BEWARE: POETRY AHEAD!
Poetry can be intimidating or confusing to some people; it can also be funny, poignant, profound and life changing. In case you fall into the first category, I wanted to warn you that I was starting this newsletter with a poem by Hafiz, a Sufi poet. I was taught to be a speed-reader at a young age by my father, a psychologist. As a result, for many years when I did read poetry I read it very fast – which is a lot like inhaling dessert (I’m sure some of you know I mean). So let me suggest a couple of things as you read the following poem: 1) read it out loud (yes, even if you are in your cubicle surrounded by people – just pick up the phone and pretend like you’re talking to someone else), 2) read it through several times (at least twice), and 3) notice what comes up for you (feelings, thoughts, memories, bodily sensations). Gender note: I’ve taken the liberty to change the gender language in the poem from “man” to “woman.” As you can see, the word “woman” includes “man,” thus feeling more inclusive to me. OK, here we go.
The Vintage Woman
Between a good artist
And a great one
Will often lay down her tool
Then pick up an invisible club
On the mind’s table
And helplessly smash the easels and
Whereas the vintage woman
No longer hurts herself or anyone
And keeps on
-- Hafiz, translations by Daniel Ladinsky
I find the poets, Hafiz, Kabir and Rumi to speak eloquently to today’s challenges and their words often help me reorient myself around what is truly important in my life. Though he lived and wrote over five-hundred years ago, Rumi is the bestselling poet in America today. Recent translations of Rumi by Coleman Barks have been especially well received. Coleman Barks is a great example of an artist who kept on sculpting light as words. Thankfully there was no smashing of easels.
We are all the vintage men and women of whom Hafiz speaks. And each day we have the choice with each project to “keep on sculpting” or to “smash the easels.” What’s your choice today? What project is calling you? Remember that your art may not be a painting or a sculpture. It may be your work with your clients. It may be the way you feed your family. It may be the words you choose to speak when encouraging a friend to keep on keepin’ on. It may be your spiritual path.
But we’ve all smashed easels, haven’t we? After smashing easels for weeks, months or years, it starts to become very difficult to pick up the tool or the brush. “Why even bother?,” we ask ourselves. The reason to bother is because the idea is still there, haunting you. The image still wants to be born. The project hasn’t been picked up by anyone else. It’s your idea; it requires your talents; the world is waiting for your contribution. If you feel the pull, the calling to this work, then find a way to pick up the tool one more time.
Hang this poem in your studio, in your office, in your workplace. When you are tempted to smash the jade, read the poem instead. The difference between failure and success, between not contributing and making a difference is persistence. Persistence is the final ingredient in the foolproof formula for success. Talent is important, but you can do without it. Smarts come in handy, but are not essential. Support makes the going easier, but you don’t have to have it. Persistence is the key, the ultimate essential must-have to complete any significant task.
Know your “invisible clubs” on the mind’s table. Are they self-criticism? Are they comparing yourself and your work to others? Are they the need for grandiosity? If it’s not earth-shattering, world-rocking, fame-inducing – why bother? Whatever your clubs, put them aside. Better yet, build a fire in the pit and burn them, dancing around them as they blaze and turn to ash. You won’t need them anymore. Your true tools are calling. It’s time to pick them up and sculpt. Light. Words. People. Jade. It’s all there waiting for your particular hand. Your particular idea. Your particular talent. Your particular purpose.