Where are you going? Reflecting on your life’s journey

I recently read a poem by Henry Vaughan called The Retreat. A poem about the awareness that one can have about the loss of innocence in childhood and the desire when in adulthood, to return to those perceived happy days as a child.
It led me to reflect, how sometimes we can look back over the life we have led and consider what kind of journey we have taken. Memories of places we have been may pop into our thoughts, along with feelings that are tied to events in the past.
When you look back, would you have done something differently if you could go back in time? Or has life felt pretty constrained and your moving in one direction only. What would it be like to have some flexibility in the options your journey through life has? Do you feel you can make new decisions and move forward in a different direction?
When I look back over my own life, I’m filled with an uneasy feeling. For many years, managing my own thoughts and feelings about my sexuality was dark and difficult. I was also constantly aware of the social attitudes to the identity I had, which made me feel my life was all the more problematic. It wasn’t until I was older that the fear and anger subsided and I chose to move in a different direction, focusing on what was best for me and being open about who I really was. 


If you look back, what do you see?

Each of us from the moment we are born embarks on a long personal journey that we call our life. If we could create a map or plan that relates to our development from infants, we would see that across the years we have encountered many new places, with rich and varied experiences along the way. We have crossed paths with many folks, who have helped or hindered our progression.
Like any long journey, there have been ups and downs, which all affect our mental and physical health. We have come across moments that captured the essence of joy, momentarily filling our souls so that we were bright and giddy. These idyllic pleasures, we often hoped and wished could last, so that our lives could be filled with them all the time.
Then there are the darker stormier days we’ve endured, when we felt lost at sea or when we got stuck, feeling angry and alone. We might have been suffering fear or anxiety about asking for directions, because we learnt to mistrust people and relationships, as a result of being lied to or deceived by others.
Perhaps, life has felt like we’ve been on an express train, hurtling forward through dark tunnels, with our focus beamed forward onto the track. Accelerating scarily around corners, jolting over bumps in the tracks and whistling through people’s lives, like an intercity train hurtling through a sleepy suburb station.
I know I have often felt like this, not wanting to stop in one place, feeling stress and trying to avoid danger, by moving on to somewhere else quickly. I recognise now though, that there’s much that can be lost by doing this. Getting off the train, taking a breather and giving yourself time and space can be really important for our mental health before we decide to move on again.
It may be, whether it was last month or 10 years ago, that there just didn’t seem to be an opportunity to turn back and move in a different direction. At the time, it may have felt like there was no clear idea of the wrong path that was taken anyway. And as we looked into the distance, the future seemed foggy and the lack of hope weakened further our frail spirit.

Young woman looking thoughtful
When the darkness and lack of a clear path inhibit our way, we can lose sight on our perpetual trek forward, on where we are going and for what reason we are heading that way. The days, months and years can pass by. A repetitive cycle; waking, bathing, eating, working, sleeping – repeat, repeat, repeat. We exist. There’s no thinking about what’s the point of this banal life. No thought is given to where we have been or where we are going to. We are here, moving from one day to the next, to the next, to the next. 

No one’s journey is the same

We all take a slightly different mode of transport on our journey through life, as our body is different from anyone else’s. The tools and navigational equipment that we hold in our mind are exclusive to each and every one of us. We are all unique, that’s not to be overlooked or forgotten. Though at times we can hope to copy the successful journey of someone else, inevitably, we all take a different route, get there by different means, because essentially, we are all very different.
Many folks like to walk together on their journey throughout life, helping one another to get from A to B. Others want to be solo travellers, preferring to walk alone and free to independently move in any direction they want. Maybe like me, you enjoy a blend of social and independent travelling. Some people don’t want to journey alone and want to be part of a group, but are pushed out, rejected or overlooked. As their cries for mercy are ignored, they move to the side of the road. Further out of people’s minds and out of sight, though not always.

Reviewing your trip

I think it’s interesting and useful to reflect on the journey that we’ve taken to where we are right now. We can take stock of the road we’ve travelled, the people we have met and how we have changed and developed along the way.
It may be, that we are content with where we have been and where we are heading. This kind of reflection allows ourselves the opportunity to be thankful for the place that we have reached, the people we have around us and the quality of our life.
Perhaps though, we are aware that we inadvertently turned a corner somewhere that has meant we are in a situation that we don’t want to be. This may be related to work or relationship problems, an addiction or health concerns. It could be we are feeling lost and confused about what to do, like being in a maze with no clear idea of which way to go. Can we retrace our steps to take a new direction? Do we need to think about an exit strategy out of the current situation? Perhaps we’re already out the maze, looking back, feeling blank, yet relieved, not wanting to relive the horror we’ve just left of feeling trapped and alone.

Beginning to change direction

Our lives can feel like we were given a one-way fixed ticket, with no opportunity to make alternate plans. Yet what do we do when the route we are taking is anything but scenic and pleasurable?
First of all, it’s important to be kind to ourselves. We rarely plan to move through turbulence, so we hit it unexpectedly and it leaves us feeling queasy, sick or frightened. It’s important therefore to offer our low self-esteem some nurturing, to help develop some resilience, calmness and self-compassion. Be kind, be loving, be there for ourselves.
Re-deciding what we want to do can feel difficult. It may mean asking someone for help, it may feel like we have failed or that people will judge us for changing our mind. Yet if we are moving in a direction that’s going to cause us some harm, then it’s ok to make a new decision to avoid the danger. We might need to give ourselves some courage to do this or to ask someone to help us. This will help strengthen our confidence which may have been low. We all have the capacity to think, so often we know what the right course of action is, it’s just feeling ok about making that new decision.
Counselling and psychotherapy, involves a lot of reflection of the past, exploring situations and particular issues that were faced. With the therapist’s support, a person has the chance to develop greater self-awareness and a greater understanding of the different aspects of the journey they’ve been on. This includes looking at the dynamics of the relationships in a person’s life and how those different relationships and people have affected who that person is today.

Two men in a counselling session
As a counsellor, my appreciation of the process people go through during counselling has shown me that with focus, people can make some amazing discoveries about their life and the journey they are on. With the insight that is developed and gained about themselves, people can feel more control of where they are heading, perhaps making new decisions about where they are going to and how they will get there. 

Changing landscapes

The reality is our lives and ourselves are constantly changing. From the very first day we arrived on this planet, every single day has been different, because every single day, we have grown one day older. Not one day has been exactly the same, because we are not exactly the same each day. If our lives subtly and unconsciously change over the course of our life, then it would seem natural and ok to consciously want to bring about change in our lives. Very little in our lives is fixed.

What would you want to do differently from today?

Working out a new travel plan that moves us in a new direction can take some time. When the itinerary becomes clearer, it can feel so exciting to have some clarity and purpose on where we are heading. It may feel a bit strange at first, as the surroundings and environment feel unfamiliar, but those anxious feelings begin to ease as we start to enjoy more and more, the journey to our next destination.
If we get there and we change our mind, that’s ok. We are all the captain of our own ship and we get to call the shots, in the life that is our own.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Hove BN3 & Brighton BN1
Written by Peter Golder, Counsellor - Dip Couns (MNCS)
Hove BN3 & Brighton BN1

Peter Golder, counsellor and founder of Acorn Counselling Therapy. 15 years of experience of mental health, through study, volunteering as a Samaritan and work as a counsellor. Trained in Transactional Analysis, specialized in supporting LGBTQ community, identity and gender dysphoria.

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