Donald Barthelme described a writer as a person who, “embarking upon her task, does not know what to do.”
He’s pointing to the strange magic of what it’s like to sit down before a blank page and string one sentence after another together, without ever possessing a clear understanding of where these ideas are truly coming from in the first place. Or which one will materialize next.
I think this notion of “not knowing” is actually a very exciting place to come from inside our lives and it’s not limited to the process of writing. We are all living inside the unfolding of our stories, moment by moment. It’s our deeply held, often unconscious, beliefs that dictate which way the plot will play out.
I wrote an Instagram post about the connection between anger and depression this week. Specifically about the idea that the words “sadness” and “depression” have become so conflated that most of us don’t realize that depression is, in fact, repressed anger - not sadness.
The sadness which is so prominent in depression is a result, (not the cause), of a deep seated anger which hasn’t been able to express itself and has given up on finding a way out. It settles into sadness and quiet despair instead.
My point was: if we want to heal depression, we have to shift the focus to understanding what our anger, more than our sadness, is all about.
In the comments section I got into an interesting conversation with a person who was asking: “yes but how do I deal with the anger?” She said she’s read the books, heard the advice but still can’t release her anger.
As we exchanged messages I could tell, based on her language, there was a deeper belief system at play.
As problematic as our relationship to our anger can be, it is also important to remember that anger is self protective in many cases. So if we come from a history of feeling endangered or chronically under protected in our lives, we might say we want to set the anger down, but a deeper part of us might simultaneously believe that we can’t afford to.
This is what is meant by the idea that what we refuse to surrender must be secretly serving us in some way.
Again, we have to know where to look. Is the issue the anger? Or is the issue the way anger roars up inside our relationships preemptively to compensate for how energetically armorless we feel or how instantaneously our minds misperceive a tricky moment as an attack?
Louise Hay used to say: “You don’t have to know. You just have to be willing to know.” This is an idea I return to more than any other. It’s a bit like the advice to look away from the computer screen, mid-task, in order to rest our eyes and reset our minds. We have to let go in the process of going deeper in. If we try to bear down and do the long drive in one shot, we burn ourselves out and we miss the good stuff.
The truth is, none of us knows what’s coming next. All of us are living one sentence to the next inside the great mystery of life’s unfolding.
Instead of fearing this and bracing against it, we can choose to steer into the swerve and go with it. My best work comes when I’m relaxed. My best days are the ones where I’m at peace. My life flows when I allow it to - when I’m filled with trust and my beliefs are aligned with the idea that I am always being supported and guided. I am always exactly where I’m supposed to be, learning and sharing what wants to travel through me, out into the world.
This is the work each of us is here for. We are conductors and interpreters of something much more grand and holy which needs us to disseminate its message. Life is the wildly paradoxical experience of being both intensely personal and impersonal at the same time. We are precious cogs in a miraculous machine.
See if you can take solace in that and find the willingness to know whatever it is your Soul is asking to understand right now.