Listening to What May Be


Have you ever felt like just giving up? I get notes from people saying they just can’t try, that trying is for the privileged, or the healthy, or the young. They don’t have the money, or the joint mobility, or the stamina, or the time.

I feel sympathetic to these notes, and to the pain and tears in the eyes of the people who tell me their stories in person. There is a lot to feel overwhelmed by.

Lately, I have noticed my own minor irritation at some of the public people I look to for other points of view, for inspiration or ideas. I read the Twitter stream and see the cheerful quips, the encouragements to “go forward!” and I am struck by the fact that, while yes we are nourished by uplifting words, but as disasters are happening, world events are unfolding, is all we can say really “rah, rah, rah”? There has to be something more.

That something, for me, is in the spaces between giving up and ignoring the pain. That something, for me, is recognizing the power I do have and pushing beyond my comfort zone in order to grow and become strong. That something more is honoring the stories and simultaneously trying to remember that they are just stories. I can use them to inform today or use them to get trapped in yesterday or in the false promises of tomorrow. Yes, we live in the context of time and are well served by memory and imagination, but not when these take us away from recognizing what we can do right now. A plan is helpful. What we’ve learned in the past is helpful. Hanging on to regret, sorrow, or anger is not helpful. Clinging to some vapor of a dream that we won’t put the effort into manifesting is not helpful. Being resigned to “our fate” is not helpful. We are only fated to something if we tell ourselves we are.

What obstacles are you facing? I can give you a whole list of mine. What abilities do you have? What in you feels flexible enough to even take on one of the obstacles, perhaps shifting direction slightly, in order to put yourself into different relationship with what feels like an obstruction?

Sometimes the very obstacles themselves are a sign to me that instead of “go, go, go, rah, rah, rah” what might be more helpful is the change in perspective the Hanged One gives: he dangles upside down in meditation, waiting until the shift in perspective opens him to the light in the head that cracks preconceived reality, enabling wisdom to birth itself within. In other words, we can sink into patience and open our field to something new. This is not the same as resignation. This is active, aware listening to what may be.

This is a difficult lesson about will. At least it feels that way to me sometimes. My personality would much rather have all the answers and know exactly how to best move forward, best deliver, best make good on the plans I’ve set in motion that often involve people who trust me. I hate not knowing. And yet, not knowing is how I learn. Not knowing allows the universe to surprise me, it leaves room for the Gods to speak, the fog to whisper as it leaves droplets on the trees, the bees to dance the messages only they comprehend. Not knowing leaves room for the weaving of a magic I could not set out to weave were I to plot it carefully.

What has this to do with will? Engaging my will means showing up to work even when I do not know. It means practicing, getting through the list of tasks that I know can be done, making my best attempts with the things that feel like obstacles, and then - most difficult for me - letting some things go for now. Will is not about a closed fist. Willing is served by knowing. To put our energy toward something in a way that is appropriate and effective requires discerning when to grip hard, when to hold lightly, and when to let go. The more we practice, the more often we get it right.

33 Responses to “Listening to What May Be”

  1. JadeP

    Thorn, I cannot tell you how many times I have read what I needed to help me keep going from the words you have just posted. Thank you for continuing your Work even when it’s frustrating. It does matter.

  2. Fern

    Totally in line with this … my son started his new job today. After looking for a job for 9 months. After dropping out of college due to lack of funds for 15 months.

    And after a night of restless sleep due to nerves, and the scant amount of breakfast he could manage to eat.

  3. Diana

    Thanks so much for this post. I really needed to hear this right now. Peace and blessings to you.

  4. David Salisbury

    Wow, bid hearty lessons here. I will take the week of my practice to integrate this into my consciousness. Many thanks

  5. Diana Rajchel

    I get equally frustrated with the people forever conjuring “can’t,” and expecting me to jump in that same cauldron with them. Thank you for putting it with elegance and kindness.

  6. Rootrealm

    I love the Hanged Man (One)!! Thinking with one’s feet instead of head (or at least from a part of body below head) I think is so helpful sometimes! Perhaps when we’re feeling like totally giving up, the thing to do is REALLY totally give up. Then once we’ve had the wonderful, luxurious, seemingly indulgent and perhaps care-taking experience of completely giving up, we can get up and continue.

  7. Thorn

    Rootrealm, that is an interesting perspective – giving up as part of the process of trying…

    What helps all of you to keep going?

  8. Janet

    I have often relied on sheer, stubborn, unwillingness to stop. I’m finding that is the fist side of will, which at times is needed, but not always. And not where I’m at in my life right now.
    The trap that leads me into hopelessness is generally an either/or belief. So I’ve been attempting to find the third leg of that tippy stool.

  9. JadeP

    What helps me keep going… had to think about that one.

