don’t notice the color of the carpet or the paint condition of the shelf unless they are somehow related to finding the desired book.
Once the book has been found, or the hunt abandoned, we then go on to perceive and focus and store in memory other things related to what we plan to do next, or the things that are integral to the reason we sought the book.
The reality is, there are always more problems and sub-problems than we have the answers for. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet put it, “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” We hit the limits of our imagination, not because we are stupid, or ignorant, or naïve, but because that’s how our brains are built. We couldn’t function if everything we perceive, remember, or intuit about the environment, ourselves, and those with whom we are interacting had to be held in working memory or accessible consciousness. Our brains aren’t able to handle that much interacting information, nor did we evolve to do so.
Similarly, when we day dream or think about our life, or career, or a relationship, or a project, we can’t know all the details, nor process all that will be required in the future as we proceed on our journey (or journeys). We also can’t account for everything that could possibly affect us, our environment, our journey, the ones we love, and the world. They are all interconnected, so the solution is not to decide that we are only going to focus on the world instead of those close to us, or that we will focus only on ourselves instead of the world. Thus, no matter how smart, or creative, or driven, or limited we are, if we are present to the world and ourselves, we will hit the end of the known world. That blankness or darkness, which feels so uncomfortable (or worse), is the prompt that tells us to continue seeking.
The Seeker’s Journey may be the most profound journey (but not the only, or most pleasant journey in all moments) that we can take. The word profound comes from the Latin “pro” meaning forth and “fundus” meaning bottom, or coming from the very bottom. The Seeker’s Journey is our most profound journey because it is a physiological imperative that we face (or avoid). The seeking impulse is part of our nature, without regard to cultural constraints or institutional, religious, or political oppression, although these can be a major concern of a Seeker’s Journey. Our brains and bodies are magnificent and limited, and we are constantly asking our senses and minds to simultaneously focus on the subjects of our concern, our relationships, the world, and ourselves, and all of these are constantly and interactively changing.
To be a seeker is to meet the unknown at the edge our known reality, and to do this consciously and willingly without disrespect for what we already are and have done. The Seeker’s Journey often calls upon us to change course, not because we were misguided before, but because what was suitable previously may not fit with what we understand ourselves and our world to be now. The reward for changing course, or wholeheartedly making the journey, may not be material success, or external approval, or permanent anything– the Seeker’s reward is the felt miracle of being alive.
In an upcoming blog, we will explore the role and mechanism of transformation in The Seeker’s Journey.
Written by Savannah Jackson; ed. assistance by Nancer Ballard.
The Seeker Journey grapples with the reality that we live in a world in which our selves, our relationships, and our environments are constantly changing. We must adapt and evolve throughout our lives, and we must do this with no guarantee of safety or success, and with no final destination. In this post, we will explore the experience of the Seeker Journey and how this journey differs from Hero’s and Heroine’s journey arcs.
In the Hero’s Journey, the story typically ends with the protagonist reaching a final destination or ultimate success that resolves their conflict and the conflicts in their world. In the Heroine’s Journey, Maureen Murdock recognizes that someone can be at multiple stages within the journey at once, and that the journey can be completed multiple times. You are not necessarily done with the journey when you reach the “final” stage. When you reach the end, you can start again.
The Seeker Journey encompasses this idea that we are continually called upon to begin anew, but it does not envision our journeying as an infinite loop. The Seeker Journey recognizes that we move forward in a variety of ways and that life has no permanent resolution. The Seeker Journey “stages” are neither prescriptive (one does not have to move through all stages each time) nor necessarily sequential (the stages do not always have to occur in order, and one can move through them many times within a journey). For this reason, it may be more helpful to think of them as “process points” that the seeker might check in to as they move through their journey. We’ll look at each of these process points now.
1.The seeker begins the journey with a functional and meaningful form of wholeness.
At the start of the Seeker Journey, the seeker has a functional and meaningful understanding of themself, the world around them, and their relationship to the world around them. The seeker also experiences a satisfying balance between a feeling of belonging or inclusion and a sense of agency or autonomy. This network of understandings, together with the balance between belonging and agency, forms a way of making sense of life that creates a sense of wholeness (as we refer to it in this blog).
Finding and creating a form of wholeness helps the seeker to navigate the ups and downs of life. The Heroine’s Journey is one way of reaching wholeness, but it might not be the way that the seeker came to their form of wholeness. What is important in this stage is that the seeker’s wholeness is legitimate and complete–in the sense that it effectively and meaningfully organizes the seeker’s understanding of and approach to their life.
