Being Okay with Not Knowing Where You’re Going

We know a lot of people who are in big changes in their lives. The work they did for decades has disappeared. Or, they  simply feel a powerful need to move into new territory in the way they work or live or create. The central locus on which they relied is changing and they are once again without answers. Because life IS change, and that is the deal.

Susan Dworski recently reminded us of a poem that we first read decades ago (we were very young) from The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke, a favorite book. We appreciated the simple wisdom it seemed to give about the very complex subject:I learn by going where I have to go.  We see it as  kind of zen koan of improvisation.

Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke cover

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.
                                       —Theodore Roethke, The Waking

Looking for an image to accompany the poem, we first thought of a labyrinth. And in the pursuit of labyrinths created over centuries by some very great artists, we came upon this by Joan Miró, which seems to say it all.
There is no THERE there…
…but a path we find as we go…

6 Responses to Being Okay with Not Knowing Where You’re Going

  1. Linda Sheldon 04.14.2014 at 8:16am #

    This is so helpful as my workplace is undergoing a change in administrative attitude that is sometimes cruel and uninformed. With retirement on my horizon, I’ll be spending time looking for that next challenge that will provide me with a little income and make me a happy contributor. Sadness for what is lost must comingle with anticipation for what is next – and while that really is what life is all about, the sadness can be consuming. This post helped me this morning – as yours always do.

  2. Stacey 04.14.2014 at 10:20am #

    The Roethke poem is among the most famous of villanelles (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Villanelle). To appreciate the form and the repetition of the first and third lines throughout in a prescribed order (which gives the poem its momentum), you should post it with the correct line breaks.

  3. Sally 04.14.2014 at 10:31am #

    Stacey, Thank you so much for alerting me to this. When I wrote the post, the line breaks were there. WordPress has a glitch that occasionally removes them. I’ve gone back and inserted them by hand (it’s still not quite perfect, but I think gives the right feeling. My apologies for not presenting this wonderful poem correctly the first time.

  4. Sally 04.14.2014 at 10:33am #

    I’m glad this post helped. I’ve always felt heartened by this poem. Sadness CAN be consuming, and it, and many other things are an antidote/reminder of paths and possibilities we cannot imagine. Best of luck with this transition.

  5. sahana martin 04.16.2014 at 11:22am #

    Maybe not being ok with not knowing where you are going
    stems from not being fine from whence you came .

    How much trust do we have in the world in ourselves
    that things are ok anyway

  6. Sally 04.16.2014 at 8:49pm #

    How much trust do we have in the world in ourselves that things are ok anyway ?

    Thank you for this wonderful question.

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