I recently had a lesson with my mentor, Dr. Ray Smith. It has been a while, seeing as I dropped out of the Y on a Gatsby-inspired whim without telling anyone. That was 2 years ago… my how time flies.
This being the first lesson in a while, I brought Ray up to speed. I told him all about how I have been trying to get away from music. How I have been a botany major the past few years. I told him all about how I can’t get it out of me, and how all day I think about how much time biology is stealing from music.
He told me a story (as he often does to illustrate a principle.). His younger brother is a trumpet player that used to play in the big band that Ray now teaches but ended up quitting the horn and going into ‘real’ business. A few years after he quit, Ray asked him if he would come play with the band for old time’s sake.
His brother said “Nah, I’m cured.”
Art can feel like that. It can feel like you are ill, and pursuing a dead dream out of sickness. It can feel like you are hurting those around you by pursuing it, and that you aren’t contributing to the global good by doing what you are doing.
If no one has, let me be the first to tell you.
Your art is important.
The folks on this earth who feel the hurt of having quit and the wish that they hadn’t are limitless. They are an ocean of pain, and regret, and cubicles. If you are dogged and determined but feel that you are doing no one good, feel that way no more. You are helping these people by living their dream. You are helping these people by teaching them what you have learned. Their scars and wounds have only one healer…
Those who do not know about the pain of losing their art also need your help. They need you in the car as they drive to work. They need you when they get there and their building is nice to look at. They need you when they hang pictures in their rooms and their offices so they can have something to see while they think. They need you to remind them that life is beautiful.
If you feel that your practice has not helped anyone, feel that way no more. Go out, show your paintings to people. Play on the street if you must. The world has a heart, I promise, and they are just waiting to show it to you (if not their wallet).
Once, Brice and I were playing on the street in the bay area, and a man put forty dollars in the case. He said he used to be a trumpet player, and seeing us play really gave him hope for music. Me, and Brice, who will tell you that we were nothing special those days. Most folks didn’t even take notice, but every once in a while a pair would come up to us and talk or an old musician would show his colors.
Life needs you to pursue your art. It is why doctors do what they do, to give you just a few more days to do so if they can. That is their art, to give you more time to do yours. One day, you will need them to give you that time, but right now you have it. In fact, THEY need YOU to go do it right now! Otherwise, when the time comes they will have no life to save! You will have already died, years ago having left your dream.
I am not here to tell you not to quit. If you feel like it, go ahead. But do not quit because you feel that you aren’t needed.
We are all afraid, but some are more so than others. Sometimes people are so afraid it causes them to be unable to do things that most of us see as being totally normal.
A Harvard student cannot board a plane. Her fear is too great. So she chooses to sign up for a three-day marathon session with her cognitive behavior specialist to try and get on a plane to see her family. Close to the end of the session, he suggests that she do some exercises to simulate the physiological feelings she will have at the airport.
To her surprise (but not his) this causes her to actually THINK some of the thoughts that cause those responses. He tells her the following:
“We shouldn’t be running from those thoughts, but rather going out and trying to find them”
This, from a scientist.
I cried at that very moment, and the camera shifted to her and she was crying. I cried because I identify so strongly with that sentiment, and how it has alleviated a great deal of fear from my life, and no one I know personally has ever told me not to run from my thoughts. It was so nice to hear that I wasn’t alone in my approach, even if only from the TV.
She cried, I think because she felt the fear fully in that moment, and took that first odd step in not fighting it. But rather, as her therapist told her to, allowed it to come and diminish on its own.
To once again quote Dune:
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
You are your thoughts. And in order to not be self-destructive or self-violent, you cannot fight them. Nor can you run from them (if they are you, how will you ever escape?). These are options that yield no positive result.
Perhaps instead we can embrace them, like a mother caring for a crying child, and say to them “I am here for you.” and permit them to do what they need to do to be okay. As we would care for a close friend in need, or a family member.
The fact is that these feelings are closer to us than that, closer to us than any of our friends or family, and to ignore them, fight them, and hate them is only to hate the self.
Once, the Dalai Llama was asked by a ‘westerner’ how he deals with self-hate. It was the first time he had ever heard the phrase, and he responded “How could you hate yourself?”
You love yourself. Everything you do, you do out of love for the future and past you. Sometimes you feel flustered, and frustrated at yourself, but this is not hate. This is you, wishing like a parent for your future self, for a better life for your child. Sometimes our love, while well intended, cannot succeed in its course because it is violent.
Do not be violent toward yourself. What good could ever come of that? Learn to love your fears, and your anger, and even your hate when it arises. To do so is to love yourself, and even the smallest step in that direction is incredibly important. Because learning to live with yourself in this way, you will one day be able to get on the plane, and go home to see your family. You will learn to just go over and talk to her, and finally go after that perfect job, and keep after your art.
You will do these things out of love, and not out of expectation. You will do these things thinking only of the path, and not of the destination. It will make taking those small steps OK, because you are in no hurry.
You are already in love.