Thursday, March 12, 2009

It's The Process Not the Painting

"I was talking with an artist friend once at a gallery opening for his rock sculptures.  I asked whether he would miss not having his favourite works around once buyers had purchased them." He scoffed, " I could take these stones and throw them in the bottom of the ocean," he said.  He meant it.  His joy came not from the objects but the work itself.  It was the act of creation, not the creation itself, that gave his life meaning."  This quote is from "Zen Guitar", by Philip Toshio Sudo.  I am quite captivated by this little book right now.  I bought it for my partner (he's the guitar player) but I pick it up often (the book not the guitar) and read the short chapters for inspiration and Dharma.  He's (Sudo, not my partner) talking about life really, the instrument is really incidental, in my mind.

I think any one engaged in any work they love would agree with Sudo's friend.  It is the process of doing what you love that is exciting and fills you with the enthusiasm that pulls you out of bed in the morning (most mornings).  If I'm not careful I can start work without combing my hair, forget to take a walk and keep on going until supper time and wonder where the day went.  

And how does that relate to the Dharma?  Well I think they are talking about  valuing the process, rather than the objects of life; the moving, living quality of doing and being rather than the stuff that we sometimes chase after.  It's easy to get confused and think it's about the money or the house or the new shoes (not that any of these things are bad) but at the end of the day if you put all your eggs in the "stuff" basket, you'll have a pretty boring dinner (oh no, not more eggs again.  Those hard boiled ones are a bit stinky).

I think they're also talking about being fully engaged in life, living whole heartedly in a round about way.  It's about finding your passion and pursuing it.  Not thinking of a thousand reasons why it will never work, how you can't make a living at it, or you're not really that good at it.  (Malcolm Gladwell in his latest book, 'Outliers' says it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill!)  It's about following your heart or your bliss, as Joseph Campbell called it.  And then you end up at the point of Sudo's friend, not really being attached to the product or the end result, but being clear about what is really important to you: the act of creating, of living.  The more you live this way, the braver and more confident you get, and I think, the more willing to take a risk or two.

So whether we remember it or not, we are the artists of our own lives .  No painting or guitar playing required, but they do add fun!  We are the works of art, our lives, the process.  So in each new moment we have the opportunity to create ourselves from scratch.  Trouble is a lot of the time we're worried about how the work looks.  Is that the right shade of blue?  Or do we look stupid, unskilled or foolish?  We're busy checking on the product, rather than jumping in whole heartedly and enjoying the process.  We would be happier, more satisfied I think, were we to paint our lives with a little wild abandon, to follow our intuition a little more, to be absorbed in the process of living.  It makes me think of a favourite movie, "Harold & Maude".  So which one are you in this little screen play of life, Harold or Maude?

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