Stirring the Pot

“To let knowledge produce troubles, and then use knowledge to prepare against them, is like stirring water in hopes of making it clear.” Lao-Tzu
(Tao, Verse 87 as quoted in Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening)

So very like “stirring the pot” was my initial reaction to this verse of the Tao as memories of harsh words—felt and returned—stirred one unkind pot after another. Never once did I think to take it off the stove nor did I imagine knowledge in any way other than as a glorious fount, effervescent, pure, dependable.

How sure I was of so much and so many–then.

Now, I appreciate knowledge within the context of creativity—the act of imagining—one of the greatest gifts life offers, requiring only an open heart.

As I begin my third act, words remain a major force in my life; I am so curious about so much. More than ever, I write, something I never quite accomplished with all the pot stirring although writing was my constant goal.

“Feeling unworthy or insecure, we create a goal, in hopes that achieving this will make us feel good about ourselves. Then we’re off scheming for success, preparing against failure, stirring the water, hoping it will go clear” (Nepo, Book of Awakening).

Seventeen years ago, my goal was to write a novel, which I managed amid much pot stirring. Always, I spoke of the experience with false fondness. I wrote 80,000+ words, allowing myself to tread water in any current of thought.

Natasha Hanova Image
WANA Commons

Frankly, I felt quite good about myself, proud even, for accomplishing my goal. To be honest, every year since writing that original draft, I tried one writing goal after another, stirring and stirring.

One of my favorite far afield attempts was to collaborate on an inspirational book of vignettes with the actual working title of Rising to the Occasion When You Can’t. Outside of considerable pot stirring for three years, our hearts were not open to a word we wrote.

From time to time, I returned to the goal of revising the 380+ page manuscript word by word—certainly a worthwhile goal within the first year of its writing—but at seventeen years later, it was time to take the pot off the stove.

“The mind is a spider that, if allowed, will tangle everything and then blame the things it clings to for the web it wants to be free of. I have done this with dreams of greatness and hopes of love, wanting so badly to see myself clearly in the water, while I kept stirring and stirring” (Nepo, Book of Awakening).

As I mentioned in my last few blog posts, I am yet again working with this first novel draft. Pursuing knowledge within experience, I stirred myself into a month-long, writing workshop. After so many years of empty goal-gazing, it took most of the workshop for the waters to still.

Truly, I did not recognize the actual moment the waters cleared. It was a gradual realization that I no longer was “scheming for success” or weaving any web. Frankly, my sediment sunk.

It was clear that I “don’t have to be finished in order to be whole” (Nepo) as a writer or as a human being. So, for the first time in seventeen long years, I saw the draft of my novel for what it is: the story of a moment passed, completely. Its worth is immeasurable.

With waters clear, I write.

Note: I am publishing only one post this week but will resume publishing two posts per week beginning Monday. As always, feel free to comment or Email me! your comments.

15 thoughts on “Stirring the Pot

  1. I don’t know how germane this comment will be. Last week I was in a car accident which has stopped me in my tracks—and this may not be a bad thing in the course of a life. It will be very hard for me to stir the pot for a while!
    I have long carried a mental image of myself with my arms at my sides accepting whatever comes. Good or bad seems to flow through me more easily in this state. I try not to judge, especially things like the books I write. I know they answer some need in my life. Weighing their merit falls to someone else.
    Goal setting is like wish making and it may be just as effective. It provides a sense of focus and a feeling of control—and maybe the courage to forge ahead. But I was reminded how ephemeral goals are when I was hit by that truck.


    1. Oh, Adrian, thank you for taking the time to comment as these are days of such change for you. You know I will help, if there is anything I may do for you.

      As for goals, my ambivalence in setting them is always apparent yet I do believe the moment is all we ever have, and how we respond to that moment seems to provide for the next. In my life, stirring the pot often simulated being, which I realized in reading the Tao on stirring the waters, not quite the same but it brought stuff to the surface so it could settle. More and more, I see what is as it is.

      Healing energy to you, my friend, for your highest good.



