Have returned from a trip – my first to Europe – and from writing elsewhere about the trip in a way that surprised me. The recounting poured through like sunshine first thing in the morning, and I could hardly leave my bed–where I’d started off writing just a few simple notes–for most of the day. :
By 6 pm I was hobbling in pain, my back loudly protesting what I’d done, but wasn’t sorry. In the community, there came genuine appreciation that I’d tried to bring into the experience those who had not been able to go, to include them in the adventure. Of course, it wasn’t that I could include anyone anywhere, but they appreciated that I took the time to show they were already included… something the dynamics of the group have taught me to see throughout ten years involvement.
This felt connected to my waking a few weeks ago with the thought loudly before my eyes: “I don’t want to teach. I (just) want to write!” Which seemed odd out of context of the many years in which I’ve worked to articulate knowledge I feel has empowered my life, with the idea of ‘helping’ others. I felt released from that burden.
Why have I done that anyway? In part, out of a desire to show appreciation, to ‘make good’, like a child who is well aware of what their parents have sacrificed to give them greater opportunities. But times have changed. There is a hierarchical way of sharing, of giving and receiving, that isn’t quite appropriate anymore, even if our institutions and formulas have not moved beyond that way of thinking. We’re walking funny lines.
The ‘appreciating food’ practice a friend on the trip shared, consisted of taking a moment to contemplate how our meals, in all their myriad components, had reached our table. Each time we ate together she walked through some of the many factors and relationships required for any given meal, much less the innumerable factors necessary to gather such disparate people as we ourselves from all over the world, to appreciate that presentation. This practice, although simple, deeply affected my way of seeing during the trip. Perhaps the writing took on that flavor as a natural overflow.
It is far too easy to snap into a category and write ‘about that’, to try to line things up with calculations of what is wanted… what is most ‘useful’. However, the benefit of going with what pours out is that there is 0 pretending. There are too many factors, so you give up on capturing them all in advance, and go along with the momentum appreciatively.
This may be what Steve Jobs was getting at when he said that people don’t know what they want until you show them. Market research is useful, but incredibly limited. It matters to me that I’m clear and that what I write takes in mind the benefit of others, but I can’t be driven by that. I can’t be driven by a motive to ‘do good’. That’s an effect that in a way, I trust to happen from a deeper devotional intention.
There is a TED Talk that speaks to this beautifully, given by Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote Eat Pray Love. She gave this talk about genius and inspiration after the gigantic success of that novel, so it comes from a vulnerable place, asking, “What if my best work is behind me?” It isn’t a talk centralizing on fear. Rather, it draws upon the way genius moves, and what genius is… how much wider and free-er than can be contained by the will of a vessel trying to do well or be special.
If you haven’t seen it, it is worth the 20 minutes, and gets better and better as it goes on.