caterpillar on branch
Happiness,  Thinking

What Do You Do When You Don’t Know What To Do?

What is one to do when you don’t know what to do? How do we choose how and where to put the next foot right when the way forward is unclear?

When I write, I usually know where to go. But this time, there’s a topic lurking just under the surface. So I canoodle around on the keyboard and hope it will decide to join me.

[bctt tweet=”I canoodle around on the keyboard and hope it decides to join me.” username=”AndreaPatten”]

I don’t know what else to do with it: it won’t go away and leave me alone but it remains elusive, flat out refusing to come into focus. In a way, it reminds me of a pan of water on the stove, just before monarch butterfly on plantit starts to boil. There’s a bubble here, and another one over there. And, while their activity level looks a bit leisurely, those bubbles are part of a much bigger picture. They are part of building energy, an energy that will not only heat water but will change part of it from liquid to gas. Steam.

And a change in form is a form of magic, is it not? The stage magician enlists our willingness to be fooled as the ‘nothing’ behind an ear suddenly produces coins. We don’t know how it happens. Alchemy. Magic. A change in form. While it looks simple, it’s a really big, complex change. Just like boiling water.

When you stop and think about it, there’s a lot of alchemic activity swirling around us. The first one that comes to mind is that thing with breath: humans using oxygen which changes to carbon dioxide for trees that then return it to us in its original, usable form. Our waste feeds the trees while theirs becomes the source of life for so many air-breathing beings wandering the planet. It’s another matter-changing bit of magic.

[bctt tweet=”There’s a lot of alchemic activity swirling around us.” username=”AndreaPatten”]

Nature provides us with other examples: snow melts, ponds freeze, and in pretty much any direction we look something’s probably hatching somewhere.

Of course the most familiar example of form-changing experiences is the transition from caterpillar to moth or butterfly. And while it’s a metaphor that’s been done to death? There’s a reason: it’s an example that give us lots of toeholds for learning.

Think about it… you’re this little wormy bug thing, wandering around, munching on plants. Some of your friends and neighbors get picked off by weather or birds or well-intended gardeners who don’t know any better. But you’re still there… moving from plant to plant, having your fill. Did you know some species of caterpillar eat as much as 27,000 times their body weight during this part of the life cycle? But, as often happens, I digress.

Somehow, those little critters enter the dark place, are turned into some sort of goo and are born again — this time in a beautiful form. And in this new form, the creature feeds on completely different parts of the plant than it did in it’s last life. Sometimes when I watch the butterflies visiting various garden plants I wonder if they remember the food preferences their caterpillar-selves enjoyed?

They have nothing to say (and little to do) about this. Caterpillars that survive long enough to face metamorphosis become moths. Or butterflies. Puddles freeze and dandelions go to seed. Water on a hot burner will boil. Perhaps they don’t know it’s coming. It’s just what happens.

[bctt tweet=”They don’t need to have faith and I doubt they fear the unknown.” username=”AndreaPatten”]

So what do you do when you don’t know what to do? Hopefully, not much. I plan to try to learn to do less. To stand in place and take the next obviously correct action. Like caterpillars, dandelions, and hot water — the change is gonna come. No amount of  hand-wringing or pot-stirring is going to change that. And the quicker we accept that fact, the happier we’re all going to be.


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  • Barbara Parcells

    My mom always told me that a “watched pot never boils,” meaning that it won’t boil any faster while you’re watching it, in fact, just the opposite. I find when I don’t know what to write that the best thing for me is to go do something completely different and eventually the next right thing will drop in my lap, or pop up in my consciousness when I least expect it!

    • Andrea

      That reminds me of what happened during the course of finishing my first book. At the time, I had a big yard and a big, riding lawn mower. I’d write and edit from early in the morning and go until my creative energy dried up. (Or so I thought.) I would go out and get on the mower, with all of my attention on making the yard right. I would often only make one or two passes before I needed to shut off the mower and go back to my office. My friend across the street used to get such a big kick out of the “power writing” days.

  • CK Kochis

    When I spend time in nature, and let go of the ‘what should I do’ thoughts, that’s when my answers arrive. I have found playing, driving, biking and any other activity that I distracts my mind to be most helpful.