Words of WonderThe real work - Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

by Wendell Berry


I deeply appreciate the ambiguity and seeming contradictions in this poem. The first few words already make my heart glad: ‘it may be that’… I’ve been reading more newspapers in the last few weeks than normal, and I’m noticing just how many harsh opinions bandied about on a daily basis. And I know all too well from my own experience how easy it is to seek refuge in so-called definite truths… What if most things are a whole lot more tentative, circumstantial and ambiguous than part of me would like them to be? What if we could meet the world with a bit more humility and courage, and instead of pontificating opinions as The Truth, start the conversation with ‘it may be that…’

So to me, this poem is honouring things not being clear cut, that there’s richness in the truth of not-knowing. Might it be so that as long as I think I know where I’m going, I’m in the virtual reality of my head rather than the aliveness of the world and the body? Although there may also be another way of knowing, a heart or gut sense of direction rather than destination. Does water know where it’s going? Yes: down – but how it will get there is a live mystery and moment-by-moment unfolding.

I’ve often heard my Buddhist teachers say that ‘obstacles are the path’, which is encouraging to remember when despairing over the obstacles seemingly in the way. But I love how the poet’s version takes it even a step further: ‘the impeded stream is the one that sings’… – not just grinning and bearing, or resigning that obstacles just seem to be part of the journey, no, they create song, in other words, beauty and joy! Halleluja…


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