Your HSP spiritual connection emerges from a ground of not-knowing.

I’m in a state of not-knowing lately. I don’t usually hesitate to offer opinions (sometimes even useful ones, ha) about subjects I’m familiar with, but even that hasn’t felt comfortable. Thank goodness for a poem by Wendell Berry that I spotted in our neighbors’ poetry stand while out on a walk. It’s called 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.

Spiritual inversion

I place such high value on knowing exactly what to do. Perhaps you do, too. And often, I do know what to do. I’ve worked hard to create a life in which I can live my values, and to connect daily to my spiritual intuition to sense what actions would help me to live those values.

I’m repeatedly amazed, though, to see how easily that effort slips (for me, anyway), into an attempt control to things. I tell myself I should know what to do, and that if I don’t, I must not have listened well enough to my spiritual intuition. I conclude not “doing it right.”

This creates a kind of spiritual inversion, where I’m putting myself first and my spiritual connection second. When I invert my priorities like that, I feel out of sorts—a grinding unease that is hard to bear. I respond by working harder. I try harder. I try to be better.

As a student of Inner Bonding®, I know very well what’s happening at these moments. Inner Bonding clarifies that an addiction is anything we do to try not to feel something painful, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m being pulled overwhelmingly towards my addictive patterns in an attempt to get relief.

This past Friday, for example, I worked so hard and continuously all day that I ended up with a terrible headache. Why did I do that? I knew Friday was the last day of my precious two weeks off. Perhaps I felt conflicted about how best to spend the time. I couldn’t bear to sit in the discomfort, so I put my head down and worked. I plunged deep into my old patterns.

Or perhaps it was simply because I had managed to get myself turned spiritually upside down.

The real work—perhaps

Whatever the cause, no wonder I got some relief from reading Wendell Berry’s poem. He was him offering me permission to put my spiritual life back in its rightful place:

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work.

This, to me, is the paradox of living in the world. I feel best when I remember I am a spiritual being, here to have human experience. Practically speaking, this requires me to listen to my spiritual intuition, do my best to follow it, and let go of the results.

I have trouble with that last bit. I try to control the results. I repeatedly get caught up in the human experience part, and let it take precedence over the spiritual being part. Our human experience matters completely, but it is only one part of the story.

Perhaps I should add, “That’s how I’m seeing all this at the moment, anyway.” Otherwise I’m once again trying to impose certainty on experience. I admire Wendell Berry for not doing that. On the contrary: he says “It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work…” It may be. I like the openness in that.

The poet is inviting me to try on for size his idea of real work. It fits. I resonate with the idea that my real journey starts in a place of not-knowing.

I know intellectually (with gratitude to Carl Rogers) that the ability to tolerate ambiguity—to be able to endure the discomfort of not-knowing— is one of the hallmarks of a healthy, developed personality. That’s a tricky paradox to live out, though. To be at peace, I must learn to tolerate discomfort.

Returning to right-side-up

Having been born with a highly sensitive nervous system, I get uncomfortable more easily and more often than most. For this reason, keeping my spiritual perspective right-side-up is the single most important contributor to my peace and happiness. That I can say with certainty, having clawed my way out of countless spiritual inversions.

Why do I say “clawed my way out,” though? Do I really need to see these inversions as a problem? I wish I didn’t. I’d be happier if I didn’t. Perhaps someday I’ll mature to a point where I’ll accept them as yin and yang: equally important elements of a never-ending process.

In the meantime, I take comfort from the final line of Berry’s short, profound poem:

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

When we hike in the park near here, I always stop to listen to the small stream that runs down to the bigger creek. I love that gentle, complex burbling sound it makes, like hollows within curves. It had not occurred to me before reading Wendell Berry’s poem that without the “impediments” of sticks and stones, there would be no water song—the sound of a spiritual being having a marvelous, uncomfortable, humbling, human experience.

Image: Photo by Robert Zunikoff on Unsplash