I read recently about people who write ‘morning journals’ to capture their streams of consciousness after waking up. I didn’t realise what a powerful tool it is to capture your ideas, inspirations and aspirations. I used to think that if I checked the morning news, it might give me some idea on what to concentrate on for the rest of the day. But that is reactive thinking. Morning journals and thoughts which help me to prioritise not only my day but also a way of future planning, are a much best way. As I am not a morning person, here is a poem that I read each morning to inspire myself. It is not written by a new age guru or the latest ‘Tim Ferriss’, this was written in 5th Century AD-
Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn!
Look to this Day!
For it is Life, the very Life of Life.
In its brief course lie all the
Verities and Realities of your Existence.
The Bliss of Growth,
The Glory of Action,
The Splendor of Beauty;
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
And To-morrow is only a Vision;
But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!
Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!
I saw this at a not very posh furniture shop and thought about it- a lot. It is trying hard to be something it is definitely not. It is new furniture trying to look as if it is old- with mismatched bits like some cheap chic but ends up looking like an embarrassed DIY effort or worse.
I wondered if we also do this same thing with how we present ourselves- trying too hard to be something we are not. When we imitate others, or present an image of us that is not authentic, not true to ourselves. It is worth keeping this photo in mind when we look at others, celebrities and other famous people, trying to be them. You can only be you, warts and all- that is what this photo teaches me.
On the other hand, yesterday trying to do some Kintsugi with broken pottery, I realised trying to be something else or expressing something that is not natural, is not an easy thing to do. Trying to suppress our authentic selves is very hard- one has to be in control all the time. In the Kintsugi workshop, I started out with the aim of making something practical with the broken bits and ended up tearing up the rule book and making something quite impractical, but now I realise that is totally me. I loved the result- hope you do too!
There are many books, videos, blogs, talks that urge you to follow your passion. These talk about the person as if they have just one passion and say that if you follow that one dream, then opportunities, money, and other things will follow. The problem with this is that there can be many passions and passions can ebb and flow. More importantly, does your passion resonate with other’s passions? If only can your desires bind with that of others, then will opportunities follow. A sort of ‘Build it and they will come’ kind of thing.
The contributive life is different- it works in reverse. So you contribute to the desires of many, instead of yourself. It is easy to see why this will attract more opportunities than the passionate life which is more isolating. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, a Japanese philosopher propounded the idea of the contributive life. He said,”Individual well-being entails cooperative and contributive existence within society,”
“genuine happiness requires sharing the sufferings and joys of the larger public as a member of society; and it can easily be understood that full and harmonious life within society is an indispensable element for any concept of authentic happiness.”
I had read these passages many years ago and had been rather dismissive of them as they seemed to me to be reeking of martyrism and sacrifice instead of ‘good’ and practical business ideas that supported you and your clients. But last night was an a-ha moment when I realised that Makiguchi’s contributive life was not just good principled practice but also good business advice. As a crude example, there are many sayings that echo this idea, ‘Selling coals to Newcastle’ is pointless, even if selling coals might be your passion. There is a Youtube video by Marie Forleo which talks about this by saying,’ How to convince people to pay for your services’
and this one which explains it all (and caused my a-ha moment). In the video seen by over two million people, Terri Trespicio, says, ‘To live a life full of meaning and value, you don’t live a life of passion; your passion follows you!”
