“The action is here.”
I was listening to writer Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest podcast, “Magic Lessons,” when I caught this line. She’s coming out with a book this fall called Big Magic about creativity and in advance of the release hosting these pretty fantastic conversations with ordinary people stuck in some part of their creativity journey. Admittedly, this is the kind of thing that some people find indulgent. Oh, let us now sit around and ruminate on the status of our creative evolution, shall we? Also, tell Watson to ready the yacht. I’ve a craving for oysters on the half shell and thought I’d pop over to the Vineyard for a nosh. I might have been one of those people once upon a time, feeling like I needed to apologize for being able to pursue creative aims. And who does that serve? To deny what fuels you? To tuck yourself out of the way on the sidelines and smother your purpose? It lets the whole world down, that’s for damn sure. So I treat the 20 minutes or so it takes to listen to the podcast the same way I treat going to the gym each morning; it keeps the wheels greased; it’s adding to my creative health; it’s a second bowl of Kashi for the spirit, but without all sticks and leaves.
The topic was about finding spark and energy in the midst of the ordinary, especially if that ordinary means you work at a call center or the post office or some other soul-deadening job that occupies the majority of your time. Even in these places and spaces there is the invitation to engage, to have wonder, to forge connections, and to rummage for gifts. Waking up to this idea is the trick, harder than it sounds when you feel you are in living purgatory and your only relief involves spinning elaborate fantasies of how you might one day defeat the alien zombie overlords who take over the planet and you find yourself whispering, “Take me first, please.”
Lately, I am having the opposite problem. I have been spending a lot of time in nature where the action is everywhere. I’ve been hiking a lovely trail that runs along a good-sized brook. The path is tucked away on a country road so you either have to know about it already or really be searching for an off-the-grid type trail. I seldom encounter other hikers. The quiet envelopes you as soon as you step off the dirt road and hit the head of the path just a few feet from the edge of the woods. Bird song echoes, the steady rush of water flowing over the rocks pulses, and the hollow sound of your own footsteps padding over pine needles, dirt, and tree roots produce what should be a meditative rhythm. But I’m too keyed up to notice.
Because I’m listening so hard, for what exactly I have no idea.
Because I’m not plugging into the Zen, I’m grabbing at it so tightly it might as well be one of Lenny’s poor rabbits.
Because I’m walking in a state of perpetual distraction freaked out that everything could be a “thing” and I don’t want to miss out on whatever this place has to teach me.
This might be the time to mention my eety bitty control issues. I want my inspiration and transcendence on demand. Somehow I don’t think this is what Thoreau had in mind when he went into the woods deliberately. What do you do when you’re overrun with action, inspiration, and spark? What an unfortunate struggle, right? How terrible. Where did I park my yacht?
In the podcast Gilbert also talks about not expecting the big signs to arrive in the form of lightening strikes and clouds suddenly parting. I would prefer these things. I would rather look in the roiling waters of the brook and see Buddha’s laughing face and know that at the very least I’m looking in the right place instead of spending time looking in every place. For a very ordered Universe, this place can be completely bonkers sometimes.
One branch of the trail ends at the mouth of a creek that empties into a small lake. There’s a tidy clearing ringed by trees and rocks, which gives you lots of places to sit and look out on the water. This part of the lake forms an estuary with marshes; in the spring Loons make their nests on the shoreline and for a few weeks this part of the trail is closed off to hikers. I take a perch on some rocks and let the place settle around me. I feel a sense of pressure ease.
And that’s when something does happen. I realize it doesn’t have to be this hard. I don’t have to panic thinking that I’m missing out on an opportunity to receive because I’m not lifting up every rock, checking out every leaf. I just have to show up and commit to leading a wakeful life wherever I am—the DMV, the post office, the call center, or the middle of the woods.
The action is here
…if you are