Whenever we’re really anxious, if we stop and get our bearings we find our minds are in the future, imagining all sorts of outcomes that don’t exist as well as an overwhelming number of things to do about them. The result is subtly terrifying.

In this teeny clip found at the great @_nitch, American writer Henry Miller described his essential philosophy of living. It is an amazingly good antidote for anxiety and a guide to how to know what to do next.

You live from moment to moment. So in doing that, this moment decides the next step.

You shouldn’t be five steps ahead. Only the next one. If you can keep to that, you’ll always be alright.

Do only what’s right under your nose to do.

It is a simple, rough, direct form of mindfulness, expressed in a way that makes it seem more do-able than most.

“Letting the moment decide the next step” is exactly what is involved in the creative process, when deep into the flow of painting, writing, cooking, making just-about-anything. Anni Albers called it “listening to the materials, to that which wants to be done”. Ainslie Henderson’s sublime little film about making stop-motion puppets nails it perfectly:

…from there you just start improvising. It’s like making music, you just see where it leads you…Suddenly what was just stuff becomes this current…

Curious that what we do so easily in the realm of creativity sometimes seems harder to apply in life. They are really the same thing.

Let this moment decide the next step…

Sally Schneider

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5 replies on “Henry Miller on How to Know What to Do Next

  1. This resonates indirectly with a quote I read this weekend by way of an interview of @fabrizialanza on Instagram via @camper. For those who might not be familiar with her, Fabrizia runs the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School in Sicily, which her mother founded in 1989. I’ve visited many times, both as a journalist when the Marchesa Anna was still alive, and as tour guide with Fabrizia at the helm. Her cooking classes are wonderful, hands-on affairs, and this quote about cooking traditions (I think) dovetails with Miller’s thoughts on planning:

    “The definition of tradition is very restrictive to me. I don’t think there is a real tradition. Cooking for me is simply a relationship. It is the construction of an emotional, diplomatic and even political path through a means. All I look for, and look at, is an anthropological path. Recipes are boring.”

  2. We have a saying around our house: “Don’t pollute the future.”

  3. That is really great! Recipes ARE boring, and for my money, simply guideposts or notations to spark ideas and possibilities. Cooking is so much about listening to what the moment, and materials, tell you to do…

  4. This is my first reply to a blog in decades. But I just couldn’t stop myself. This is beautiful stuff. I’m so glad I found you.

  5. Thanks so much for you comment. How wonderful to have it seen as “beautiful stuff”. Heartening!

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