Yes Is The Only Living Thing
I realize I have written a lot about suffering. D. H. Lawrence said a writer sheds his sickness in his writing. You probably work out your salvation through it as well. I certainly hope so. So I keep writing about suffering, particularly the existential kind, the suffering Scott Peck had in mind when he started The Road Less Traveled with the words, “Life is difficult.” From Scott Peck to Buddha to Jesus, there has been no shortage of sages who acknowledge life’s suffering. It is life’s given. How we respond to suffering? That is the question.
Psychologist Erik Erikson suggests we can respond to life, including its inevitable suffering, in one of three ways. We can respond creatively, by leaning in. We can respond neurotically, by retreating into isolation that keep us from the unpredictable life. Or we can respond by reframing, telling the world our retreating behaviors are very necessary in light of life’s harsh realities. As you might imagine, Erikson believes the first response, creatively leaning in, is the only healthy approach.
In earlier seasons of my own life I opted for Erikson’s third response. I did not see myself as the neurotic isolationist and in fact, I was not. But if I am honest, I did often reframe my decisions to retreat, telling the world (and myself) that the retreats were necessary in light of harsh realities. But of course, those words always had the musty aroma of falsehood. They were couched in convention, drenched in security, and packed away in a dark corner of my frightened mind, far from my willing heart. Eventually they began to eat away at my soul. I could continue to retreat or I could lean in. The choice was mine.
All the great writers agree with Erikson that creatively leaning into life is the only decent way to live. Poet Mark Nepo suggests we are eroded, worn to our beauty, one season at a time. Samuel Beckett wrote, “I can’t go on. I go on.” Wendell Berry said, “When you no longer know what to do, you have come to the real work.” E. E. Cummings said, “Yes is the only living thing.” I could go on, but you get the idea. Great writers know the essentiality of leaning into life.
So, I take Erikson at his word. Life is to be leaned into, with full-throated passion, steadfast mind, and wide-open heart.