Some interesting things came up with that last post I wrote, a post rounding up the good fortune I’ve been lucky enough to collect lately. The way that post was framed held a lot of projection. Projection about what the world might consider successful. Holding the product forth to be witnessed in its shiny completion. Look! People liked these things I made! (And maybe just a teeny bit of: my life is justified!)
This is no good. This is product-centeredness. I got carried away with hard work that had finally ‘paid off’. I’ve had a hangover all week after that trophy post. When you have a lucky streak of good things, you wrestle with addiction. You hunger for the next good thing, and it needs to be bigger and better to boot. The longer it takes, the more miserable you become. Oh hello! The comparison trap.
While celebration of success is healthy, I want to cultivate a life where the small things give me as much lasting pleasure as the big things. I don’t want to censor the failures. Rather, I want to embrace the lessons I take from them as the real successes. I’ve tried to bring in some of my Chan ink painting practice into the studio this week. The intention of Chan is to stay with the mark making, moment to moment, accepting, not judging. It’s a mindfulness-in-painting practice.
I have a strong memory of the happiness that radiated from my first Chan teacher: he laughed after each brushstroke. I saw him on days when he was sad, too, and he was still happy. Both feelings exist in us, and are available to us in every moment. Feelings are of us, they are not us. It’s a good thing to remember, on the sad days. One of the things I thought I’d learned was the equalising power of mindfulness. I do believe, even if my habit mind doesn’t, that negative emotions and experiences hold the same power for growth and transformation as positive ones. Each can be broken down into the same components, and each can enhance our life story as much as deplete it, with active management.
Neil Gaiman said it very nicely: artwork is like sending out hundreds of little messages in bottles, maybe one of which will come back. If you listen too much to what the world has to say about your art your creative powers are diminished. So you need to do what makes you happy, find comfort and nourishment in the process, and work to lose craving of the approval. Art making needs to have meaning in itself, rather than just in exposure.
Last week my focus slipped back into old ways of framing my experience in which successes and failures are divided. I’m noting that, and sinking into the present, where every moment contains both failure and success. Both things are necessary to my story and to my growth.