In discussing the need to free ourselves from “ego,” Eckhart Tolle, in his latest book A New Earth, writes, “To do whatever is required of you in any situation without it becoming a role that you identify with is an essential lesson in the art of living that each one of us is here to learn. You become most powerful in whatever you do if the action is performed for its own sake rather than as a means to protect, enhance, or conform to your role identity.” [emphasis added]
It’s a little ironic that I should be quoting this passage on the day after I have embarked on a new kind of “self-promotion” (you will see why this is a misnomer, I hope) with this blog, but let’s explore both the passage and this seeming irony. Perhaps this post should have a subtitle: Does Three of a Kind beat a Par-a-dox?
In the above-quoted passage, Tolle is getting at one of the fundamental things that poets, writers and artists of all stripes know and experience … then “forget” and yearn for. Yeah. It’s cyclical, damn it. When an artist is in “the zone,” immersed in the process of creating that poem or that story, that painting or that dance, there is no “artist” anymore. There’s only the work of creating. That old saying, “Time flies when you’re having fun” is true, but, in this context, I think of “fun” as doing that very thing, the only thing, I am meant to be doing at this particular moment in time. To be so immersed, to be In “the zone,” is like sitting in God’s lap. Creation like that is a wholly un-self-conscious act.
Sometimes, though, it’s awfully hard to get there. Why? Because God’s schedule is off the charts crazy? No. Because we get in our own ways, of course. We are self-conscious beings (which is not to say we are self-knowing beings)! As a result, true creative immersion requires a Herculean effort in letting go. According to Tolle, and put another way, the ego is engaged in continual sabotage. When we play the role of “artist” instead of creating art, it doesn’t feel very good. Not at all. The first step toward that oh-so-lovely and easy place of immersion, then, often takes us through a difficult struggle on our way back into “the zone,” back into the lap of God. It is part of that Herculean effort of letting go. But once you’ve let go …
So why do artists engage in “self-promotion” at all since that seems to be an obvious manifestation of ego and/or “role-playing?” I’ve had this discussion with my closest poet-friends many, many times. To be honest, most of the writers and artists I am privileged to know don’t enjoy what is termed “self-promotion” because it feels like an exercise in “self-consciousness” to the extreme! In order to create our art, we engage in this Herculean effort to let go, to strip ourselves of, well, our conscious selves … and now we’re supposed to turn around and consciously display ourselves? Pardon me while I pick up the blown pieces of my mind. The writers and poets I know don’t have that kind of “look at me” ego. Their work is not a means to an ends: they don’t do what they do for fame or money. And now we’ve hit upon it: The work’s the thing. And like Hamlet’s play, we hope it will lead us to some ultimate and confirming truth. My creative friends and acquaintances, all of them – every one of them – honor their work; they revere creativity and its fruits, not because it came to the world through them, as individuals, but in spite of that fact.
Art’s function is to heal, to give joy and delight, and to foster an appreciation for beauty in its many and diverse forms, to celebrate human experience, and also to properly grieve the human condition. A number of art’s “obligations,” therefore, can only be met if the art is shared. It sometimes, then, falls to the vessel through which a particular piece of art has come to see that it is shared. Personally, I think once the work is unleashed, it usually has its own way of finding where it needs to go.
Still, the artist is the one who must do the unleashing. Therefore, a note to my fellow poets, writers, artists, dancers, choreographers, potters, etc. who must engage in the self-conscious endeavor of sharing your work: let’s not think of ourselves as “self-promoters” in this context. Instead, let’s think of ourselves as trying to find good homes for our little creatures, our little ones who just want to get out of the house and do somebody some good.