I hope you’ve all taken time to read the beautiful Comments that were sent in response to last week’s post — all of us moving together, groping towards new understandings. Much to ponder…..
When I try to address the Imponderable, I inevitably call forth too many words. Perhaps this is a hangover from too much academic writing. Perhaps I am just trying to dodge the truth, to fill the sacred Silence that the Imponderable demands. You can, if you like, read on to hear my current ramblings — my turning round & round and flailing about like a person lost in the woods at night — or you can stop here with this simple poem by David Whyte, which says it all so beautifully:
"Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again until now.
For a long time — no doubt because of situations both global & personal — I’ve been thinking about action, about how I might choose to step into the Unknown of any particular moment. First, by waking up & looking at where I am — where we are — actually standing at this particular moment, noticing both the amazing details and the larger patterns that sometimes seem to shift & change like a kaleidoscope…. Then, by taking that next step and once again pausing, noticing….
It’s all about Movement — the condition of the Cosmos, of Life.
The Unknown, like Life, should really be verb, not a noun. Modern English seems to act as a noun-based language — focusing on the separation of things rather than relationship, movement, interaction. Sometimes we need a new kind of language….
The Cosmos and all it encompasses are Emergent Processes — unfolding, interacting, evolving. The idea of an established “normal” — whether macro or micro — is a human illusion. We are part of continuous & multifaceted movements, whether we notice or not. When we try to grasp & cling to what has always seemed “normal” to us — with our limited, human-shaped sense of time — we are trying to fight the inevitable. If there is no change, there is no life.
I love the metaphor of the butterfly whose flapping wings create a hurricane on the other side of the world. Certainly, every time we move (and that includes just sitting & breathing), we change the world around us and — because we are inextricably woven into the whole — the world changes us too. For example, I am sitting by a campfire…I shift my position slightly…I inhale a lungful of dense smoke, and I begin to cough loudly which frightens a deer who runs onto the highway and …. We can spin out that story of the deer’s fright (as storytellers love to do) in directions which could lead to many different consequences — perhaps to owl’s failure to catch the rabbit he’d spotted, to the feeding of a hungry human family, or to a car crash that changes in the course of human civilization, or perhaps to nothing so directly noticeable. Whatever the case, there will be changes, spreading out through space & time in ways we’ll never fully know.
When I was young, I didn’t think a lot about “Adventure” or the Unknown;” I simply plunged in & thrived on them. I was privileged to spend high school summer volunteering on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana where I was introduced to both sharp poverty & rich cultural inheritance. A few years later, I was lucky to get a grant that let me spend a college summer studying baboons & simply learning to be present with the animals of the vast West African savanna, dwelling for awhile in a place beyond language. Then, after a heartbreaking rift of relationship (which I certainly did not experience as an “adventure”!), I took a trip — which coincided exactly with both my bank account & my vacation time — to the Central Sahara where I encountered for the first time many landscapes, peoples, ways of being, and the magical ancient galleries of rock painting high on the Tassili plateau. Having rediscovered the larger world, I looked for a job in Africa & ended teaching in Libya — arriving just before the revolution/coup that set up Gaddafi as dictator — and staying for 5 years. Many Adventures …. always changing, growing, learning — sometimes quickly, sometimes painfully, sometimes only in retrospect — through trial & error & often “dumb luck.”
In recent years I have been trying to approach personal changes in that same spirit of active curiosity. My mantras have been “It’s all an Adventure!” & a rather wry “All shall be revealed!” — meaning only that we’ll know what will happen next when the next thing happens. Our move to the farm & life with llamas was obviously an Adventure. I was sorry in many ways to have that come to a close so, when it was time to move to Greensboro & closer to hospitals and other help “just in case,” I told myself we were starting our “Urban Adventure.” Then, quick on the heels of that move, the 5-minute trip to a hospital ceased to be a hypothetical convenience & became central when I had cardiac surgery to repair a valve — a “Medical Adventure.” Now our move into a Quaker continuing care situation, about which I’ve been at times very conflicted, is proving to be a new kind of “Community Adventure” — filled with both “Not Knowing” (as described by Marti in her comment), which requires my focused research & specific learning AND also with “Unknowing,” which can only be known by plunging in. It is an Adventure!
