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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 journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings. 

—Wendell Berry

Despite the very real though unseen role that it plays in each of our lives, “the unknown” has something of an ominous sound.  There’s a discomfort most people have with what lies outside or beyond the realm of our experience, yet it plays a vital part in shaping our lives and informing who we are and what we do.  

I’ve been thinking a great deal about my own life and career path and have been describing my current work as something I find both incredibly rewarding and very much like a bridge between what was, what is, and what might be. Part of what I do currently is to help others with interpreting this sensation through strategic planning with environmental, sustainability and social change groups. And I always talk about planning as a living process rather than as a definite map from here to there.

A quote from the David Whyte poem appended below often helps create a larger sense of the possible here as well: “You must learn one thing. The world was made to be free in.” 

We’re faced with the unknown on a daily basis, yet we rarely account for it or leave time to contemplate its power and possibility. In our lives and in our work, we are often focused on what exists and what lies before us. I’ve spoken before about the importance of reflection—not simply to evaluate what we’ve done, but in how to engage with the future in a meaningful way while acknowledging that what lies ahead is essentially a mystery.

Particularly in our culture, there is a discomfort with this concept, and it has repercussions in every dimension of our lives: from how we might travel a certain trajectory that might be expected by family or community to the structure of our days and work lives, to ways in which we might frame or act upon the concept of security on a personal or global level.

In many cases, this can create a rigidity that doesn’t allow seeing other options, beget a calcification that limits dialogue, or result in a door closed too soon. While making decisions and creating a particular sense of certainty is a healthy necessity, welcoming that which is unclear and unknown is a less-developed though equally essential practice.

Sweet Darkness 

When your eyes are tiredthe world is tired also. 

When your vision has gone,no part of the world can find you. 

Time to go into the dark where the night has eyesto recognize its own. 

There you can be sure you are not beyond love. 

The dark will be your home tonight. 

The night will give you a horizon further than you can see. 

You must learn one thing. The world was made to be free in. 

Give up all the other worlds except the one to which you belong. 

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness

to learn anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you. 

—David Whyte 

July 2006