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.
by Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems, 1987
Upon reading these insightful words by the American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer, Wendell Berry, my baffled mind immediately relaxed a little. I felt like he was talking directly to me saying, “It’s OK not to know.”
Maybe, just maybe, my standing at this precipice at 50 years old, not sure of the next step, making it up as I go is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now. As Wendell suggests, maybe venturing down my next path, whatever it may be, is the start of my real work and journey.
I went to college, got married, had kids – all like I was “supposed to.” In my early 40s, depressed and living a numb existence, I completely shattered that life when I got divorced, tried to commit suicide, sustained a serious brain injury, and lost custody of my kids. Whew! That’s one way to do it, but I wouldn’t advise it.
After the suicide attempt and resulting brain injury, my life didn’t look anything like “supposed to” anymore, but surprisingly that’s when I found the most meaning and purpose. My everyday existence became all about recovering physically, mentally, and emotionally as I was forced to make the changes I’d been needing to make in my life for a long time. Despite poor odds and dire predictions, through mindfulness, meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, neurofeedback, thought reframing, physical exercise, brain training, and a brain healthy diet, I did heal fully to become happier and healthier than I’d ever been.
With that arduous journey behind me, I have newfound confidence and faith in myself and the universe. I often tell myself that “If you can figure your way out of that one, you can handle anything.” However, even knowing this doesn’t always squelch that gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach or stop my anxious mind from asking “What’s next? How are you gonna provide for yourself? Are you gonna be alone forever? What’s the plan?”
When my thoughts go in that direction, I remind myself to come back to the present moment, get OK with the uncertainty, let happenings unfold in their own time, respond to them as they do, and TRUST. Trust, breath, and relax. I remind myself that a person can drive all of the way across the U.S. in the dark only seeing the 20 feet illuminated ahead of them. Yesterday, today was out of the scope of those headlights.
Thank you Wendell Berry. My brain is definitely employed.
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