avril 17, 2014

The long march to mastery

Dear Wonder,

Sometimes I get tired of not getting there. Always walking towards a horizon just out of reach. At times I even feel that I’m barely starting out, even if I’ve been on the road for so long.

I feel really weary in such moments. I want to go back to bed.

Until I realize that with this kind of thinking I am already asleep. And I wake up. And remind myself that I will never get there.

Know less, do more

Maybe you’re familiar with the strange feeling that you know less now than when you were new in your art/career, when you were enthusiastic and naive.

Well, that’s where I am. Long ago I began this journey that today leads me to write this letter, to coach enterprising artists and creative entrepreneurs. And even though I started the journey ages ago, I still feel like I’m babbling.

I see that I know less than at times I thought I did. I’m less capable, less powerful than I’d like. Those limits appear even more clearly to me now that I’m showing up, that I’m offering my services, that I’m publishing. It’d be easy to remain convinced of my abilities if I stayed in my corner, if I did nothing more than think about helping others, if I contented myself with dreaming of my possible contribution.

In the doing of it, that’s where I see my own limits, where I realize how much I still have to learn. And it weighs on me a bit sometimes (but only if I feed those thoughts that pretend that it shouldn’t be so).

My only option, obviously, is to continue to move forward and to “share my gifts” — not because I am the master of anything, or because I am “ready” and thus have reason to be confident; but because it’s the only way I can continue to move forward and to learn.

In short, I stay in motion. I know less, but I do more. That’s what matters. The rest is just mental pollution (and when will we start talking about our interior ecologies?)

The foolish old painter on the mountain

Whenever I feel discouraged, wanting to complain that things don’t move fast enough, I remember the words attributed to Japanese painter Hokusai (1760-1849), when he was 85 years old:

From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie.
Hokusai Katsushika

Hokusai didn’t say that mastery arrives only after 140 years. He said the journey has no end. That there is no limit to the deepening of one’s vision, the refinement of one’s capabilities.

No matter where one is situated along the way, the work remains the same. Happiness is not found at the horizon, in any chimerical outcome, but in the attention applied to every single step.

That’s why it is crucial to love our art/work so much that we’d be happy to continue doing it even if we were never to receive any sort of extrinsic benefit out of doing it.

I say: you’d better be sure you really want to walk this road. You’d better love it.

In my own case, I am able to answer yes.

I walk. I see no end to the road — but that doesn’t matter. Each step gives me the privilege to participate in what I love.

I wish the same for you.


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