Anyone may get a cold, be fired or lose a loved one tomorrow without notice. Life is unpredictable.
But the expat existence, linked to high mobility and often tied to the dictate of global companies and fast changing economic conditions, entails a heightened number of unknowns to manage.
Will your visa be renewed?
In which country will you move to next?
When will you get your working permit?
Should you invest time and energy in building relationships with people who are as nomadic as you are?
Where is your child going to study?
Should you start to learn the local language or improve your English/French/Spanish for the next posting?
Living in another country and depending on your partner and their employer, gives you good reasons to struggle with uncertainty. Your choices as a trailing spouse become narrower and narrower.
You feel stuck, caught, trapped. In jail. With no idea when you are set free.
Our Western society places high value on money, career and social advancement. So, being deprived of the ways to acquire them can feel sheer torture.
All the more that you’ve been brought up with the firm belief that you have control on your life.
If you’re not successful — according to the above criteria — you may think it’s your fault.
And this can cause a lot of anxiety, stress, guilt and shame.
So how can you cope?
There are numerous methods to help alleviate the pain of anxiety and stress. Breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, meditation, journaling are but a few. But remaining at this level means treating the symptoms and not tackling the cause.
To continue further, I’ll need to engage your imagination.
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine that you’re on another planet.
On this planet, living a good life means laughing, playing and connecting meaningfully with others.
Money doesn’t exist and there is food and shelter in abundance for everyone.
The main belief is: ‘Your fate is written the day you’re born. There’s nothing you can do about it.’
Can you picture the situation? How do you feel?
I bet you’re much more relaxed, right?
This little experiment suggests that…
The underlying cause of our torments (stress, anxiety, guilt and shame) can be found in our spiritual beliefs, our values and our worldview.
Because uncertainty is the gist of life, let’s have a look at how we’ve dealt with it in history before the advent of science and reason tried to explain and master the world.
Basically, I found two approaches that aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. They can be complementary.
The first approach is finding solace in surrendering to an external authority.
This is typically — but not limited to — the adherence to one of the three religions: Christianity, Judaïsm and Islam.
You believe in an external authority that knows better than yourself: God, Allah, Yahve, the Divine. In short, a higher power.
Sometimes this higher power is loving and merciful, sometimes it’s critical and vengeful.
You’re expected to accept whatever life throws at you because it’s the will of God. Your higher power has a plan for you and you have to trust Him. You’re one of its servants.
But what if you don’t have faith?
The second approach is the belief in an inner resource found in each individual.
This is particularly well illustrated by the meaning of the word Namaste, a typical greeting among Hindus and yoga practitioners.
“I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells. I honor the place in you which is of love, of truth, of light and of peace. When you’re in that place in you and I’m in that place in me, we’re one.”
In this place — also called the inner guide, the inner teacher, the inner sanctuary, the inner voice, and in everyday language the soul — you can find peace when life is tumultuous around you, look for guidance when you’re lost, experience joy even when you’re grieving.
I had long since taught myself to follow the inner voice. I delighted in submitting to it. To act against it would be difficult and painful to me.
But what do you do if you don’t hear this inner voice, if you’re disconnected from it?
When you don’t have either one or the other, you may have to confront the darkness of moral aloneness. And this is indeed a daunting prospect.
For some, this pain is just unbearable. They revert to a previous well-known state. They go back to their home country and/or find a way to return to the workforce even if this means taking a job that’s not fulfilling and hurting their values.
Others freeze and find themselves paralyzed.
And others still, hold the tension. They stay in discomfort. They try to find another path.
When we are no longer able to change the situation, we’re challenged to change ourselves.
wrote Viktor Frankl in ‘Man’s search for meaning’, an account of his experience in the concentration camps.
What if this experience was meant to change you in a way you could never have imagined?
What if this experience that forces you to stop, to review your role, to put everything back into perspective, was an opportunity to change your worldview for the better?
What if this experience was given to you to become more compassionate, more open, more fully human?
While walking together on this path, let the words of poet Rainer Maria Rilke resonate in our minds:
I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.
Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything.
Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
How does this speak to you?