‘A Third Thing:’ Natalie Goldberg On Dealing With Internal Conflict

Some Saturday night wisdom to go with Friday’s thoughts. I’ve just read Natalie Goldberg’s latest book, The True Secret of Writing. It’s full of forthright, just go and do it, attitude. Goldberg comes across like some of the take no prisoners therapists I encountered when I volunteered at the Women’s Resources Centre in Vancouver. They trained and terrorised us newbie peer counsellors in equal measure, while inspiring us with their matter-of-fact clearsightedness.

Goldberg’s ostensible subject is writing, but she’s really talking about a way of being in the world. I was struck by her comments about dealing with conflict and decision-making. She says:

Often we are caught between two things. Should I do this – or should I do that? A choice between two things is not a choice. It becomes a fight between right and wrong. A polarity is created and we are stuck. Usually neither one is good or bad, but we polarize them because of our pain in not being able to make a definite choice. This one forever, we want to say and be done with it. But then a nagging voice inside says, No, not that one. And we are pulled into the fray again.
This contention can go on for years.
We need a third thing, a way to step out of the conundrum. We don’t realize it, but this third thing is fertilized and fueled by the energy of the other two. So don’t despair. It is by taking on the struggle that something new can come out of it….
Leave a little space, an opening for something fresh to arise. It usually doesn’t happen overnight. We have to be aware-and wait, holding the skirmish in our arms. This is where we build up our mettle not to act too soon. Let it all compost. The threads of our conflict are knitting something below the surface even as we wait for a resolution. Be patient. [Natalie Goldberg, The True Secret of Writing. p. 133]

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