A poem by Wendell Berry was presented as a writing prompt at a class I attended recently. The instructor asked us to choose what spoke to us, whether a line from the work, the whole work, any part or just the idea of the work, and then write for ten minutes. I immediately knew that I was going to go with the first line, which struck me in a profound way when I read it.
“It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work…”
Why this line? Because I no longer know if what I am doing in my life is right. I start each day questioning my direction as I flounder on, hopeful that I am moving forward but often feeling like I am running in place or lagging behind. And so I took that ten minute gift and I wrote out all of my stress and confusion, all of the pain and frustration, that I am feeling right now.
Two years ago, I hopped right in the middle of a new life chapter and now I am wondering what in the hell I’ve done. I am smack dab in the middle of “I don’t know what to do” with a feeling of “what is supposed to happen next” stuffing my brain like pillow fill until I can’t think a straight thought. I’m at a crossroads, so utterly unsure of the next step in my own personal drama that, if I’m not careful, I resort to drama on the TV rather than taking an active part in my own life. There is too much. Too much to do, to learn, to figure out, to understand. My defense mechanism is to simply not start. I am so consumed with ideas of what I “should” do that I simply do nothing.
I am busy. Most of us are. I started a new business, Spirit Guided Journeys, taking folks to southern India. Planning the trips from so far away is time-consuming and can be complicated, involving planning an itinerary to make diverse people happy while keeping everyone comfortable and safe.
I am a writer. I have a deep, inescapable need to write. And I have a second full length novel in my young adult series that has an equally deep and inescapable need to be written. And yet, I am paralyzed by writing, stuck in a place of fear that maybe I am no good. Maybe the words won’t come. Or, conversely, that the words are so numerous, so flowing, that once I start writing I won’t have time or room for anything else.
If two businesses, travel and writing, weren’t enough, there is the seemingly never-ending abyss of marketing options to wade through, learn or at least try to sort of understand, and then apply to my businesses with great acumen. (I wish). And the options are endless. There is the old-fashioned, personal approach to marketing, involving public appearances to talk about my books or my travel business. Of course, in any good public presentation nowadays one must have a power point to accompany the spoken word. (One more thing to learn and master).
Then, there is the new, cutting edge, social media marketing angle including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and countless other options. While these online tools have distinct advantages in many instances, allowing users to relay information instantaneously to others, I live in mortal fear of posting something idiotic that will forever stain my reputation and leave my potential audience open-mouthed in horror – or sorry for me. Either way, I am sure that I will screw up and then no one will ever be back to see what new things I’m up to.
So, spurred by this passage, I spent my ten minutes handwriting my insecurities, all the ways that I no longer know with any certainty what I am supposed to do next in my life. And as ink flowed onto paper I came to the realization that it doesn’t matter whether I know anything right now or not. That by doing what I am doing one step at a time, I am doing my real work. That writing and traveling are the two things that fill my soul with joy and if I stop doing either, I will feel incomplete. I believe that Wendell Berry is right. That when we are at a crossroads and life seems to be a challenge but for some reason we know that we have to go on, our real work has found us and we have found it. It is there, staring us in the face, shining like a beacon, daring us to walk right in and take the big chances.
I know that my work is here, now, in this glorious, awful, luscious, heart-breaking place of not knowing. Because, walking forward from here, accepting the uncertainty but going on anyway, is when I am fully living, fully feeling, fully being my biggest and my best. Fully trusting that spirit is guiding each step, as long as I keep moving. So, whether I sound nuts or not, and whether this makes sense to anyone else but me, I am putting it out there as my testament to not knowing while I do my “real work”.
Blessings and Namaste,