Do you ever expect yourself to have all the answers? Do you become frustrated and impatient when you don’t know what to do about something in your writing or in your life? Do you get hung up on doing things “right”?
On this week’s mastermind call for women writers, after sharing questions I had around marketing my work, a colleague jokingly said, “You mean you don’t have all the answers, Bella?”
That’s when it hit me: I expect myself to have all the answers and when I don’t, I angst, thinking that I’m getting life “wrong.” Lurking beneath this irrational thought is a need for control. Digging deeper, I find the old, conditioned (mis)belief that somewhere, deep down, I’m not okay—and I need to do something!
This is a lie, an illusion, a trick of the ego.
In Native American lore, the coyote is the trickster. He’s a clever fellow who knows how to express himself, but he’s sneaky. He appears when we least expect it—and fools us. He makes us believe things that aren’t real. He distorts and deceives. For writers, the trickster/ego might say things like Why bother writing? Nobody cares. What do you have to say that could possibly matter?
Writing—and sharing your work—is an act of generosity of spirit. One writer in our mastermind group said that she’s come to think of marketing as a way to love people, because she’s sharing her stories. Sharing our stories is also a way to love ourselves. Stories help us understand the world and our place in it. Stories make us more human, more alive, more courageous, and more loving.
As writers, we make up stories on the page but also in our lives. It helps to be aware of the stories we repeat in our heads rather than become fused with them. We do this when we identify with inner narratives that limit us. For example, many of my students and clients become consumed with stories about what they think they “need” to do. Their to-do lists make them feel as though they are living in a pressure cooker that's about to explode.
Non-Doing is Your Release Valve
The way to ease this pressure is to realize when you’re making up rules or regulations and enforcing them. Ask yourself, “Does xyz have to be done right this minute? Can it wait until tomorrow? Or next week? Is this a ‘must’-do or a ‘want’-to-do? What do I believe accomplishing xyz will achieve? What if I’m okay right now in this moment and don’t need to do anything?”
Dr. Gail Brenner, author of Suffering is Optional: A Spiritual Guide to Freedom from Self-judgment & Feelings of Inadequacy, says, “In the space of non-doing there’s a great perfection in things as they are.”
If deep down, underneath our frenetic thinking, we are fine, then there’s nothing for us to protect or defend. Nothing to do. We can just be. And from this place of being we are free to do what we want (within reason and law) and not pretend that our lives—or our well-being—depend upon it. In other words, we can lighten up!
Another woman from my mastermind group for writers works at a homeless shelter, where she has a “listening post.” She shows up and listens to people. She doesn’t offer advice or try to fix anyone. She just listens.
We can all do this for ourselves: just listen. Our inner tantrum-throwing toddler will eventually get tired and our wise self will emerge to remind us that we are all connected and made of the same miraculous stuff. Underneath our urgency and fear, peace and love reside. When we look in this direction, we realize that we are okay no matter what’s going on. We are more resilient than we think.
Next time you’re feeling pressured to do things “right” or you’re not sure about a next step, consider this: What if there is no “right” way to do things? What if the “right” way is whatever is in your heart? What if you simply choose to trust yourself and follow your inner guidance and wisdom? The great Persian poet Rumi said, “Out beyond ideas of right and wrong there’s a field. I’ll meet you there.” And Hamlet reminds us that “there’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Thought is our inner coyote. It helps us navigate our life, enables us to howl when we must, and even helps cultivate awareness. But when you learn to become a neutral observer of its shenanigans, you gain freedom.
We have to exhale in order to inhale. Let go. Trust life. We may not have all the answers, but the truth is that we do not need them. Learning to live in the questions, befriending uncertainty, and patiently waiting for answers to arise in their own sweet time is a nourishing and liberating practice.