Hope and despair
Happy Thanksgiving

Embracing uncertainty

The edge of the woods

From Carl Jung's "Memories," an autobiographic work written in his eighties, published posthumously in Memories, Dreams, Reflections:

"I am astonished, disappointed, pleased with myself. I am depressed, distressed, rapturous. I am all these things at once and cannot add up the sum. I am incapable of determining ultimate worth or worthlessness; I have no judgement about my life. There is nothing I am quite sure about.

Merlin in the woods by Alan Lee"The world into which we are born is brutal and cruel, and at the same time of divine beauty. Which element we think outweighs the other, whether meaninglessness or meaning, is a matter of temperament. Probably, as in all meta- physical questions, both are true: Life is, or has, meaning and meaninglessness. I cherish the anxious hope that meaning with preponderate and win the battle.

"When Lao-tzu says: 'All are clear, I alone am clouded,' he is expressing what I now feel in advanced old age. Lao-tzu is an example of a man with superior insight who has seen and experienced worth and worthlessness, and who at the end of his life desires to return into his own being, into the eternal unknowable meaning. At every level of intelligence this type appears, and its lineaments are always the same, whether it be an old peasant or a great philosopher like Lao-tzu. This, too, is my experience of old age, a letting go of life-long certainties. Yet as they go there is much that fills me: plants, animals, clouds, day and night, and the eternal in ourselves. The more uncertain I have felt about myself, the more there has grown up in me a feeling of kinship with all things."

Border patrol

''The range of the human mind, the scale and depth of the metaphors the mind is capable of manufacturing as it grapples with the universe, stand in stunning contrast to the belief that there is only one reality, which is man's, or worse, that only one culture among the many on earth possesses the truth. To allow mystery, which is to say to yourself, 'There could be more, there could be things we don't understand,' is not to damn knowledge. It is to take a wider view. It is to permit yourself an extraordinary freedom: someone else does not have to be wrong in order that you may be right.''

- Barry Lopez (Of Wolves and Men)

''When Don Quixote went out into the world, that world turned into a mystery before his eyes. That is the legacy of the first European novel to the entire subsequent history of the novel. The novel teaches us to comprehend the world as a question. There is wisdom and tolerance in that attitude.''

- Milan Kundera (The Book of Laughter and Forgetting)

"I try to remember that the job -- as well as the plight, and the unexpected joy -- of the artist is to embrace uncertainty, to be sharpened and honed by it." 

- Dani Shapiro (Still Writing: The Perils & Pleasures of a Creative Life)

Beech leaves in autumn

"There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of  Woodland spirit by Alan LeeInspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say 'It is yet more difficult than you thought.'  This is the muse of form.

"It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey."

 - Wendell Berry (Standing by Words)

Woodland spirit

So let us embrace baffflement and uncertainty for the role it plays in all our lives -- a role that can be alarming, but also filled with creative potential. We don't ever really know where we're going; and for artists that's a very good thing. In the tension between certainty and doubt (or, to use yesterday's language, between hope and despair), we often find, strangely, that our best work is born....sometimes out of the very situations that seemed to threaten our ability to work the most.

As Mary Oliver says in her poem  "Yes, Mysteries" (which is worth reading in full):

  Bird fairies by Alan Lee            Let me keep my distance, always, from those
              who think they have the answers.

              Let me keep company always with those who say
              'Look!' and laugh in astonishment,
              and bow their heads.

Fallen beech leaves

The art above is "Merlin in the Woods," "Woodland Maiden," and "Bird Fairies" by my Devon neighbor Alan Lee. According to ancient Celtic texts, Merlin (the wise and wily magician of King Arthur's court) autumn leafwent mad after the disastrous Battle of Arderydd and fled into the forest, where he lived like the wild boars and the wolves, eating roots and berries, sleeping in the rain. In the Welsh Black Book of Carmarthen, Merlin says: "Ten years and two score have I been moving along through twenty bouts of madness with wild ones in the wild...only lack keeps me company now." Through his period of shamanic madness, Merlin learned the speech of animals and the secrets of wood and stone. By the time he emerged from the forest, he'd come fully into his magical powers.