But not all Adventures are — like most of those I’ve described — chosen. I’m thinking of hungry folks who walk through drought-stricken fields, of the streams of refugees around the world, of Ukrainians & Syrians & Palestinians & the many others whose lives are encompassed and upended by war…. How can they possibly view their daily scramble for existence as an “adventure”?
I know I am thinking of “Adventure” from a very privileged place.
Global climate change and other human actions are destroying and shifting the nature of beloved landscapes & species. Extreme authoritarian forces are threatening the democratic movements towards freedom and equality which I’ve witnessed — little by little — throughout my life & which I had expected would always keep moving — however slowly — more and more towards true justice. We find ourselves in the midst of dangerous changes on all fronts, deeply grieving the mayhem and destruction and fearing what may come.
I wonder if it is simply arrogant to try to view all this & what is still to come as “Adventure”?
How I wish there were a clearly marked path forward from Here to a truly better There! But as Antonio Machado cannot remind me often enough:
"Traveler, your footprints
Are the path and nothing more;
Traveler, there is no path,
The path is made by walking.
By walking the path is made
And when you look back
You’ll see a road
Never to be trodden again.
Traveler, there is no path,
Only trails across the sea...."
If I am making my path — which is mine to choose — I’d better get started walking with more conscious awareness of each step & more openness to the Unknown, no matter how scary. How many times in the past have I let fears or ambivalence or sorrow bring me to a screaming halt?! In stepping out into the role of workshop & retreat leader and especially in starting this blog, I’ve become aware of how much growth can be found & how very much stifled and bound energy can be liberated with just another step into the Unknown.
I’ve just started reading Estelle Frankel’s book The Wisdom of Not Knowing: Discovering a Life of Wonder by Embracing Uncertainty. In the Introduction, she says:
“Without what I call the ‘wisdom of not knowing,’ it is difficult to leave the safe harbor of the known for the vast, unpredictable sea of growth and change. Certainty may calm our anxious spirits, but it closes the door on possibility. Moreover, when the known overshadows the unknown, we forsake our infinite life for a counterfeit, finite existence.“
So what kind of existence do I choose? What might happen if, when contemplating global situations, I spent less energy on fear & lamentation and more on living/participating fully in the world as it is in its actual becomings, however painful? If I name what is happening not as Doom but as Adventure, can I free up more energy to heal wounds & mitigate the damage inflicted by myself & others? Can I learn how to be a blessing that enlivens the situations & beings I meet rather than a force that destroys?
What if, rather than hoping for a magic silver bullet to “fix” things, more of us found our Hope in the possibilities that reside within the Unknown? In any case, my Curiosity keeps me plodding ahead, asking questions, looking around to find out what might be. The Changes we’ve feared have already begun. How then shall we live in a good way?
I believe I’ve shared this poem with you before, but it speaks to much of what I’ve been struggling to say:
Another World is Possible
by Rose Flint
We can dream it in, with our eyes
Open to this Beauty, to all
That Earth gives each of us, each day
Those miracles of dark and light–
Rainlight, dawn, sun moon, snow, storm grey
And the wide fields of night always
Somewhere opening their flower
stars – this, this! Another world is
possible. With river and bird
Sweet and free without fear, without
minds blind to harmony, to how
We can hold. We have been too long
Spoiled greedy children of Earth, life of rocks and creatures
Slipping out of our careless hands.
We must stand now and learn to love
As a Mother loves her child, each
cell of her, each grain of her, each
precious heartbeat of her that is
Ourselves, our path and our journey
Into our dream of future, where
another world is possible
cradling this one its arms.
And, in my studio, I’m still hanging out with Green, and more Green — pausing to see where I am and what is here before taking that next great step into the Unknown. I am grateful for the Green & Healing Spirits of Willow who companion me.