“When you surrender, the problem ceases to exist,” Henry Miller wrote in his stunning letter to Anaïs Nin (February 21, 1903–January 14, 1977). “Try to solve it, or conquer it, and you only set up more resistance.”
But we, the controlling species, the conquering species, have a hard time with this notion of surrender; we, the conflicted species, spend our lives resisting it yet craving its liberations.
Nin herself — a woman uncommonly liberated from the common traps of convention, control, and self-consciousness — took up the spiritual mechanics of this paradox in her first published book, D. H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study (public library), composed when she was still in her twenties.
With an eye to D.H. Lawrence (September 11, 1885–March 2, 1930) and his “philosophy that was against division,” his “plea for whole vision,” she writes:
In a sentiment central to my own animating ethos, she adds:
It was Lawrence’s own writing that awakened in her this awareness of ongoingness and the urgency of total aliveness — the way “livingness is the axis of his world, the light, the gravitation, and electromagnetism of his world.”
In his 1924 novel The Boy in the Bush, Lawrence makes a stunning case for the indivisibility of it all — the beauty and the sorrow, the ache and the astonishment:
This was the foundational philosophy of Lawrence’s worldview — the pulse-beat that makes his writing so resonant and eternally alive, the way all great spiritual texts are. He distilled this view in an especially beautiful passage from his 1923 novel Kangaroo, reckoning with the most universal reality of life — the reality we spend our lives fighting, yet the one that peeks through in all of our greatest works of art and highest triumphs of the creative spirit. Echoing Whitman’s defense of our inner multitudes, often at odds with each other, he writes in an era when every woman was a “man” purely as a matter of linguistic convention:
In the same epoch when Hermann Hesse so beautifully defended the wisdom of the inner voice, Lawrence’s protagonist makes a passionate case for listening to the song of life as it reverberates through the singular cathedral of each self, yours and mine, as it did for Nin and Lawrence and every other great mind long sung out of existence:
Complement with Mary Oliver on how to live with maximum aliveness and Henry Miller on the measure of a life well lived, then revisit Nin on the meaning of maturity and how reading awakens us from the trance of near-living.