If I’m honest, all I really want in life is pleasure and comfort.
When I think about my accomplishments and productivity, I notice that treats and breaks are the refuge I crave… as though whatever I do is an excuse to partake of them.
I’m so grateful that creating is also an urge I get… like a sugar craving. When it hits, partaking of it is extremely pleasurable.
But being addicted to what feels good is not a formula for consistency and follow through.
As the saying goes: Amateurs wait for inspiration. Professionals show up at the page and then the inspiration comes. (I’m paraphrasing here). And often we show up at the page or the studio or the stage and it does not. As creatives, we are taught that slogging through these apparent dry spells is the mark of a professional.
And then there are creators who are quite frank about the fact that for them, this just isn’t true. When Harper Lee asked why she seemed to stop writing after To Kill A Mockingbird she is known to have answered “I said what I had to say.” And Margaret Edson, the playwright-kindergarten teacher who wrote the Broadway play Wit, having said what she had to say, didn’t “feel the need” to write another play.
Does this discredit them as artists of merit? I don’t think so. What I do think is that what matters to us can change. What makes the artist is following through to completion on whatever it is they feel matters to them. A successful artist is saying what she has to say.
But back to my addiction to treats. And the desire to leave behind a significant body of work. And to what degree they are at odds….
What would my life be like if I did all I could to optimize my creative and professional output (I asked myself, while biting into a macaroon)? If I could see food simply as fuel rather than comfort or a celebration, and only ate what is best for me?
What if I abstained from all empty distractions, went to bed early, got up early and met the day with optimal focus and energy? If I took care of myself like an athlete, honing my body and mind so that I could meet my peak potential?
Would this empower me to continue writing intricately observed plays, learn languages and instruments, speak from large stages and be more engaged as a wife and mother? Use my accumulating influence to enact global change?
And for our purposes, if that’s what it takes to be a high-performance human and creator, could I do it? Me, who has so often said that the piece of dark chocolate I have with coffee in the morning makes life worth living? Could I ever be that ruthless on my own behalf?
Like global warming, there is continually mounting evidence that affirms the evils of refined sugar and carbohydrates. Despite that, right now I can’t imagine being in other than imminent danger before I give them up.
Right now I am a proponent of harm reduction, which keeps me short of obvious self-injury. But when even a little alcohol on a daily basis has been found in one global study to be too much, why can’t I want to stop taking hits at my physical and mental constitution altogether?
Because in the moment, it feels good, and life is full of suffering. When the moment brings suffering, we seek comfort. Because the moment is all that is real to us.
Yet the moment is not all we have. This moment is what creates our moments in the future. And while they may not exist yet, they will come to whatever condition we are in.
It’s actually fortunate that too much of anything pleasurable ultimately becomes painful, because the flip-side of being a sensualist is an intense aversion to suffering. That aversion protects most of us from over-indulgence. Because there is also the pleasurable urge and act of creating, probably the greatest pleasure there is for an innovator of any kind, whether they identify with being an artist or not. I don’t want to miss out on that.
This leads me to posit that IF we can appreciate the potential pleasure of great accomplishment in a present and visceral way and hold onto that sensation, we are much more likely to behave in ways that will fulfill our aspirations. That is the power of vision. The more compelling the vision, the more we are willing to forgo immediate gratification in order to manifest it.
So while I may never be a Spartan Athlete, my vision insures that I will never stop finding and enacting small improvements in my systems and habits. The stronger my vision becomes, the better I find I take care of myself.
How is your vision these days? Do you have one?
If not, I hope you’ll start dreaming again. A strong vision will help you take better care of yourself.