  2. Sorry Karen I thought I had commented on this the other day – I must have got distracted.
    There you are reminding me of the Tao again! So muddying the waters maybe – good or bad? We do sometimes need to move on and make fresh starts. (even us boomers!) I don’t think any experience is ever wasted though and we always keep the essence of meaningful things within us.


    1. Oh, no apologies necessary, Diana! Most of the time I am distracted….

      I agree that no experience is ever wasted, and eventually, we do recognize the essence of each experience. Some of our experiences seem to loom more than others–for me, this early manuscript is one such experience–now that I see it as it really is, it is fresh and new in so many ways. That so intrigues me, rather like the Tao….

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Diana.



  3. Like you, Karen, I’ve been grappling with the question of whether I should pursue an older work (mine is going on 15 years old) that “isn’t perfect, but isn’t too bad”.

    My heart tells me that it holds something I need to deal with, but that as it stands, it cannot be published. And it’s not simply because I spent so much time on it. As you say “Its worth is immeasurable”, but worth is not only financial or even as an emblem of status (eg. published) or even as something to rework or analyze for use in other projects.

    It has worth and it needs to be, but I cannot yet divine what that worth is. But perhaps I need to stop stirring the pot….

    Thank you again, Karen, for making clear something that had been so hard to define before this.


    1. Ah, Eden, what will we do with our writing selves?

      To me, you said it in “it has worth and it needs to be.” For me, once I saw my manuscript for what it is rather than what I thought it was, lights flashed, bells rang, doors and windows opened. And as you say, “perhaps I need to stop stirring the pot.” You of the open heart, Eden, will see it.

      Always look forward to your stopping by.



      1. What will be do with our writing selves… There is a question that will bring new answers tomorrow and the day after and the day after that. For as we grow and evolve, so does our craft, as it molds us and we mold it.

        You are too kind; I’m simply trying to learn and understand as are we all.


  4. Beautiful post Karen and I love the picture of that water, both calm and restless. Could that be subtext for something you said? Oh how we are haunted by our thoughts. But it sounds like you’ve made peace. And you’re finishing your Conflict and Idea class with Bob. How did you like it? Was it helpful? I’m glad the water has cleared and you can write again! Looking forward to your next post! Thanks. 🙂


    1. Hi, Karen!

      Thanks for the encouraging words about the post; that paradoxical water picture says it all, doesn’t it? I also suspect it replays a lot, clearly stirring.

      The workshop really opened my eyes about my manuscript but more than that, I received practical tools for any book I may write. Truly understanding kernel idea and conflict box are critical aspects of the writing process, no matter what other names these two may have. Once you have that understanding, you have a basis for writing any novel. The workshop was well worth the time and money, and I have lifelong writing tools. Thanks for asking.

      Always great to have you stop by, Karen.



  5. “Now, I appreciate knowledge within the context of creativity—the act of imagining—one of the greatest gifts life offers, requiring only an open heart.”

    Nicely said. I’ve been grappling with a project, letting fear order me around. Your post, the line above especially, helped me. All I can do is work with “an open heart.”


    1. Hello, Deb!

      Just took a glance at your blog,–“manna from heaven falls knee deep”–I’m right there with you in appreciating a second chance at life, another perk of having an open heart. I, too, have some exes, not quite like yours but like you, I am an ex-Catholic now living in the land of the Seminole, studying the Tao. Thanks for your thoughtful words.



  6. Karen –

    The things you write – they go right to my soul.

    I, too, have returned to something that I began long, long ago – and, at last, I am just writing it for the sheer joy of doing so, and of feelingi t seep into all other area of my life…….

    Just wanted to let you know that I fee you. =)


    1. Hello, Shan Jeniah!

      All of what we experience is so about love and joy; I am continually amazed at how that slips away from me so easily. Yet, joy is always possible in the least likely places, and the world opens up in ways unanticipated. Incredible!

      I have been thinking about you a lot of late. Glad you dropped by and thanks for the lovely compliment.



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