    At the core of what helps me keep going is Gratitude. I’m not talking sappy ‘ooh everything is lovely!’ Gratitude either. Sometimes I’ve had to dig deep and almost force myself to not be miserly with the gratitude when things have looked their most despairing. Sometimes I’ve had to start with things like, “I am grateful for not tripping on that stupid sidewalk crack.” and go ‘up’ from there. lol! But it helps me to start paying Attention. I keep going with it, until I Feel something shift internally. Some of the things I have to come up with to get there make me laugh, and that helps. Laughter, actually, seems to help a lot. So I seek it out.

    And I take one breath after another; one step after another.

  10. The Doctor

    I always seem to fall back on good, old-fashioned Polish stubbornness and spite. In my particular fields, there are a lot of people who spend inordinate amounts of time tearing down the accompishments of others. They love touting setbacks and the occasional need to re-design as cataclysmic failures, and it gets disheartening after a while. If they spent even a fraction of that time and effort helping the rest of us build something new, we’d be done in a fraction of the time.

    Haters gonna hate, but haters ain’t coding. ‘scuse me, I’ve got a commit pending…

  11. David Salisbury

    What keeps me going in frustrating times is a re-evaluation of priorities. Are the steps Im taking in service of my Great Work? Sometimes it is, even when I don’t like it. When I DO like something, sometimes its not in that service at all. Coming into conversation with the steps of my process, rather than it being all about the goal, is a helpful way for me to keep my chin up and discard that which isnt helping my journey.

  12. Heart

    When I was little, whenever I told my mom I didn’t want to do something, she said, “well, do it without wanting to.” it used to irritate me as a child, but now I see how right she was. Good old behaviorism does the job.

  13. Jane Hansen

    This one thing I do, when submerged in ink depths, I notice
    I am still breathing. Just breathing. It’s okay to
    Just Breathe and breathe until my mind grasps
    the anchor of that slow steady rhythm holding,
    like links in a chain, I forge of moments of breath;
    despite currents tugging me toward chaotic dispersion.
    I think I breathe because I am and I choose
    to breathe, to think I am here for a purpose.
    I choose a purpose and I ask, what can I do?
    What is the smallest step I can take in this moment
    of breathing? And this one thing I do.

  14. Amy Saari

    Thanks for posting this; I’ve come to a critical point in my life where there’s nothing left to do but just embrace passion and run with it. And what keeps me going is that back-against-the-wall feeling, like a splinter lodged in my mind, the reminder of, “Amy, you really have nothing else but this. Now go.”

  15. steward

    I find that inertia keeps me going.

    And since I’m going to keep going I may as well do things that may improve what is in the future.

    As a friend of mine put it: “Inertia. An object in motion tends to remain in motion. Unfortunately.” She had a physics degree and was going through a very rough spot; but got a computer science degree, is now happily married, looking for a house, and has a job where she can afford to pay for it.

  16. LyndaB

    The Tower was my motivational signal for quite a few months where it seemed like every single thing was turning to dust in one of those crazy situation where I needd A to get B and B to get C and C to get A. For a good bit of that time, I saw the Tower as a description (my life is falling apart!!!) but I finally realized that I was hanging onto the very inadequate life I had with all my strength, trying to keep things together – and that made it impossible to make any part of it better. So, I ‘gave up’… let it all fall, and that freed me up to rebuild. NOT a fun time, but realizing that I couldn’t salvage and needed to clean house and start again is the only thing that got me out of it eventually. A couple years later, and there is very little of that former life that I miss at all, and so much more room to create the sort of life I actually enjoy.

  17. Jason Mullinder

    I struggle with the concept of letting go, mainly because it gets frequently pushed to let go of what I want and embark on someone else’s program of self discovery & learning life priorities that has nothing remotely to do with anything relevant to me and everything to do with being manipulated.
    Often in these times there are no answers and its just knowing, clinging on for no reason other then hope that drags me through it.

    The Haitian struggle from the Bois Caimon ceremony 14 August 1791 is a big inspiration for me. “Liberty or Death” was written in blood on the ground, despite being still screwed over by the white men and its god’s ways they maintain their identity.

  18. Tony Rella

    Sometimes I take the time to honestly consider quitting whatever it is I am struggling to do. This feels very different from passively giving up and letting things go. Instead I have a conscious conversation about the merits and difficulties of what I am attempting to do, and what it would mean if I chose to stop. What comes up usually tells me whether there is something deeper the work brings to my life that I need and desire. If so, then it follows that the correct choice is to recommit, and remember the value I gain from doing the best I can.

  19. Kim Tremblay

    I can hear your voice saying these words Thorn – they speak to me and help me to keep going – very inspirational xoxo

  20. S,Moore

    I suppose what keeps me going is that most of the challenges I face are challenges of privilege. Naval Gazing, self-actualization, pursuits that 75% of the world would can’t comprehend a life so good that they have my “problems” to deal with, and those problems are self imposed.
    How many of us are preoccupied with problems like acquiring medicine for our children, or eating tomorrow, in an environment of complete scarcity? Very few I suspect.

