The modest Rose puts forth a thorn,
The humble sheep a threat’ning horn:
While the Lily white shall in love delight,
Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright.
William Blake – The Lily (from Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience)
· When I write I sometimes worry that I am the worst kind of purveyor of trash and conceit, writing as if I had anything new or wise or interesting to say. When I look at my numbers (the number of people who read my blogs), I think that the world must agree and that is why my writing is largely ignored.
· Then I realize that if I want to be happy and productive and really make my work beautiful, I cannot allow myself the luxury of caring about any of that, the number of readers, or if I will ever make money, or become a “famous” writer. There is only one thing a writer or any artist has a right to care about and that is the work itself. Nothing else matters but the work itself.
· I can’t focus on being “important” or “interesting” or even as someone who makes a contribution to the world. Even those things, (perhaps they are good things and perhaps they aren’t) have to be surrendered. None of that matters compared to what is really important.
· What is really important is the work. To be more precise, what is really important is doing the work. Motivation doesn’t matter. It all fades away anyway. I know people who do art or writing or dance or something they love and it doesn’t matter if they do it to escape their circumstances or make money or to make the world a better or are just trying to get better at it. Eventually, when one gets lost in the work, the doing of the work, one finds that the why doesn’t matter. All that matters is doing it.
· I find that doing the work is easy. Getting to the doing is hard. Staying there is even harder, for me at least. But at this moment I’m there and this moment is all that matters.
· I find that if I keep working, eventually all the doubts and questions and motivations disappear. I’m just here. I mean I’m really here. I’m not somewhere else in my mind. I’m not in the past or the future, neither of which are real anyway. I’m just here and in this very moment. I’m not thinking about regrets or rages. I’m not worried how I’m going to solve some particular problem. The truth is that when I’m working, I have no problems. I’m just putting one word in front of the other. That’s all I need to focus on. This is why I like to bring pen and paper with me wherever I go – so I can always be in the moment. Maybe in that moment I’m miserable or scared. So I do more of my work, even if only for a few minutes, and I’m back in the present. Sometimes I have a journal with me. If I don’t, I can get a piece of paper and write. Then I can keep it or throw it away (though I usually keep everything I write even if I rarely go back to look at it).
· I find, and this has been a great discovery, that I can make anything my work. For example, I can clean my kitchen and discover the same joy I have when I write. I can take any job, any task, and simply by doing it with all my might, by trying to get better at it simply by doing it and doing it some more, I can transcend this world by being fully in it.
· Put more pragmatically, if I’m at work and I find my work to be boring or not enjoyable for any reason, I look for a way to be better at it. I read something that will teach me to be more effective and useful at work. Or I simply focus on one thing I can do at that moment and then tell myself I will be the best at it. So I will mop a floor better than it’s ever been done. Or I will focus on a particular task as if I were going to get all the praise and recognition and money possible. When I focus like this, I find that my praise and recognition come from within. As for the money, it will come or it won’t. What does always come for me when I focus is joy and joy overcomes fear of lack of money and fear of everything else.
· With regard to fear, I find it to be a liar anyway. It always paints some imaginary and fictional picture and that picture is always the same. In the picture I end up desperately unhappy and hopeless. Maybe not desperately, but unhappy nonetheless. In my picture I am homeless or broke or in prison or in Hell. But when I do my work, the picture fades like mud being sprayed by a hose.
· So there’s my solution. I work. Not to do, but to be. I work on any “problem” that arises if I can, or I work on something that matters if I can’t. I take a walk or write or read or give my full attention to someone I love.
· There’s no thorn here. There’s no horn raised against me to ram me. My work is the lily. And the lily helps me to Get Started and Keep Going every time.