As I was traveling, the path seemed incredibly circuitous, but I see now that it was the straightest course I could follow.”– Loori, John Daido (Author of The Zen of Creativity)
How often do we wish to walk the straightest course from the start to finish to accomplish our goals in life?
The words from the above quote by John Daido Loori struck a chord so deeply with me when I read it. It’s from his incredibly inspiring book The Zen of Creativity, that I’ve recently started reading while undergoing my 2 week Quarantine in Singapore. The slowness and quiet of this period has been a real gift. Moments of reading, pausing and reflecting.
I was thinking back to when I first started learning ceramics a few years ago. It had been something that I wanted to try doing for so long. Drinking tea from my favourite store bought ceramic cup at night was a most comforting ritual for me. Passing by ceramic homeware sections in shops always drew up in me a desire…and then wistfulness because I wasn’t able to create something so beautiful yet. And at the same time a part of me was perhaps also worried about starting. Somehow I think I knew that I would fall hook line and sinker for it and I was afraid of my own zeal (the sort that had the tendency to burn out…like a moth to a flame).
So instead of trying ceramics out, I tried out a whole bunch of other things that struck my curiosity for a time being. Baking… jewellery making with polymer clay… stamp carving… a teeny bit of calligraphy… I even took a sewing class for close to a year thinking that I’d be able to sew all my own minimally designed clothes and would never have to step into a clothing shop again! Everything was going swimmingly along… Until the time came for sewing sleeves onto the tops. That was it for me. 😉 Too many pins, too much scrunching up of fabric, too much of a struggle with overlapping threads and jamming up of the sewing machine.
And though for a long time I wondered why I had bothered trying out this circuitous route before finally starting on ceramics. But then it dawned on me. As with most things in life, Time has gently laid down the answer for me.
I had to try other things out in order to realise first what I did not want… in order to find out what I did want. It was through this process of trial and error that I slowly began to learn for myself what I liked enough that I didn’t mind the flavour of the ‘Shit Sandwich’ that came along with it.
The idea of the ‘Shit Sandwich’ is something that has stuck with me ever since I read one of my favourite books on Creativity, called Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert. She shares this story:
“What’s your favorite flavor of shit sandwich?”
What Manson means is that every single pursuit—no matter how wonderful and exciting and glamorous it may initially seem—comes with its own brand of shit sandwich, its own lousy side effects.
As Manson writes with profound wisdom: “Everything sucks, some of the time.” You just have to decide what sort of suckage you’re willing to deal with. So the question is not so much “What are you passionate about?”
The question is “What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?”
Manson explains it this way: “If you want to be a professional artist, but you aren’t willing to see your work rejected hundreds, if not thousands, of times, then you’re done before you start. If you want to be a hotshot court lawyer, but can’t stand the eighty-hour workweeks, then I’ve got bad news for you.”
Because if you love and want something enough—whatever it is—then you don’t really mind eating the shit sandwich that comes with it.”― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Looking through some of my older photos when I practising out of a small studio space in Berlin, I see now with a touch of fondness… the hours and hours of going through stages of growth through practice. Figuring out for myself the kinds of ‘shit sandwiches’ that come with creating ceramics (especially in winter – water in your bucket that goes icy cold in no time that makes your fingers really ache was one that i had the chance to experience)… and learning for myself as well that I was happy to eat them and to continue on this journey. 😉
Another intriguing and beautiful Zen Koan that shows up in the book the Zen of Creativity is this:
How do you go straight ahead on a narrow mountain path which has ninety-three curves?– an old Zen koan
Though on many occasions I still feel the urge to rush as quickly as a I can, straight ahead on this narrow and curvy mountain path, Time and beautiful words of wisdom have taught me that actually… I was never meant to go so fast. The faster I try to rush through life, the more I miss out on all the beauty and wonder along the way.
One step at at step. Taking in the sights. Enjoying the view.
What sort of path are you on right this moment? And with what sort of heart are you walking along this trail?
Would love to hear from you in the comments below.
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