I do love this blog :) - it's a refreshment to my spirit. I'm so glad you are able to post again, and hope that you stay well (for you, I mean, not just for my own selfish enjoyment of your blog!).

This was quite wonderful. [I just finished "Fire in the Head: Shamanism and the Celtic Spirit" by Tom Cowan, so the last quote was particularly timely. Could you tell me where it is from?] But mostly, thank you for a very thought filled way to start my day.

Such sustaining words!

Thank you Terry for combining word and image. Your posts are always provocative, inspiring and encouraging, no matter the topic. I am learning much about living as well as about creating.
Glad you are feeling better.

Do you mean the description of Merlin in the wild? It's from an old article of mine on shamanism and myth shape-shifters, published in an American magazine many years ago.

I have just spent most of my working day trying to make my sodding computer work!!! Then after the intervention of a very unhelpful 'Help Desk' who only succeeded in making things worse, I finally resorted to a friend who is a Shaman of all electronic things. He fixed everything in less than half an hour.

I'm genuinely beginning to wonder if these electronic brains we have created are also the seat of souls, and that some of them are completely bloody-minded and take delight in torturing us poor biological bipeds!

"Ten years and two score have I been moving along through twenty and more computers with wild ones in the electronic ether...only carpet-biting frustration keeps me company now...!!!"

Right... I've had my rant and I feel better now.

Oh gosh, that line by Mary Oliver just does it so well-

"Let me keep company always with those who say
'Look!' and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads."



Gemologists call the flaw
in every diamond
its birth mark.
From here the carbon crystal
First starts to grow;
The tiny imperfection
creates a glittering brilliance
that otherwise
would not have been.
So look for your flaw
And cherish it
And from there
Let your glittering glory grow

Beautiful, Stuart.

Such good medicine you've brought. Thank you.

Hi Terri

These writings on "embracing uncertainty" have touched me very personally. I am transported to a better place because of what I have read here and absorbed. Some time back, I went through a number of personal challenges arising from health and finances, among some other things, and was almost terrified of that "waiting for an outcome", "the uncertainty." I found it difficult to engage in everyday routine and relaxation. I was always waiting for that "ominous something" to arrive and disturb my life in the most
upsetting way. I kept an anxcious virgil that nearly wrecked my nerves. In time, things settled down and the challenges were resolved in a positive way. But I drew from that experience the futile existence incurred by being the frightened watcher and not
moving within the tide of the uncertainty, embracing the unknown with more faith and acceptance. At the same time period, I was reading Wendell Berry's poetry. And of course, came across one of his most comforting and inspiring pieces, "The Peace of Wild Things". This poem was written during that unsettling time period in my recent past.

The Watcher

As night pulls her shawl
over the pines, the only
face of light
is mine, candlelit in the window.

I long for sleep
to draw me back, subduing
this need to wait
for something -- that may never come.

Deer silhouette the lawn
grazing on damp grass -- unaware
a fierce wind
is coming in from the coast

and mist hangs
on the moon’s hook
like gray moss, the soul’s tatter,
a widow’s veil in the bayou.

So unaware, they possess
what a poet called

and what the girl knew
who sang folk songs in the subway
wearing vintage skirts and violets
in her hair --

the peace of wild things.

If somehow I could pull
off my shadow and slip on theirs
turning from this vigil flame,

I might begin to breathe, live.
Thank you so much for these entries today. They are beautiful and so wise. From those words by Jung, the poetry of Mary Oliver, the wisdom of Wendell Berry and your own photographic and insightful experience, we are enlightened and enriched!!

I pray you continue to feel better and make progress toward a full and comfortable recovery.

My Best

Hi Stuart

From here the carbon crystal
First starts to grow;
The tiny imperfection
creates a glittering brilliance
that otherwise
would not have been.

I think this poem is a small gem of truth, within itself. I like the analogy you make between the rough diamond and that of the blemished, human self. We grow from imperfection and learn to manipulate the flaw or scar in the most productive or beautiful way, if we keep our mind open and our spirit.

Thank you!

Wendy: Your poem is quite beautiful. I identify with the longing there. "If somehow I could pull off my shadow and slip on theirs". The image of the girl in the subway is quite spectacular. I'm blessed to know a few of those girls, and they are, as you say, quite alive indeed.