2. Something about the seeker and/or their context changes.
In the Heroine’s Journey, wholeness is what the heroine reaches in the last stage of the journey. Despite Murdock’s emphasis on the continuous nature of the cycle, this often means that the wholeness that is achieved by the heroine at the end of their journey then works for the rest of the heroine’s life. It is tempting to believe in, and to search for, a wholeness that is so encompassing that it accounts for all possible futures, but the Seeker Journey builds on the understanding that this is unlikely.
The reality is that we will change, and our context will change, and we may reach a point where our understanding of ourself, of the world, and/or of our relationship to the world no longer works for us. This does not mean that the wholeness we reached in the past was false or incomplete, only that it no longer works now.
For example, consider Anna, who has been taking care of her children for the past two decades while her partner has worked outside of the home and been the family’s sole financial provider. While her kids were growing up, Anna felt that her family relationships and her work within the home were important, and she felt wanted and needed. Anna understood who she was and how she fit into the world around her. Taking care of her family was meaningful and fulfilling for Anna, and she enjoyed focusing her time and energy on these things. Later, as Anna’s kids grow older and move out of the house, less of Anna’s time is spent directly focusing on her children, and she begins to feel lost. She is no longer sure of what to do or how to fill her days with a sense of purpose.
3. The seeker recognizes (consciously or unconsciously) that something about their worldview and reality no longer match.
A sense of mismatch–resulting from the disconnect between our understanding of life and our actual lived experience–clues us into the fact that our wholeness no longer works for us. This sense of mismatch may happen abruptly or it may slowly occur over a long period of time. In either case, the seeker may realize that the mismatch exists in a sudden moment, or come to acknowledge it gradually. It is likely that the seeker will feel some sense of disequilibrium before they recognize the mismatch. However, it is the recognition of the mismatch that prompts the journey.
4. The seeker acknowledges that they want to find 1) a new worldview or 2) a new reality to resolve the feeling of mismatch.
After recognizing the mismatch, the seeker must acknowledge that they want to resolve the mismatch. They might seek to adjust their worldview to match their reality, or to adjust their reality to match their worldview.
In the context of the Seeker Journey, seeking refers to the intentional search for a new understanding of yourself, the world, and/or your relationship to the world. This search may stem from a subconscious yearning or from a self-awareness that something new is needed due to changes in yourself and/or the world around you.
5. The seeker identifies some change that they think will resolve the mismatch.
After the seeker decides that they want to change something, they have to decide what they want to change. Even once they decide whether to focus on adjusting their worldview or reality–or some combination thereof–there still exist many ways to go about doing so.
We can return to the example of Anna. Eventually, her lack of direction grows into a feeling that she can put into words. She tries to get out of the house more and meet new people–she tries joining a book club, picking up gardening, going to the gym more, and takes a few art classes–but her original sense of wholeness or purpose doesn’t return. Eventually, Anna decides to try a more concrete change in her life. She has always enjoyed cooking and previously worked as a chef, and she decides to go to culinary school, which is something she had considered doing before she had her first child.
6. The seeker pursues this change.
Many things are, of course, easier said than done, and the desire to do something does not always indicate that someone actually will do something. It’s not enough, then, for the seeker to simply identify something that they think will resolve the mismatch. The seeker must also actually set out to accomplish this change.
Depending on the change, this first step can take the form of a great many different actions, and the pursuit of the change may operate across many different time frames. It is also possible for the seeker to pursue more than one type or level of change at the same time. Each change that the seeker pursues at any point in their journey faces three possible outcomes.
Outcome A. The seeker cannot achieve the change they want…
First, the seeker may not be able to achieve the change that they are pursuing. Anna might not be accepted into any of the culinary schools she applies to, or she might be accepted only to realize that she can’t afford the tuition. Or there might not be a school near where she lives, and she and her partner might not be willing to relocate. When this happens, the seeker may seek a different path towards the same goal. The seeker may become frustrated, angry or hopeless. The seeker may try to return to a previous process point, worldview, or reality. The seeker may go through all of these responses, in any order, and any number of times, or they may only go through one of these responses. If the seeker continues making progress on their journey, then they must ultimately identify and pursue a new change.
Outcome B. The change is achieved but it does NOT resolve the mismatch…
Alternatively, the seeker may achieve the change they are pursuing, but it might not end up resolving the mismatch after all. Anna might get into a school, but feel out of touch with her studies because she has been out of school for so long, or feel unable to connect with other students because she is older than most of them. Like before, the seeker may become frustrated, angry, or hopeless. They may try to return to a previous process point, worldview, or reality. To continue their journey, they must ultimately decide to pursue a new way forward.
