We’re all chasing it–the perfect expression of our passion. In art it might be the perfect sentence that expresses that thought completely, the perfect piece of sculpture, the tune that recreates the moment when the song was born. These things can’t be created on command, but the fertile ground on which they grow can be prepared.
The ways this is done are completely different for each of us. That is why they can’t be taught, and that is why the one constant piece of advice we are given in all creative endeavours is to put in the time, to practice often and intensely. Only by doing that can we teach ourselves what our methods are, and only in that way can they evolve over time. Consistency comes from this. The muse is balanced on a knife edge, and we can only take fire from her hands if we develop the skill to stand on that edge with her.
What is your craft and how do you practice it? It doesn’t have to be music, or writing or art. It could be cooking, gardening, or anything that ignites that fire of creation within you. We all have something we love, whether we have discovered it or not. We all practice our passion in some way. This question can be asked anywhere–and it leads to one of my most useful tools. All of us spend a lot of time somewhere where our minds are not necessarily fully engaged. A friend of mine calls this his “sanctuary time.” For me, this time is spent walking, bicycling, or on the bus. You won’t see me with headphones jammed in my ears or a phone in my hand. In fact, you won’t be able to tell me from any of the people packed around me on transit, or walking down the street. Sometimes you might see me with a notebook or iPod in hand, but that just means that some of that time has paid off and I’m putting down the fruits of my labors. Where is your sanctuary time?
A bus is the perfect place to ask yourself questions. If you can block out the constant chatter of cell phones and mp3 players, it’s a place where we’re the most alone. Everyone wants to be somewhere else, and they’re concentrating on anything but the people around them. The interaction between strangers is at a minimum, though those few occasions can also be very fertile. It’s a good time to take a deep breath–or several–and see how it changes you. No one will notice, I do it all the time. For me, it slows me down, cools me to operating temperature. It is a perfect complement to my meditation practice. The focus and concentration I am working on in solitude means nothing if it can’t be created anywhere, anytime. If you can’t block out or otherwise smooth out what’s around you, that’s okay. Believe me, it’s an ongoing practice for me too! Put some background on that mp3 player. Space music, classical, or nature sounds might work for you. What allows you to access the silence within in the midst of chaos?
Transit used to be a little slice of hell for me. I ride at rush hour and it’s always crowded, noisy, and unpleasant. But the fact that I rarely if ever sit down means that I can’t fall into a book as I used to. The fact that there’s always someone who wants to have a loud phone conversation or turn their iPod up to maximum volume makes it the perfect laboratory for bringing practice out into the world. Since I don’t have a car, I am essentially trapped on transit, but many of us feel just as trapped in a car. I invite you to find the places you’re trapped in and see if you can reclaim that time in some way and put it to use. Reclaiming my time and putting it in service to my music is an ongoing process. Since I made the choice to pursue it I’ve been a lot happier. The things that used to drive me nuts still do, but it’s easier to shift my focus back to what really matters because I have something beyond the daily grind.
I often ask a question that I’m going to ask you now: What would the world look like if everyone was doing what they were meant to do? What if our true work was the coin we used to measure success? That’s impossible, I hear you say. Who would clean the toilets? Who would take out the trash? What if we all did so, I say. What if we all took turns doing what needed to be done? What if we stopped trying to avoid those jobs and just got them out of the way? What if we all left a public restroom or a fast food restaurant table cleaner than we found it? What if we all generated little or no trash? San Francisco’s composting program and the new practice of charging for disposable shopping bags are steps towards this. There are people out there whose passion is to make us a trash-free society. There are people who make their living selling composting toilets. My point is, anything can be your fire. It is the way you add value to your existence, and to the world around you. What if more of us asked the questions that would change the shape of the world around us?
So what is your passion? What would you do with your life if you weren’t having to spend so much time making a living? How can you carve out a little time for it right now, and if you’re already doing so, what strategies are working for you? I really want to know. Because I want to live in that world, where we’re all doing what we love. It all starts with me–and you.