The Real Work
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
– Wendell Berry
Often in challenging situations, when we are asked what we are going to do, our first response is, “I don’t know.” Yet if we pause, take a breath, and drop down to a quieter place inside, we access a deeper wisdom and find that, in fact, we do know. We may not know everything, but we usually know at least something. And that something shows us our next step.
Unfortunately, there is an often unspoken expectation in our culture that we must “know what we are doing” or have the right answers to all of the questions before we embark on a new journey or project. However, in today’s rapidly changing and complex world, it’s actually very rare that we have all of the answers or know everything about what we are doing before we start. Even when you think you know how to perform a task, complete a project, or accomplish a goal, there are almost always surprises along the way. Conditions change, circumstances change, people change.
Life is energy in motion. And because it is in motion, it is constantly changing. Every day offers new opportunities to learn forward – to meet each new experience and situation on its own terms. Every day gives us new chances to let life show itself to us rather than assuming that we know it all already. Life constantly gives us opportunities to practice openness and curiosity. If we say “yes” to those opportunities, we learn and grow in who we are and how we meet the world. And as a result, new possibilities emerge.
That said, sometimes we do meet obstacles or circumstances that feel so enormous that, even after getting quiet, our response is still, “I don’t know. In fact, I don’t even know where to look or where to begin.”
This is the moment of invitation that Wendell Berry writes of in “The Real Work.” The invitation is to surrender to the “not knowing.” Not surrender as in giving up, but rather surrender as in giving over to something greater that is waiting to unfold.
Surrender in this sense is not a passive giving up or giving in to whatever happens. It’s an active process. You remain engaged and trust that a signal or message will come that will show you your next move. And when the message does come, you respond. In this way, you offer yourself as a partner to the potential. Together, you can create something new. Without your surrender and partnership, the potential can’t take form. The potential needs you to help it manifest, and you need the potential to show you the greater possibilities that are waiting for you.
For me, surrendering to the “not knowing,” giving yourself over to something bigger than you, and trusting that there is something greater waiting to unfold, is the “real journey” that Wendell Berry is writing about. It’s the journey that allows the creative intuitive mind to kick in, showing you new ways of thinking. You find yourself exploring ideas and possibilities you have never considered before. Your full intuitive mind takes great delight in calling on all its resources for discovery, new awareness, and new learning and understanding. It loves the challenge. That’s how it stretches and grows. If your situation had not been so “baffling,” to use Wendell Berry’s word, you may never have come to this new way of being and engaging with life.
What is the place of “not knowing” for you right now? What is life asking you to surrender to so that you can step into your next world of possibilities?
P.S. You will find many tools and approaches to help you give over to a greater potential and partner with it in my latest book, Create A World That Works. It’s the primary resource book for the Transformational Presence Leadership and Coach Training program. The book is also available in digital format.
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