    And I’ve met people like that, In Africa; and seen the decorum & pride they bear while facing those things, and frankly, it makes my complaints feel like the petty whining of a spoiled child who can’t have the latest toy.

    “If they can handle THAT I can damn well handle this” I suppose.
    This picture and its caption speaks to the whole thing, for me anyway.

  21. Marni

    Things are extremely difficult for me right now. Probably as difficult as I’ve ever experienced. How do I keep going? What’s been helping lately is knowing I only have to “try” for today. Or the next 4 hours. Or the next 5 minutes. Every time I succeed by passing the finish line, my Will is fortified.

    I’m also learning to soften my expectations. For example, I’ve done my daily practice more often than not this past month. It wasn’t a perfect month, but I’m damned proud of myself for sitting as often as I did. When I treat myself like I treat others in my life, with compassion and flexibility, I make room for myself. It’s easier to run towards a goal when it’s pliant rather than carved in stone.

  22. Wyatt

    three things that help me: 1) changing my seat at the table i.e. perspective. To do so often requires changing my physiology, getting up & moving, putting on some music & dancing, changing the scenery by going to the park, the ocean, the lake, the zoo. 2) getting more comfortable with uncertainty, trusting the universe 3) being flexibly like the willow, how would it feel if to have the issue resolved and having room for that resolution to take any form rather than focusing on a specific solution

  23. Christopher Bartlett

    I’m in a letting go phase right now, so this is timely. I do think it’s important to be able to take the time and give oneself the love and permission to grieve. I’m letting go of a business, a community and in a very real sense, a way of life to simplify, to return to my roots and acquire a refuge from which to do the work of silence that you talk so much about, all so that I may be reborn and grow in new and important directions.

    In one sense this is all exciting. I know that I will come out the other side working to serve those with even less than I have, something that has taken on great importance for me recently, and something that I have felt unable to pursue because I have held on to my business and all the independence and autonomy it represented. I know I will have the time to devote to a deep and personal exploration of my spiritual and physical work, something that I have felt stuck in with concerns for family and just getting food on the table. I am actually very fortunate.

    But there is loss and fear too. It’s hard to look at what I’m walking away from without hearing the societal monologue about being a failure. I realize for the first time how much of the acculturation about being a “man” I have assimilated without acknowledging it. I can’t take the time yet, but come this Samhain, there will be keening and the acknowledgement of loss, giving it the space it deserves, so that I may be open to the new things that are coming.

    Thanks again for your work.

  24. Henry

    one of the oft overlooked components of will is patience.
    time overcomes all obstacles.even a small trickle of water will wear away the hardest substance over time.

  25. Rootrealm

    Yes, giving up as part of the process of trying as you put it, I think helps in a “reverse psychology” way with the resistance, by simply allowing rather than rejecting the resistance. This could be part of the mindfulness based wisdom that whatever we reject in ourselves, we thus maintain in ourselves, whereas what we allow and accept, can then dissolve. Thus to allow the giving up, allows us to move past it…

    What helps me keep going? I think much is a strong optimism, a belief that somewhere hidden in every “foul” part of life, there is a gleaming emerald waiting to be revealed if I can find the way to use Magic to transform something having to do with this “obstacle”….

  26. IpMan

    If you are stuck, do the unexpected.
    It is hard to hang head down from a tree without help.
    I laid head down on the stairs for 20 seconds, but it was too short for enlightenment.
    I tried to sleep beside my bed.
    While talking to a colleague I laid on his desk.

    If normality drives you crazy,
    you have to do crazy things,
    to keep you in balance.

    Then you know you have the choice,
    be a shaman or die.

  27. Jade P

    Oh, IpMan! I would love to quote this, “Then you know you have the choice, be a shaman or die.”

    What an incredibly perfect thing to read today. Thank you, for the out loud laugh it gave me, and for this sweet little slice of Truth.

  28. IpMan

    Most people are suppressing their connections to the otherworld.
    And even if the body is still alive, the soul is more or less dead.
    Go in a city. Look at the peoples during the rush hours.

    How can you become a zombie?
    Do what the majority does.
    Go to a work that you do not like.
    Rent a small room in a large house.
    Watch TV and drink beer.

    And what is the remedy?
    The hanged man.
    First accept that you are a zombie.
    Then do small steps in an unusual way.
    Quit TV and drinking.
    Do a work that is really meaningful to you.
    Live in harmony.

    Or in short:
    Think for your self.

    I don’t see me as a poet.

    To paraphrase Kalil Gibran:

    My words are not my words.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing to express itself.
    They come through me but not from me,
    And though they come through me yet they belong not to me.


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