Unfinished Poems

Unfinished Poem, by John O’Donohue
“I would love to live like a river flows,
carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”

“It takes a lot to trust what’s emerging in any given moment,” Vince Horn said to me on hangouts a few weeks back. We’d been talking about leading from the heart, the balance of being and doing, and the delicate balance between forcing something to fruition or holding the process with the space of allowing.

I’m not a huge fan of surprises. I love me a plan. I love to-do lists, checklists, and the itemized steps to get ‘er done with ease and flow. While the one thing I can always seem to count on is change, I tend to forget that part. When things go awry, it can set off an array of feelings and thoughts in me that I hadn’t planned on. But there they are. I mutter a facetious curse to impermanence and, hopefully, laugh. (Impermanence is both the bane and boon of my existence. See also: Chuck Lorre’s Vanity Card 106.)

In those moments, I don’t always know when to push to make something happen or when to be still, to give it time, to trust that the universe is unfolding as it should. Something happens on that bridge between analytical and introspective. I feel into what’s happening for me in that moment: What’s my fear? What’s the root of my anxiety? What does this situation really need? Is my first reaction a gut feeling to act upon or am I coming from a place of wanting to take care of or control something so as to ease my not knowing, my anxiety, my unsettled feelings?

When leading with an open heart, our fear isn’t trying to control the spontaneous co-arisings of life happening before us. We’re able meet whatever’s right in front of us with an agile this-is-so,-so-what stance. Yet, there are many ways we try to contain things: asserting our solutions and fixes onto others, analysis paralysis, burying ourselves in the myth of our busyness, to name a few.

In his book, Pronoia, author-astrologer Rob Brezsny created a list of actions most likely to wound the soul called The Four Foolish Virtues. I wonder if any of these feel familiar to you:

(1) being analytical to such extremes that you repress your intuition;
(2) sacrificing your pleasure through a compulsive attachment to duty;
(3) tolerating excessive stress because you assume it helps you accomplish more;
(4) being so knowledgeable that you neglect to be curious.

I’d be remiss not to mention that I see all four of his points as the root of what drives folks in the tech/startup industry to depression and burnout. I encourage you to sit with them for awhile.

The more I try to control life, the more I find myself let down by the illusion of control and cut off from life itself. Because what’s lost when I try to contain everything is a rich connection to that life which is emerging within and around me.

When I am able to see in any given moment that I’m being held and part of something greater, it’s easier for me to trust what’s emerging. I trust my intuition. I find that I’m less hasty making decisions. I breathe deeper. I’m less reactive or needing to respond immediately with an answer. I’m less frenetic in my work, not anxious about what I have to do. I’m more present in conversations. I ask better questions. I am able to let life in close, and closer still.

Brene Brown has a passage on intuition—and why we avoid it—in her book The Gifts of Imperfection. She’s found that what silences our intuitive voice is our need for certainty. “Most of us are not very good at not knowing,” she writes. “We like sure things and guarantees so much that we don’t pay attention to the outcomes of our brain’s matching process.” You know those times when you ignore a strong internal instinct, and instead become fearful and look for assurance from others, asking “What do you think?” “Should I do it?” “What would you do?”? That’s exactly what she’s talking about.

Brown goes on to explain another example of how our need for certainty sabotages our intuition in those moments “when we ignore our gut’s warning to slow down, gather more information, or reality-check our expectations.” This happens when we say to ourselves things like:

“I’m just going to do it. I don’t care anymore.”
“I’m tired of thinking about it. It’s too stressful.”
“I’d rather just do it than wait another second.”
“I can’t stand not knowing.”

Ultimately, she defines intuition this way: “intuition is not a single way of knowing–it’s our ability to hold space for uncertainty and our willingness to trust the many ways we’ve developed knowledge and insight, including instinct, experience, faith, reason.” Intuition allows us to wait in the vulnerable space of not knowing and allow for things to emerge to help us decide mindfully what we need to do.

In a way, it’s like we are unfinished poems, feeling into the next line, even if it’s a long pause, welcoming the surprise of our own unfolding.