Urgency and a Deep Breath

I was listening to an episode of the On Being Project podcast (which I adore) with Pauline Boss as a guest and didn’t even make it a minute in. During the introduction the host, Krista Tippet, dropped in this quote she attributed to the poet T.S. Eliot,

“What we do not know about a missing loved one becomes all that we know.”

Blessed to be on a day off, I immediately stopped the recording and dashed to my laptop to start writing. That’s how it is with creativity. Honor it when it calls lest you give it the impression that you’d rather it not do so. But that’s a topic for another day. As I said, Miss Tippet dropped that quote and I dropped what I was doing and headed here to talk with you. “What we do not know about a missing loved one becomes all that we know.” Try something with me. Read the line again but this time let’s respectfully drop the “missing loved one” piece. So, like this:

What we do not know becomes all that we know.

That’s how I heard it and that’s the truth bomb that went off in my head. What we do not know becomes all that we know.

You see, for me, the missing loved one need not be flesh and blood. To me that’s not the important gift or at least not the key element upon which the wisdom Mr. Eliot offers here is contingent. If you’re inclined to read or listen to what I offer, which evidently you are, you know that so often what I explore whether in songs, stories, speeches or the writing on my car is me wrestling with and striving to make peace with the apparent paradox of wanting to show up fully and be joyfully present to my present life while also being fully committed to striving and reaching for something more, some longed for longing. I mean, that’s a consistent theme besides, you know, the sex, love, and god stuff. Anyway, the apparent paradox between the embracing now and the striving is the bell that got rung here.

What we do not know becomes all that we know.

Stick with me. 

The other day, I posted my latest Hindsight (the cute name for the writing on my car) in all the places. It reads: Just do the next thing. Progress not perfection. Breathe.


The heart of the post - and the Hindsight - was, for me, a current obsession. I’m obsessed with exploring the misunderstanding about what urgency and discomfort mean. 

There comes this point right around say now when I have recovered - just enough - from the holidays to feel energized - just enough - to feel like I’m running terribly terribly late. It’s this intense, profound sense of urgency to do it all and to do it all now. Or better yet yesterday. And based on the conversations I’ve been having I am not alone.

I don’t know if I’m in some kind of midlife crisis but I have for sure been in some sort of midlife-the-clock-is-ticking-get-your-ass-in-gear-and-do-the-damn-thing place. I think and feel through all of this and land here: if I can breathe, and I mean that literally like right now, this moment, breathe. If I can stop and breathe that’s the first step. Slow it down. Center up. Discomfort is not dysfunction. Urgency is not indictment. They do, however, have the potential to be direction, to be a compass heading to follow to what’s next. This is good news. This is instinct and intuition speaking. This is the answered prayer. 

Which brings me back to... What we do not know becomes all that we know.

I am rich with places of not knowing throughout my life. I do not know how to get where I want to go. I do not know how to let go of that lost job that still haunts me. I do not know how to let go of that relationship and its dysfunctions. I do not know how to let go of that sense of feeling unworthy and fraudulent that rings in my ears. At least not all at once, not like flipping a light switch the way my mind - or ego if you prefer - would have me. In the absence knowing how, I cling like my life depends on it to the ugly ghost of that loss of job, the dysfunctional patterns of that old relationship, the notion of myself as unworthy and fraudulent. 

What we do not know becomes all that we know. 

I think, as I process this on the page with you kind soul, that this is what sent me dashing from another wisdom rich episode of On Being to dance with ideas here instead. What we do not know becomes all that we know. It consumes me. I stake my flag there. I perseverate and perseverate like a dog chasing his tail. And then, call it the psychological processes of my mind, or the Universe, or God I don’t care but something brings me a profound sense of urgency, a profound sense of discomfort. To be clear and not minimize, I do mean profound. I mean often why bother getting out of bed territory. It sucks. A lot. Also, such a gift. Such an opportunity. No kidding.

What we do not know does, indeed, become all that we know. And so I am being called to look at what is also true. What is at the edges of what I think I “know?” What are the colors of the painting of my life that I am missing? More specifically, how can it not be true that the feeling of loss is itself an indication, is information, about what is missing, information about what I seek? That retreating to dysfunctional patterns in relationship is fundamentally a call to vulnerability, to open myself to new depths and new patterns? That unworthiness is fundamentally a call to love and approve of myself? That any sense of fraudulence is fundamentally a declaration of a love of sincerity and authenticity? 

Mr. Eliot, unsurprisingly, was right and profoundly so. What we do not know - dripping with discomfort and urgency as it so often is - does become all that we know. But that is not the end of the story. That’s the beginning of the good part, the beginning of what’s next. Urgency and discomfort, while not places to book a vacation, are not enemies. Not knowing is the birthplace of knowing. Lost is the birthplace of found. We just have to find the courage and conjure up the willingness to greet it as such. We just need to conjure up the curiosity to unpack the gifts the urgency and discomfort of all that we know comes sneakily bearing. I know, I know but yes just that though it’s not “just” at all. We are called to do the hard thing. That is the path. 

So breathe, kind soul. Just do the next thing. Progress not perfection. You are not one beat late. That’s not the urgency’s point. It’s just saying “This way to what’s next. You got this.”

Be good to you.


Brian PerryComment