Dealing with the Angst of Elusive Answers

When did we become convinced that answers should be ready on command?

In my case, I suspect it happened when I began to think abstractly (early teens?) and was taught about the prowess of the mind, relegating other avenues of discovery and knowledge (e.g., intuition) to second or third-tier status. In short, I was taught, quite successfully, that I could think my way through or around any obstacle. I could force answers.

I’ve spent too many mornings of my life waking up to a mind furiously churning to identify any outstanding elusive answers to burning questions or situations.

Why this topic of elusive answers and what does this have to do with moving to Italy?

Unless you’ve had the road to a life in Italy or any similar momentous life change roll out the red carpet of a smooth transition, then you’ll relate.  Consider this a “heads up” for those of you just starting down this road because you will find yourself at multiple crossroads, gritting your teeth and stomping your feet in frustration because you want an answer NOW. This is especially true with a move to Italy where things are notoriously tricky to pin down like:

  1. The varying experiences people have getting their visas from the various Italian consulates in the U.S.
  2. How can I proceed with plans to make the move if I can’t be certain my visa application will be approved (the old chicken/egg conundrum)?
  3. Why is my permesso di soggiorno taking so long? Will someone please tell me where it is in the process so I can plan my life (and my travels) accordingly?
  4. How can I get an Italian driver’s license and buy a car? How are the two related?
  5. Where do I go to apply for my tessera sanitaria and why do the regions handle the requirements and payments differently?

The list goes on, but these are good examples of crossroads ripe for elusive answers.

Then there is the big “life change” question:

What is my life going to look like so that I can rest assured that I’ve made the right choice?

I believe this is the mother of all life-change questions. And this reveals the kink in our armor:

We abhor uncertainty.

That realization took a long time to really make it through my thick skull. I didn’t realize just how much of my behavior and coping mechanisms were rooted in trying to avoid the discomfort of uncertainty. In retrospect, my first few years in Italy were characterized by a mind on constant high alert. From a fundamental animalistic survival perspective, I tried to eliminate and protect myself from perceived dangers. It’s crazy how we evolved from making sure we didn’t become some wild animal’s lunch to going on high alert for things such as dealing with bureaucratic hurdles.

Powering your way to answers isn’t a wise strategy.

You can certainly try, but I don’t recommend it.

From my experience, elusive answers become yet more elusive, almost as if by my insistence on immediate answers and solutions I’m antagonizing the great force that connects all things. Still, we usually demand immediate answers and attempt to deliver them by the sheer force of will. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I’ve exhausted myself. Yet, the conditioning still tries to pull me back to that hamster wheel of futility.

I hear from a multitude of people about this topic in regards to many aspects of building a life in Italy. While I can offer perspectives based on my experience, I usually can’t provide the sure-fire answers that will end questioning and staunch the worry and angst.

Make peace with uncertainty and don’t run from discomfort.

This message seems to be the number one lesson in my life these days. I see how attempting to avoid the messy feelings of uncertainty have led me to dull the pain in a myriad of ways. It’s helping to lay bare my addictive behaviors, many of which are quite surprising. Social media and digital connectedness is a biggie. It’s easy to run to those for a quick dopamine hit instead of standing firmly in the moments of uncertainty. And, drum roll, the one addiction that has been oh so clever in hiding its face—constant seeking. This includes seeking answers immediately to clear bumps in the road (logistically and emotionally) and seeking the magic formula for enlightenment so I can finally relax, having figured it all out.

What a false bill of goods I’ve been sold.

Let life be. Rest in the present moment, free from incessant thinking.

The answers will present themselves.

I don’t know about you, but from years of experience, I’ve found that when I feel stymied by elusive answers, the very thing I need to do is surrender. Of course, I’m not advocating living life like a wet noodle. No, I do what I can, and when I seem to hit a brick wall, that’s my signal to stop spinning my wheels trying to figure things out and relax into the present moment and place trust that life will show me the answers in the right timing.

Consider the words of Scott Kiloby (I highly recommend his books and writings):

In restful presence, we stop replaying the past and being afraid of the future. We stop trying to avoid uncomfortable or painful thoughts and feelings carried over from the past. We stop trying to seek the future for release from the pain and discomfort. – Scott Kiloby , Natural Rest for Addiction – A Revolutionary Way to Recover through Presence (available at Amazon.com)

By |2019-01-17T22:57:00+00:00September 26th, 2018|Personal musings|14 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!

14 Comments

  1. MaryAnne Della Fera September 30, 2018 at 3:56 pm - Reply

    Beautiful and perfectly timed! Just last Wednesday, I received the official confirmation of my Italian citizenship from the Chicago consulate! The waiting and not knowing were excruciating. As someone with 2 doctorates, there is a part of me that is a very type A planner and worrier. There is another part of me, though, that has finally accepted that WE HAVE NO CONTROL IN LIFE! Oddly, that was clear to me early in life, but I couldn’t accept it.

    So now, I’m planning my move to Italy! I have QUESTIONS!! But I don’t really need the answers. I’m moving to Italy REGARDLESS of answers. I know that life will sort itself out. It’s scary and exciting! My life has gone in so many different directions that I never planned and could never have predicted. Most of it was difficult, some very painful, but always an interesting journey.

    So many people have reacted in a horrified way to my impending move. “You’re 64, you have medical issues, how are you going to communicate, do you have enough money, blah, blah, blah…” Whatever. There are always perceived roadblocks. Did they think I was joking about wanting to move to Italy?? I think the fact that I am taking this big unpredictable step in my life confronts them with their own fears and inability to take risks. People at my stage of life are rarely risk takers. But comfort and predictability have never held much power over me, so off I go! I’m bringing my bike, bike trailer, a few books, some clothes, required papers & electronics, and most importantly, my 3 little dogs. I’m so excited! Sono cittadina italiana ufficale!!

