Medicine for the Unknown: on ritual, creativity + patience

Oct 15, 2019


I sat down this morning at my desk and sighed heavily, pulling my grandmother’s fleece shawl a little tighter around my shoulders.  I lit my sandalwood-scented candle and, as I often do when I wake in the mornings, I pulled a tarot card.


The 7 of Discs.


“A representation of growth and waiting.  The woman depicted is pregnant and will soon deliver.  For now, as she feels the growth process taking place within, she waits. The message of the card is ‘be patient – there is nothing to do but wait.  There is no way to hurry this birth, no way to see inside for certain.’  On the mental plane, a similar rule obtains:  trusting that the idea is taking form, a thinker must wait.  All inner processes of growth resemble pregnancy.  Sometimes we make the mistake of assuming that if nothing is born yet, if there is no physical manifestation, then nothing is really happening.  We doubt our process.  Or we become inordinately impatient, wanting to make the thing come before it is time.  It really is a failure of the imagination if one cannot wait for what is to come.  Gestation has its own schedule – if birth comes before gestation is complete, we call it ‘premature.”


Not just because I happen to be awaiting the birth of a baby right now, but because I’ve been in a period of waiting and liminality in my own life, too.


You see, I’ve felt a little lost for words, lately.



When you’re someone who calls herself a writer, feeling this way is more than writer’s block:  it feels like a stifling of myself.  My heart.  My way of being in the world.

At the beginning of the summer, I had the deep pleasure of spending a week in Narrative Healing intensive at the Kripalu Centre for Yoga and Health.  I wrote and wrote and wrote, thousands and thousands of words.  Poems and (wo)manifestos and marginalia and brainstorms.

But this summer, as the needs of my kids and the garden became greater and as the rhythm of mornings spent writing and Thursdays spent with my precious writing group waned, my words did too.

My usual 4a.m. writing practice became more of a 4a.m. answering email practice.

Last week, I wrote a piece for a literary publication that I felt deeply unsure of.  It took months to get around to, and days to write – which is unusual for me.  I showed it to my beloved editor and she sent back a gentle nudge to rewrite the whole thing again.

And this morning, charged with the task of writing a piece about wilderness quests for a magazine I deeply cherish, I was filled with more dread than excited anticipation.


Where are my words?


Knowing that ritual would help me find my way back, I placed the tarot card in a holder to my left and pulled out some new markers I had been excited to try.  By flickering candlelight, I drew a tree with wavy, interwoven branches, and got lost for a moment in another kind of creativity.

Perhaps my writing was like an animal in the wild, to be re-approached gently and indirectly, with little eye contact and soft brush strokes rather than the immediacy of adjectives and nouns.


Truth be told, all this is not about the writing.


It probably never is.


This year has been a Year of Big Things.  I published a book while still integrating the disappointment and confusion of a series of preceding business failures.  I received accolades and opportunities while also making sense of and undergoing treatment for a health issue that proved all-consuming, at times.  My children required every ounce – and usually more – of my energy a great majority of the time, and now they are both in school and I have a precious few hours alone each day.

It sort of feels like a postpartum – birthing a book, learning how to tend to myself differently, reconsidering my work, and rediscovering myself in a new  phase of motherhood.


And so it is that what I’ve really been sitting with is this question:


Who am I now?


What now?


The tarot card I pulled made me chuckle quietly:  of course, of course.  Waiting is the hardest thing.  Not-knowing is the hardest thing.  We are deeply acculturated to keep moving forward, never slow down, always be productive.  Liminality is pathologized, and I find myself advocating heartily every day for the depathologization of the fallow periods we all experience as humans.  We constantly hear:  We’re stuck.  We’re blocked.  We’re plagued by self-doubt, limiting beliefs, and other seeming malfunctions of our brain and will.  But this is what I know to be true:  we tread water when change is afoot.  We lie dormant in the cold dark seasons.  It is normal, and healthy.

But that doesn’t make it easy.  And despite being gentle and compassionate with myself, and knowing deep in my gut that this too shall pass, I had become a little worried.  A little sad.


Where are my words?


Who am I now?


And so.

I drew the last branch on my tree, and opened up my computer.

It’s okay.

Anything can happen, and everything is okay.

Gently, gently.


I stared through my blank computer screen and into the middle distance for a long, long time.  A story started to form at the edges of my imagination, and instead of grasping for it, I waited some more.

It can be hard to know what to say when you’re holding the “who am I now” question.  Because with that question also comes another one “what matters now?”  And with that, “who matters now?”  

Softly, softly.  With flame flickering and self-compassion swelling, words began to surface.

I wove a few of them together, and I felt a little bit more like myself again, and I sweetly said, “That was perfect.  You’ve done enough for today.”

Perhaps the crossing of the threshold between liminality and knowingness, between the unknown and transformation, is more of a dance than a triumphant stride.

And so tomorrow I will sit again, candle flickering, peppermint rose tea steaming between my forearms, and wait.  It is a tiny ritual of trust:  that what is coming, in its own sweet time, is better than anything I could have devised or fabricated in my discomfort.