I was a day behind and read your last post just before this one today. The two together are extraordinary. So like the Buddhist philosophies I try to embrace these days. There is a constant tension, isn't there, in the way we conceptualize and understand our lives in pairs and poles. I wonder how to break myself of this habit, and to see/inhabit the circle, the whole, rather than struggling for the middle. But then, the struggle is the point, I suppose. The beautiful struggle that might, if we lighten up a bit, burst into dance. Thanks again and always.

Thank You, Mokihana.

Thank you to you too, Wendy.

Beautiful imagery here, Wendy. One of your best; I think many of us live with a fear of what could be.

Wishing you many blessings and a Happy Thanksgiving to you and Tilly, Howard and Victoria.

Thumbs up!

Hi Edith

Thank you so very much for sharing your thoughts/kind words on this poem and its subject matter. I have ,too, some people like that. Some were my friends; and I greatly admire their approach to life, their acceptance.

Much appreciation!

Hi Stuart

Many thanks for this gracious comment on my poem. I sincerely appreciate it!


It happened to me, too, For nearly a month! Personally, I think electronic brains for me
are whimsical, like Puck. I lost almost everything and then, when what we have here,
"Apple Geniuses," the solution always comes as a surprise. "Try upping software."
More like magic than tech, first all the poems, stories and novel in progress came back,
as if yawning from a long nap on softwear. Then, I could send emails again and make
comments, too.

I always remind myself in spite of, well, techy seeming spite, I have to depend on my
IMac to send everything out, and receive news and suggestions I would otherwise not
know of.

Very visual. I can imagine all this glitter and the message in the poem. Well said.

...the peace of wild things...I love the circling around and coming to the way of shadows.
flames and breath.

It is instinctive to want security and stability. To label everything. To understand. But the world and our lives are full of uncertainty. We give it order. We give it meaning. But....

It is really not that orderly.

Sometimes, we just need to stand and be, and let the world move around us.

Sending more wishes.

Hello Phyllis, I thought you'd been rather quiet of late. So it was your computer... I've missed you and your comments. Computers can be such sods can't they?! But you're totally right; where would we be without them? Glad you're back.

I agree. Beautiful, and wise.

This one hits me right in the solar plexis. The "peace of wild things" ... oh, that's what I strive for. Thank you so much, Wendy!

Thank *you*, Edith.

I often think of the Navajo concept of hózhó, the state of balance, proportion and grace that one seeks to maintain as a means of Walking in Beauty.

To you too, Peg!

"Sometimes, we just need to stand and be, and let the world move around us."

Oh yes, indeed. One of my favorite, oft' repeated quotes is from Saul Bellows:

"I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the middle of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction."

Aww, shucks, Sooz. Thank you.

" I am learning much about living as well as about creating."

What a lovely thing to say!

Many thanks, Catherine; and to Dona too (in the comment above).

I'm glad we're both back, Phyllis! Happy Thanksgiving.

Isn't it just perfect? But then, she always is...

Love to you and Old Man Crow.

Wishing you and yours plenty of good medicine on Thanksgiving, Mokihana.

Would there be a way to get a reprint?

Hi Phyllis,

I love your description of " shadows, flames and breath"! Yes, that is such a fine way of phrasing it. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! I deeply appreciate them!!


Hi Terri

Thanks so much for commenting. I appreciate it so much and wish you "personal peace, serenity and the blessing of good health.

Take care,
My Best

Terri, my work has never been called 'wise' before; Thank you, I'll cherish the word!

ah this one made me cry Stuart!

Thank you for your kind words. I missed a lot of your wit, too, along with all the good things Mythic and Moorish. I am now revising a story to a contest, deadline Nov.30th.
I did win a first prize last year, for my magic realism, which was a big surprise. The prize
does not include publication so I'm shopping it around now. This time I've sending an
adult fairy tale. Heh, heh. Let's see what the judge thinks about that. No expectations.

Oh yes. An odd coincidence. I hope you feel as much better as I did, when all my stories,
poems and two thirds of a novel came home.


I can dig up a copy of my text for you. Where should I send it?

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