Secret delights of being creative & undone

For over three weeks, I have struggled to get plants in the ground for a garden I’m trying to make in the woods, a garden to remember the dead. Namely, four dead mentors, including my father. Why has it taken me so long to root a few plants? Mostly, I know next to nothing about plants or gardening. But this is not a piece about gardening. It’s supposed to be about delight. About how we create what matters even when we’re feeling incomplete. And it is.

But about the garden, one point is this: I researched and conceived symbolic sections and made charts and finally bought the right flowers and the what-nots for enriched soil and cleared a path and lugged logs for the raised bed and formed the raised bed and realized I didn’t have enough “what-nots for enriched soil.”

The process might have taken me a day or two if I knew what I was doing. But I don’t know what I’m doing, and there was so much other life to live and work to accomplish while doing all of the above that the flowers remain perched on the first layer of soil, peat moss, hay, cardboard.

And so the plants remain unplanted.

You know what I mean, right? You try to create something, but there is so much other stuff that needs tending.

Wonder-tracker Diane Ackerman knows what she’s doing. In Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden, she writes, “Patience, hard work, and a clever plan usually lead to success: private worlds of color, scent, and astonishing beauty. Small wonder a gardener plans her garden as she wishes she could plan her life.”

If that’s so, my life remains unplanted.

And still there’s delight in the undone.

I’ve hauled and propped up five hefty stream stones to make a stone stool. It’s perched beneath an evergreen, on the garden’s northern side. Although I tell myself I don’t have time to drive up the road to the nursery to get the next layer of soil what-nots, I do make time to walk with my little girl to that spot where she plays with her stick and stone friends while I sit on the stool and look at the unplanted plants. Wind shuffles the pines. My mind settles into the soil.

Delight undoes me. And at times it’s a good thing to be un-done instead of so manically getting things done.

Right? Maybe? If you’ve wondered about your own mix of GTD and un-done-ness, then keep reading and let me know what you think in the comments below. 

I work with a lot of people and teams who feel undone. Incomplete projects. Scattered notebooks that some day might make up a memoir. Mounds of research and lots of talk related to a promising film premise. A sprawling list of to-dos and dreams and back-burner projects.

They are incredibly productive and prolific. They get things done. And still they feel undone.

You know of what I speak, don’t you?

I make maps for them. And charts. I track their progress. I am a tracker.

For the person who doesn’t know what she’s doing, she will remain undone for a long time until she gets help. For the person who thinks he knows what he’s doing, he will remain undone for a long time until he gets help.

Still, a little light pops back in: there’s delight in the undone and in being undone.

Make incremental progress, and you find delight.

Get your hands dirty in the process of shaping a mess, and you make delight.

Fill up your pockets of time with the trinkets of your measured creative work, and you bring delight home.

Take stock of what you don’t know and mix new knowledge with dashes of trusted inner wits, and you grow delight.

Pursue mastery with patience, and delight plays you.

We’re nuts not to cultivate delight as adults.

There’s a history of not trusting delight buried in the word itself. De-light, from de-laques or the ME las – lace, a cord, a noose, a snare. Related to elicit and elicere, to draw out by trickery.

In the garden, the snake charms and delights.

But over time, the noose and the lace become light. The Latin monk’s noose-y delectare becomes the Old French man’s deleiter that gradually becomes the Middle English woman’s deliten, influenced by light. Illuminated.

And as Jonathan Safran Foer’s rambunctious protagonist discovers, Everything is Illuminated.

Delight charges us. More than profit or performance measures, the sheer joy of sensual surprise, of being a fleshy mammal in a fleshy world making fleshy things, keeps us alive and thriving even while aging and facing mortality and getting overwhelmed with the things we think we must get done before the hour strikes or the bell tolls or the iPhone timer beeps.

Delight changes us. The way light lands on a wobbly bench you’ve painted or the way your child’s eyes light up when you play a ragged note on the violin you don’t know how to play alters the way a body feels and the way a brain lights up and the way for a moment an individual soul feels connected and belongs in the mysterious world.

You know these things. Your bones know it.

If you cannot stop for delight, it will kindly stop for you.

To delight our packs and clients is part of the Tracking Wonder ethos. I find delight so utterly essential to how we thrive while we create what matters that I’ve put someone in charge of delight. (My e-pal Jonathan Fields gets the necessity of delight in business and life and has a Director of Delight.)

If you retreat with me in Taos this March, you will meet my Chief-in-Charge-of-Delight (CCD), Heidi Johnson. In the past few years, Heidi has traded drudgery for delight. She has taken a journey from The Shore of Shoulds across the Sea of Fertile Confusion to the Brave New Land of Story-Changer. She packs a powerful combo to be CCD: PhD physiology smarts, her physical therapist-yoga teacher-Yoga as Muse Facilitator experience, an innate crafty creativity, and creative journaling heart.

And she will admit, she remains undone. She and her husband left behind a done life in Boston. And there’s much to revel in that fact. More on her soon.

Delight charges us, but you’re in charge of your delight. You know that.

Pause. Gaze. Praise. Sometimes it’s that simple to elicit her.

And if you look around, and the plants are still unplanted, try this: make a make-shift stool to sit and admire your un-done-ness. Know they will get planted. In time.

Do you have any undone projects? How do you find delight in that un-done-ness? Share your experiences and insights into delight below.

See you in the woods,



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  1. Incremental progress is so hard for me to acknowledge in my own projects. Thanks for the reminder…

    And I’m inspired by your ancestor garden (as we come up on Samhain, when the veils between the worlds are thinnest, most powerful time to connect with ancestors). Think I’ll do something here.


    Love and light,

    1. Sue~I think many of us overlook the incremental progress we make. To “track” my clients’ progress, we often make 3-month momentum maps with a horizon and milestones. You might try making a map or ask someone in your Wild Pack what difference they notice in your productivity or progress from 3 months, 6 months, or 12 months ago.

      Glad the mentor garden inspired you – and thanks for the reference to Samhain.

      See you in the woods,