I am naturally a person who gets easily distracted. I might check my emails, or look at an social media post or read the online news many times while working on my computer. This is not a good habit because work interrupted is the flow of thought stilled. It stops being thoughtful and perceptive. For me being creative, for being ‘in the flow’ as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, comes from having inner peace, free of distractions. So I had to write every day, despite a lot of resistance internally. What helped me was reading bits of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations every night. Marcus Aurelius was the 16th emperor of the Roman empire, often called the Philosopher-King. The Stoic Meditations, written in Greek while on campaign between 170 and 180, describes how to find equanimity in the midst of conflict and how to overcome common human problems. In particular one passage that is a must read for all would be procrastinators or for those easily detracted is this-
‘Do not waste what remains of your life in speculating about your neighbours, unless with a view to some mutual benefit. To wonder what so and so is doing and why or what he is saying, or thinking, or scheming- in a word, anything that detracts you from fidelity to the Ruler within you- means a loss of opportunity for some other task. See then the flow of your thoughts is kept free from idle or random fancies, particularly those of an inquisitive or uncharitable nature. A man should habituate himself to such a way of thinking that if suddenly asked, ‘What is in your mind at his minute?’ he could respond frankly and without hesitation; thus proving that all thoughts were simple and kindly.’
I have highlighted in the above passage the bits that struck me strongly- about wasting time, about keeping flow free from distraction and the discipline of having only simple and kindly thoughts.
I kept my wandering mind on a leash by imagining that someone would suddenly appear and ask what I was thinking and I could say honestly that I was being creative and thinking about my project. Simple and kindly thoughts are actually the creative person’s best allies- I imagined brushing away negativity that was holding me back, every time I was feeling down or bad. However, thinking like this is a skill that must be built up daily by the minute- so it goes on for me, although I have finished my book for now.
This week, my first ever art show opened. It may have been something vaguely I wanted to do in life but I really hadn’t thought much about it, except that it was ‘impossible’. Then I heard an inspiring talk given by a blind artist ( see my previous post on Annie Fennymore) and realised how actually I ‘understood’ her and her techniques for painting. I got talking to the person who organised this show and suddenly she turned to me and said, ‘Why don’t you exhibit your work too? We have a three month vacant slot here.’ I was deeply reluctant at first. My reaction was- ‘what if people don’t like it? what if people laugh at the work? what if people don’t get it?’ etc etc.
I was full of fear. But having thought about how much I was going to regret not taking this opportunity, I said yes eventually. Then I also decided to paint new work and re-worked some of the originals. I realised I had changed- I had taken on fear and won. Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” You can always learn from mistakes, but what if you’ve actually never made a mistake (as if that is possible!)? Life is all about making mistakes, learning from them.
It was hard work but I thoroughly enjoyed painting again. I didn’t try to please anyone- just painted to please myself and thought about what I would like looking at. Having now done this, I am in a daze- people have written so many kind words about my work. One said, “I have just been to have a look and the art looks amazing. You are very talented!”
Many people helped out, working on Saturday at 8-00 am working solidly for four hours to hang the pictures- none of them got paid to do this (although I certainly will send something to them). Someone who helped out with the hanging commented,”Just to let you all know that the pictures are all hung safely and, personally, think the corridor looks great…..several people have already admired them…..”
What can I say, I am speechless with gratitude! If my art moves and inspires people, even though technically it might not be amazing- it is perfect for me and them. It is my gift to the world. By taking on fear and leaving aside regrets, we can only become more creative and live true to our hearts. It doesn’t matter if I get any more compliments or not, or even if I get some nasty comments- I have won! So if you still thinking about something that you have never done, go for it now!
PS-writing this blog for the last three years also helped me to overcome my fears!
After watching this, as an architect who has suffered from stroke, it reinforced my desire never to miss a single opportunity to express gratitude, help others and be happy in every way that I can. Also, very importantly it has taught me to follow my heart.
The title of this post refers to a song that has been viewed on Youtube nearly 400 million times (more than Beethoven or any other classic, even rock). The song is famous for being terrible. Just like when people stop or slow down down to view a terrible accident, people are drawn to terrible things. This song even has parodies -one of them has been seen by nearly 10 million people. How can one parody something that is already terrible? I leave you to figure out.
