Friday, October 5, 2007

How to Get Out of Your Own Way

As a teacher of creative writing, I always ask why people want to write. After all, it's not the easiest and certainly not the most lucrative pursuit. I always worry when someone answers me thusly: "To express myself." If the student is young or particularly naive about the satisfactions of writing or pursuing any artistic endeavor, I take heart. If the student is older and should know better, I worry.

Why? Because after a certain point in your life, you realize that gratifying the ego is, for the most part, a treacherous path to be on. When you pursue work, possessions and relationships as a means of making yourself feel important, something negative happens. What is that something? I've observed that things begin to fall apart--living a life for yourself just doesn't hold together. It's as though the things achieved have been gained through the wrong reasons, and so any hold is like one stuck with the wrong glue.

Now, this is not to say that you--as a unique personality with something to share--may not come through in your art, or work or relationship. But the paradox is that the only way you can truly come through is by thinking first of serving others as you pursue your goals.

When I was a young, geeky girl, hopelessly uncool and in love with books, I found that writers--and other artists, but writers especially--spoke to me in such a life-affirming, soul-saving way. I felt a boundless gratitude that someone had taken the time and made the effort to write these books that spoke to me, that taught me, that comforted me. When I first realized that I had been blessed with the ability to write, my intention in writing was to reach people who needed me, as I had needed the authors I read.

If you are not already conceiving of your bliss as something with responsibility and as a means to serve others, then you need to figure out why you want what you want. If you think you want something because it will make you happy, it will not. In fact, it may even torture you. But the brilliant, simple and amazing thing about serving others is this: When you stop worrying about your own happiness, but engage your gifts to serve, you are suddenly most likely to get on the right path and succeed at it. In a sense, you really just need to get out of your own way.

If you think of using your unique gifts as a means of vitalizing the world, of making a difference in your sphere of influence, congratulations--you're on the right track.

If, however, you think: if only I could write my novel, then I would be happy--no. Just as it is flawed to believe that getting married will make you happy, believing that achieving your goals is about making you happy will also not work.

In yoga, it is a common practice to dedicate your efforts to someone or some ideal--something beyond your own benefit and gratitfication--as a means to find extra inspiration, to draw on hidden resources. Imagine who or what you can dedicate yourself to serving with your gifts--whether it's the young nerdy girl in the library, or whether it's the folks who enjoy the sensory pleasure of a lovingly crafted beer--and you will stop serving your ego and start serving something much, much better.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello -

I've been thinking about this post for about a month now, and it's opened up fertile understanding for myself as to why I write. In an email to another writer friend, I said:

"Why do I write? There are many reasons. I write because I enjoy it. I write because it energizes me and helps me believe there is meaning to life. Beyond all of this, supporting all of this, I write to express gratitude to all of the people who have sacrificed so that I can be who I am, where I am. To not write would be tantamount to theft of a spiritual nature."

I think that you are correct, that writing "just" to express yourself is too thin to sustain the arduous task that is the creation of art. There must be something higher than that, what you've termed the 'responsibility to server others.' I don't know that I would have made the connection between my writing and my gratitude if it weren't for the thought this post provoked - which is proof that your writing is reaching people who need to hear your viewpoint.