In addition to being a talented and well-known writer, my mother was a very wise person. I frequently find myself remembering her words, circling one of her quotes for weeks at a time, as if it were a bright light illuminating a situation in my life.
She was once asked about her writing routine during an interview.
“I arrive at my study at 8 a.m. every morning and stay until noon,” she replied.
The interviewer responded that she must have written many novels, because she wrote so consistently every day.
Chuckling, my mother corrected him, saying that was not at all what occurred. “Often, I do crosswords, type pointless phrases, or just sit and stare out the window, and nothing comes to me.”
The interviewer wondered how it could be that even when she had no inspiration, she went to her study so faithfully.
She answered, “I’m creating a space for the angel to land.”
Should I stay in this relationship or end it? Should I relocate, get a job, or switch careers? Asking repeatedly can obtain no response. It can be perplexing for those of us with strong wills who are used to manifesting our desires when our wills cannot cause the angel to land. At that point, all we need to do is clear a space and give the question enough time to guide us to the solution.
Many questions make their answers available right at our fingertips; we just search on Google. Then it can seem even more frustrating when, despite endless lists of pros and cons—bringing in a therapist, a coach, or a trusted friend—still no answer comes.
When all else fails, I return to the wisdom of the greats. This is when I recall the words of Rainer Maria Rilke.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue,” she wrote. “Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Learning to embrace questions with no immediate answers is practice in the art of mindfulness and patience. So, what can we do?
Breathe in the air, go to the mountains, watch the hugeness of ocean waves or the smallness of hummingbirds, both splendors. Walk, run, play pickleball, read a poem or a book, or listen to music. Allow yourself to learn to live with the question, making space for the angel to land.
And when the answer comes, it will not be from the lists of pros and cons or searching on Google or asking someone else what to do. It usually will be a quiet and ordinary moment, when it feels like, suddenly, there it is: the yes, the no, the go, the stay. It usually will not come as a thought, but in the belly as a knowing, in the heart as a certainty, in the mind as a clear direction.
While you wait for the angel to land, even for a moment, as you revel in the amazingness of life, itself, you may find yourself on a path you never dreamed, one that could not have appeared if the original question were answered.
My mother told me that when she wrote one of the books for which she received some of her greatest accolades, she had retreated to her study for days to write a story with a particular theme. But then, when the angel did land, an entirely new book came to her. It was often called one of her greatest.