Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The great work of your life and where you do it

I’m interested in where people work and how they do their best work, and if they could have a workplace that was tailored perfectly to their needs and dreams, what would that place look like. To that end, I planned to make this post solely about my workplace, and essentially, it is. Especially, I wanted to make the point that in the last several years, I’ve figured out that beauty in one’s surroundings, and in particular where one creates, is as important, if not more important, than utility. Even the most austere studio with bare walls, say, the addition of a table, perhaps a chair, can be beautiful, depending on the quality of the light or what is brought to the table, or to dress the floor. Beauty to me happens whenever you walk into a place, a room, a space, and your heart unfolds. It is where there is a simultaneous easing of the soul even as the energy to make something happen is ignited.

My office is a nurturing space. It has everything I need. There are things I would add, like a big No. I keep a small pebble on my desk with the word, Yes, engraved on it to counteract all the countless ways and times I hear no from outside but mainly from inside my own head.
whiteboard and an oversize (preferably scruffy & antique) worktable, and other things, like the wall-to-wall carpet and window dressings, I would take away. When I move, which I plan to do, I’m going to incorporate these changes. I’d like a way to walk outside from my workplace, too, into a garden, rather than having to go downstairs to go out. Small things, inconsequential, really. I think what’s important is that you make this commitment to beauty for yourself, to honor the thing you are trying to bring forth, whether book, or painting, or child, or tonight’s dinner, or peace of mind, or what have you. People talk so much today about the needless consumption of things, and I, too, despair, even to myself, bringing yet one more item into this house that ends up in a drawer. But I think we need to take care that in all the paring down and scaling back and trying to use less, we don’t whittle away our desire even our need for beauty. In order to flourish, I think, our self-expression requires that we honor and respect it. Otherwise, it leaves. That spontaneity, that joyful abandon caves to worry, to guilt, to the punishment of the word,

When you think about it, all of this window dressing, if you will, the garb of our desire, our will to create, is inextricably woven in with the work itself. In fact, the work itself very often produces a thing that is then offered for consumption. And it’s this that got me thinking when I set out to write this post about where I create, because something that has occurred to me recently, is that perhaps the key to all of this lies in whether or not we can ever actually find our work, that thing we should do, the one occupation that will bring to life our greatest joy and delight. I know a lot of folks will say that even if they knew their right and true work, it’s impossible to do it, they have bills to pay, kids to feed, etc. And I’m not saying it’s easy. It certainly wasn’t for me, plus it was and still is, at times, scary. But what’s intriguing is to imagine that you could, to imagine a world where everyone was employed in a way that awakened their joy. Somehow, I can’t believe we would then have a problem with conspicuous consumption or its dark companion, the sense of entitlement. Or greed to put it in its most basic term.

I don’t know why for some of us, finding our life’s work is so arduous and alarming and painful. But I did read an absolutely riveting book just recently, THE GREAT WORK OF YOUR LIFE, by Stephen
Cope, in which I learned that the likes of Jane Goodall, Susan B. Anthony, John Keats and Ludwig Von Beethoven also struggled to find the way to do the one thing that made their heart sing. It wasn’t easy for them either. They were surrounded by lack, by naysayers; they were heckled and humiliated. They were ranted at by the devils in their own heads and riddled with doubt. But they kept on and look, just look, at the gifts the world continues to receive because of their persistence! I don’t think that finding and doing one’s life work is necessarily joyful every moment. In my own experience the opposite is true. I don’t think it’s glamorous or necessarily lucrative, but somehow, if you can find that purpose and the internal grit to stick with it, the rewards, while not conventional in the sense we’ve been educated to expect, are enormous. Maybe I knew all this, but regardless, it is abundantly clear from Stephen Cope’s book and the examples of the lives of the people he writes about that struggle is part of the equation, a big part, maybe the major part.

I was so inspired, even spellbound, while reading The Great Work of Your Life. I wrote in the margins, underlined passages, made notes on every blank page. And I realized I couldn’t write today about my work space without mentioning it, because the place where I work is so tied to the process, and because it took me such a long time to come by the courage to cast caution aside and to pursue my heart’s desire, regardless of how foolish it seemed or continues to seem. And I’m finding that simply by taking the first tiny and tentative steps, honoring this impulse, nurturing it, surrounding it with my interpretation of beauty, that it’s true what Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.”

If you are the least inclined to explore the mystery of this process yourself, if you wonder how it can be done, I highly recommend Stephen Cope’s book. The stories he relates are fascinating, and the clarity and beauty of the message, and the way it’s rendered with such love and compassion, and practicality, is as lovely as it is compelling. The book is a gift, and I’m happy I can share its existence with anyone who cares to know.