When we exchanged gifts with a friend recently, we discovered that we had each given each other the same one: A Year with Rumi, 365 days of excerpts from the 13th century Sufi mystic’s greatest writing, translated by the great Coleman Barks. We were heartened by the lines we read today.

A Year with Rumi excerpt

We’ve lost count of the times we’ve thought “We don’t know what we are doing!” as we work, pursue ideas, navigate crises, move through our day, week, year. We are reminded of 4th-century Chinese Taoist philosopher/poet Chuang Tzu’s words that echoed a similar feeling, and added an always-present component: feeling that other people have it together, that we alone suffer the ineptness of NOT KNOWING WHAT WE ARE DOING.

I alone am inert, showing no sign, like an infant who has not yet smiled.
Forlorn like one without a home to return to.
I have the mind of an idiot, so chaotic and dull!
Ordinary people are bright and intelligent —I alone am chaotically dull.
Ordinary people are farsighted—I alone am blindly chaotic!

It is heartening to see our feelings echo back centuries. The Taoists, and many others, found this chaotic state of not knowing to be essential to creation.

Ugo Mulas
Ugo Mulas

But we firmly believe that comparing ourselves to others does little good.

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

And when we look back at times of not knowing, we realize that the answer to what are we doing always eventually became clear…just not on the timing we thought it should.


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5 replies on “Don’t Know What You are Doing? You are Not Alone (Rumi + Chuang Tzu)

  1. Burroughs is spelled incorrectly

  2. Thank you. I meant to fix that it got away from me…And when I went back, it seemed that the Burroughs quote didn’t quite fit there…

  3. I didn’t catch it, one of my friend’s did…ahh social media. I liked the quote very much, but I respect your editorial decision. xo love your work! and I am a $ supporter. 🙂

  4. Amazing read. I’ve been very confused lately trying to decide what I want to do with my life, while everybody my age has decided and are right on track for their careers. After reading your post, I feel much better, and way less lonely. Thank you so much!

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