The Year of Not Trying


Not one for making goals in January, resolutions and such, I tend to mentally start my year in September, ending it in August. This is a result of spending so many developmental years of life in school. But this past “year” I quietly resolved to change how I approach my daily life. A phrase I have lived under for far too long is: “trying to figure it out.”

 It is a fairly common way to live, but in always trying I can miss what comes together without any choreography of my own.

This might sound somewhat counterintuitive and maybe even a bit Americanized Zen. It has the sound of Yoda’s advice, “Do or do not. There is no try.”  For my story, though, I grew accustomed to forging my own way and watching my own back when it came to life, work, and living. “Trying to figure it out” is my way of saying, “Even if it is longer and harder and not even the right way, I will take care of finding my own solutions.”It’s an M.O. that is rather applauded in our culture. At its Meta best, it is the base ingredients of how America became a nation. In its worst form, it might look like imperialism, or to put it more delicately, come off as one acting like a bull in a China shop. (And I do not miss the foreign policy pun in that euphemism.)

In NOT trying to figure things out, though, I find a reserve of energy that was quietly being spent, like a subtle back room mouse on a wheel that someone forgot to check in on. When I tried to relax...I didn’t, because there was this constant hum of urgency, of necessity. In essence, I can live in a constant fear of losing control, dropping the plates, losing momentum. Yet, to be still long enough to hear well requires releasing my grip on what keeps me in motion. It requires me to stop trying. Poet Farmer Wendell Berry said it beautifully (When it comes to the wisdom of a life well lived, Berry is more Yoda than Yoda ever could be):

“We may keep this place, and be kept by it.

            There is a mind of such an artistry

            that grass will follow it,

            and heal and hold, feed beasts

            who will feed us and feed the soil.”

It comes from his “Sabbath” poems, A Timbered Choir, and they are words about taking a regular rest from the spinning wheel. From his agricultural perspective he writes of the need to let land lay fallow, to let things die that must so out of their dying may come the food of new life.

It’s been over a year of not trying to figure things out all the time and I am still learning the abundance of life that comes from letting things be – even if it is more adventurous or simple than I could have put together. I am still a novice and will likely be novice in this respect for years to come.

What do I lose in always trying to figure it out?
The choreographed creativity that is not limited to my imagination but much larger and more fun.

What do I lose in not trying to figure it out?
That illusory sense of control that never allowed for rest.

It was Kipling who - on writing about the creative process - said, “Drift, Wait, and Obey." To be good at the first two is to be lazy. To be good only at the third is to be less than human. But to thrive in all three is to become more than we can imagine.