image by Jan Tik
This is one of my favorite pictures, and it always reminds me of one of my favorite quotes. I sent the quote to Justine last week because she’s living something really hard, and yet she is still grateful, still risks her heart by keeping it open to love. It’s the human experience to continually be cycling through joy and pain and back again, to live the good news and the bad. There are reminders of it everywhere, of both what is hard and “the tender gravity of kindness.” In my Facebook feed, in my student’s writing, on NPR as it plays on the radio in my kitchen in the still dark of early morning, in emails from friends asking for support and in the way I try to answer with something that will help even though I really have no idea what to say, in the way we all keep trying, keep going in the face of all the hard things, how we still manage to notice the gorgeous sunset and enjoy the warm slice of pie or Adele’s golden voice — life is tender and terrible, beautiful and brutal. Keep your heart open. Don’t give up.
Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could. ~Louise Erdrich
My friend and one of my favorite bloggers Justine is hosting a read-a-long for Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Justine provides prompts for each section of the book on her blog, and invites readers to respond in the comments or send her an email. I decided to blog my responses.
Justine’s prompts for the fifth section of the book are:
- Do you love your work? Do you believe your work loves you in return? (What a radical notion.) Sidebar: I can get so confused when contemplating my “work.” It can feel like two separate things — what I do for someone else in exchange for money (as in my CSU job), and what I create and then offer to the world mostly just because I want to (teaching yoga, offering workshops, blogging, etc.). Most of the time, the second one feels more meaningful but doesn’t translate into much money, if any. So when I think about the work I love, absolutely I love it and I believe it loves me in return. I’ve said it here before, said it even though I know it might sound weird especially coming from a Buddhist, but I believe that work is “God’s work.” It feels like what I’ve been called to do, it feels like it matters deeply, it feels effortless, it feels like it has the potential to ease suffering and as such is so important.
- How has emotional pain or trying times affected your work? Do you believe that you can create when things are good? I used to think my depression and anxiety were what made me creative, but that was confusion. If anything, the most fundamental quality of depression is an inability to do anything and the most basic feature of anxiety is being so distracted by it I can’t focus on anything. Nothing much gets created in those states. However, difficult times have absolutely affected my work by breaking me down to the bare essentials, opening me up to the fundamental truth of life. Struggle and suffering, if I allow it to, can make me more compassionate, and it’s from this state that a natural wisdom arises, in which a gentle curiosity resides. Being in this receptive state, the best stuff can manifest. Ultimately, I can create when things are good or bad because I have the foundation of my practices to support the process.
- Choose your delusion: trusting an infinite force you can not see or trusting your suffering and pain? Infinite force I can’t see, for sure. My own stink and mess aren’t irrelevant, but when I trust them as fundamental truth there’s gonna be trouble.
- Where does the martyr energy show up in your life? How does it (or doesn’t it) serve you? How can you invite more of the trickster into your day? Ugh. In my CSU work and my relationships, I default to martyr. It goes way back to old beliefs that the way to get what I want in life (love, safety, happiness) is to be a good girl. It absolutely doesn’t serve me. It leads directly to despair and dis-ease, the exact opposite of what I’m seeking. As Justine mentions in her post, “Trickster energy is light, sly, transgender, transgression, animist, seditious, primal, and endlessly shape-shifting.” Being open, being curious, being relaxed and receptive are all qualities that I attempt to cultivate, even though I’m not so good at it. For me, the invitation comes in the moments I feel myself getting wound up, tight, angry or depressed, and asking myself “what is really going on right now? what do I really need?”
- When it comes to passion vs. curiosity, where do you land? How does each one serve you? Where has a creative curiosity led you before? Passion has never been useful to me. It’s too unwieldy, too crazed, too messy. It wants to go too fast, act without thought. It rushes off without even knowing where it’s going. Passion is more likely to cause an accident than anything. It breaks trust, fosters disharmony. I’m saying all this as an intensely passionate person, but having been burned by it, having been hurt by its impulsive nature, I know that I need to be careful with it. Curiosity is much wiser. It’s like the minimalist form of passion, simpler and quieter and calmer. It doesn’t have to move so fast, and it can change it’s mind whenever it wants. Creative curiosity leads to an approach that is infused with ease, freedom, joy, crazy wisdom, and a particular kind of wildness. Curiosity means I’m not bound to one way of being or doing. I can evolve beyond my passion.
- Ask your soul, “what is it you want, dear one?” and follow what it says. *sigh* It wants more rest, more space, more ease, and more joy. I feel glimmers of just that sometimes, but am still working out exactly how to allow more of it. Hang in there, Sugar.