Once, when I was about eight years into a seventeen-year stint at a job I disliked, I turned to a coworker and asked, “Does any of this mean anything at all?” “No,” he said. “But the sparkling lights and pretty pictures keep you distracted.”
Life had become a wasteland. I had followed a path that had led me to a place where nothing grew, where nothing I made came to anything. Even my wife and children, whom I adored, had become burdens of sorts, their basic needs binding me to a life I realized was the very nightmare about which I had long dreamed.
The mind plays tricks in the desert. Desperate for water and relief, it sees shaded pools where there are only rocks and more dust. Such a guide cannot be trusted to lead you out of the wasteland. The mind makes enemies of other artists, turning them into greedy farmers who possess all the fertile land. In the mind’s desperation for answers, it narrows the world to a place of empty survival, where the fittest are allowed to stand a few more meaningless moments before being snuffed out just the same as the weak.
I would have been well advised to look more closely at those sparkling lights and pretty pictures. I would have been well advised to wonder where they had grown. The lights and pictures were not trying to distract me at all, but to awaken me from that nightmare. Within everything beautiful ever made lies a truth that belongs to the viewer alone. The artist’s job is not to guess at that truth but to allow it through the inherent generosity of beauty, through that exquisite moment where he surrenders his ego in the service of what his soul requires.
Fortunately, the soul is as patient as eternity itself. The soul does not measure time in years spent in dull jobs or lousy relationships. The soul doesn’t care where you’ve been or what you’ve done. The soul is a river forever flowing, and if you listen carefully, even in the driest and darkest of wastelands, you can always hear it. When you reach its banks, surrender to the current. You don’t get to know where you’re going, but you know you’ll like it when you get there.
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