During a guided meditation, this message came to me: resistance is where the work is.
Tuning in recently to Seth Godin discussing his latest book, The Practice: Shipping Creative Work, I heard him mention that when it comes to doing what you love and loving what you do, loving what you do may be more beneficial than many imagine.
Can we love what we do when it’s not what we love? When it stops short of our goal, when it’s a detour to where we really want to be?
This year we’re contending with a virus that’s forcing some of us to change where we are and what we do. This virus is making some of us put dreams and ambitions on hold.
There’s a frustration and hopelessness that often accompanies the feeling of being derailed, of being stuck. When forced to be in a place that is not where we want to be, a job that is not our end goal, living somewhere when we’d rather live somewhere else, possessing more ambition than our current circumstances allow for, not surprisingly, we resist.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1831, Margaret Fuller, then 21, was feeling stuck. Her options severely limited by the fact that she was female, this remarkably intelligent and ambitious young woman was forced to live at home with her parents and siblings. Making matters worse, the family was soon to relocate to a rural town where Fuller didn’t want to live. Her outward existence consisted of tutoring her younger siblings and helping out with the seemingly endless list of household tasks. This was far from what she wanted to do.
Fuller’s father insisted she attend church with the family that cold, gray Thanksgiving Day and during the service she nearly exploded from frustration and unhappiness with her situation. When the service ended, Fuller fled the building, traversing the fields and woods alone, in a state of despair. After throwing herself down on the ground near a trickling stream in the woods, she settled her mind and looked up, noticing the natural scene of which she was a part.
And then it happened. Margaret experienced a breakthrough revelatory moment that she described in her journal nine years later:
“Suddenly the sun shone out with that transparent sweetness, like the last smile of a dying lover, which it will use when it has been unkind all a cold autumn day.
“And, even then, passed into my thought a beam from its true sun, from its native sphere, which has never since departed me. I remembered how, a little child, I had stopped myself one day on the stairs, and asked, how came I here? How is that I seem to be this Margaret Fuller? What does it mean? What shall I do about it? I remembered all the times and ways in which the same thought had returned.
“I saw how long it must be before the soul can learn to act under these limitations of time and space, and human nature; but I saw, also, that it MUST do it,—that it must make all this false true…I saw there was no self, that selfishness was all folly, and the results of circumstance; that it was only because I thought self real that I suffered; that I had only to live in the idea of the ALL, and all was mine”(Library of America).
According to Fuller biographer Megan Marshall, after this epiphany, Fuller “rushed home in the moonlight,” and quelling her resistance, decided she would “follow her father to whatever country village he chose, educate her brothers, inspire her sister, help her mother”(65).
Another of Fuller’s biographers, Charles Capper, points out that this Thanksgiving revelation was, “not for self-renunciation but for some sort of self-transcendence”(Library of America).
Anyone familiar with Fuller knows that this discovery was not about holding herself back, tamping down her ambition; rather this was a call to negotiate her role in the larger scheme, and in many ways, this set her free.
Maria Popova, in her book Figuring, says, “Through a transcendent experience she [Fuller] later described as one of eclipsing “the extreme of passionate sorrow” –a revelation that stripped all sense of self and, in that nakedness of being, made her all the more herself”(101).
Becoming more herself through union with the all, Fuller
“would persevere to write the foundational treatise of the women’s emancipation movement, author the most trusted literary and art criticism in the nation, work as the first female editor for a major New York newspaper and the only woman in the newsroom, advocate for prison reform and Negro voting rights, and become America’s first foreign war correspondent”(Popova 100).
The liberation that can flow from letting go, the sense of wellbeing that can arise from pitching in for the greater good, of which we are part and parcel. When we are in such a transcendent place, little can hold us back.
No matter our position in this COVID 19 episode, we are compelled to reconsider so much and are called to listen and learn from resistance where we meet it. This experience then becomes illuminating in unexpected ways, as it did for Fuller that gray Thanksgiving Day when the “sun shone out with that transparent sweetness.”
© Maria Dintino 2020
Library of America. Margaret Fuller’s Thanksgiving Revelation. https://www.loa.org/news-and-views/823-margaret-fullers-thanksgiving-day-revelation
Marshall, Megan. Margaret Fuller: A New American Life. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
Popova, Maria. Figuring. New York: Pantheon Books, 2019.