Uncertainty has always been a big part of my path. I don’t have fixed beliefs. Gods do not issue me with clear instructions. I have mixed feelings about many things and unsubstantiated personal confusion, rather than gnosis. It feels like the more time I spend as a consciously spiritual person, the less idea I have of what I’m doing, the less willing I am to invest in my own authority, the less sure I am of myself in some ways.
I become ever less willing to set myself up as some kind of expert, and ever more wary of any ideas about my own authority. But at the same time I have this compulsion to write, and the two do not go together very well at all from certain perspectives. There are reasons author and authority are related words.
Often what we want from authors – if sales of spiritual books, and books of personal growth are indicative – is confidence. Many of us like the people who can give us clear instructions about how to do all the things and get the results. ‘You can have all the things by doing it my way’ sells books. Why read a book by someone who doesn’t really know the answers? Why pick up an author who is not an authority?
There are subjects in which a person can become an expert and have a lot, if not all of the answers. It holds true in any theoretical subject. A few years ago, I tried to become a theoretical expert in the subject of prayer, and it was a very humbling sort of experience. Prayer is not something that makes sense looked at purely from the outside, attempting anthropology with self as non-participant (not that I’ve ever done any proper anthropology). Prayer is a living thing, that people do. Specific people, in specific contexts, and each is different. I could stand outside and make generalisations, but I couldn’t understand prayer in any way I found meaningful, by doing that.
I stopped approaching it as a theoretical subject and started doing it. That changed me. It also changed what I could say, but the specific cannot be safely generalised. I know what happened to me, but from that I also know that I cannot know what would happen to anyone else. The more I know, the less I can work out how to write about it. The more my experiences transcend what language can do, the more pressure I feel to try and find words for those things in the hopes of inspiring someone else.
Authority can get terribly competitive. In some fields, to be intent on being the best, the leading edge, the top of the pile, probably doesn’t get in the way of the subject itself, but in things spiritual, it really does. The more I obsess over sales figures, competing with my fellow authors and who is the most important Druid in the camp, the less able I become to function as a spiritual person. Work I do towards shaping or maintaining my own importance is a lot like tying my shoelaces together, because it stops me from running in other ways.
My spiritual practice calls for reflection, quiet, and not getting bogged down in what other people think of me. I suspect I’d be a more successful author (in terms of sales, not quality of writing) if I put more effort into crafting a public persona that set me apart as something special and worthy of attention. But I am no more or less than the next Druid, just a person doing things. I don’t want to write from a place of self celebration, I want to write usefully, in service, and I want to avoid creating and then buying into my own PR. I want to be able to do that alongside other people who are doing similar things and sharing, without authority, without hierarchy.
Happily, I know a lot of authors who are working in much the same way as me. There are many inspired folk in the blogsphere sharing experience but not setting up as a Very Important Druid. I am deeply inspired by the honesty of Cat Treadwell and Mark Townsend, who have shown me how being real, in all the flawed human messiness that entails, is a better spiritual path for me than trying to be shiny. I’d rather buy books from authors who don’t have all the answers, but whose questing might shed some light on my own journey. I’ve yet to find a book of everything solved neatly forever that came close to working for me, but in other people’s uncertainty I find hope, and inspiration.