On Living and Working is 3 years old today.
Although the boundary between the end of year three and the start of year four is in some ways entirely arbitrary, it reminds me that we always find ourselves standing at a frontier of some sort. Whether we call it an anniversary, or a birthday, or just ‘today’, we’re deep in a conversation between what has come before and what comes next, between the known and the unknown. It’s what it is to be human.
At any frontier we have a profound choice, as Ursula K. Le Guin points out in her wonderful book of essays The Wave in the Mind. We can try to colonise the far side of the frontier with what’s known to us, imposing our already familiar way of being in the world onto it, forcing it to take on our own shape. Or we can be softer, more curious, allowing ourselves to be informed by the unknown, shaped by it, letting it be our teacher.
The colonising path seems so necessary and holds out the promise of freeing us from our fear. But it most often prolongs our anxiety, as it can never bring us what we ask of it. After a while it leaves us hardened and narrowed because it can only be achieved by shielding ourselves progressively from life’s influence, by insisting more and more that we have life our way and on our terms. At some point we find out that we can only appropriate the future in this way by doing violence to ourselves and others, as colonisers the world over have done to the cultures they destroyed or bent to their will.
The other path invites us to become students of the far side of the frontier, apprentices to its mystery. If we’ll allow the unknown to reach us, if we’ll inhabit our uncertainty and anxiety without running, if we’ll allow our love and our difficulty, our wonder and our confusion to touch us, and if we’ll let ourselves be porous and available to the events of our lives, we can start to find out that we are inevitably of life. And who knows what possibilities for a compassionate, wise participation in all of it that might bring?
In this liminal space between three years and four, between now and next, I can see that the second path is the necessary path. That it takes a lot of letting go of things held very tightly. A great deal of courage. And much, much kindness.