Late afternoon in the vineyard, Rancho la Zaca

Five Ways to Work Your Way Out of a Muddle

You may have noticed (or been relieved) that I’ve stepped aside from blogging, in part to promote The Bee Cottage Story, which is pretty consuming. But also because I’m confused about what to do next. What to say? Where to focus? Who to become? WTF? Do you ever get like that?

You may have noticed (or been relieved) that I’ve stepped aside from blogging, in part to promote The Bee Cottage Story, which is pretty consuming. But also because I’m confused about what to do next. What to say? Where to focus? Who to become? WTF? Do you ever get like that?

All wisdom begins with confusion, a wise friend told me, as I blathered on about how confused I was. I felt myself, alas, to be in a muddle.* Not so much a muddle of my making as one that I simply found myself in. Like I got all ready for a nice trip, knew where I was going, and then pfffwerrt, I got a flat tire in Muddle. And here I am.

Late afternoon in the vineyard, Rancho la Zaca
Late afternoon in the vineyard, Rancho la Zaca

It happens. Once a major objective has been attained (you finally landed that job in marketing, yay!), or a big project been achieved (you chaired the silent auction, bless your heart), then what? God knows there is plenty to keep us busy, but what is to keep us focused and inspired?

     “Don’t look for the answer,” Wise Friend said, “just live in the question.” Ugh. Not what I wanted to hear. She continued, “We forget that we are organic creatures that shift and change by necessity.” Other creatures, caterpillars for example–change dramatically and think nothing of it. A caterpillar does not go, Hey WTF? Is being a butterfly going to fulfill my purpose in life? What about medical school? Should I join the knitting team? The difference between the caterpillar and us is that we are conscious of our states of being (or changing) in ways that can lead us to question or judge it.

     “Just be,” Wise Friend said. You’re stealing my line, I said. I wrote a whole chapter on that in my book, for bee’s sake. It’s part of the reason I named my house Bee Cottage. She was unimpressed. “We all need to understand this is one of the processes of a healthy life. Try stopping a caterpillar from becoming a butterfly. You can’t, anymore than we ourselves can keep from changing.” Yes but the caterpillar

     Another translation of the Buddhist saying is, “Confusion is the mother of wisdom.” As Buddhists believe the source of suffering is attachment, it would follow that our attachment to the confusion, mentally grabbing at it and trying to sort it out, just makes things worse.

     But. At the risk of being pathetically UZ (un-Zen), “just being” feels to me perilously close to “unproductive,” in which case I want to stab myself. I don’t mind not having a plan for dinner (well, I do a little), but I mind like crazy not having a plan for, you know, life. So while I am stuck in Muddle, without a plan, I have indeed come up with a meantime-plan:

  1. 1. Live in the question. “Imagine yourself not in the concrete place of decision-making,” says Wise Friend, “but in the wonderful, fertile place of what-if.” Accept this as a time of seeing and sorting. Poet and writer Rainer Maria Rilke, in his Letters to a Young Poet, advised, “to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now.” 
  1. 2. Notice everything. Pay attention to your dreams. Listen to your intuition. If you believe in divine guidance, angels, or signs, pay attention. Know that your subconscious partly determines what draws your attention. You know instinctively what feels right for you and what doesn’t.
  1. 3. Keep a journal. Write in it every morning or night. No pressure or judgment. It doesn’t have to be long or sound pretty. Just jot down what you notice–thoughts, feelings, ideas, and what-ifs, whatever bubbles up. Look back over it occasionally for themes and patterns that emerge. These will give you insight into your next direction.
  1. 4. Be patient, and let your answer come. To paraphrase from my own The Bee Cottage Story, we are so wired in this culture to decide already! Do something! Make it happen! Now! Seriously? Is it life or death? Then hit the pause button. Sometimes not making a decision is the decision for the time being. Go with that until what is right for you appears or arises, which it will do if you’re paying attention. And don’t second-guess it. Inner or divine guidance is short, simple, clear, and non-negotiable.
  1. 5. Create a space to be. The mythologist Joseph Campbell was adamant about the importance of having “a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.” This isn’t something anyone else can tell you. You must learn to read your own compass.

*For those familiar (or not) with  The Bee Cottage Story,  and more importantly its subtitle How I Made a Muddle of Things and Decorated My way Back to Happiness, this is a different muddle 😉

Moody sunset at Rancho la Zaca
Light on the horizon at Rancho la Zaca

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