If you read my last blog then you’ll know I believe in art. The one unbroken thread in my life has been the search for freedom, and for me there is no more creative pursuit. Whether I prefer this or that form is secondary; the process itself leads to freedom.
In the blog, I described the notion art is successful only if it sells as “not merely a mistaken belief that one can throw off with a shrug, but a relentless current of the society in which we live and against which we must persistently strive.” With sublime poetic justice I was viscerally reminded of this truth within hours of posting my clever words. Shortly after two in the morning, my eyes sprang open and I faced the dismal reality of my life gone awfully wrong. Like insomniac sheep, the endless string of failures, bad decisions and missed opportunities passed before my eyes; unable to avert the parade, I took the poison to heart. It was a negativity of extraordinary intimacy.
Meanwhile, my rational mind cogitated busily with counter-proposals. With fifty-seven odd years of hard-won wisdom and firm intentions under its belt, you’d think it could wipe away my baseless imaginings with a flick of the wrist—right? Wrong! The demon of self doubt wormed its way into my unresisting soul. It’s not that I didn’t try. I pulled fletch after fletch of crystal logic from my quiver and aimed it unerringly at the target. But the emotions were formless spectres; every projectile passed through harmlessly.
Sound familiar? Since, dear reader, you’re a fellow homo sapiens, then I’ll bet it does. This is the stuff of human spirit, the flip side to all hope and positivity, a reminder that life is not ours to manipulate but a bag of mixed and unruly blessings. In the unexamined life, stress and anxiety runs amok —but wait, am I not a teacher of self-examination, an exemplar of how to not be victimized by one’s own subconscious? Well—am I not a fraud?
To fall for that, as I very nearly did, is to invest in the phantasms of the wakeful night; I refuse them even as they torture me. I choose freedom especially when I’m most obviously imprisoned; who doesn’t? There’s more to freedom than knowing better, and free will is an unpredictable gift, a volatile moment of opportunity that spins into existence and out again in the wink of an eye. To grasp it, you must be on guard. For so many since the times of Democritus, Parminides, Sextus Imperius, Gotama and Nagarjuna, free will lurks in the moment between stimulus and response. Stick your foot in that door and you can preempt karmic momentum—even stop manufacturing it, so they claim. Clearly, it’s not easy; equally clearly, only a fool wouldn’t try.
When I was young and searching for a teacher, I dreamed of someone with all the answers; I now know that’s not the point, but I acknowledge that hope—perhaps in my students—and ask, would you be taught by someone who lives without stress and anxiety, or by one who struggles with it daily, who reaches stubbornly for integrity each time his bearings are scattered, who turns what was once defeat into a mere miss, and draws from it a lesson? I’m not as perfect as I once thought I’d be by this time, but I examine my responses with more verve than ever, and have learned a few small tricks. I hope to inspire—if necessary, by falling flat on my face and picking myself up again. After the gifts of my teachers, and from a lifetime of inseparable hope and disappointment, I’d be a fool not to.