    • Jed September 30, 2018 at 8:01 pm - Reply

      I’m so excited for you. Congratulations! Big adventures ahead—as if the adventure of getting your Italian citizenship wasn’t enough. Brava to you for plowing ahead, in spite of the misgivings or questions of other people. I fielded plenty myself, and many contained an underlying envy of taking the leap to try something so different. Please stay in touch and let me know when you land in your new home!

  2. Amy September 27, 2018 at 9:50 pm - Reply

    So often were taught that we are the ultimate masters of our own fate, thus not having everything figured out feels like a personal failure. It’s an extremely difficult belief system to alter, without seriously risking your sanity and/ or adrenal glands! But, learning to live your life from your heart instead of your head may be the ultimate gift to one’s self in addition to opening the door for much more meaningful experiences, imperfect though they may be. Some of the most beautiful works of art have what many consider to be imperfections. But often, those works speak the loudest, because we can see ourselves in them. Learning to see your life the same way is so challenging, but what a tragedy to miss out on all the beauty in pursuit of a perfect work of art.

    • Jed September 30, 2018 at 7:58 pm - Reply

      Wow, Amy. So masterfully expressed. The “not having everything figured out feels like a personal failure” really hits home. Surmounting our conditioning and brain chemistry can feel daunting. Perfectionism is for the birds. It’s an unrealistic goal, in my opinion. Embracing our fragility and imperfections might just be the way to redemption…

  3. Debra Polson September 26, 2018 at 7:00 pm - Reply

    Hey, Jed
    Absolutely brilliant writing and an eye opening perspective.
    It seems with my decision to move to Italy I’ve found a level of peacefulness. I tend to look at whatever monumental change in my life with the thought “what’s the worse thing that can happen and can I handle it”. It’s served me well through my life.
    I am also paying close attention to what you share about visas, licenses, etc. I am a romantic and tend to look at things with rose-colored glasses, but have put them away so I can be “real” about this life change. I confess, though, I do bring them out once in awhile…can’t help it. It is Italy afterall.

    • Jed September 27, 2018 at 10:27 am - Reply

      Thanks for writing, Debra! The move to Italy initially put me in hyper-vigilance mode, yet subsequently, it exposed some exhausting coping mechanisms, thus prodding me along the road to learning to relax more into the moment and find that “middle way” between planning, doing, and being!

  4. JR September 26, 2018 at 6:19 pm - Reply

    Thanks for your reply, Jed. I absolutely agree that childhood education (formal and informal) should be more balanced in this regard. Wouldn’t it save everyone a lot of anguish and frustration and allow for a more authentically lived life? It’s a hard-won lesson for most of us, and (for me at least) an ongoing process! But it’s ultimately so liberating a realization. Thanks for your thoughts on this subject, and on life in Italy in general. Wishing you all the best.

    • Jed September 27, 2018 at 10:24 am - Reply

      Thanks, Josephine. Yes, “hard-won” is the adjective to which I can really relate. Liberation better late than never, right? My best to you!

  5. Michelle September 26, 2018 at 6:10 pm - Reply

    You’ve put my thoughts and feelings into beautifully-crafted words, Jed. Thanks for sharing such an intimate part of your journey. It helps me while moving forward on mine 🙂

    God Bless

    • Jed September 27, 2018 at 10:21 am - Reply

      Grazie mille, Michelle!

  6. JR September 26, 2018 at 5:13 pm - Reply

    We begin to seek answers when we’re little, asking adults impossible questions about the nature of the world. The desire for concrete answers is a natural and important part of the process of learning to think analytically and to solve problems — a necessary life skill. We are encouraged to “figure things out” and make our way as independent individuals. Sometimes this serves us well. When the going gets tough, though, the search for solutions can be thwarted by circumstances beyond our control — and eventually, if we’re paying attention, we learn that most of what happens is beyond our control anyway. That’s a natural and necessary part of the process, too, but it comes with maturity and awareness. The trick is to design and plan, if you like, but not to have an emotional stake in the outcome, which keeps you stuck. Responding to life as it unfolds is another learned skill — one that prevents a lot of wasted energy and heartache and keeps us open to possibility.

    • Jed September 26, 2018 at 5:42 pm - Reply

      Ciao, Josephine! Thanks for writing so eloquently and contributing to the conversation. I particularly like what you say about not having an emotional stake in the outcome. That is freeing and can ramp down worry and neurosis. I agree that seeking answers is natural. Thinking analytically to arrive at useful conclusions is an important lifelong skill. However, I’m a believer that our upbringing and conditioning often put thinking and analysis on a pedestal and, sadly, little time is spent coaching children and young adults, in the power of intuition, and the importance of doing one’s best and then letting go. This post reflects much of my personal experience, and I, like many of my friends, was not coached in the importance of not being emotionally married to outcomes and the power of surrender. I so wish childhood development was more balanced in this regard, helping to prevent a hard-wired tendency for many people as adults to become prisoners to analysis for to answers. But, I guess waking up to this, even as an adult, is a good thing!

  7. Linda Dini Jenkins September 26, 2018 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    So intelligent, as always, Jed. I may not be able to practice most of this yet, but just reading it makes me pause for a few minutes and say, “Yes, this is what I must strive for.” Hope to see you soon. We’re on our way to Sulmona today. Venice next May.

    • Jed September 26, 2018 at 5:32 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Linda. Always great to hear from you. Hoping our paths can converge when you’re in Venice next May!

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