Unlike in Outcome A, the seeker is more likely here to intentionally recalibrate their journey through a series of questions. For example, the seeker may ask themself: Is what I’m doing getting me closer to the match I’m seeking? The answer to this question and any follow up questions (How is it getting me closer? Why is it not getting me closer? What part of it is or isn’t working? What might do a better job of getting me closer?) will likely cause the seeker to adjust the change they are pursuing, or the ways in which they are pursuing this change.
Anna already has some experience as a chef, and she might decide that she doesn’t need to be a sous chef working at a prestigious restaurant, so a culinary degree isn’t necessary for her to find a satisfactory position. Instead, Anna might focus on returning to the workforce and finding a job based on the experience and knowledge she already has. She might talk to other chefs that she knows, talk to restaurant owners, and/or visit local community gardens.
The seeker might also–or instead–question whether the match they are seeking is actually the match that they need to create a new form of wholeness. In the context of the Seeker Journey, a profound match is a match that will most wholly resolve the experience of mismatch. A profound match is a “true” or “complete” match between the seeker’s wholeness and reality. It is functional and meaningful. This match places the seeker in a new state of wholeness, and the search for this match is what guides the overarching seeker journey. There may be shallow (rather than profound) matches that the seeker makes during the journey on their way to making their profound match. These shallow matches may still be important. With all this in mind, during the process of recalibrating, the seeker might ask themself, Is the match that I’m working towards a profound match? The answer to this question and any follow up questions (What parts of it are or aren’t a profound match? Why is or isn’t it a profound match? If it isn’t a profound match, why was I seeking it? If it isn’t a profound match, is it still a worthwhile one?) will likely cause the seeker to reassess and possibly adjust their desires, discontents, and current (still incomplete) sense of wholeness.
As she talks to people to try to find a job as a chef, Anna learns that there is a center in her community that provides nutritious meals at low prices to working parents. Anna might question whether working as a chef in a traditional restaurant position is actually what she wants to do, and she might instead explore working or volunteering at food co-ops, food pantries, or community organizations, or she might consider joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group.
It is also possible that the seeker will believe that they have realized their match, but later recognize that they are actually still experiencing a sense of mismatch. This recognition is likely to spur a recalibration.
Outcome C. The change is achieved and it DOES resolve the mismatch…
Finally, the seeker may achieve the change they were pursuing and find that it does resolve the mismatch. The resolution of the mismatch may occur suddenly, or over time. In either case, the seeker may recognize that they have resolved their mismatch in a sudden epiphany, or it may take time for the seeker to feel sure that they have resolved the mismatch.
At this point, the seeker has not returned to the start of the journey, because although they are once again in a state of wholeness, they are not in the same state of wholeness. The seeker might stay with this form of wholeness until they or their context changes, at which point the seeker might embark on a Seeker Journey again, this time moving through a markedly different series of steps and changes, and seeking a different match.
Anna might find a job as a chef at a local restaurant that sources its food from a local farm, where the pay, hours, intensity, and creative freedom are exactly what she needs to feel that what she is doing is important, wanted, and needed. Or she might find a position volunteering at a non-profit that provides nutritious free meals to after-school programs and discover that the connections she forms with those creating and receiving the meals give her a sense of family and a sense of purpose. Anna might shift to creating traditional meals from her Italian heritage for her friends, and expand this into a small business within her community. Whether it is a few days or a few months later, Anna comes to realize that she has a new understanding of herself and a meaningful way of relating to the community around her.
Throughout their journey(s), the seeker moves forward through a series of questions and recalibrations. The emphasis here should be on the process of asking the questions, not on finding a “correct” or “permanent” answer. The consideration of these questions and the desire for greater clarity or satisfaction prompts the seeker to keep moving, to keep seeking, and to keep readjusting and trying new paths. Because of this, the seeker must be willing to dwell in and tolerate some uncertainty and ambiguity.
The Seeker Journey has a clear end goal–achieving a profound match and finding contentment within this–but exactly how to reach this state, or even what this state will look and feel like, is not explicitly known at the outset, nor at any point of the journey until it is realized. The guiding principle of the Seeker Journey is the search for this profound match. This is what makes the journey distinct from wandering, despite the fact that multiple stages of the journey embody a sense of unknownness and the seeker may at times feel wandering. It is also worth pointing out that there is not one set way to resolve the mismatch; a number of different combinations of actions and changes may result in finding a profound match.
In an upcoming post we will explain how a seeker’s journey might be visualized as a river ecosystem.