This song made me think about about levels of creativity and what it does for the creator’s popularity. Creativity can be of a low order, be mediocre or it can be brilliant. It attracts an audience at either ends- terrible things are popular and beautiful things are popular too. Both expressions set a standard for the creator, i.e. if you can created a song called ‘What does the fox say?’, the people will expect a worse song next time otherwise they will be disappointed (this might explain why the parody is doing so well). On the other hand, if you have done something wonderful, people expect something even better the next time. But not mediocre things. No one cares about anything in the middle. No one talks about mediocre things. So what does the fox say? It will agree with Martha Graham who said, ‘The only sin is mediocrity.’
PS- Between being known for something terrible or mediocre, I prefer to be at the other end of the scale, i.e., making beautiful things for its own sake (although if it attracts popularity, I shall not complain!)
Between two extremes, lie many things- many solutions, many illuminations, many thoughts and many revelations. People who see the world in black and white miss the subtlety of life, the sensitivity of thoughts and the delicacy of emotions. They stand between their inflexible posts that never bend, never compromise, and consequently never see beauty in either direction. Their world is harsh, still and really lifeless. But all the while life moves on, in ebbs and flows, in the changing seasons that melt into each other with its own colours and smells. Shades changing from black to grey to white, though million mutations of grey. And those who believe in black and white miss it all. They miss life. They miss love. They miss learning.
Everyday my tea offers something on the piece of paper at the end of the string. I look forward to it- sometimes as advice, sometimes as encouragement and sometimes as a friendly warning. I have been going through a difficult time- following my heart has been made almost impossible. Long standing friends have accused me of being afraid, of giving in and of ‘not being in solidarity’ with them on an important campaign. However many times, I have considered this, I have felt unable to support them. I have often wondered why these friends cannot be comfortable with different opinions about the same thing or consider different solutions to the same problem.
Last night as I sat sipping my tea before bed, I finally saw that my friends’ opposition to my views have actually made me more creative. I began to understand why I felt uncomfortable with their views and uncover my own reasons for not going along with them. Previously there was just this uncomfortable feeling and now it is rationalised. It may be that I am proved wrong in the future but for now, I have to go with what I feel. It is important to give this space to those thoughts we hold dear. My problem has become my opportunity for personal growth, only by deeply considering it for a long time and staying true to my heart. When I looked for my ‘tea advice’ last night, it was- “if you can’t see God in all, then you can’t see God at all.” This is very good, I thought, and can apply to anyone. I can substitute the word ‘God’ with Buddha, Allah, creativity, problem….and it still reads well. It was perfect for me. I slept well last night. My tea brought me comfort and showed me that life’s problems can be turned into opportunities and I can learn to see the good in all that it offers. I wonder what tonight’s tea will bring.
I have always been an activist- political, social and environmental. There is much I have been involved in and very proud to have done so. But at what cost? Activism has taken up a lot of my creative time. I know when I am writing those emails and letters about some global issue, I am not doing creative work. After all these years, I now realise that one can be a creative activist, i.e. someone who changes the world by ‘creative doing’. Creative doing is about leaving a lasting legacy, a visible mark and making something that speaks without shouting. I had been shouting too much and now my throat was hoarse, I could not sing. So here is my plan-
1. Listen more, speak less- this is so difficult for me as I tend to speak so much, volumes of it because I love to communicate. Now I am going to choose my words carefully. Like Confucius who would bind and unbind his hair nine times before speaking, I must restrain myself and only give the best.
2. Spend 90% of my day doing something creative or useful- like writing this blog which I love instead of writing those complaint letters or campaigns. Can I speak through my creativity? I need to trust that I will change the world for the better by my creativity, not through confrontation. Sometimes of course we need to complain but often our entire time can get sucked in by that negativity instead of changing the world through our positive energy.
3. Write a 30 second summary of something I read or heard today that touched me- I got this idea from a Linkedin article. Whereas that article referred only to speeches, I have added written materials as well because we don’t hear speeches every day. This will help to do the above two things- communicate wisely and better and get inspiration for more creativity.